Interviewing in Silicon Valley - what to expect?
June 5, 2005 1:44 AM   Subscribe

So I'm going to be interviewing with a major Internet company in California sometime within the next few weeks, and I'm excited, but also scared to death. I've heard that several of the "big name" companies have very rigorous interviewing processes, and I've done a ton of Googling on the subject, but only seem to find information relevant to interviewing at Microsoft (which I'm not). Certainly some of you have who read MeFi have been through this a few times. What should I expect? How can I best prepare? HELP!

A few extra bits of information: This is a relocation position (I currently live on the east coast) and I was called because a friend of mine forwarded my resume. I've never had anyone fly me anywhere for an interview before, but I would hope that means that based on what they've seen of my work and me resume that they might actually be interested (since they're incurring cost to interview me in person). I just have to bolster enough confidence in myself to do well, so any tips would make things much easier. Thanks all! :)
posted by superboy422 to Work & Money (5 answers total)
I work in Banking and also teach finance at a local University part time ("Forecasting Financial Markets"), so I get this question or variants a lot.

Yes, they are interested since, as you pointed out, they are incurring expenses to see you. But don't think this is a done deal; big firms will routinely fly folks around for interviews. You're still going to have to interact and present yourself well. Obviously read as much as you can about the company and the division you're interviewing with. Spend some serious time picking your friend's brain if they already work at the firm in question.

Make sure that you can talk intelligently about everything, and I do mean everything on your CV. That will probably drive a large part of your discussions, at least in the early phase.

That being said, don't put pressure on yourself. View the interview as an opportunity to meet some interesting people from an interesting firm, and learn about what they do. Nothing more.

I wouldn't waste a lot of time trying to prepare. Just be yourself, be positive, and enjoy your trip out west. If a job shakes out of this it's a plus, otherwise, you got a free trip and met some interesting people.

Best of luck!
posted by Mutant at 2:25 AM on June 5, 2005

Is this a business or a technical position? The interview styles are different, night and day, depending.

If it is a business position:

* Expect at least some, if not all, of your interviewers to set a lot of store by exquisite academic credentials and standardized test scores. An important challenge, if you lack those credentials, is to sell yourself as a member of the elite, without seeming defensive. (At many firms, there's a mismatch between HR and actual business people on this issue -- for legal reasons, and because HR people themselves typically don't have stellar credentials -- HR isn't as aggressive on ultra-top-tier pedigrees in selecting recruits as they would be if they followed the actual preferences of the hiring managers.)

* Expect, and prepare for, "game" interviews, where you are asked to work math or finance or esimation problems in your head and work in-depth consulting-style "case" analyses. There's no lack of resources on the web for this -- google "McKinsey interview" to get a good start.

* Find out in advance if you're going to lunch or dinner as part of your interviews. Even in Silicon Valley, if you're going to dinner it's nice to have a casually-styled sportcoat and pressed shirt (no tie, of course). You can always take it off if everyone shows up in a golf shirt. If your hosts order first and order booze, order booze for yourself (of the same strength -- i.e., a beer if they order beer, wine if wine, cocktail if cocktail). If you're forced to order first, don't order booze, and don't "up" your order to include booze if one of your hosts does thereafter (that makes you look like a lush) -- but do join in the wine even if you missed out on the first round of pre-dinner drinks.

* Give some thought to accessories (crazy, but true). A good watch and a nice pair of eyeglass frames says a lot about you before the first word is spoken.
posted by MattD at 6:17 AM on June 5, 2005

A friend of mine interviewed with Google, and I think a lot of the worries about "unsolveable problems" (how many lightbulbs are there in America?) are unwarranted. Almost all of the questions he was asked ended up being computational algorithms (but then, he interviewed as a software developer).

Check out these actual interview samples (Amazon, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, etc.) if you want to prepare yourself. They list actual interview questions, software problems, etc., but also more subtle things like, "How long is the [xxx] interview going to last? How many people will I talk with?"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:52 AM on June 5, 2005

Having just done quite a few of these interviews, here's some advice if you're applying for a programming job:

1. Practice writing code on whiteboards. This is the part that was the hardest for me, in 3 different interviews there were a few people in the room, and they would throw programming problems of all levels at me, and I'd have to code them on white boards, without access to a compiler. I usually work very iteratively, so this was a challenge. By the 3rd interview, I was quite good at it

2. Get into a technical discussion in the interviewer's area of expertise. Obviously this only works if your interviewer is an engineer, but if they are and they off handedly mention something technically interesting, follow up on it. If you show genuine interest in the work the interviewer does, they'll like you personally and have a higher estimate of your skills. Also you get to learn all sorts of internal company secrets :)

3. Ask for help. If you get asked a technical question that you don't know the answer to, do not pretend to know the answer. I had good success by attempting an implementation for awhile, and then getting feedback from the interviewer. It keeps the interviewer involved, and if you successfully solve it with help, it clearly shows that you have the capability to work in teams.

4. Get some good sleep. I made a mistake on my first interview of allowing them to schedule my interview on the same day I flew out, which was a horrible idea. I ended up having to solve programming problems on 3 hours of sleep, which never goes well. Then again, it did show I was able to work under pressure, which I think the people at the job liked.

Anyway, these are from my experience over the last few months, and really only apply if you are a programmer being interviewed by a programmer, but many companies structure interviews this way nowadays, including all 3 big-name tech companies I interviewed at. Good luck!
posted by JZig at 12:55 PM on June 5, 2005

Have you tried yet? They have listings on most large companies, and their forums usually have lots of answers from people who work at the companies.

Unfortunately, you need a paid membership to see a lot of the information, but you still might find something useful in the free areas. If you've caught this company right in the middle of their interview process, you might even see a couple of stories from people who have already interviewed.

Good luck!
posted by C^3 at 1:14 PM on June 5, 2005

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