Review of Advanced Interviewing Techniques course offered by the University of Maryland

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This time I took the course Advanced Interviewing Techniques on Coursera.

The discussion starts with behavioral interviews which are also called competency based interviews. There is the need to make the difference between skill and competency. For example in the programming world being able to code in a programming language is a skill while being able to create an effective piece of software is a competency.

Continuing, the course expresses some figures: traditional interviews are around 10% accurate in finding the right candidate while competency based interviews are around 55% percent accurate.

Competency based questions are very specific. For example an interviewer may ask: “tell me about a time when you solved a specific problem?”. Or “how you’ve dealt with failure at your previous job?”.

The basic strategy for dealing with behavioral interviews is to prepare a few dozens of stories regarding different past job experiences and hopefully you will be asked questions that fit your stories or questions that require minimal adjustment of your stories. This strategy obviously needs some framework for the stories so the course introduces the STAR response framework.

STAR response framework is made out of the following steps:

First you describe the situation: where and when does the story take place?

Secondly you describe the task or target needed to handle the problem. These first two steps should not take more than 25% of your entire story.

In the third step you describe the action you took to solve the problem. You should discuss the struggles and also tell what you do, why you do it, how you do it or who was involved.

And lastly, in the fourth step you discuss the results of your actions, the impact your actions had.

The entire STAR response should take between 2 and 3 minutes and you should understand what the employer wants to find out about you: to see if your story exposes the competency needed for the job.

Some common situations your interviewer may put you in:

- a specific situation where you failed: this question is not a tricky one, the interviewer wants to see if you learned from failure and if you’re afraid of failure. An important thing to do is to assume responsibility for the failure you discuss rather than blaming someone else or criticizing colleagues.

- a past accomplishment you’re proud of: it can be any accomplishment, does not necessarily be work related.

- how you handle conflict at work: conflicts at work are inevitable and the best thing to do is to show you spend time understanding the other side's point of view and also that you treat the conflict with calmness.

Another type of questions are situational interview questions. These types of questions typically start with “what would you do if?”. This time the interviewer puts you in a realistic hypothetical situation to see your thinking skills.

Further on when engaging in interviews you need to communicate your personal values. Some of the best traits any employee can have: authenticity, self-management, self awareness and humility.

Another topic is how to answer the weaknesses question. This question is asked to make you think hard and deeply. And you’re better off if you’ve prepared an answer before the interview. The interviewer wants to see if you can handle challenges, if you’re honest and if you can take corrective actions.

Questions to ask at every interview:

1. The first question is about the position. How has it developed since it was created?

2. What are the training opportunities?

3. What kind of employee would succeed in this position?

4. Examples of projects you'd be working on?

Questions You Should Never Ask:

1. How much does this job pay? You need to let the employer bring the money topic to the table.

2. What kind of organization is this? Such a question implies you have not done any research prior to the interview.

3. How much vacation time do I get? Such a question suggests you don’t really want to work.

Negotiating the Best Deal

Recruiters are experienced trained negotiators. Their goal is to get you to reveal your current salary as early in the interview process as possible or to commit to a desired salary number. They then may make an initial offer at that level or lower, or even worse they may use your response to eliminate you from further consideration.

You have two disadvantages when negotiating: first you do not know how high the organization is willing to go for you. And secondly you may not be willing to negotiate.

The first principle of negotiation is who throws the numbers first probably has the most to lose.

A good tactic to counter the question of what are your salary expectations is to say you need to know the pay range to get an opinion.

Another tactic is to delay the payment discussion until the company decides it wants you. In such a scenario you negotiate from a position of force.

Tips for having a phone interview

You need to understand a phone interview is a conversation, not an interrogation.

So first you need to be a good listener.

Next you need to think about the questions you’re asked and take your time before replying. Schedule the phone interview in a time that you’re free of distractions.

There is obviously a lot more information in the course, I covered just what I considered to be the most important ideas.


I'm a web programmer passionate about coding, spirituality, psychology and some theoretical sciences. The best part with so many interests is I never get bored.

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