Negotiation and Interviewing Advice for Hackbright Students from Poornima Vijayashanker (Femgineer)

We invited Poornima Vijayashanker, founder at Femgineer, to Hackbright Academy to speak to this summer’s class about getting interviews and negotiating.

Her talk at Hackbright covered:
(1) Getting the interview
(2) Interviewing Skills
(3) Assessing the Environment
(4) Negotiating an Offer

Get the interview: “Make yourself discoverable”

First and foremost, keep your information up-to-date online.

* Make sure your Github, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles are up-to-date and reflects where you are looking for. Students list themselves on LinkedIn as an “engineering fellow” at Hackbright Academy until graduation, at which time you change your status on LinkedIn. Updating your status online sends a signal to your network and recruiters that you are available for hire.

* For career pivots, list your previous jobs on your resume even if they seem irrelevant to one’s new career in software engineering. Poornima confirmed: “Yes, list your previous jobs! It proves you were gainfully employeed before.” In your summary and objectives section of your LinkedIn profile, be very clear what it is that you want to do going forward. You can go ahead and put as your title the job you want so you can show up in searches on LinkedIn.

* Talk about why you decided to make a career transition, as this displays a level of leadership. Make sure your information across social media profiles tell a coherent story. Practice your pitch by answering the following questions: What did you do before? What are you doing now? Why did you make the switch? Where are you headed? Be as specific as possible.

* When talking about yourself, avoid your deficiencies and reframe it as “what is it the company is offering?” Avoid the passive voice. For example, instead of saying you don’t have X skill/expertise today and want to learn, but instead ask the company if they offer any training in X. Show you are interested and understand that the hiring company can give it to you.

Interview skills: Understand the position

Poornima provided perspective in job postings: “They are hoping they can hire [an employee who knows] 10-20 things and a lot of times this is not feasible. Realize that and don’t let it stop you.”

* Understand what the key of the position is – what are the things you absolutely need to have. Take the job posting at face value, then dig in a little bit to find out what is a must-have. Some job requirements will become negotiables.

* Don’t always feel you have to be all the qualifications because they will adjust. They have must-haves and hoping-to-haves. Dig in, and first, do apply for jobs even if you don’t feel you have mastered all the requirements!

* A common mistake during interviewing is jumping into problem-solving before understanding the question. This is due to nervousness/eagerness, but you must take the time to understand and ask questions. Give yourself time to make sure questions are resolved before starting to whiteboard. This shows you are a methodical person, and this is what they are gauging – “how much time will she take to figure out the problem, or will she be trigger-happy?”

Assess the environment: “Dig in”

* Ask thoughtful questions of the interviewer(s). Ask the interviewer: “How long have you been on this team?” “How long have you been in this particular role?”

* Femgineer co-founder Kaitlin broached a good question: “Where does hitting a home run at this job get you?” You can gauge what exceeding expectations looks like versus simply meeting expectations. What will your reward be for working really hard at your new job? Are there women in management and technical leadership positions at this company?

* Dig in to the role. Ask who the boss is – who will you be reporting to? Dig into the team – ask about the team’s development process (ie. weekly vs. monthly springs? are they shipping consistently?). Lastly, dig into the long term (see previous bullet point).

Negotiate the Offer: “Why Ask for More”

Poornima made a strong case for negotiating a job offer:

* You have one chance…. to ask for EVERYTHING. Promotions happen every 1-2 years. And yearly raises are only 4-5% so negotiate your offer when you get it! They will not take away the offer becuse you asked for $10-20k more. You can ask for things like: one day of remote work a week, a sign on bonus for relocation, higher equity. ALWAYS ASK FOR MORE EQUITY!

* If you don’t ask, you will get absolutely nothing. To help you feel less greedy/selfish when asking for more, Poornima has come up with some mental games to help with the negotiation process. “Pretend you are not asking for this for yourself but you are asking for your best friend,” suggested Poornima.

* Ask for it, and shut it. Ask for what you want, and then close your mouth and let the other party have a chance to get back to you in a few days. The person making the offer to you is not the sole decision-maker. Make them go back and ask for more for you.

Poornima provided an excellent grid to map your professional and personal goals:

When you know your non-negotiables and priorities, negotiation becomes much easier.