Finding Work: How interview questions determine your future learning curve

cord helps Engineers direct message other people looking to hire them. But finding work isn’t just about access to hiring managers…

Finding your best work is a life’s journey uncovered through an ongoing conversation with ourselves and the world around us.

The Best Work Stories podcast hosts conversations between Ben (Co-founder and CEO of cord) and Founders, CTO’s, Software Engineers and people in tech who are on their own journey to find their best work.

Transcript

Marios Iliopoulos (00:00):

… I can see through questions because the answers might be anything. A sign that the other person on the other side of the camera knows things.

Ben Henley-Smith (00:17):

How would you describe what work means to you?

Marios Iliopoulos (00:21):

It means a lot, because we spend a lot of hours working. Usually going to the office, it has to be a nice work environment, or now in a remote environment, it has to has some flexibility. It has to be easy to communicate, trying to support any other person or any issues that might came up. I think it’s crucial to understand this and any colleague can help you. Apart from that, I like to work with modern technology and trying to evolve continuously, adapt new ideas, new technologies. Provide the employees with that opportunity to discover new things, have also enough seniority in order to mentor. Of course have an interesting architecture of their product, a well-designed application, or applications and general products. And for me, it’s important to have the opportunity to work in core of the application.

Ben Henley-Smith (01:44):

What’s the one thing that you optimize for in your work?

Marios Iliopoulos (01:48):

Yeah. I think it’s learning and discovering, maybe is also a good word to describe, because I like to have the ability to explore new things, to experiment a little and of course, learn from this process.

Ben Henley-Smith (02:11):

How do you go about looking for work with that in mind?

Marios Iliopoulos (02:15):

Primarily I’m looking for some fields that I have a little of experience, not working experience, but personal experience. I look also for jobs that are close to my technological stuff and what I already know. And through the conversation I’m trying to see the infrastructure of each product. And if it’s really cool, I’m okay with that.

Ben Henley-Smith (02:49):

Yeah. It almost sounds like it’s almost as if you take two parts to the equation. You find something that you are interested in, that you believe is the future in some way. And then you take what you are currently doing and what you’re currently good at and you try and combine the two.

Marios Iliopoulos (03:08):

Yeah.

Ben Henley-Smith (03:10):

When you are at the beginning of that journey and you are selecting the companies that you’re interested in, do you have a particular what way of approaching it? So is there any process that you go through to find each one of those companies?

Marios Iliopoulos (03:26):

I learn what is public for this company and what the product does [inaudible 00:03:34] So, then I send the message-

Ben Henley-Smith (03:39):

In general, yeah. [Crosstalk 00:03:39].

Marios Iliopoulos (03:40):

Yeah. So I’m looking the company, what are the projects, what are the technology that they use? So if that is interesting, I’m going on and send a message, or apply to a job, trying to reach out in general.

Ben Henley-Smith (04:00):

How do you figure out whether this is somewhere you want to spend your time and you want to work? How do you go about figuring that out?

Marios Iliopoulos (04:09):

After the first meeting, either I have … either I know what I want to do, it’s a yes or no. But if I have some missing points, the second interview with the tech team will be crucial for me in order to decide if I will move forward or not.

Ben Henley-Smith (04:33):

What is it that you’re looking for?

Marios Iliopoulos (04:35):

In business terms, in products I trust myself that I will figure this out, no matter the product is, or whatever it is. Because I like to not just to do my job and writing code, but also to understand the product and the business goals and needs. I want to learn actually the business value of the product that I’m working. And I think this process isn’t something that you can understand before, but during the work, working on that product. And that’s when you realize what it actually does.

Ben Henley-Smith (05:23):

It’s interesting that you think you get that from the technical interview rather than from the first agent interview, perhaps who might be someone from HR, or who’s a recruiter or something?

Marios Iliopoulos (05:33):

I think the technical lead must have the ability to speak business and explain, not the whole product but some important …

Ben Henley-Smith (05:48):

I feel like it’s quite rare to find a technical lead in an interview who can both go to the level of technical depth that you want them to, but who can also talk about the user and the problem that they’re facing with the same amount of passion.

Marios Iliopoulos (06:05):

Of course, yeah. From my perspective, imagining myself as a technical leader, I would like to be able to speak the business language.

