Having sat on both sides of the table, I know that the interview process can sometimes be an uncomfortable and even painful process. To make matters more difficult, the GIS field requires a broad range of skills ranging from cartographic techniques to GIS programming to relational database management.
Acquiring enough depth in any of these areas can seem impossible especially when the field is still evolving at a horrendous pace. So what is it that’s really important when it comes to interviewing for a GIS position?
As with all positions being applied for, your resume is the initial introduction you have for a prospective employer. This is your chance to create a good first impression.
Make sure the resume applies to the position that you are interested in. It’s important that within your resume and application you hit on the experiences called for. Don’t forget the cover letter!
The Important Stuff
Obviously, the biggest factor in the interview process is assessing the amount of experience you have. Make sure that during the interview process you incorporate as much of your experience and skills into your answer.
One way to do this is when answering a question make sure you mention the tools and methods by which you accomplished your tasks. If asked about experience in an area you are lacking in, relate the question to experience you have had.
There are other factors though that are important to assess during the interview process. GIS is mostly a project driven business. Rarely are you going to create a database or application solely for your own use.
Oftentimes, you will be working with people who understand relatively little about GIS and are confused about what they need.
As a result, the interviewers are often looking for candidates that understand the unique customer relationship that is required. A good interviewee will be able to impart a sense of being able to bridge the gap between technical jargon and laymen’s terms. In addition, an ability to provide follow through and attention to details during the project development is essential.
Above all, don’t lie
There’s nothing more painful for an interviewer to watch than a potential candidate stumped by an answer. Feeling the pressure to answer exactly as you might be expected can be daunting.
The worst mistake you can make is to try and bluff your way through the answer. Chances are, the panel will have at least one technical expert to gauge the veracity of your answers. Besides, oftentimes the way you attempt to answer the question is as important as the answer itself.
It’s very rare that the position will be filled by a GIS guru so employers usually look for a candidate that can show they can at least figure out problems on their own. One candidate when pressed to give code examples for a problem admitted straight-out that she couldn’t answer it that way but then proceeded to provide the logic in which that problem would be solved.
The bottom line is that employers are looking for a candidate they have confidence in. It is up to you to give that impression of yourself during your interview.
“Do you have anything else to add about yourself?”
It’s the end all question to every interview process. No matter how many times you rehearse the answer beforehand, more often than not you end up squirmy before the panel as you try to think up some quick and witty response without making yourself look cocky.
My ultimate answer: bring a printed portfolio that showcases your best work or create an online geoportfolio. Without fail, the interview panel will be impressed and it gives you that last opportunity to contribute to your interview process.
Once the interview is over, don’t forget your P’s and Q’s.
Standard protocol calls for follow-up thank you letters to each member that sat on the interview panel. Not only is this a way to impress your interviewers with your excellent set of manners, it’s also a last minute chance to reiterate any points you may have forgotten during the interview (but keep it short and sweet).
This article was originally written on August 27, 2009 and has since been updated.