Friday, December 23, 2005

Google, Microsoft, Amazon Interview Profile

Something that is often overlooked about Landing the Internship or Full-Time Job During College is that each chapter ends with a profile. These profiles are quite impressive including new hires and interns from top employers such as EA Games, Intel, and Boeing. Below is the profile of Rhett Aultman who is deciding between employment at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

Rhett Aultman

cover letter for emplyment free resume examples college graduate resume example internshipsYou’re in a bit of a different situation than the others profiled in this book—is that correct?
Yes, I just finished a whirlwind tour of interviewing and am deciding among Amazon, Microsoft, and Google for a summer internship. They are all software development positions and are all, by coincidence, in Washington state—located in Seattle, Redmond, and Kirkland respectively.

What’s on your mind? How are you basing your decision?
Well, considering they are internships, I suspect the monetary compensation is comparable. So, what’s mainly on my mind is the opportunity the positions can give me in the future, how interested I am in the technology the positions involve, and whether the experience would fit well with my Ph.D. research. It’s not an easy decision, every company offered something a bit different:

In my opinion, Amazon has the most hands-on technical challenge of the bunch. They were very receptive to tailoring a position for me by providing a list of active projects and allowing me to choose the three of most interest. Amazon also hinted at the possibility of finding something that would fit well as a doctoral thesis topic.

The Microsoft interviews mainly regarded XML, SOAP, web services, enterprise interoperability and such. They also do some work with COM and COM+. It’s definitely interesting because those technologies are in mainstream tech news almost daily.

Google offers a bunch of intangibles such as my favorite location out of the three, a trendier name, and lots of free stuff. Originally, the position they offered me was a little weaker in comparison with the others as far as interesting technology. However, they were very flexible after I talked with them a bit about it. They changed the position to one involving Jabber which is a chat interface and work in founding a new Google Labs project.

How did you get all these interviews?
Microsoft and Amazon attended a college career fair at my university. Amazon was all about having a technical discussion right from the start. Even at the booth I had a discussion about the challenges of dealing with enormous databases in addition to where my interests lie. I applied at Google through their website. I also have a friend that works there which helped I think.

Did you research the companies?
Some companies definitely make it easier than others. For Microsoft, I did the standard review of their college website and looked at their latest research projects. Knowing about their technology on the fringe that hasn’t gotten a lot of press definitely helped me to be more enthusiastic than other candidates.

Amazon was a lot tougher. For example, I had to resort to the website of the real estate agency that handles their lease to find out what their buildings look like. Google was a bit easier because they provide information on their corporate life, current active projects, and technologies on Google Labs.

How do you approach interviewing?
What has been invaluable for me is just chatting with friends in my field. It can be so helpful to practice chatting with people who are competent in general, work in different areas of your field, and enjoy an open discussion. Whenever you have time and the environment encourages it, bounce around open ideas with your friends.

I also think it is important to speak your mind while interviewing even if you aren’t sure how to solve a problem. I don’t know how many times I have come up with an answer to a question that I knew to be less than perfect and said something like “I don’t have proof that I can’t do better, but I suspect the solution could be improved if I thought about it a little more.”

Have any memorable questions?
During an interview with Amazon, I was asked a technical question which I started to answer with a popular programming language. Halfway through, I thought I could use a functional language called ML which is rarely used in industry, but sometimes used in research or for teaching. I suspected that the interviewer would be familiar with it because he had mentioned a functional language previously called LISP.

Boy did his eyes light up. “Really!” he said. So, my hunch was correct that he preferred functional languages over the more popular languages of today and I scrambled to try and rewrite the problem. What’s interesting is I never got around to finishing the solution, but I think my little attempt and our discussion was the most favorable part of the interview.

Have any of your interviews been something other than office interviews?
Yes. I had some lunch interviews as well. They were more casual with engineering discussions and a few brain teasers here and there. My advice for a lunch interview would be to pick what you eat carefully. Try to pick food that won’t embarrass you! Also, avoid anything that will take unnecessary attention and can keep you from talking. You may want to pay attention to what your interviewer gets, because if he or she is vegetarian, a 20oz steak could affect their perception of you. Also, try to avoid carbohydrate shock; you’ll need to be alert for the rest of your interviews. One thing that works for me is a caffeine boost. In my case, a few glasses of iced tea make my mental capacities infinitely clearer.

What advice would you give someone who is about to have a big interview?
I like to get my mind going—I usually bring some related material to read. It’s very important to know the company’s products as well. If you are expecting technical interviews, be sure to brush up on the fundamentals of your field. I like to go over some basic computer algorithms before interviews.

Finally, the most important thing is to relax. The interviewers just want to know what you’re like. Think of it as a typical engineering discussion with a friend. Knock down the illusion that the people you will speak with are adversarial. You aren’t going to war here. They are just regular people who are looking for someone to help them with their projects.

What would you do different if you could do it all over again?
I think I would have been more selective in designing my resume. I now realize it is important to emphasize what you are most interested in rather than listing everything you can. It plays a big role when companies match a candidate to a team. After the interviews are done, you leave, but the resume stays.

I wish I had gone to grad school straight out of undergrad. I think if you are passionate about your field and plan to spend the rest of your life in it, there is no better place to be. I don’t regret my time working after undergrad which certainly made me a pretty penny, but things get so much more interesting with the knowledge of a quality graduate education. Now that I’m in grad school everyone takes me a lot more seriously, there are more interesting things to work on, and
opportunities present themselves which simply didn’t exist before.

