Preparing for an Interview Presentation

There are, I’ve learned, different types of job presentations. For instance, in the academic world, a job talk, as *they* call it, can be very different than an interview presentation given to a Wall Street firm. In this article, I will refer to the type I am most familiar with: the interview presentation for a scientifically oriented software company. More specifically, for one that deals with a lot of R&D applicants, who will later on have to present findings to clients.

I’ve been working for a technology company for about a year now, and having gone through their hiring process relatively recently, which was pretty intense (read Phone Interview with Nuance), I thought I could share some advice with the people out there. Actually, I’ve had the chance of sitting on the other side of the table for a while now, and have probably observed more when assisting at the candidate’s presentation themselves in the past year.

Let’s hope you find the following six advices helpful. Following those six recommendations can only increase your chances of getting that exceptional job. As always, don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have a question or two, I am sure it’ll benefit others as well.

do your research

You should always know who you are dealing with. If you have the chance of having “someone in the inside”, then use him/her to get some information on the people you will meet during your day. You can then use this information to your advantage during your interviews. Not by blackmailing your future co-workers!!!, but by talking about subjects that will matter to them and will help forge some sort of connection with them. However, always be honest during you interviews, it’ll show them who you really are. After all, you will be working with these people for a while and you want a team that will accept you for who you are.

customize the presentation

Make sure you spend quite a bit of time customizing your presentation to the company you are presenting for. There is nothing more boring, than to sit there and watch something that looks like old material recycled four times in the last month or so. This means that the presentation is, to a certain extent, related to the field of work in which you are applying to. Make that clear with subtle, but noticeable hints throughout the presentation.

design is a plus

Don’t use a boring Microsoft’s Office97 PowerPoint template. Try and find a catchy, but not over the top, layout and color scheme. I personally I am much more tempted to follow a presentation that’s nicely put out (and looks nice!) than one with a very blah template that I’ve seen so many times already. Remember, we’ve seen a lot of presentations, make it stand out!

usability is your friend

A navigational reminder is very useful during a presentation. I often find myself wondering where we are in the talk and what we are talking about in the picture. I personally find that a top-level menu with the current location highlighted is a very important detail to any presentation really.

connect it to the company’s research

Presenting on a totally (well almost totally) different subject can be fine depending on the kind of job you are after. In our case, the candidate will be presenting material to clients that often do not have any clue of what he is talking about. Therefore, presenting this kind of material shows your future employer that you can present, and explain, a difficult subject matter to a crowd of non-expert, which is definitively a plus. A key in this case is to always show how your subject is relevant to what you will be doing in your future job. After all, you still have to show your interest in the job. In other words, let your interest in the job permeate through the presentation.

last but not least

You should never try to sound too smart. Let me rephrase this. You should never make someone in the audience, especially not your future boss, feel like a loser who doesn’t know anything. Well, unless you do not want the job and he really doesn’t know what he is talking about. So be diplomatic and respectful. There is nothing worst than a brilliant candidate making you feel like a fool. And, chances are that your future employer knows a lot more than you think.

Plain and simple:

  1. always be honest during you interviews
  2. customize your presentation to the company you are presenting for
  3. Remember, we’ve seen a lot of presentations, make it stand out!
  4. top-level menu with the current location highlighted
  5. let your interest in the job permeate through the presentation.
  6. be diplomatic and respectful

Since writing this article, I’ve come across a very interesting article explaining how to put together a demo (essentially the same as a presentation). Go see Particletree and get some very crucial advice on how to prepare a good demo.

Interviewing at Microsoft: My adventure to Redmond

Let me preface this by saying that my story is not really different than any of the other stories on the web about interviewing at Microsoft. Well… except that it happened to me! Ha ha. In a nutshell, I had just finished my masters in mathematics, I was very excited to heard that they were interested in me and was really hoping to work for the big guy. Well, that’s not entirely true… I actually mainly wanted a job. In fact, I own a Mac at home, I consider myself primarily a mathematician, and am not particularly fond of Microsoft. But nevertheless, the whole experience was very enlighting and exciting, and I am forever grateful to Microsoft for giving the opportunity to visit the legendary campus, and meet some of the most influential people in Computer Science’s history.

