About the Author

Six-Figure Job Interview Guide

Christoph PuetzHi, there! My name is Christoph Puetz, and this online course is full of tips and tricks that helped me to land a 6-figure income job. Over the last 17 years, I must have had over 150 job interviews, and often I had several job offers to choose from at the same time. I was even at a point where I could pick which 6-figure job offer I wanted to accept and which one to decline. I some cases, I had companies offer me a signing bonus just to get me on board or to help with the transition from one job to another.

How did I get there?

I am NOT a professional recruiter, nor do I have a background in hiring or human resources. But when I do something specific, I always try to do it extremely well. This applies to work-related items as well as to things I do in my personal free time. I prepare, I study, I learn, I network, I research; and when I execute my endeavor (no matter what it is), I am ready.

Here is a snippet of my history that will explain how I built up my knowledge and my skills related to interviewing for a job. Just keep in – interviewing for jobs is not my profession.

I actually did not grow up in the United States, but moved here from Germany when I was 30 years old. All of my education at that time came from Germany, where I grew up. Coming to America without having a job or a formal US education (on paper, at least) meant starting over in many ways. I do have a college degree and I also had several years of professional experience on the job in the financial industry, but here in the US you have to prove yourself first before being considered for many jobs unless you have the right education and the right skills to back it up.

While I had some knowledge of the English language when I came over here, it was far from being considered proficient. I could get by in a casual conversation, but sometimes my hand and feet had to help me explain what I was trying to say.

But I did not come to America expecting that it would be easy. I had my own edition of the American Dream in mind. I was determined (still am), and I was motivated (still am). I was hungry for success, and accordingly I got started. After having an apartment and a vehicle, I was ready. I went to local job fairs, I checked the classified ads in newspapers and of course searched on the Internet – which was much smaller and less sophisticated than today. This was back in the spring of 1998.

At a local job fair (Monday) I met a recruiter, and after chatting a bit, he took my resume and promised to call me the next day. He called me (Tuesday), and I was invited to the office location to take a skill assessment. He called me the next day (Wednesday), telling me that a company was interested in talking to me for a customer service representative position in their call center. I had a 15-minute phone interview the next morning (Thursday).

The phone interview apparently went well enough, and I was offered the job on the spot. Next Monday morning, I would start their 1week training program as a customer service representative in a local call center. It was a contracttohire position, and it paid $11.06 per hour. That was back in spring of 1998.

I was motivated to reach for the stars, so to speak, and decided to try my luck with a career in information technology. While being employed as a customer service rep, I started studying for the Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certifications. Every night I spent 2-3 hours reading technical books and exam guides. My original educational background is on the financial and business side, but I did not really have the right interest back then to further pursue that career. I was hoping that these IT certifications would open the door into a new career path. After all, IT is where my passion is and was. The certifications ultimately did, but more about this later. IT paid pretty well back then, and it still does today – especially if you can specialize in certain skills and have the right level of experience.

I studied and learned, and in early summer of 1998, I took the first IT certification exam. While I did not get a perfect score, it was good enough to pass the exam. I was now IT certified.

Once I had my first MCP certification under my belt, I started applying for entry-level IT Tech Support positions. These types of positions paid between $13 and $15 per hour. Over the next 6 months, I probably applied for almost 100 positions and probably had between 1-2 dozen interviews (via phone and in person) as a result. Of course, some companies would not even look at my resume – after all, there was not a single piece of computer-related work experience listed. All I had was a cover letter and some related explanations on my resume.

I had a lot of dry stretches with no response to my applications. The first few interviews pretty much went nowhere. I got better over time, and my knowledge of the English language improved dramatically due to talking to customers on the phone all day. Having my first certification, I continued studying.

Knowing that I had zero official IT work experience to show for, I became more determined. I now treated each interview as if it would be the most important interview of my life (it kind of was).

I became better at researching company backgrounds and their situation. After interviews, I analyzed how each interview partner had responded to things I said or how my body language was noticed. From each interview I learned a little more of what to do or not do. I learned what caused negative reactions in interview partners, and I learned what would ultimately lead to success. I learned to keep my mouth shut even in situations where I could barely hold back my emotions.

I noticed the improvements almost immediately. I made it further in the different interview situations. Instead of only having a first-round interview, I now made it to round 2, and when required, even round 3. It was December of 1998 when I was where I wanted to be. Besides having more success in getting interviews, I had a really hot lead. I had interviewed with one company via phone and in person. Now their IT lead in Australia wanted to talk to me – via phone, of course. This would be the final interview, I was told. Well, this did not work out in the end (for whatever reason), but it certainly filled me with self-confidence.

On the first work day in 1999, I finally received a job offer from a software company for a phone tech support position. I would get 6 weeks of training on the job. 4 days later, I received a second job offer from a different company for a tech support position. And if that would have not been enough, a third company that I had interviewed with called and asked if I would still be available. Apparently the candidate they had decided on initially had not shown up on his first day, and apparently I had been number 2 on their list.