Monday, December 19, 2005

2006 Job Outlook

According to the California Job Journal, the job outlook for 2006 looks rosy. Here are some excerpts:

"The biggest job gains are expected to come in the financial services, technology, healthcare, energy and international business sectors..."

"A return to a late 1990s-style hiring frenzy may be only a matter of time."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Free Info on What to Wear to an Interview

Consider the following advice while deciding what to wear for a job interview:

• Do not wear bright colors such as red
• Do not chew gum or smoke
• Make sure your pockets do not have bulges or coins
• Consider using a briefcase or portfolio (black or dark brown)
• Avoid strong cologne or perfume

Men, follow these rules:

• Do not wear jewelry other than a watch or wedding ring
• Make sure you have a clean shaved face or well-groomed facial hair
• Be certain to have clean nails that are trimmed
• Wear dark socks (long enough so legs never show)
• Wear a belt that matches your shoes

Appropriate Job Interview Dress for Women:

• Do not wear revealing clothing such as mini-skirts
• Dress to be professional rather than “glamorous”
• If you use nail polish, use a clear or conservative color
• If you wear hosiery, use a color which matches your skin
• Do not wear shoes with large heels
• Avoid using a purse (use a briefcase or portfolio instead)

How to Interview Dress for Success

Everyone questions themselves a little bit while deciding what to wear for an interview or job event.

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is “it depends.” What to wear greatly depends on the organization’s culture. The golden rule to follow is to be more formal than the general dress code for the organization. This way you match their culture, but still show that you want to impress them.

If jeans with a t-shirt is the norm, consider business casual attire. If an organization’s employees often wear business casual attire, pin-striped or solid color formal business wear is appropriate. If they sometimes wear a tie or a jacket, that is a sure sign that a suit is required.

When in doubt call or email someone. If you still are not certain, err on the side of caution and conservatism. It is worse to be under-dressed than overdressed. However, wearing a suit isn’t a universal safe choice. It is often the case that highly technical interviewers or research-oriented scientists do not take candidates in suits as seriously.

I hope to have a followup post to this on what is proper job interview etiquette in the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

IT Conversations

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For those of you who are interested in technical-related careers, IT Conversations really is a hidden gem out there. They often have talks on IT trends such as offshoring, open source, and fascinating subjects in general such as Malcolm Galdwell's talk on Human Nature. IT Conversations rates their talks which I find to be very helpful (I filter out anything less than 3 stars). Additionally, you can have them downloaded straight to your iPod--also known as podcasting--which I often do since I like to listen to talks while I drive to work or while travelling.

I just heard a talk that Paul Graham gave recently who is famous for the millions he made off Yahoo's stock and for essays he publishes online on his website. Here is an excerpt from the description:

"Paul Graham, popular author and Lisp programmer, discusses what business can learn from open source. According to him, it's not about Linux or Firefox, but the forces that produced them. He delves into the reasons why open source is able to produce better software, why traditional workplaces are actually harmful to productivity and the reason why professionalism is overrated."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Phone Interviews

For my first real content post I think it's appropriate to start with something that isn't discussed specifically on career sites or at interviewing seminars--Phone Interviews. They are the most common type of interview and certainly deserve special attention.

Phone interviews can range from HR screening interviews to two hour long sessions (for example, Extreme Blue is famous for long phone interviews). Phone interviews are most popular for internships, because they lower hiring costs. Consider the following when preparing for a phone interview:

• You can cheat! Almost any imaginable resource can be available to you during a phone interview. If laying out a cheat sheet of every product the company produces or notes describing each of the keywords on your resume makes you feel more comfortable, then do it.

• Expect HR interview questions. It is likely that you will be asked about location preferences, salary, or group preferences during a screening interview.

• Use a headset. Headsets for phones are inexpensive and make a difference. This way your hands are free and you can avoid cramps from holding the phone for a prolonged period of time. If you purchase a new headset, be sure to test it with a friend before the interview to ensure it works and the volume is set correctly.

• You pick the environment. Find a quiet, familiar place to conduct the interview.

• Don’t ignore physical preparation. Conducting an interview in your pajamas before showering may sound appealing, but it can lead to an overly-relaxed mood and informal language.

• Pay attention to time zones. Make sure that you know the time zone that the interviewer is in. When the call is scheduled ask whether the given time is according to eastern standard time, pacific time, etc.

• Use a professional voicemail message. Interviewers may call back for an additional question or they may call at an unexpected time for a variety of reasons. “Leave a message for Princess Layla” may rub them the wrong way.

• Mark your calendar and notify anyone else who uses the phone. Even if it’s an interview for a safety offer do all you can to ensure your schedule is open.

• Be sure your cellphone is charged and has good reception at the location. Are you planning to conduct the interview between classes on your cellphone? Visit your planned spot and check the reception. Think about how you can make sure you fully charge your phone that day.

• Drink a glass of water before. Singers often drink nothing other than water before a performance. This can be beneficial as speaking clearly is a requirement.

• Smile during the conversation. Smiling has a positive effect on your voice which the interviewer will notice.

• Get out of your chair. Standing provides a natural energy and can help to project your voice more clearly.

Of course, it is important that you provide good answers to interview questions, but I think the above list gives some practical advice that can help you during any phone interview.