How to get hired in Localization

You’ve got the interview! Cool! What Next?

By: Damian Scattergood, Managing Director STAR Translation.

I’ve interviewed thousands of people for jobs in many different roles.

What’s the difference between the ones that get hired and the ones that don’t?

It’s amazing how many bad interviews I’ve had to sit through and eventually send out the sorry, but thank you letter. What did I learn?

There are some basic interview skills you need to have.

It’s very easy to say – “but I was perfect for that job” – and you know what; sometimes you’ll be right. However you have to be able to show that in interview. Interviews are more than just answering questions. You have to work to get hired. Just turning up for interview and answering a few questions isn’t good enough any more.

At the end of the day the employer wants someone to do a job for them. Now, do you really understand what that job is? Really? Do you?

In my 30 years experience in hiring people here’s what I’ve learn as the best skills to master to help you get hired 1st time.  Follow these tips and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Do Your Homework

  1. Read the Job Specification.
  2. Ask appropriate questions about the company.
  3. Ask appropriate questions about the job.
  4. Show some initiative.

What Employers Are Looking For

  1. Clear communication.
  2. Learning ability and Coach-ability.
  3. Can you follow orders?
  4. Work ethic and previous successes.
  5. Intelligence.

Ready to Delve Deeper?

Let’s drill into these and learn the secrets to standing out in interview.

Do Your Homework

Based on the thousands on interviews I’ve done here are the areas that distinguish the good candidates from the bad ones.

1. Read the Job Specification.

I’ve done many interviews were the candidate clearly hadn’t read the job specification. I’ve seen this so often that this now is one of the first questions I ask people. I’ll ask you something like; explain what you think the role entails or what type of person are we looking for?

Ask questions about the role. For example “The job specification talks about testing for internationalization. – That’s a broad subject – do you have a process already or could you give me some background of what you’re looking for in this regard”. Drilling into some of the tasks shows you have an interest and an understanding. Make sure to highlight some of the knowledge you already have in the area as you discuss this.

I’ve encountered interviewees who say in interviews, “Oh I thought you where looking for someone with xxx”.  Finding out this is the wrong job for you during the interview wastes everyone’s time.  Make sure you read the job specification properly – on the flip-side if there is a skill-set mentioned in the job you should be able to speak about it.

Think about this from the employers point of view for a second. We have someone who wants to work for us who was too busy to read the job spec. would you hire them?

The very first day on the job you will be handed a list of things to do. If you’re not bothered to read the job details correctly now how can I trust you to read or follow any instructions we give you if we hire you?

2. Ask appropriate questions about the company.

All job interviewers will always ask – “Do you have any questions?” at some stage.  Don’t ask stupid questions. Before attending any interview you should be reading the companies website and learning a little bit about what the do. Look at their news section, social media content (Facebook, LinkedIn, Etc), read about their culture etc.

Ask questions that show you have an interest in the company – and know something about them.

For example – “I saw on your news feed you just opened an office in Copenhagen” – “Why was this?” Or “Is this related to xxx”; “what is driving your growth in that region”. Try to connect it to the job.

You might even say something like – “I saw on your job pages you’re hiring a lot of people in the area of SEO. Are you looking at targeting new markets?”. If you have ideas, skills or an interest in that area then talk about it.

3. Ask appropriate questions about the job.

If you’ve read the job spec correctly you should know all the basics like the pay, what the basic job role is, who you report to etc.

You need to ask questions that show you understand the job, but want to know more about specific areas.

These could be questions about the role or the actual tasks involved.

For example – Could you tell me a bit more about the actual daily tasks. I understand I’ll be helping the company by doing X, but what type of daily tasks doe that involve?

If there are KPI’s mentioned you could ask – could you explain some of them to me. How do I get measured and how can I directly influence those KPI’s? How do I help the company achieve it’s goals?

Remember to ask questions that help the employer. Employers are looking to hire people to perform specific tasks to help the company grow.

If you’ve done your homework on the company you might ask – is this job related to project X that I read about on your website? Will I be contributing to that? Try to understand why the employer wants to hire someone for this role. What is the reason they need a new person – and how can you help them achieve that goal? Ask.

4. Show some initiative.

Finally show some initiative. Everyone can read the job specification and website and come up with some smart questions. How can you show you’ve done some real homework on the company?

