In the previous post, I shared some general thoughts about the mindset appropriate for pursuing high tech jobs. This post will be the first of several in which I will describe characteristics that are frequently present in successful applicants.
Although it may not necessarily be a requirement of the job you want, it is very valuable to be a good communicator. This doesn't mean that you have to have the magic that evokes a standing ovation from an audience of thousands. It just means that you have to be able to have a meaningful conversation with your interviewers. You want to be able to express the thoughts in your head without leaving your counterpart confused about what you are trying to say. Suppose you solve the P versus NP problem... what difference does it make if you can't explain it to anyone?
It's also good to develop the ability to express your thoughts without extraneous chaff. While some explanations require a lengthy answer, being too wordy can annoy your interviewer, depending on their personality (recall that in the last post we touched on the need to assess your interviewer). This minor annoyance is innocuous, though, when compared to the risk you take of running out of time. There are many situations in which time is a critical factor and an interview is one of them. If you spend too much time explaining your answer or solution to the first question asked, you will not have time to move on to other questions. Imagine that there are two candidates interviewing for the same position and the first answers one question extremely well but runs out of time while the other answers two questions satisfactorily and one question poorly. In this case, the interviewer doesn't have a full picture of the first candidate. Maybe they would have bombed the second and third questions. With the second candidate, we have an understanding of both their strengths and their weaknesses. A known weakness is preferable to an unanswered question since many weaknesses can be overcome, but unanswered questions may hide unacceptable results.
In addition to being clear and concise, try to be precise. Misinterpretation can be dangerous in an interview. Any thinking the interviewer has to do on their own may lead to false impressions. I have a friend who interviewed at Microsoft and as part of her explanation as to why she wanted to work there, she said she loves the way Microsoft technologies like Live Messenger allow her to communicate with her family. Somehow the interviewer misinterpreted this as the desire spend the day chatting online. This mistake reflects negatively on the interviewer, but the point is to be aware that it happens. In the end, the interviewer is the one who will decide whether or not to recommend hiring you.
There is plenty of information around the web on the importance of effective communication along with some tips on doing it, so be sure to poke around and get a better understanding of both. Many colleges and public institutions, like libraries, have programs (often free) to help participants improve their communication skills. While at UCSD, I went through one such program that I believe helped me immensely.
Check out the next post in this series here.