On Campus Interviews

Let start where it all started: McGill University, Montréal, September 2006. I had been looking for a job for a while now, and so I decided to visit the McGill career fair to see what’s out there. Trying to find out what is available for kids with a Master’s degree in Mathematics these days. Ones specializing in theory of evolution, of all things! Well, the first step was when I handed my resume to Josh, an international recruiter for Microsoft at the fair. We had a chat and it turned out that the girl he was with was working on IE7, which was a funny coincidence because that’s the product I was most interested in. Anyways, they must have been intrigued by my resume, because they called me the next day to arrange a campus interview. I got to interview with a French Canadian working for Microsoft, Gilles, and the interview was a lot of fun. First off, we discuss some of my projects through university, and the ways I managed to solve hard problems, etc. We also discussed the reasons why I wanted to work for Microsoft, and then we shifted gear and dove in the coding part of the interview. A rather simple graphic-based question. Nice. Then I got to ask questions about his project, a windows version of Adobe Flash, called Silverlight!! Two days later, I got the e-mail. Congratulations! We are flying you to Redmond! I couldn’t believe it, but it was real. Microsoft thought I did well enough in my interview to pay for me to fly to Redmond and see the campus for myself! Yikes!

It took a while to go through all the required things before the trip, but about a month and a half after my initial interview, I was on a plane to Redmond. The whole process is actually very well organized. I couldn’t believe it. I got to my hotel in Bellevue rather late, so no time to study or go out. I went pretty much directly to bed so that I could be in shape for the next day.

On Site Interviews

Inside Building 19 by jschementi, on FlickrI got to building 19, and there was a couple of people also waiting for interviews. Most of them were there for Project Manager positions. I was there for an SDE position, which apparently is not the easiest to get… My first interview was with a recruiter, like everyone else, by the name of Akes. She was very nice and we had a good discussion about my skills and my personal achievements. We talked for about 45 minutes and then I was thrown on the recruiting shuttle to building 119, which to my surprise is home of the Windows Live group. The interview was for the Microsoft Digital Image Suite. The guy interviewing me, a lead developer, was really nice and fun to talk to. I unfortunately felt like I didn’t really do well on this interview. I came up with a solution very quickly (the question was simple enough How to find the MRCA, most recent common ancestor, of two nodes in a tree, but it wasn’t the most efficient. Kind of a bummer seeing as this was my field of expertise.

My next interview was a lunch interview. We went to a restaurant off campus called Pomegranate bistro. The food was delicious and we had a really good conversation. This interview was much more geared towards my resume and my achievements. We also discussed the product he works on, the same photo software as the guy before, and some of the improvements I would want to see. It was a fun interview. I really enjoyed it.

By then, I was off to another building. Interviewing with another group within to the live experience, Live Messenger (the new MSN messenger). This interview was also very good. The interviewer dug deep in my experiences as a Teaching Assistant and in some of my group projects at school. We discussed these a little and then switched to a programming question. This one I had a much better idea of how to solve it. I solved it really well and quickly! Then we discussed the design of a messenger’s program. I had a hard time explaining my thoughts to him.

Concluding Remarks

All in all, the experience was amazing. I would redo it anytime. The people were friendly, and efficient. The conversations were also very interesting. Personally, I don’t think I really fit into the whole Microsoft scene. I had just came back from a long trip, climbing in Thailand, and driving across Australia, and I really didn’t see myself working for Microsoft. From what I have heard, you end up working really long hour, and are constantly stuck to work around proprietary code that has been in Windows for ages. Another thing that struck me when visiting is how geeky and very communal the whole campus is. From there cars with advertisements for IE7 on them, to mailboxes just like the icons in their own OS… Finally, I don’t like the chasing-after-the-other-software-companies attitude Microsoft has these days (live search, live spaces, soapbox, etc). I just wish they could come up with their own thing. I know they can. They have the brains, I’ve met them!

My Second Interview with Accenture

I didn’t want to say much about this second interview here. However, seeing as my first post on the subject seems to have helped a couple of people out there, I thought I should share a little something for the second round interviews also.

