Engineering Interview Prep Q&A: Iyad Uakoub on the importance of social skills and the best negotiation techniques

The Cohort
Written by:
App Academy
Published on:
October 24, 2018
two women sitting at a desk talking

Explore a Q&A session focused on tips for how to communicate effectively and navigate salary negotioations with top notch social skills during software engineering interviews.

Did you check out the first part of our wide-ranging conversation with Engineering Interview Prep’s Iyad Uakoub, the accelerator course’s main career coach? If not, check it out here.

Below is the second part, where Iyad talks about maximixing student potential, provides examples of student success, dives into the importance of social skills, and defines his most important negotiation techniques.

Let’s go back to the moment that makes people make a change in their career: motivation. What is one of the primary motivators for students for attending Engineering Interview Prep?

Salary is one of the indicators of success in their job search but not the primary motivator, in my opinion. Sometimes, they really get into solving the problem [at a company]. “I really care about the people. I’m going to work with and really care about the impact of [what it’s doing].”

What’s the type of student that is applying and doing well at Engineering Interview Prep?

The type of students who attend the Engineering Interview Prep accelerator are mature, serious students who come with the expectation they are going to move from point A to point B in their careers. On the downside, they come with some resistance that we have to work [with]. So adjusting perception and working on their flexibility and adaptability is very important.

The Engineering Interview Prep accelerator course is only a few weeks. How do you manage to maximize students potential in the short time you have with them?

It’s squeezed in. One of the challenges with Engineering Interview Prep students is you don’t start by giving them information. You have to unlearn bad habits and then put back things in you want to learn. With younger students, unlearning is easier because they haven’t learned much yet. So you can start immediately. Engineering Interview Prep accelerator students have experience and know [mostly how to push themselves] so there’s some resistance and ownership of what they built in the past. Now, we tell them to let it go and start over or you have to adjust and focus. It requires courage, vulnerability, flexibility, and resilience.

The course has been around for about a year. Can you give me a representative example of student success here?

So one of my students got an offer recently and started working two weeks ago. His story is very inspiring and amazing. He had a degree in Computer Science and worked in technical support for awhile. Then he didn’t like that. So he decided to work on fixing musical instruments for years. So his skills got rusty and his communication skills are not what employers are expecting. So there’s tons of work we can do.

When I got paired with him, he didn’t know there was a problem. He always blamed the market. He said the market was not ready for someone like [him] because [he wasn’t] getting jobs. [So he had to unlearn a lot]. We had to figure out how to send him the message, that [it’s] reality versus perception without making the person more resistant to change. So that’s on a deeper level than just job applications, and [then], by creating short wins, [we can move forward]. If you focus on your LinkedIn, for example, let’s see how many people view your profile. He slowly started to build a new perception, a new reality, and [started] applying. And he didn’t get calls because it’s been awhile.

So we [then] started focusing on his visibility and unpaired it from this technical skills. Anyway, a month after that, we decided to do it differently. So are we competing with people who’ve been in the market for a while? Let’s go to a place where others don’t go to. So we started to go to Craigslist, which is not one of the top five places software engineers go for to find jobs, right? He got a job offer in three weeks and that’s exactly what he wanted, something that has systems components, like Linux, and has kind of low level C programming language ability that he has and he’s super happy.

What is the promise from Engineering Interview Prep to students in terms of teacher access while they look for a new job?

So they have access to a full year and there are two different programs: the [job] guarantee and not guarantee, of a minimum salary of $120K. As long as they putting efforts as long as they’re responding to my emails and doing the assignments, putting enough work, submitting applications, reaching out to people, they have full access. If they don’t respond, or don’t take ownership, they get a strikeout and that includes [loss of access].

The striking system is if, for example, I send you an email, I’m your coach and you don’t respond to my email, you get a strike. If we have a meeting and we agreed we’re going to meet at 2PM today and you don’t show up, you get two strikes. If you accumulate up to ten strikes, you get struck out and are then converted to the upfront program, which is where you have to pay [full tuition].

Talk to me about what you teach in terms of negotiating for a new contract.

