Interview Points To Consider If You Want A Job At A Large Enterprise

In a previous post I offered some thoughts on how to write your resume if you want to get a job at a large enterprise. Before anyone nails me in comments – I get the fact that a lot of people don’t want to work at large enterprises. But clearly some do. For those who are interested, I’m just trying to make all of our lives a little less painful.

  • Do show up on time.
  • Do have a firm handshake. I need to thank my Dad for making a big deal about this when I was younger than 8 – I just grew up thinking this is normal. I am shocked at how many limp hands there are – it’s a really bad first impression.
  • Do be sure you have a quiet place to talk if it’s a teleconference
  • Do make sure you have a good cell connection if it’s a teleconference and you will be on a cell phone.
  • Do dress appropriately – might be nice, might be casual, but should be appropriate. If you don’t know the dress code, then overdress and don’t worry about it if someone makes a comment. I have never heard of someone not being hired due to overdressing.
  • Do not use SkypeOut if it’s a teleconference.
  • Do not feel compelled to exagerrate your role on a project. Everyone does it on their resume and I’m actually okay with that, as long as you kept it within reason so that the gap isn’t too big when you need to talk about it. But it’s painfully obvious when you exagerrate in conversation. It reminds me of how kids think they are so secretive when they whisper in class – if you’ve ever stood in front of a classroom, it’s a fishbowl.
  • Do admit if you don’t know about a technology in question, but then follow up with how you would learn about it. There are times companies are really strictly looking for a particular skill set – especially when hiring contractors or consultants for a specific project. But when it comes to employees, the soft skills are huge – do you have a social network you can tap into? Are you familiar with the names of authors, publishers, or analysts you would look to? Describing how you approach this can sell you miles ahead – these are a subset of your problem solving skills, and are important.
  • Do be able to talk about how you have helped maintain applications over time or participated in user support. Just about every technical team member in a large enterprise has to help with support in some way. People who come in and have only worked on new development that was handed off to someone else are not too impressive.
  • Do talk about your communication skills and your abilities to work with a variety of people. Large enterprises are famous for having 100 groups that you have to work with to do anything – the merit of that is the subject of another post. But consider it reality, and talk about how you collaborate with people when you need something from them. You are probably also not being hired as a cowboy or cowgirl who will come in and use whatever frameworks or tools you want – you will probably have to live with a lot of what is already in house, and have more gradual influence on what is used if you have sound arguments.

Curious what everyone else’s thoughts are around interviewing – there really aren’t too many just plain good interviews in my opinion, they are usually great or mediocre. Like Malcolm says, you usually know right away.

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7 Responses to “Interview Points To Consider If You Want A Job At A Large Enterprise”

  1. 1 James McGovern 11 May 2006 at 4:38 am

    I am of the belief that many folks are operating on dated information when it comes to reasons why they don’t want to work for large enterprises. Maybe we should help change folks perspective?

  2. 2 scott 11 May 2006 at 6:39 am

    I’m all for that idea – what do you consider outdated information?

    I think a lot of people see large companies as stodgy places, and they don’t have to be. I think our group does high quality work and is a lot of fun to be a part of – I hear that comment from many of the consultants that we bring in.

    People shouldn’t just write off big companies when considering career options.

  3. 3 Dave Nicolette 12 May 2006 at 7:46 am


    Excellent advice for interviewing. It all seems to be tailored for the US business culture. When interviewing at a company in another country, consider some cultural differences that may be significant.

    As part of interview preparation for foreign companies, research their customs and conform to them. In Japan, for instance, a limp handshake is normal. A firm handshake may be surprising to them. There are also certain expectations regarding the exchange of business cards in Japan that don’t apply in the US.

    Showing up on time is always important, but there may be details you have to be aware of. In some countries, if you arrive too early as a way of ensuring you won’t be late, it is seen negatively. In other countries, you are expected to arrive on time for the interview, but the people you are meeting are not obligated to show up on time. If you aren’t aware of that, it might make you nervous when they don’t show up right away. On the other hand, if you’re late then Murphy’s Law kicks in, and you can be sure they will arrive on time.