My second interview was with a different person from Accenture, Montreal. He was really nice, but we skipped the chatting from the first interview and dove right into the subject matter: Behaviour, Behaviour, Behaviour. So I will only give you one piece of advice for this second interview: Prepare at least 5 projects from which you remember a large amount of details (because, yes, they will dig really deep!), and be ready to answer a couple of questions using those projects. I also suggest visiting quintcareers.com’s sample behavioural questions to get an idea of the kind of questions you will be asked. You should be able to find all of the information you need in order to do well in behavioral interviews on that website. You should also visit the section on Second Interview Do’s and Don’ts from the same website.

Just to give you an idea of the kind of questions they may ask you. I was asked to “talk about a time you had to talk about the difficulties you were facing in a project”. They asked me a lot of questions about the said project, what was it, why was it difficult, but they also asked me to explain in detail how I was feeling when I was talking to my employer. Needless to say, it was very difficult to remember.

Oh and one last thing. Don’t ever lie about a project. It’s way better to be honest. I told them at one point that I didn’t remember this project in that much detail. They said “no problem, we’ll change question”. After all, they are not there to torture you, they are only there to find out more about you. If you lie, then all they’ll find out about you is that you are a liar… and that would definitively rule out a third round interview! Having said that, I would recommend studying your past five projects you’ve done and try to remember as much details as possible.

Related Articles

Phone Interview with Nuance

The phone interview is officially scheduled for Tuesday October 24th at 20h00. I can’t wait because I have many questions in mind already.

Nuance Communications, Inc Things are advancing fast on my job search so far in October. Since I learned from my friend Jean-Philipe, through our common friend Sylvain, that Nuance Communications is looking for a person with a Mathematical and Programming background to fill in a position as a Speech Scientist, I have been super excited about this opportunity. First, I did some research on the subject and talked with Jean-Philipe about the position. I also read a little bit about the company and the science behind Speech Recognition. I had no idea it was such an interesting field of Mathematical applications. Anyways. Then I sent my Resume and nice little cover letter (which was appreciated by the recruiter apparently!).

Read More»

My First Interview for Accenture

I just received an e-mail, on Friday October 13th, confirming that I will have an interview with Accenture next Friday. I’m off to study and get ready now. Wish me luck!

Accenture’s logo in a hallway
I received my first e-mail confirming my interview with Accenture, after applying online, about a week ago. Ever since the e-mail, I have been reading news and studying the company’s history for this interview a little bit everyday.

I think one of the best to prepare for an interview like this is to know the company well enough to have an intelligent conversation with your interviewee. That’s especially true in the first round interviews of Accenture, since they focus more on the reasons why you would want to work with them and where you see yourself in the company years from now. So, yes, the best way to know that is to know the company a little more. My idea to study the company was to follow Google Finance’s RSS feed and read any news that came out on Accenture. Here is a brief list of the latest news (You have to have Javascript enabled to see this):

So anyways, here are some details on my first interview with them. I walked in the fifth floor of the Brown Building at McGill and was welcomed by three representatives of the Montreal office. They were really nice and we had a little chat about Accenture and other mathematical problems, which was a really interesting problem that I haven’t managed to solve yet, but that’s beside my point here. The actual interview took place in another room, and so my interviewer took me to that room at which point we started discussing some of my academic achievements right away. The interview was basically a get-to-know-me sort of interview and the questions were separated into four categories: Human Resources, Academic achievements, Life in general (extra curricular activities, etc), and Accenture-related questions. The first part is simply to know my geographical preferences (Would I prefer Montreal, Toronto, etc) and whether I can work in Canada.

I don’t want to go into the specifics of what the questions were, but they were pretty simple questions to get to know me. It was actually very interesting to talk with the interviewer and to get to know the company a little better. I think it would be really interesting to work there. There was also some time for me to ask questions about the job and the life that you can expect to have with a job from Accenture, which sounded reasonably exciting!

At the end of the interview, I had time to chat with the three representatives and is where I learned the most about Accenture. I also learned that the next interviews will be held next Friday, October 20th. I will know if I get the second interview or not on Monday. So stay tuned.

Don’t hesitate to leave a little comment here to share with us your experience at interviewing with Accenture. I may even have some words of advice to give you. Meanwhile, here is the picture of the stock for the past two years at Accenture. I find it pretty interesting and revealing to look at the price of the stock of a company.

Last two years at Accenture

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