How to prepare for an entry level job interview?

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Entry Level interviews can be nerve racking because most people at this level haven’t been through many interviews before. It’s a normal feeling and this article is meant to help you better understand the process, what to expect and what you should brush up on beforehand.


The Process

Most interview processes begin with a phone interview, usually with an HR person. This person usually isn’t the hiring manager and doesn’t have a high level of technical knowledge. They are an hr specialist and are trying to get a general idea of who you are and if you are a good potential candidate to be passed on to the hiring manager. Once you get through the initial phone interview, you move onto the 1st in person interview. This is usually done with a hiring manager and 1 or 2 other members of the team. This interview is usually more job specific and will involve technical questions to assess your ability to perform the tasks required for the job. You will usually be asked about previous experiences where you demonstrated desired traits or skills relevant to the job and you will probably be asked questions to see if you will be a good cultural fit for the team.


Phone Interview

During the initial interview you typically want to give a high level of your experiences and skillset. Try to avoid going into heavy technical details unless explicitly asked. I suggest focusing on the “what” more than the “how”. For example if you’re asked about what networking experience you have, an appropriate answer to an HR person would include years of experience, where you worked and what you’re responsibilities were. If asked a question of “tell me a time when you…” Highlight one or two projects using the STAR methodology, which stands for situation, task, action and result. Start off explaining the situation, what the task to be completed was, what action you took to accomplish that task were and what positive result followed because of your actions. Going into this interview you also want to have an idea of what you want in terms of salary and ask the recruiter any questions you have about the position. Some people may have the urge not to ask questions or discuss salary because they just want to get your foot in the door, but remember it is a negotiation process and what you say will affect all steps of the process going forward. It’s especially important if you have multiple companies interviewing you to ask questions about what’s important to you, eg salary, types of projects you will work on, vacation time, professional development budget etc.

In Person Interviews

 If you have made it to this step, the company is getting pretty serious about hiring you. You’ve passed the initial screening process and now you will be meeting with a hiring manager who will be assessing your ability to perform the desired job and fit well with the team. At this stage you can expect more specific questions. I suggest looking over the job description to see what technologies and knowledge is required for the position, this can give you a good idea of what questions will be asked and you can prepare answers to demonstrate your ability. You also also want to focus more on the “how” rather than just the “what”. Going off the networking example from the previous example, if you said one of your responsibilities has hardened workstations to make them more secure the hiring manager will want to know how you accomplished this in detail. What configurations did you change, what ports did you close and leave open, what security controls were put in place and how did you decide on these things. So be comfortable on the details of your past experiences. I also got some general security questions in my interviews asking about common security attacks like cross site scripting and common security technologies such as Web application firewalls(WAF). You want to go over common security attacks, security controls and best practices such as password policy to make sure you can answer questions like that confidently. 

It is possible to have another in person interview following the second interview but in my experience this is pretty uncommon and when they do occur the process will usually be similar to the first in person interview. The questions are very specific to the job and they want to know the details of how you think and how you approach problems. Key thing to remember is the first interview is more high level, focusing on “what” you’ve done and understanding your expectations for the position. The Second interview will be more focused on the details of what you’ve done, understanding how you approach problems and seeing if you will be a good fit for the culture of the team.