How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 3 – The Interview

NASA Meatball

If you manage to get this far it means that you are a serious candidate for a job, so take it serious. I never cease to be amazed at just how uncommon. common sense is. When a manager bothers to set up an interview with you remember the saying about not having a second chance to make a good first impression. It could not be more true.

Tip Number 1 – Be focused, pay attention.

I can think of a few people who stood out, that I within the first few seconds of the interview knew I would not be hiring. If I cannot get your attention in an interview, your doomed. I remember one case where I was interviewing for a new administrative assistant. A lady showed up for the interview who seemed on paper to have good experience and was well dressed. During the interview she had the ear bud in for her phone…and never took it out. I remember thinking if I am not important enough during an interview for you to not be ready to take a phone call what happens when you work for me and I need you to get off of the phone. Tip number one….give your potential new boss your total attention…take the ear bud out and turn off your phone. Make sure you listen to what is being said and asked from you. Also when you answer a question don’t drone on. Be accurate with your answer and to the point. Remember to let your potential boss speak too.

 

Tip Number 2 – Dress appropriately.

Seems like common sense but dress business appropriate.  If you show up in jeans, a T shirt…well don’t bother even going. I know some will find this hard to believe but when interviewing engineers they can be ….well….geeky. At times they are not the snappiest dressers, their mom may have forgotten to iron their shirt. On the interview day formal business attire is not over dressing. If your mom forgets to iron a shirt after your hired well…it is what it is.

Tip 3 – Honesty.

Guess what, when we look at resumes we know people may be slightly, or not so slightly, exaggerating their experience and skills. Our job is to see by how much and find people who can get the job done. Sometimes a person who is motivated and capable is as valuable as someone with a ton of experience. If you have marginal experience be honest about it but also let it be known you hungry to learn more and improve your skills. Also don’t underestimate yourself. Be careful about selling yourself short. For example if asked if you have ever led a project the answer may be no, but you may have lead a smaller team as part of a project. Make sure you state that.  Bottom line make sure you communicate your existing skills, your motivation, and your willingness to take on new work challenges.

Tip 4 – Salary questions.

Many times you will get asked what kind of salary you are looking for. Another good saying is “shoot for the stars but hope for the moon”. Your potential new boss already knows what you make now most likely, and also knows what the max the budget will allow. If your earning 50k now…don’t demand 100k, that wont happen. Be realistic, of course one of the primary reasons people are looking for a new job is money but you need to be reasonable. Sometimes when I ask the money question people say “commensurate with the position”. This leaves me guessing, you will do us both a favor if you give me some idea what your looking for. You can assume that the manager knows your going to go high and will offer you something lower than your asking for. Use common sense and hope for the moon. Also remember, the best time to look for a job is when you have one.  If you have a job you can put more pressure on to get the salary you want. If your unemployed the hiring manager has the upper hand.

Tip 5 – Be yourself

Often times, if the interview goes well, the discussion will turn to something non-work related, like family, hobbies, interests etc. This means they are feeling you out to see how well your interact with people on the team and will fit in. Interviews can be nervous times but try to be yourself. If you are new at this game get friends or family to interview you so you can practice. It may seem silly but it will help. Once you start interviewing you will find like any thing else, the more you do it the better you get at it. Interviews also a way to see how you behave under pressure. If you handle the interview well, they will know you can think on your feet and can handle pressure. The technical and experience components are just part of the hiring interview process. They also want to see if you can fit in with the team.

Congratulate yourself on landing an interview and good luck!

The next part of this series will outline ways to get your foot in the door, internships, networking etc.

Other Parts of this Series

How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 1 – Motivation

How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 2 – The Resume

How to get a job at NASA – Series Part 4 – Internships

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.