Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Resumes to Interviews to offers-Part 2

The First round(s) of screening

This is generally a phone interview and can sometimes be just a one on one interview at a job fair or through skype. One of my friends had a phone interview followed by 2 skype rounds after which they decided to call him for onsite interview (phew!). However, he had by that time got a better offer and hence fortunately did not undergo the grilling here.

The job fair, at least in my university was more of a formality. That situation was amplified due to the recession in the 2008-2009 period. That does not deter the recruiters there to ask you some questions when you hand them your resume. So, go prepared with the basics to a job fair. I was not interested to pursue a full-time analog position. However, when I went to the job fair, Microchip volunteers asked a series of analog electronics questions to many candidates standing in the queue before me. I was afraid to some extent as I was not prepared for it. I however wanted to apply for the digital positions in the same company. I was waiting for a long time in the queue and then moved on to meet volunteers of another company due to time constraint. This was accelerated by my lack of confidence in analog electronics.

Now, the above situation might not seem to be a very bad one because I was not confident in what I did not what. However, it was partly responsible for me not applying to other positions here. It becomes detrimental when you are not prepared to answer questions upfront in your own field. Search for a technical volunteer rather than a HR person in amongst the company personnel in a job fair. This is actually one of my friend's tip. This can give your resume a better possibility than a paper shredder.

Phone interview can scare students especially the first time. However, there are candidates who are tensed even in their 4th or 5th phone interview. Apart from each person's nature, this is greatly influenced by the amount of knowledge that you have gathered with respect the position. Also be very clear about all the projects and internships that you have listed on the resume. Students sometimes(or often?) list projects that they have not actually done in school(this word is used as a synonym for a college too in the US). This is because, there could be a dearth of projects/courses related to areas that are typically required for the industry. So, if you are resorting to this tactic, then be very clear about what you have exactly written there , down to the grassroot level. Not knowing something in the resume is a very serious blackmark for a candidate.

For the first couple of interviews if you are not confident in certain areas you can write down brief hints on a sheet of paper, so that you are not stuck up badly in fundamentals and other expected questions. Skype rounds could be a little tricky as you might not have this freedom.
Average length of a phone interview is 1 hour. I have faced a half-an hour, a one hour and a one and a half hour phone interviews during my search. A friend of mine has had a 2 hour phone round too! . Sometimes interviewers have a very specific topic in mind and  hence make the interview short. The other possibility for a short interview is poor answering from the part of the candidate. 

A peculiar problem that some candidates face in the phone round is difficulty in understanding the accent of the  interviewer. A chinese person called one of my friends and he had to ask, ask and ask him to repeat his question until he realised that what the person in the other end was asking was a flip-flop instead of a FIFO. Sometimes, interviewers do not give much attention to how they will sound to the person on the other side. They sit in a conference room and just speak while turning around in different directions. So, the best bet for the candidate is to ask the interviewer till he gets the question right(the fear of giving a negative impression makes the candidate not to do this). Also, just make an intelligent guess simultaneously as to what the interviewer could be asking. This is probably not that tough. I faced this problem in an interview where after repeated queries, I heard his word as color display. I was thinking quite hard as to what exactly a color display is doing in a verilog interview. When I finally said, I don't know what that command does, he was audibly disappointed. Later, I realised that he had asked for $display (pronounced as dollar display) command. It was a very common command in verilog and hence his disappointment.

Usually, they browse the spectrum of topics that the candidate needs to know for the position. However one of my friends always advises us to prepare in depth even for the phone interview. I did not quite realise the importance of this statement until I myself faced an interview where the interviewer suddenly jumped to an area which In had thought till then to be an on-site material. So, more knowledge, the better. Many a time you can guess what is in store for the onsite interview by pondering over the phone screen questions. If you feel that there was some question that was a little out of place in the interview, then you need to pay attention to it. This is because sometimes what the candidate surmises as the areas required for the position  may not be an exhaustive list. If you get to know that the same person who interviewed a friend is going to call you for a similar position, then expect a very similar set of questions and prepare well.  The interviewer either calls or emails the candidate to ask for a comfortable date for the interview. Allow yourself a reasonable time to prepare because postponing an interview that has been fixed might not strike a good chord with the interviewer. Also, get the email address of the person who calls. This is a good idea because many interviewers call from numbers that can't be called back. I got calls from Microchip that showed up as "unknown" on my display. Intel was a lot courteous as they did not act so underground-ly when calling a candidate.

A friend( and  a guide) of mine who has worked for Intel for 11 years advised me to send a thank you note via email to the interviewer after both a phone round as well as on-site. It is good to ask when you will get to hear from them at the end of a phone interview. In addition I have tried asking them about my performance in a couple of interviews. One of them gave a straight answer that I did quite well. The other told me that they usually don't and can't discuss the performance with the candidate. This does not  necessarily mean that he feels negative about your performance. Ask this question only if you are not a pessimist. In the phone rounds that eventually led me to two offers, the interviewers themselves expressed a positive feeling about the interview and one of them actually told me that he would ask his manager to proceed to the next round within next 2 weeks.

Finally, one last experience. After some point in my job search, I applied to India positions even though I was stationed in the US. I got a call from Hyderabad for a FPGA verification position. This person said he will call me over phone at the scheduled time and asked me to ensure that I had access to the internet for code sharing. During the interview that went on for an hour, he asked me to write certain code snippets(in perl) through gmail chat apart from other questions.

In general,prepare well, be confident and station yourself in a quiet place for the phone/skype rounds. Have a paper, pen, calculator nearby apart from any notes.(Dont rely on too many of them for you can't search for them during the short duration). Remember that most likely the interviewer is looking for a short crisp answer(not a tough one). Listen carefully and speak clearly. All the best for your phone interview.

To be continued in part 3........

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