Interviewing Lessons from Apple Inc.

In helping my son look for summer employment, I can across an article entitled “Want To Get a Job at the Apple Store? Here’s What the Interview Process Looks Like”  Many of the lessons here apply to any interview processes, even chemical ones.

One of the first things the author, Buster Heine, mentions is that “it’s easier to get into Harvard than to get hired by Apple”.  This puts into perspective how competitive the job market is these days.  It’s not enough just to send out resumes and hope someone notices how awesome you are, you need to do your homework to make sure this is the company of yours, then prepare so the company can see that as well, and put yourself in the best possible position.

To prepare for his interview, Buster spent “copious amounts of time on Apple’s website”, learning about the company, before submitting his application.  The more you know about the company, the more you can tailor your application and resume, and the better chance you will have of being hired.  In addition to reading their web site, talk to people who work there, visit their facilities, and use their products (if possible). The more you know about the company, the better.

Apple conducted a series of four interviews with this candidate, starting out in large groups and progressing to smaller groups and more personal, specific questions.  While most chemical professionals will not have group interviews, you certainly will experience a sequence of interviews, from phone screening with human resources professionals to in-person, day-long sessions with the actual hiring manager and your potential co-workers.

The author made note that “During the seminar it’s helpful to raise your hand on every question and act super excited about everything Apple.”  This is good advice for any job applicant.  It should be easy, because you should only be applying for positions for which you are a good fit, and which you are excited about. You need to let that sincere enthusiasm show.  The employer wants to know not only that you can do the job, but that you will do the job, and are motivated and excited about doing it the best way possible.  If you are applying for jobs just because you need to pay the bills, the employer will sense your lack of enthusiasm.  Introverts and people from certain cultures have trouble with this, but letting the company know how much you really want to work there is necessary.

Another lesson the author learned was that Apple doesn’t hire Geniuses* directly, but they hire Apple Specialists and let them work their way up to Genius level.   True for scientists as well, sometimes you know where you want to end up, but you have to start elsewhere and work your way there.  Knowing this ahead of time can save you a lot of angst.

Some of the specific questions that were asked during the course of this person’s interviews are listed below.

  • Explain a time you didn’t get along with a co-worker.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer.
  • Tell me a time when you didn’t meet your own expectations.
  • Tell me a time when you exceeded the expectations of others.
  • Tell me a time when you went above and beyond for a customer.

These are all behavioral-based interview questions, that could be asked in any interview.  Even though most chemists don’t work in retail environments, we all have internal or external customers for our work.  We all sometimes don’t do as well as we would like, and hopefully learned from the experience and do better the next time.  That’s what the interviewers are looking for – a good story describing a specific example of a time you had that particular experience, what the result was, and what you learned from it.  You can (and should) prepare for these ahead of time, and plan how to present your stories to your best advantage.

The article also talks about how to dress for the interview.  While he knew everyone working at the store wore t-shirts, he chose to wear “a bow-tie and suspenders.”  The general rule is to dress one level up from the job for which you are applying (visual example), and he suggests that for others applying for these positions as well.

The four tips that conclude this article are good advice for any interview situation. 

1) Get a referral – use your network to find someone at the company who can give you the inside scoop on the position, and maybe give your application a push from the inside.
2) Be excited– companies like to hire people who are enthusiastic, and really want to do the job.
3) Fit the mold – they also want to hire people that will fit into the existing corporate culture, so make sure you know what that is and that you are comfortable with it.
4) Know the products – do your research on the company ahead of time, so you can talk intelligently about what they do.  This shows your sincere interest, and will really make you stand out from the competition.
* Yes, there really is a job title “Apple Genius”.  I want that job, just so I can have a name tag that certifies me as a genius.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

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