First Job: Interview - Confidence (6) (找工)
In the last two parts of this article, I talked about things which sap confidence: feeling of being inferior, belief in discrimination and nervousness. Now I talk about a couple of things which boost confidence.
First is a good dress. When I got my first interview in New York, I bought a suit for over $800. At the time, you could get a decent suit at The Bay for under $500, at Moores for around $200, at Tip Top for even less. Was I rich then? No at all. I just bought a bigger house than I could afford and my cash flow was -$300 a month. I bought the dress because it made me feel a lot better about myself - I felt almost like a Hollywood star. A country boy facing Wall St first time in his life, I was remarkably confident, even a little arrogant. The $800 suit played a star role. Comparing to the money I would be making, $800 is nothing. This is the best investment I ever made.
A good haircut also boosts self image. Before each interview, I usually go get a haircut. I'd tell the hair cutter that I'm going to a very important meeting and ask her to be extra careful. I'd tip her a bit more. Not sure about others, but a sharp haircut makes me feel sharper.
This is where I planned to end this article. However, I realized that I missed an important piece in the confidence puzzle when I read a comment from Mike on my last installment. He said "arrogance" is also an enemy. I agree. But here I'm going to say the opposite: for majority of Chinese, the problem is not "arrogance", but rather we're too "unarrogant". And it hurts us.
Last couple of days, there's a post on Rolia about asking for more pay. The poster has worked at the same company for 9 years. He's the best tech guy there, but his pay is lower than a lot of people, even the junior ones. And he hasn't got the guts to bring the issue up for 3 long years. This is so typical of Chinese. We're good, we work hard, but nobody notices. We've been taught to be modest when growing up and our culture discourages any self promotion, labeling them as "arrogance".
It's actually not "arrogance". Here they call it "marketing". Indians and whites promote themselves and they don't look arrogant. We either keep quiet or say things self deprecating, like "I'm not good", "I still need to learn", "Joe is better", and so on. In the end, good quiet guys lose and bad loud guys win. I know a Chinese guy who's only average technically and quite lazy. To my surprise, he kept getting good contracts with great pay. Why? I believe a big reason is that he's good at "吹".
You don't have to "吹" to win an interview. But you have to feel comfortable to make factual claims about yourself. A bold claim is worth a thousand words. During my first interview in New York, I told the interviewer, looking straight into her eyes, that I'm the best guy in the world on the particular database product they're using. Best guy in the world. I couldn't prove it, of course. But I believed in it. I think they took my words for it, too. That claim, in my opinion, cemented my job offer.
I'm going to end this article with my failed interviews.
At the first place, the team leader was an Indian. At the time everyone was using frameworks like Struts for web application, they were still doing everything from scratch using servlets. The guy seemed to suggest that he built most of the system himself over the years and he was rather proud of himself. He kept asking me about threads. I read two books about Java threads and I'm definitely better than majority of programmers on this subject. He gave me a problem and asked me to implement his complicated threading solution. I knew the solution but I didn't remember the details. Instead of exposing my weakness, I suggested a simpler and I believe more elegant solution to him. He scoffed at me and I lost the interview.
At the second place, I was applying for a project lead position. My "arrogance" helped me to pass through the technical parts of the interview. Then the big boss took me out for a coffee. He's an Italian with a big voice. We're sitting right on a noisy street with endless yellow cabs roaring through. I felt I had to yell in order to be heard. After some chat, he asked: suppose your project has the support of every department except one, what do you do? Honestly, I had no idea. After hearing a couple of sheepish ideas from me, he talked to me like father to son: you send an email to the bigger boss, cc everyone including the hold-out department, saying the project is ready to go but is being held up by that f***ing department. And I lost the interview.