Sunday, January 31, 2010

Trimbo’s Interview and Resume Guide

Now that I just got through interviewing a bunch of candidates and hiring one (finally!) I have some tips for those who are interviewing that I didn't want to give away before.

Never Ever EVER mention something you aren't prepared to answer a question about.

This seems so simple, right? Answering questions about stuff you have on your resume.

And these are not hard questions. Don't tell me that you "know" C++ and C# and not be prepared to compare and contrast the two. If you're just graduating from college, don't tell me about a physics class you enjoyed and then be surprised when I ask you for the standard acceleration of gravity. If you've told me you've programmed object oriented Python, be prepared to tell me the name of the constructor of a Python object.

These are pretty basic questions if you've done the work on these topics. It's forgivable if someone forgets something over time, of course. Just be prepared. In the case of languages, it's best to leave a language off your resume if it's either something you don't want to do or don't want to answer questions about. I leave PERL off my resume because I never, ever want to code PERL again.

I realize that to get through the gauntlet of non-technical recruiters, you often need a bunch of keywords on your resume that they can match up with a job description. Still, be very, very careful about what you decide to put there, even if it helps you get through the first line of recruiters, it could sabotage an interview.

Don't put personal details on your resume

Your marital status and number of kids are protected topics for equal opportunity employment in the United States. Employers can't ask you these questions, so don't offer them up, especially before someone talks to you (i.e. on your resume).

Don’t put an expected salary on the resume

Seriously, don’t.  You limit your negotiation abilities before you even walk in the door. 

Don't list an objective on your resume

It's stupid. I don't know where it started, and it wastes space that could otherwise tell me about what you've done and what you know.

List your academic work and curriculum like you would work experience

A lot of resumes will look like this for someone just coming out of college:

Education: University of Illinois, B.S. Electrical and Computer Engineering 2010 (expected)

Work Experience:

  • Sales Representative, Meijer Produce Department
  • Sales Representative, Green Street Hot Wingz
  • Customer Service Representative, Springfield Shell Gas and Wash

I don't usually look at transcripts, and even if I did, I don’t know what your projects were.  So I don't even know where to start with a resume like this.

Taking the same amount of paper space (these days: screen space), here's what I'd rather see:

Education: University of Illinois, B.S. Electrical and Computer Engineering 2010 (expected)

  • CS 362: Compiler Design. Built my own language and MIPS assembler. Grade: A+
  • Math 375: Differential Equations. Grade: A+
  • CS 319: Advanced Graphics. Wrote a raytracer in COBOL. Grade: A+

Work Experience: Part-time jobs at Meijer, various gas stations and restuarants.

I don’t know where this idea started that work experience >>> education, but I remember doing something like this myself when I was graduating from college.  Take my advice now:  the people who tell you the first example is better (to emphasize irrelevant work experience) are idiots.  You did not go to college just to get a single line on your resume saying you got a bachelor’s degree. 

Sections to include on your resume

  • Contact info, References
  • Education
  • Work Experience
  • Novel idea:  “Side projects”
  • (maybe) “Skills”… only if novel and not illustrated by the above three (e.g. “can break a man in half like Chuck Norris”)

What I don’t want is a list of software taking up a third of the page.  Make it part of the education, work experience or side projects sections.  All that matters is what you’ve done with Maya, not that you have “Maya” under your skills section.  I’m more than happy to read about a project you did on your own.  It doesn’t have to be a business.    

Don’t use stupid fonts and logos on your resume

Some guy sent in a resume with using the chiller font.  Don’t do this, it’s just distracting .  They waste space.  They’re hard to read.  Just use one of the templates in Word and follow my advice above about sections to include.

If you want to get creative, make a nice, clean layout for your resume.  It should be easy to read and clear.  Design your own crisp font if you want.  Send your portfolio or reel along with the resume to show how creative you are.

I don’t ask brainteasers and you shouldn’t tolerate them.

They waste time that could be spent showing your relevant problem solving techniques, or writing kick ass code at the white board.  If a company is going to ask me brainteasers, chances are I’m not going to work there.  Brainteaser believers:  show me that correctly solving brainteasers in interviews correlates to exceptional value as an employee.  A candidate who hears brainteasers are asked at such-and-such a company will study up on them ahead of time… proving nothing.

What I do ask are the relevant, basic questions about whatever it is you might have on your resume.  Got Python?  I might ask you to just define a Python class or a method that takes keyword arguments. 

Reel Tips

Got a demo reel?  Great.

  • Put it on YouTube or Vimeo.  I don’t want to have problems looking at your website that has some Quicktime window that doesn’t work, or a broken link.  Some people think it’s a good idea to have their high def reel on their website.  Only if you have the bandwidth.  If it takes 30 minutes to download a 200 megabyte quicktime movie, I will not watch your reel.  I refuse.  Sorry.  And forget about sending DVDs to people.  These days, a demo reel is  on Youtube or Vimeo not at all.
  • Put your most recent stuff first.  If your most recent stuff sucks, leave it off and put on your second most recent stuff.  Continue on until you eventually get your best stuff first and leave off the rest.  I don’t want to have to watch 5 minutes to see something good, and I don’t want to have to watch sucky stuff at any point.
  • Skip making a flashy montage or including music.  I’m guilty of this and it does nothing unless you’re selling yourself to people who are not technical (i.e. ad agency folks).
  • Always have a detailed list, shot by shot, of what you did right next to the video on YouTube or Vimeo.
  • Did I mention don’t use Quicktime?  If your online demo reel has an MOV extension, then it would be Quicktime.

Respect your academics—find out what you need to be learning

What you did at the last job isn’t always what people want to know about you.  Sometimes you’re going to have to reach back to college to answer a question. 

I, like you, have forgotten a crapload of stuff that I learned in college.  That said, it could be worth brushing up on relevant topics before you go into an interview.  In my most recent case, I was interviewing people about a character TD position.  Chances are, I might ask a question about linear algebra. 

On another note, I also asked every candidate “What’s the last math class you took?”  I was surprised to often hear it was Algebra II.  This tip has advice for those who are in college or soon going to college:  choose your college wisely.   There are many shyster schools like Academy of Art in San Francisco that will very expensively try to sell you the dream of being in film or video games.  They’ll teach you how to use Maya and shove you out in the world with $100K in debt. 

Find out what you need to know at a rudimentary level and go the school that teaches that best.  Want to be an animator?  Cal Arts is a really good school.  Ringling is a really good school.  Can’t get into those?  Maybe you should re-think animation as a career choice… because without a good school under your belt, you are probably counting on luck more than you should be in order to be gainfully employed in your career of choice.

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