The Middle of the Aloofness Spectrum

Real Story #1: John goes in and interviews for a C++ job he really wants. Knocks it out of the park technically, environment feels good, he walks away saying I’ll be shocked if I don’t get an offer. Client calls and says “John spent a lot of time talking about his other offers and about salary – he really didn’t ask about the work at all and we couldn’t tell if he wanted to be here.”

Real Story #2: Mark interviews for a Rails developer job at an entrepreneurial, family-friendly company. Technicals go great, Mark thinks an offer will be coming soon. Client calls and says “Mark was too excited and it made us nervous. Said this was the best interview he’s ever had, kept talking about how much he loved the culture, we don’t know why he wants it so badly.”

(BTW, in those two stories, the second one is usually salvageable, the first one is not.)

These are two sides of the aloofness spectrum – how much do you want to let an interviewing company know that you want the job, or how hard-to-get do you want to play?

The real goal, of course, is to come somewhere in the middle – confident, respectful, and genuine. Let’s dig in a bit.

  • Keep your comparisons to yourself. Both John and Mark above explicitly compared this interview/hiring process to another one with the interviewers. No good comes of this: filter it out when you’re talking, unless you’re explicitly asked a question.
  • Show interest in what the team is doing. I’m assuming this is a company you want to work at, and so you should be interested in it – don’t fake it. (If you are faking it, danger, go find something else to do.) If it is, make sure they know it. The engineers should be excited about their work – they want you to be excited too, so you can be part of the secret club and can help them recruit others in. Passion is always a plus.
  • Other options? Pick the right time and place to talk about it. If the company has an HR person (or you’re working with an external recruiter), that’s the person who needs to know about your other options, your salary requirements, etc. (Even if you are working with an external recruiter, tell the HR person anyway, because external folks forget to pass that info along.)The other engineers don’t need to know – the manager might. Also, this is a sentence or two, just one time: “I’m just letting you know I have another offer, where they’ve asked for a response by Wednesday.”  You’re setting yourself up for the right followup without dwelling or pushing.
  • Manage the squee. It’s great to be excited, and you should be energized by the opportunity. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by our own excitement and that filter goes away. Interviewing is dating, and you don’t want to scare them off with overexuberance.

That’s it. Be genuine, but stay within some guardrails, and you should walk away with more personal credibility than you had when you began.