For example if it’s a software company – have you even looked at their products? Download some trials or look at some videos about it on YouTube. Share what you’ve learned. Imagine what an employer might think if you said “I was looking at your system the other day and noticed that ….”, “Is that something we might get to work with?”

You need to show you can do hard work, drill into details and implement them if required.

What Employers Are Looking For

How interviews are run…

The questions you are asked during an interview are only part of the interview process. Questions tell the employer if you are knowledgeable about certain topics. They don’t tell the employer if you’re a good worker or not. So how do they find out?

They read between the lines…

During the interview employers will be looking at how you react and how you answer questions;  everything from how you think to how you problem solve.

The Top 5 Things Employers Look For in Interviews

You need to be able to show the following in any successful interview.

  1. Clear communication.
  2. Learning ability and Coachability.
  3. Can you follow orders?
  4. Work ethic and previous successes.
  5. Intelligence.

1. Clear Communication.

Probably the most important skill in any job is to be able to communicate effectively. You need to be brief, clear and understood.

In one the longest interviews I ever had I only asked “2” questions – Yes “2”. The candidate just kept going on and on; telling me how good they were for over an hour. They didn’t get hired.

The shortest interview was the opposite. I asked lots of questions and the candidate answered in the same way for pretty much all of my questions – “Yes, I’ve great skills in that area – I’ve put all of that down in my CV for you to read”  Again reading is easy, the candidate didn’t expand on anything. No Hire.

What is an employer looking for?

Managers often rely on employees to be able to work on their own, be reliable and communicate clearly what is going on.  I’m not always in the office as I could be at customer meetings or sales events. Can I trust the employee in the office is working hard when I’m not there? When I come back to the office I need to get a clear status of our projects, any issues, what is going well, what needs improvement etc. You need to be able to clearly tell me that. If I hear lots of m’s and aah’s and ‘well we think…’ that doesn’t inspire confidence.

The best example I’ve ever had to show clear communication was when I worked for a major US multinational in the late 80’s. My team found a problem with our code that impacted a key customer when I was out of the office. The team lead made the decision to stay through the night with one of our junior engineers and fix the problem. The next morning when I arrived they both came to my office and gave me a very simple, clear definition of ‘the problem’, ‘the solution’ they had chosen and ‘how they fixed it’. They told me what the client needed to know and how to communicate it to them. What started as a problem that could easily have been a big deal was presented to me in a clear, concise manner. They took initiative, followed our systems and fixed the issue. No big deal.

What a fantastic job. Both guys got bonuses that month – just for that project.  If I was thinking about you at 3:00 in the morning fixing a customer issue what would I be thinking? Would I trust you?

2. Learning ability and Coach-ability.

You’re going to have to learn new things in the new job.

How good are you at learning? Can you follow instructions and learn new processes? Your new employer will be looking to see just how coachable you are.

So how do you do this in an interview?

Your interview process actually starts from the time you are invited for an interview. I’ll be looking at how you deal with people and the various simple tasks we ask you to follow. Do you treat our receptionist with respect in the same manner as everyone else? Will you turn up on time for interview? Will you be late? or way too early? Both are bad. Employers schedule interviews around other meetings – if you’re too early you may be interrupting another meeting, too late you cause issues for other people and other meetings. Do you do the same thing with your work projects? How well do you respect other peoples time?

During your interview you might be asked to write something, complete a form, maybe even move a chair. All of these show if you can take instruction, execute and learn. Learn to listen. Everything can be part of the interview.

I can hear you say – “Of course I can learn – I’ve gotten great results in my exams. Look at my results.”

I’m pretty brutal on exam results. They are important. They show you can study, remember and repeat. However they don’t show if you actually know the subject. Anybody can study surgery and know how all the bits work – but good surgeons are worth their weight in gold – the know more than the books.

3. Can you follow orders?

The bottom line is do you listen? As a manager I need to know that if I give you a set of instructions to follow that you follow them to the letter.  Can you do that?

This might sound condescending but I’ve worked with employees who simply didn’t listen and did the wrong thing or modified my instructions as they thought their way was better. The worst I’ve ever had is when we had an urgent client issue and I gave an employee specific tasks to do so solve that issue. A couple of hours later when I went to check back in I heard “Oh you wanted that done today?”. These employees don’t last long in my companies.

