Four Ways to Be Smart at the Job Interview

December 8th, 2009 by lewis

Aaron Swartz has a fascinating post titled, “How I Hire Programmers.” If you’re a programmer or a person who hires programmers, I’d suggest you read Aaron’s post.
However, even for job seekers who aren’t looking for programming jobs, I thought Aaron made interesting points on what “make someone seem smart.” I’ve excerpted four key sections below.
Convey a “sign of genuine understanding” with clear communication skills
But if I had to write down what it is that makes someone seem smart, I’d emphasize three things. First, do they know stuff? Ask them what they’ve been thinking about and probe them about it. Do they seem to understand it in detail? Can they explain it clearly? (Clear explanations are a sign of genuine understanding.) Do they know stuff about the subject that you don’t?
Be curious
Second, are they curious? Do they reciprocate by asking questions about you? Are they genuinely interested or just being polite? Do they ask follow-up questions about what you’re saying? Do their questions make you think?
Demonstrate that you not only listen and understand, but actually learned
Third, do they learn? At some point in the conversation, you’ll probably be explaining something to them. Do they actually understand it or do they just nod and smile? There are people who know stuff about some small area but aren’t curious about others. And there are people who are curious but don’t learn, they ask lots of questions but don’t really listen. You want someone who does all three.
Build rapport & chemistry with the interviewer
Finally, I figure out whether I can work with someone just by hanging out with them for a bit. Many brilliant people can seem delightful in a one-hour conversation, but their eccentricities become grating after a couple hours. So after you’re done chatting, invite them along for a meal with the rest of the team or a game at the office. Again, keep things as casual as possible. The point is just to see whether they get on your nerves.


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