Honestly, the new job sucked. The climate at work literally sucked. It was a sweatshop, but I bit my tongue and learned as much as I could. But 4 months later, I found myself monitoring the job market again. I applied for positions strategically, and this time I only needed a handful of job applications to succeed.

I had applied for a position at a company that operated in the financial industry (stock market-related). They wanted a jack-of-all-trades who could provide tech support for workstations and servers (yeah, baby – system administration) as well as function a bit as operator for a certain software process. I sent in a customized resume and cover letter and had a phone interview with an IT director. I was invited for a 4-hour in-person interview. The company itself had several thousand employees, but their local office turned out to be just 7 people back then. They actually had been acquired just 3 weeks before, and now this little office was set to grow. They wanted to turn it into a software development hub. I had to interview with 6 of the 7 people that morning, and they grilled me pretty hard. Apparently I did “survive” quite well, and I was invited for a last-round interview with a Senior Vice President. When I showed up for the interview, he opened the discussion saying that the others “would kill him if he would not hire me.” We had a brief 10-minute chat, and then I was offered the job on the spot. I was happy, and I will always remember those days. Good times!

I ultimately stayed with this company until 2003, but actually was looking for a better job in 2000 and had several job interviews and even job offers in between, but in the end stayed put (which turned out to be a good move).

One of the positions I did apply for in 2000 was with a telecom company. I arrived expecting a normal 1:1 interview, but instead had my very first group interview. I was facing 8 other system administrators and a team-lead. Their interview style was fairly aggressive, and even though I tried hard, I ultimately failed. I was simply not prepared for a group interview, nor was I prepared for such an aggressive interview style. I promised myself that next time, I would be ready for a group interview. As mentioned, this was my very first group interview, and the dynamic of such an interview is definitely different.

Back to the year 2003: Due to the recession, our local office was threatened to be shut down. The Senior Vice President who had hired me was very open and protected us (his team) as much as possible. The job market was dim, and not many openings for my type of work popped up. In 2001, another company had acquired the company I worked for. They actually had a sister company with a larger presence in town. They had an IT Director position opening up, and my Senior VP motivated me to apply. I am sure he pulled a few strings to get me a foot in the door so that I would get a shot at an interview. At that time I was a level II system administrator and did not have any management experience at all. I interviewed for this director position with a Vice President of Information Technology and I knew the moment I walked out that I had not given my best and that I did not meet the requirements for this job, either. I did not get that job, but ultimately got hired by that new director for a level III system administrator position. I had to interview for this position like any other candidate, though, but probably had a bonus by being employed by the sister company.

In 2005 I felt stuck where I was. While I enjoyed the people I worked with, the job itself was kind of boring and not challenging enough. I started applying for other jobs outside of the company, and had several interviews and job offers. As an example, I had applied for a job at the local county government. I mastered the pre-screening via phone and was invited to interview in person, and it turned out to be a group interview.

As mentioned before, this time I was better prepared and ready for this. It was a good interview; I felt it right away. A week later, I was offered the job and I verbally accepted it. I was waiting for a written offer, which should have come in a day or two later.

I came to my current work place a day after having verbally accepted. It was a busy day, and I stepped out for lunch to go for a walk. When I came back from lunch, I had a voicemail on my work phone (!). I entered the phone system to retrieve the message. It was from the hiring manager at the county government. Apparently he did call the receptionist and then asked for me. Since I was not there, he left a voicemail. He was very excited and talked about the new job and related stuff. He did not ask for a call back. Very scary—I had not resigned yet, nor had I seen the written offer in detail. Was he trying to get me fired? I did not like this at all, and I decided that I would not like to work for somebody who does that type of thing. I called him later that day and told him that I had changed my mind for personal reasons and would not come.

In the summer of 2005, the IT director that had hired me did resign from his position, and a few months later, he invited me to interview for a position at his new company. It was a much larger environment, and I would move up from supporting 450 users to several thousand users and would be supporting a much larger server environment (into the thousands).

When I interviewed, it was an interview with one person locally, and several others on the phone conferenced in. It was a mixed interview, partially very technical. While I was prepared, I had to admit that I was drawing a blank at one point during the interview. I was not prepared for certain types of questions. Sometimes you forget about the basics and little things, and only concentrate on what you deem important. It was a valuable reminder that when you get higher in your career, the interview questions are not always concentrating on the same level. I mastered this interview, but knew that it could have been better. I got the job offer and started working for this company about 2.5 weeks later (I gave proper 2 weeks notice to my old employer in case you wonder).

The company was a large provider of mortgages. This job turned out to be very frustrating. While the company was willing to spend money on technology, it definitely had issues hiring the right people over the past few years. This resulted in a very “difficult” work environment – especially when the money started getting tight as part of the (upcoming) mortgage crisis. While many of these people were great to have as friends, they were a liability for the company. It was early in the summer of 2006, and we had gone through 2 rounds of layoffs already. I was still employed, but the writing was on the wall, and I entered the job marked looking for work once more again.