I’m not a tyrant, in big companies sometimes the manager is not at liberty to share everything that is going on in the company. All successful companies will have a strong strategic direction and everything the manager does supports this. I worked in mergers and acquisitions for a number of years helping our company buy other companies. For obvious reasons I could never tell my employees about companies I was looking at or investigating. I had to test certain things or have tasks completed around projects that might have sounded silly to my staff. I would ask my core team to look at certain code and write tools for this and that. Some of which made no sense to my team. Why develop a tool for this? We don’t do that? In the meantime some of those tools were being used by another team to analyse software from a company we wanted to buy. My analysis would help decide if we bought the company or not.

It’s OK to question the odd instruction, but there may be more going on than you know or understand. Your way may not be better. Your boss is right most of the time – even if it doesn’t seem that way.

4. Work ethic and previous successes

When it comes to work ethic, employees fall into 3 distinct categories. Which one are you?

  • Those who work with you: These are the best employees, they work hard and do their very best for the company.  They want to do their best and it shows. The majority of employees are in this group. This is the best type of employee for a growing company.
  • Those that work for themselves: Some employees see the job as a means to an end to make money only. They do their job and live for the weekend.
    I prefer not to hire this type of employee. They often work at their own pace or just a steady pace. This is OK for some roles but not a company that needs lots of initiative.
  • Those that work against you. Industry statistics show that in any organization you’ll always find 1-2% of employees who actively work against the company. You’ll know these people in your own company. They are the ones complaining at the water fountain; “My boss is…” or “He’s always…” or “Sure you know what he or she is like”
    Again these employees don’t last.

Why do I tell you this? The next time you’re at an interview listen to how you talk about your previous employers or teammates. It tells a lot about you. And I’ll be listening.

Previous Successes

What successes have you had in your career?

It’s important to share stories about some of your previous successes. Don’t worry if you don’t have relevant experience. The success does not always have to be relevant to the job you’re applying for.

What an employer is looking for is that you’ve achieved something and will be looking at how you did it. For example if someone says I spent 7 years studying Judo and am now a black belt – it tells me a lot about you. It shows focus, attention to detail, and an ability to work hard over a very long period of time. Would that be useful for an employer?

Remember I told you earlier to do some homework on the job and the company? Do you have any successes that you could tie into that?

For example, “I saw your company is developing a product in this area…I spent 3 years in France studying that”, or “My Hobby is studying X’ and I think that might be useful for that project”.

Show how you have been successful in the past and how it might be beneficial in the new job.

Success breeds Success.

If you’ve been successful in anything before you can do it again.

5. Intelligence

The final piece of the puzzle is to show your expertise.

Throughout this process you’ll have learnt a lot about the company and hopefully showed how good an employee you are.

When the opportunity arises you now need to show your technical skills and knowledge. If you’ve look at the company products or code can you share any technical information with them?

Elaborate on your technical skills and the technology stacks you might be familiar with. If you’re speaking to technical people they will quickly ascertain how good your technical knowledge is. Be professional and don’t judge your interviewees. Even if they ask stupid questions. Some of the best technical people act stupid in interviews to see if you know your stuff.

I started my career as a Z80 Assembly programmer. So I understand machine code programming at a very low level. However I very seldom tell anyone that during an interview. I might ask some silly code questions just to see how you answer them. Remember from before – can you clearly communicate a technical problem? That’s what I’m looking for.

Technical interviewers typically use a questioning approach like pealing an onion. They start at the outside and ask harder and harder questions as they peal off the technical layers to uncover your knowledge.

They might start at a high level and then as you answer they will ask a more technical or lower level question. This way they slowly find the level of your technical skills.

For example, I could discuss how to code a linked list in a high level coding language like C or PHP.  As I drill down I might ask you how a linked list works in theory, what libraries you need, then how a doubly linked list works (testing your theory), then I might eventually ask – how do you do that in assembly? You get the idea. I drill in deeper until I find the question you can’t answer. I now know how good you are.

Having read this far – you’re smart enough to know there is no silver bullet to getting hired. The more homework you do in advance the better chance you have of getting hired first time.

Get Hired

The world of localization is always exciting – and forever changing. There are new companies, technologies and platforms being launched all the time.

By thinking smart and tuning into the companies you want to work for – you’ll get hired faster.

I hope this article helps land your dream localization job, or has at least help you plan your next move. If it helps feel free to share it and I’d love to hear your comments.

Yours in Localization

Damian Scattergood