[You have to think about] emotional or psychological credits when it comes to negotiation. If you don’t have enough credits, if you don’t build that strong perception, you don’t have leverage and if you don’t have leverage, you can’t negotiate right? So here’s what the most important thing: In light of that, you have to understand negotiation starts the moment the recruiter or company sees your resume. Because they see the resume, they adjust the perception of where they fit you in terms of salary and grades. Then, when they talk to you, it either goes up or down, either exiting the job search process from their perspective or you continue.

Every time you meet with the person like a recruiter, hiring manager, or a Founder, you have to keep adding credits so you can get to a point where you have so much leverage that you can use it for negotiation. That’s the whole concept of negotiation.

What’s the biggest difference between somebody trying to move up to the next level at their workplace and someone ready to move on? What’s the difference in preparation?

I think two things happen here. When you are an employer, or you’re a startup, you’re trying to hire someone who can hit the ground running. So someone with minimal coaching and mentoring at the beginning that they can introduce to this system, to the culture of the company, and build things [quick]. Because startups don’t have time and always act on a mission-critical kind of mood, technically. The second aspect will be seniority, meaning leading other people. They’re looking for someone who could also hire other people. Compared to hiring someone who’s a junior engineer, they’re looking for someone who has the ability to be developed in the future. So, not necessarily a mastery of skills but someone who has the passion to learn and the drive to put in effort.

Tell me more about why soft skills are so important to find a new job.

Soft skills, or social skills, or leadership skills are very important because employers, small companies or big companies, want people to flourish. They want them to succeed. They want them to [be leaders.] Seeing opportunities and taking the initiative and acting with integrity to deliver results. These are things you don’t learn as a coder only. You learn by communicating with others by following other leaders [and] by believing in yourself. All these things you can practice with a coach.

What about communication? How do you make students better at describing what they can do?

I narrow down communication to three components: One is your message has to be customized. So You cannot talk to an employer the way you talk to another employer. Second, the message has to be clear. You have tons of experience, you have a lot of skills, you worked on so many projects. But you have to make sure that when you talk to the employer they don’t get confused. So the more clear the message, the better. Also, it needs to be concise — employers don’t have a lot of time to talk. They have hundreds of applicants applying. So that’s why call them the three C’s: clear, concise and customized. And it’s not just the verbal verbal message, not just your elevator pitch on your resume, or your cover letter, or your LinkedIn.

Personally, what are you getting out of being at Engineering Interview Prep?

So I worked as a coach for years. This is my first time working at a bootcamp and I’m lucky [being with] the one with the best reputation. The perception from everybody, not just from students, is making my job meaningful. And this is coming not just because of a branding thing but from actual work. [From] the type of people we hire and admit to the program, the type of companies we work with, and where our students end up. I’m happy I’m part of this ecosystem impacting people’s lives positively.

What is the one thing you think makes the difference for students here?

The community aspect. A lot of students help each other here during and after the program. If I know that I have a student who is just past the on-site [interview process] with Google, I pair him up [with someone else] so they can provide insights to each other. This is the community aspect of the process, which is [an] overlooked aspect [of] coaching in general. It helps build community, reduces anxiety, increases motivation.

What are the cornerstones of your teaching methods that you’ve incorporated into the Engineering Interview Prep accelerator curriculum?

I’ve adopted the “four squares” of coaching. Every time I talk to a student I have four squares in my mind. They are the content, the process of the coaching session, the thought, and the actions. So every time I talk to a student, either I support them or I challenge them on their thoughts and their actions. For example, if a student comes to me and says the job market is not doing well, the employers’ expectations are not realistic. I ask him why [he] thinks that’s happening. “How do you come up with this conclusion?” Try to decode their perceptions about things. The challenging part is that they [can be] depressed and anxious after months of working and submitting applications. I don’t challenge them [in the instance]. Instead, I try to motivate them to focus on their strengths and on things they do really well.

In mock interviews, for example, I ask them. “What did you do that needs Improvement on every question and what did you do really well?” You challenge them to empathize with themselves and see things from a recruiter perspective. I start with the thing that needs improvements and then provide them with things that they did really well. So always start with the bad news and end up on a high note.

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