I had several interviews and even a few job offers, but what I was offered did not fit my plan or my liking. In late August, I applied at a (then) Fortune 500 company (now Fortune 250) and one of the (Fortune) Best 100 Companies to work for. I received an invite for a phone interview and then for an in-person interview, as well. The company had a very high reputation in the workforce. It was very hard to get in because people rarely left. The work environment was great, and had super-smart people to work with and good benefits—it was, simply put, a great place to work at. I was motivated! I wanted to have that job.

The interview process was a 2-step interview. First, I interviewed with the hiring manager and a team-lead. I must have done well, because within 24 hours I was invited back for a second round interview with an IT director. This interview was a bit weird. We talked for about 45 minutes, and then he asked me to send him an email explaining why he should hire me. This was a first for me.

I left the building and immediately got my cell phone out. I called myself and left myself a voicemail. I repeated everything I remembered from the interview, especially items where I felt he responded positively or negatively. I wanted to have everything remembered so that I could write an email that would land me the job. He would not be impressed with one of those standard “thank you for interviewing me” emails, and every little detail that I could remember about would eventually get me to write the best email for this situation.

Well, long story short, 2 days later I received a phone call from HR, and they wanted proof of my education and information about references. I faxed over copies of my college education and provided the required contact information for people who were willing to vouch for me as a reference. I received the job offer shortly thereafter.

I stayed with this company for a little over 5 years, but left when IT management was replaced and the work environment changed dramatically (not necessarily for the better). I started applying and interviewing very selectively. The last 5 years had been one of the best from a work perspective, and I wanted to avoid making a bad move. I’d rather would have liked to stay, but sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on.

In March of 2012, I was working with a recruiter who had a position for a Virtualization Administrator in the pipeline. It seemed like a perfect fit, and so my resume was sent over. The next step was a phone interview with an IT director. After that I was immediately invited for an in-person technical interview. This turned out to be a group interview again and it was a very interesting interview from my perspective. The interview started with a bunch of technical questions that were thrown at me, but then something interesting happened: They ran out of questions within roughly 15-20 minutes of the interview.

Apparently earlier candidates who claimed to be virtualization experts could not even get the basics together. That lowered the awareness on the side of the interviewers and when they ran into me being fully up to speed on everything, they simply ran out of questions.

I tried to make the best out of the situation and started asking questions that “helped them” to get back into the game. “Together” we brought the ship back to shore. I acted carefully so as not to come across as snotty or as “I am better than you,” and I think everyone walked away from this interview having a good feeling about it.

Within 24 hours I was invited for a 3rd round interview with the IT Director and an Executive Business Director. For this interview I prepared differently, fully concentrating on the business and strategy side of things and it turned out to be exactly the right move. 48 hours later I was contacted with a job offer.

This new job turned out to be a less-than-optimal decision. There were higher forces at work – way beyond the power of the Executive Business Director. This work environment was highly political and upper management kind of nurtured an environment of fear. Instead of innovation there was a lack of decision making. Non-technical decision makers were allowed to force technical solutions to be implemented that were architectured for Armageddon and impracticable for support. “Standards” were implemented not because they represented actual standards, but because the involved entities were incapable of doing better. I felt very limited as to the work I was hired to do.

I kept an eye on the job market, but was not actively pursuing other opportunities. I just wanted to make sure if something special would come up that I would grab that opportunity. In November of 2012 a former manager contacted me about an opportunity at a company she had just been hired as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer). The initial job was mediocre, but down the road I would get the chance to move up into management. I interviewed for the position with some of the technical staff at that company, but I never felt the fire or the right excitement for this position. I was offered the position a few weeks later with a salary increase of $10,000 above what I was currently making. While I was excited about the money, money is not everything. I would take on a mediocre job and a chance to eventually get promoted. I declined this 6-figure job.

2 months later another opportunity at a former employer opened up. A team lead position was posted to their website. I applied and went through a series of interviews. I thought I had screwed up during the phone interview with the hiring IT Director, but a week later I was invited for an in-person interview where I was interviewed by 5 people for about 3 hours. I did talk to several managers and an executive IT Director and apparently I did well again – 3 days later I was offered the job.

Well, there you have it. While this is a very high-level view of my corporate career, it also shows the different interview processes associated with how my career progressed. I want to avoid the impression that I switch jobs quite often, but I do feel obligated to myself to not simply give in to situations when I can change them.

There are simply too many companies and incompetent managers, and sooner or later you will end up in one of those spots where your life becomes miserable because of a bad work environment. We live only once. We live in times where we have to work between 40 to 50 years. That’s a freakin’ long time to be stuck in a work environment that eventually makes you miserable and sick. I always give it a fair chance, but after that I will consider other options. On the other hand, I will also stick with a great job even though I could eventually make more money somewhere else – a good and friendly work environment and friends at work are more important to me than a bit more money.