For the last three years, I have been my team’s representative to all job interviews. CARFAX is still doing quite well in this tough economy, and we are currently interviewing interns for the coming summer. I believe we even have a few full time positions open as well.

One thing I have observed in all of these interviews, however, is how unprepared many of the candidates are. Maybe we aren’t getting the best candidates, though this batch of interns from UMR/ MST has been much better than those in years past. I thought career centers did a good job of coaching students, but maybe that isn’t true at other schools, or students don’t use them. So, I decided to share a few thoughts on this process for those out there who might be looking for a job, especially in IT.

Figure out what the work environment is like. HR will usually tell you this. When I interviewed at CARFAX, I was wearing khakis and a polo, as I was told the environment is quite laid back. To this day, I think I probably would have done well wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Figure out what the company does. Research what you might be working on before you go in for the interview. Don’t take this too far – when I interviewed for Cerner Systems in Kansas City, I was interviewing with 30 other college students at about the same time. Some were starting up conversations with the interviewers talking about how much they knew about the CFO, CIO, CEO, etc, about the company’s stock performance. If a company is involved in several lines of work, research those. For example, CARFAX maintains a consumer site and a dealer site, as well as now a site for banking and insurance.

Look at the products that are made by the company. See the previous item. Usually I or someone else from the interview team do a one-on-one session with the candidate to assess their programming skills, and 90% of the time, they have not taken the time to look at a CARFAX report, and the remaining 10%, save maybe 1 out of the 40 or so people I have interviewed, only looked at them the last time they bought a car (meaning that 1 person looked at it before the interview to be well prepared). If you show interest in what you will ultimately be working on, it is a big plus.

Be ready to discuss your past experiences. Behavioral Interviews are still quite common. Before you go in for an interview, write down some of the projects you worked on – ones you liked and ones you didn’t like. How were you a good contributor to those projects? What made them enjoyable or not? Using the same experience over and over to answer different questions is ok if you are straight out of college (its better than not being able to answer), but if you have worked in the industry for a bit, try and have some variety.

Come with questions. If you are fortunate enough to interview somewhere where you are interviewed by your future peers (like at CARFAX), ask them about how the day to day operations are. They will give you a more realistic answer than HR will. Ask about the environment, what skills are most important (especially if you think you missed some key questions about certain technical skills). Ask technical questions. Show that you are interested.

This leads me to my last point – have some passion. We have been very fortunate with the latest round of interviews to see some very passionate people. These are students that program not just in the classroom, but work on projects in their free time, who have sought out part time jobs, some have done some consulting. Show that you care about the line of work you are in.