[EDIT 2.0 ]Hello everyone. This is my second phone interview for a development internship. My very first one was okay, but I didn't get my dream internship. Now, I'm facing fears about this upcoming interview. My fears include the following:

  1. I'm 19 years old. The thought of 2 lead developers interviewing me makes me think that I'll know so little of what they'd want me to know. Like they will expect so much.

  2. I'm a junior having these panic attacks that I did not get in the other internship. I have a little voice saying "You didn't get the other one. What makes you think you'll get this one?".

  3. I'm scared that I'll freeze up, forget everything I know, and stutter like an idiot.

I'm still traumatized by the last one, because I really really wanted that internship, and I even studied very hard for it. When I was in the interview, I was so nervous I couldn't think clearly. As a result, I didn't do as well as I know I could have. The minute I hung up, I even thought of a better solution to the interview question! Any tips for a soon-to-be intern (hopefully!)?

Thank you!

P.S. I'm preparing by using this guide for phone interviews.

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    Fear is pretty standard. Learn to deal with it. Step 1 is to fix your question. "Scared to death" is vague and useless. Identify your specific fears. Details matter in dealing with fear. Details matter in interviews. Details matter to get useful answers here. – S.Lott Mar 16 '11 at 15:04
  • "traumatized" is a vague word. Please fix your question. Details matter. Be specific. The fact that you feel the need to put it in quotes indicates that your dwelling on the fear itself, not the specific things you're specifically worried about. Please be specific. – S.Lott Mar 16 '11 at 15:24
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    See related threads on SO: Really “wow” them in the interview; Selling Yourself – Péter Török Mar 16 '11 at 15:31
  • I suggest you exercise the day before, get good sleep the night before, wake up refreshed and alert and full of energy, then take Ritalin for concentration, Smoke weed for relaxation and a cup of espresso for an extra boost. I would also recommend speed, but that becomes expensive. – Job Mar 16 '11 at 16:04
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    Take it easy. They know you're 19 and you're applying for an internship, not for a senior position. Senior as they may be, they'll ask questions appropriate for your level, not theirs. – ggambett Mar 16 '11 at 16:43

10 Answers 10

  • be honest. They'll know if your making it up. It's not a crime (especially in 2011 GoogleWorld) to say that you don't know, but you can find out, particularly in language specifics or syntax etc.

  • take your time. Pause and collect your thoughts before you answer. As you start to explain, you'll think of other things - that's OK, it shows you're thinking. The guys on the other end of the phone won't mind a braindump...it shows there's a brain there.

  • be yourself. It's as much about you as it is about your technical abilities.

  • relax. Enjoy it. Don't act like it's the end of the world. Sure, it's important, but try not to get caught up in the gravity of the situation. You know your stuff*. You know you're a nice person* and you'd be great in this company*. If you don't manage to make them see that, well, that's their problem - but you'll find another company that does see your potential.

Good Luck! Let us know how you get on.

*i've no idea if you are or not. But you do! ;)

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  • +1 for being honest, -1 for googling. "I don't know but I can use Google" doesn't cut it, IMHO. – ggambett Mar 16 '11 at 16:41
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    Yeah..I knew someone would pick me up on that! I don't 100% mean that...but I don't think it's nessecarily a bad thing if you don't know 100% of everything these days. Being a fast learner, combined with a solid knowledge of the basics can help you get up to speed quickly. But... experience counts, totally. It's a bit of both I guess. – Tom Morgan Mar 16 '11 at 16:49
  • I'd add that not knowing is ok in an internship. The most important part of the internship for you is the ability to expand your knowledge in a professional environment. – Canuteson Mar 16 '11 at 18:20
  • sure, I agree. But I think in a reasonable interview you're expected to know the things you're supposed to know cold, Googling it doesn't cut it in that case. Of course an interviewer can ask you "trivia" and in that case it would be OK. In a recent interview I was doing Python on a whiteboard and I couldn't remember a couple of details. I just asked the interviewer. I don't think that affected my "score" at all, in fact I ended up hired. – ggambett Mar 16 '11 at 23:14

I'm 19 years old.

So? They were 19, too.

makes me think that I'll know so little of what they'd want me to know. Like they will expect so much.

Based on what? Any rational basis for this?

I'm scared that I'll freeze up, forget everything I know, and stutter like an idiot.

Really? Why? If you met them socially, what would you say?

Remember, an interview is a two-way street. They want to know you, and you want to know them.

You're not begging for a position. You're there to solve a particular problem they have.

Intern-scale problems are specifically identified, budgeted-for and set aside. Companies have an informal backlog of projects waiting for the next intern.

You're there to solve a problem that they set aside for an intern.

You need to know about them and the project they've set aside for you.

When I was in the interview, I was so nervous I couldn't think clearly.

To survive a SCUBA accident under water there are three rules.

  1. Stop.

  2. Breathe Normally.

  3. Think Logically.

These rules are universal. You can, during an interview, stop, breathe and think. Silence is a good thing. Cultivate it.

Proverbs 17:28: Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

Take time to think. Take time to know them as people.