    As far as dressing is concerned, IMO you should always wear a suit for interviews even if you know the everyday dress code is more casual than that.

    Re James’ comment:

    I don’t think we need to change people’s perspectives about working at large enterprises. A large enterprise offers certain professional challenges and opportunities for growth, and a small company offers different ones. For a technologist, there is another consideration besides the sheer size of the company. Depending on a company’s business focus, it uses information technology in a particular way. If you are interested in creating new technologies, you need to work for what I call a primary technology company. If you are interested in helping others make effective use of technology, you need to work for a secondary technology company (a consulting firm, or what James calls an “insultancy”). Enterprises that are not in the IT business per se are what I call tertiary technology companies. Most very large corporations are in that category – they use information technology but they don’t create it.

    So, I think the companies where you might apply will depend on just what sort of IT work you’re interested in doing. For me that’s a more important consideration than the size of the company. Working for a Fortune nnnn company is not a point of pride for me; as an IT guy, I didn’t put the company on the Fortune nnnn list, I just work there. OTOH, working for a small secondary technology company I may well contribute to Fortune nnnn enterprises from time to time in the normal course of work. That sort of thing is a wash. It’s more important that you’re doing the type of work you want to be doing.

  4. 4 scott 12 May 2006 at 1:40 pm

    Dave – very good points on the global perspective. I am admittedly (and happily) offering thoughts for the US market. I would advise anyone to take local conditions seriously for other nations/cultures.

    The mission of the company is extremely important to me when considering an employer, and was a primary factor in selecting my current employer, where I am exceedingly happy. So that is a size-independent value for some, but depending on what kind of mission you are interested in, the size can play a role in the level of impact.

    The fact that it is a Fortune nnn is not of immediate concern or interest, but the (perhaps sickening to some) fact is that that status does afford you certain additional intangibles, such as access analysts, publishers, a social network, etc. – of a certain type. Obviously smaller companies and individuals have different but still very valuable networks. But I think those types of intangibles are a factor for some in deciding what size organization they want to be a part of.

  5. 5 Dave Nicolette 14 May 2006 at 7:36 pm

    Scott, I appreciate your point about the types of professional networks you need to have when working with a larger organization. I don’t know if that is in itself an incentive to work at a large organization or not. It seems more like a natural outgrowth of the nature of the work.

    Not all these choices are size-independent. I take it you work as an Enterprise Architect, and so does James. I’ve been in that role as well, in the past. I would say the job is very different in a small enterprise than in a large one. A small enterprise can get along nicely by following industry standards, using published reference architectures as the basis for their technical infrastructures, using the 80-20 rule for just about everything, and avoiding blatant stupidity. But how long can that sort of thing remain interesting?

    It’s not enough in a large enterprise, because the scale of IT operations is such that it tests the limits of the technology; and it does so on multiple fronts simultaneously. EA in a large enterprise is a significantly greater challenge, and the non-financial rewards are greater, too.

    So I’d say if your interested in EA, you’ll gravitate to larger enterprises.

    Sometimes there comes a point where a person wants to help others make sound IT decisions, based on broad experience. If that’s your interest, you’ll gravitate to consulting work. I’ve found that the larger consulting firms tend to be pretty bureaucratic and inefficient. Smaller, well-focused firms can offer better guidance to clients. So there’s a case when a person would look for a small to medium sized firm intentionally, even if he’s going to be doing consulting in the EA area. He’s going to need much the same sort of contacts and networks as EAs working directly for those large clients.

    You mention a lot of people see large companies as stodgy places. They are. Your group does high quality work and is a lot of fun. Mine, too. I wouldn’t stay otherwise. But our company as a whole is a stodgy place. I’d lay odds yours is, too. It’s a question of finding the right niche.

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