Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tips for Online Interviews

It's that time of the year when my students are looking for summer and full-time jobs. It is becoming more popular now for companies to conduct live-coding online interviews (whether this is a good idea or not is fodder for a completely different discussion). Anyway, having now heard some horror stories, here is my facebooked collection of tips.

  1. Invest in a really high quality headset so that you don't find yourself in interviews where you cannot hear clearly.
  2. Tim Harris adds: "And practice using it, e.g., flipping mute on/off while speaking, being sure of how to control which input is active, etc."
  3. Jeff Honig adds: "And so we don't hear the pounding on the keyboard through the computer microphone during the coding section of the interview." Jeff goes on to explain that not all interviewers are obsessed with live coding, "For our group we want operational smarts. If we need you to do a sort we expect you to figure out the fastest method to do a sort, not write one."
  4. Peter Wayner adds: "And lighting. It helps to have a well-lighted space."

I then asked folks how students should deal with the thick-accented interviewer that makes it difficult for students to understand what is being asked.

  1. Peter Wayner says, "It's tough because some audio connections don't transmit all of the frequencies making it harder. This is why I try to get a high quality headset with two covered ears to get as much information as the channel will offer.  But accents can be very difficult."
  2. Brian Pawlowski adds: "Tough one. Some people are not self-aware about their comprehensibility and lack of visual cues (lips speaking) can make it tough. Boy. Ask for a call back or another time. Tough position for a student to be in."
  3. Sue Loverso says, "If there is a shared coding screen like coderpad or collabedit, ask if they could type the question there. If you're already at the awkward stage there's nothing to lose."
  4. Keith Smith adds, "Ask if you can use video for the interview? (FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout, etc.) As Brian says visual cues can help with understanding. Of course, then the interviewer can see that you're still wearing pajamas at 3pm."
  5. Andrew Moore adds, "Entirely agree with Keith, I tend toward video as strong preference but have them provide at least one spare number (ideally two as I’ve often found cell coverage is dreadful/unpredictable enough to need a fall back)."
Some other handy tips:
  1. Tim Harris writes, "I probably take these things to extreme but I have something like this to use as a plain background https://www.wexphotovideo.com/lastolite-15mx18m.../... — I have the kit for photography really."
  2. Ross Rheingans-Yoo writes, "A corollary: As an interviewer, I use a headset, but sometimes I get the microphone positioned badly (but don't have a great way to figure this out on my own).

    Interviewers: How do you figure out / ask your interviewee if you're coming through clearly?

    Interviewees: If your interviewer sounds distant, quiet, or muffled by a technical issue, consider mentioning it early on, before it becomes more problematic (and more awkward)."
  3. Zehra Naz writes, "I would also like to point out the importance of having an wired, ethernet connection available (including an ethernet cable). I remember the horrendous time when I was interviewing and the Wi-Fi was so bad I ended up sitting on the floor next to a roommate's laundry in their room just so I could plug into the ethernet outlet with my short cable...It's my worst interviewing memory."