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  • Nice proverb, but I would argue during an interview you want to be talking. When saying your thoughts aloud, you can just say, "well here are my initial thoughts" and correct yourself as you go (as you will get things wrong). I always found talking it aloud helped to keep me focused on the problem I was supposed to be solving instead of thinking about the interviewer, which would make me nervous. – jsternberg Mar 16 '11 at 19:51
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    @jsternberg: Talking through nervousness doesn't work for everyone. I can't do it and I've been on hundreds of interviews in a 30-year career as a consultant. Agreed -- it can be helpful -- but there's a knack required to talk logically through a problem rather than talk randomly to fill the silence. – S.Lott Mar 16 '11 at 19:57

Relax, as best you can. Take a deep breath. And tell yourself this:

"It's OK if I fail."

Because, seriously. You're allowed to screw this up. You will not be sleeping in a cardboard box if you botch an answer. There will be other opportunities.

Besides, this might not even be that good a gig! If the lead developers DO have ridiculous expectations for a 19-year-old would-be intern? Pfft. Screw 'em. And pity whatever poor soul they settle for, because whoever it is will be forever failing to meet their expectations.

They have to impress you just as much as you have to impress them.

Ditto if they come down on you for being too nervous. If you're nervous, cop to it. If you need a little time to think, say you need a little time to think. If this gets held against you, screw 'em; job interviews make people nervous. If they've forgotten that, they're no longer accustomed to working with actual people.

But the best thing you can do for yourself is give yourself the freedom to fail. If that mean little voice gets the better of you, then you're practicing how to ignore it. If you come up with a better algorithm after the interview is over, then it's just something you can put in the back of your mind should you ever get a similar question. If you panic so badly you forget your name, refer to the interviewer by the name of your 9th-grade algebra teacher, and pretend you've temporarily lost the capacity to speak English just so you can buy yourself some time, then you've got a good anecdote for the next time you're swapping war stories with your buddies. "You think YOU bombed your interview? Well, this one time I...."

Chill. Either you do well and get the job, or you get some practice so the next interview won't be so scary and traumatic. It's all degrees of Win.

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It's a numbers game. Plain and simple. I'm a senior developer and some phone interviews either go my way or don't. Just know that some phone interviews will not work out: maybe they ask you a few questions that you just don't know, maybe your personalities clash, maybe the stars aren't aligned.

The more important fact is that there are hundreds of software companies. If one interview doesn't go as well as you hoped. Who cares. Over the years I have developed hippopotamus skin.

Just do your best and focus on the things you are control of: your knowledge level of the subject being examined, your personality, and most importantly your stress/fear level. No one wants to employ anyone that acts scared. Never come from a place of insecurity. Even if you don't know anything act completely secure. Learn to massage a question you don't know into something else that does demonstrate your intelligence.

But if you do all this and it doesn't work out... NEXT. Be secure in knowing that there's many software companies and eventually you'll find one that fits you regardless.

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I cannot help you with the panic attacks, but what I can tell you is that they are normal for most people. Unless the lead developers are known cannibals who attack if the interviewee answers incorrectly lets not overdo it. I am sure you have a life beyond this interview.

One of the first things you should do is to have someone or some friends conduct mock interview sessions for you, and let them ask you real tough technical questions. Best is if you know some senior people who can help you in this regard.

Also go through relevant technical questions available on a host of sites like careercup etc.

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I remember my first few phone interviews. I remember stuttering and forgetting that oxygen is a necessary element in the human body. The most important thing is to remember to breathe and relax. It is okay to be nervous but control is key. One trick I do before going into any type of interview is to tell myself it's just for practice. Keep that mentality and it should alleviate some pressure. All of the things Tom mentioned are great things to keep in mind as well. Just know that it's not the end of the world if you don't get the position, but rather a stepping stone in your technical career.

Good Luck!

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As you are junior it's should be Ok that you don't know all things and who's interviewing you should accept that. And interview is always stress, therefore just relax and do you best. If they will not pick you, that does not mean your answers was bad. And if you don't know answer to some question say so, don't try be to smart. What can you do is say how you would find answer to that question if you would have such problem in work.

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A few tips:

1) Don't be distracted, turn off your browser and sit in a quiet place

2) Don't panic everyone was new guy once, and we understand it

3) If you don't know something be honest, you might want to say how you would go about finding it out.

4) Don't be afraid to ask them questions about the company and the work

You will get something if not this one then another

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Coming from someone who nailed an interview last fall and am currently at my internship now. Assuming you're at college or university, talk to someone who has gone through what you're about to do. Upperclassmen, academic adviser, and a career center worker are all excellent resources. My big break came in talking to the career center workers who went through a mock interview with me.

Be honest with the interviewer(s) and with yourself, my big problem was coming up with answers to the inevitable "What's your biggest weakness" type questions that I myself didn't believe. Being confident in your answers will translate in the tone that you speak.

Since it's a phone interview be sure to set aside a space that make you the most comfortable and with as few distractions as possible. Water is also a good idea.

Lastly, like Tom suggested, relax! You're going to have many more interview ahead of you and since you're genuinely interested in the subject, (evidenced by your post here) you can only get better at them.

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Practice. My suggestion would be to consider doing mock phone interviews where a friend asks you the same questions that the technical leads would so that you get used to having some of these questions and get feedback on how you answer them.

Something else to consider is whether or not you did okay on the first one if you didn't get the desired result. People will make mistakes, the question is what do you do once you recognize them. Do you spend all your time analyzing and trying to find the perfect answer? Do you beat yourself up over giving poor answers? I've been there and it usually isn't productive, at least in my experience.

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