Ben Henley-Smith (06:16):

Yeah.

Marios Iliopoulos (06:17):

Not so much in depth, but to have a very good … not a basic, a very good understanding with business and tech and communicate both channels.

Ben Henley-Smith (06:30):

How can you tell when a technical lead has a good grasp of the user and the business, as well as the technical parts?

Marios Iliopoulos (06:38):

A good leader has understand the business need right, it can be right then as it is in the code. If the code express what the business says, it’s golden.

Ben Henley-Smith (06:52):

Interesting. So you’re trying to find the match between the two?

Marios Iliopoulos (06:55):

Yeah. But that is something that I cannot say in advance. I have to be in the company and work in the company in order to realize.

Ben Henley-Smith (07:04):

So how do you get as close to that as you can?

Marios Iliopoulos (07:07):

A little bit of imagination and questions.

Ben Henley-Smith (07:10):

Questions. Yeah.

Marios Iliopoulos (07:13):

Let’s say I have an interview with a company a few weeks ago, that it was open source. So I I had the ability to see the code and also ask the questions and have my result.

Ben Henley-Smith (07:30):

If you didn’t have the ability to be able to see a company’s open source code, what type of questions do you ask to see if there’s a match between the two?

Marios Iliopoulos (07:40):

I can see through questions, because the answers might be anything else. But in this case, I’m interested more in the infrastructure of the products and the roadmap and the team and the seniority of the team, and again, in general, the whole organization of the dev department.

Ben Henley-Smith (08:12):

You said at the beginning that learning and new technologies are the core of how you make this decision?

Marios Iliopoulos (08:22):

Yeah. If the company has modern technologies, which is state of the art, it has a lot to say. Because working with new technology, you are always trying to use state of the art technology.

Ben Henley-Smith (08:46):

How do you check whether they’re not just buzzwords on their position and whether they’re actually using state of the art technology?

Marios Iliopoulos (08:54):

I suppose they don’t say lies. We don’t say we use Node.js and they don’t even know what Node.js is. I mean, if I have an interview with a person that asks the right questions, I know that this person knows. But I have also had some interviews with relevant questions or easy questions, so I already knew that I was above this level of-

Ben Henley-Smith (09:27):

Interesting. So you can take the questions that they ask you and almost use it as a benchmark to determine how challenging you think the role will be?

Marios Iliopoulos (09:39):

Yeah. If the technical leader that I’m speaking at the moment ask me something hard and you have to know in depth the technology in order to answer, this person knows the technology. Otherwise …

Ben Henley-Smith (10:03):

I think that’s really interesting, that you can benchmark the quality of your application with somehow the questions that they’re asking you. Do you have a preference as to how … It almost seems counterintuitive, because in some ways some people would want the interview to be easier so that they could pass it.

Marios Iliopoulos (10:28):

Yeah. I like to know that there are other people with which I can be mentor from them, and they have something to teach me.

Ben Henley-Smith (10:40):

When does it become an interview that’s too difficult? Are you looking for a certain type of difficulty in that interview, but not beyond that? Or, are you just looking for the hardest interview you can possibly be a part of?

Marios Iliopoulos (10:54):

No, just a sign that the other person on the other side of the camera knows things.

Ben Henley-Smith (11:04):

Yeah.

Marios Iliopoulos (11:05):

Not to rip me apart, because I not know everything.

Ben Henley-Smith (11:11):

How do you use data when you’re making these decisions?

Marios Iliopoulos (11:21):

No. I think I will prioritize them first with the ability to learn, second with the salary. And after that, I don’t know, small things. The country, if they have relocation or not, the size of the team, the size of the company. But, it’s really not important.

Ben Henley-Smith (11:48):

Is there any advice that you would give other people going through this process, or trying to figure out where they want to work?

Marios Iliopoulos (11:53):

Find something that you can learn from it and improve yourself. If you go in a company and you don’t have the ability to learn, just move to the next. But, probably you will know that in a few months. You don’t have to spend 2, 3, 4, 5 years in company in order to realize that.

Ben Henley-Smith (12:24):

Mario, thank you so much for taking out the time and sharing your journey. We appreciate it.

Marios Iliopoulos (12:29):

Thank you too.

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