Re: Interview type Question

From: Tim X <>
Date: Sat, 27 Sep 2008 16:04:34 +1000
Message-ID: <>

joel garry <> writes:

> On Sep 26, 6:05 am, Steve Howard <> wrote:
>> On Sep 26, 2:46 am, Tim X <> wrote:
>> I don't think enough generic questions like this are asked in an
>> interview.  My favorite two questions (which I ask regularly) are:
>> 1)  What is the biggest thing you ever broke in technology, and how
>> did you fix it?
>> 2)  What is your favorite thing on which to work?
>> Those tell me volumes about a person.
>> 1)  tells me if they are honest (because *everyone* has broken
>> something).
>> 2)  Gets them to open about themselves
> Has the opposite effect on me, I close up. I mean, I'm fairly open
> about these kind of things on usenet, I find them very entertaining
> and educational, but in an interview, shoot, how do you create the
> correct context when so many of these derive from situations like Tim
> said, without sounding like you are denigrating your current or former
> employer, which makes you a complainer? And I know I will put my foot
> in my mouth since I tend towards brutal honesty, which is too much for
> people who haven't got to know me. At least I'm not that guy who puts
> pictures of himself bleeding on the web. :-)

For years I was a bit like this in interviews as well. The point at which it all changed was when I was put on the other side of the table and had to start interviewing others. this was a real eye opener for me because it made me realise what a tough task it is. From then on, I tended to feel a lot more relaxed and confident in the ineterview and now I tend to just let my personality come across. I take the view that the interview is really about whether you will fit in with everyone or not.

>> An interview is not a confrontation.  I'm trying to get a feel for not
>> only what they know, but how they do things and what they would be
>> like to work with everyday.

Exactly right. Most of the time, you have already selected out those that appear to have the requisite skills. At the interview, you are trying to get a feel for the person, how they think and their type of personality.

> Depends on the interview. I'm not convinced anyone can get a good
> idea what someone is like to work with every day from even a series of
> interviews. (I'm not saying that you can't, just that most people
> overestimate their interviewing ability.) I've seen purposefully
> stressful interviews, because, well, they feel they need to see how
> the interviewee responds to stress. Many HR professionals think they
> can figure out if someone will be a good fit for an organization, when
> maybe the organization needs a bad fit. Think on that.

Generally, HR are the absolutely worse group to be involved in the selection process unless the position is in HR. The selection should be made by those who will need to work directly or cloesly with the person.

I also agree it is impossible to get a really accurate assessment of the person from the interview, but its really the only tool you have. I have worked at places that used personnality tests to assist in the selection. As I originally did a psychology degree prior to doing comp sci and moving into development work, I'm very skeptical about the real value of such tests. The company I worked for that used them (a large global corporation) use to actually select managers based on three or so different personality tests. One test was designed to select managers that would be good at initiating change, another for managers that were good at building culture and teams and another that was used for selecting managers that were good at creating stability. they would cycle through these on a 3 to 5 year basis. I remain unconvinced at how good approach this was, but have to admit the company is still growing and appears to be profitable.

>> We hired a guy (against my recommendation) at one point that said he
>> had never broken anything.  Guess what happened in the first 60 days
>> he was there?  Yep...  He also turned out to be the type that covered
>> things up and pointed fingers when stuff like this happened.  I'm sure
>> in his mind he never *had* broken anything.  Not good...
> I've watched a series of netadmins come and go at one particular
> place, several because of the CYA attitude. The essential problem
> seems to be interviewing in general is biased towards those who are
> well-prepared to sell themselves, rather than towards really defining
> the job requirements and how well the person fits. As far as that
> goes, my experience has been that most jobs adjust to the person, and
> are often quite different than the specified requirements. Of course,
> most of my experience has been cleaning up problems from the previous
> effups.

Yeah, I get that. It certainly isn't an easy process, which is why getting interviewed really doesn't bother me any more. On some level, I tend to go into the interview thankful I'm the one getting interviewed and not the one who has to make the decision. I might just have been lucky, but I've had a 100% success rate in my last 4 interviews (covering a period of just over 14 years).

A funny thing happened at my second last interview. I was asked a very technical question. I had done some basic research on the members of the selection committee prior to the interview and new the person asking the question was the chief IT officer and had a reputation for being very focused on technical matters. I'm not great on quick technical responses - I prefer to have a bit of time to think about the problem. As I began to answer, I knocked over my glass of water. This wasn't intentional. I'm actually blind and just didn't realise it was there. The selection committee all jumped up and rushed to clean things up. I apologised and sat there using the valuable extra minutes to refine my answer.

Once everyone had sat down, I started to reply. The person asking the question stopped me and said that since I had had additional time to think about the question, he now wanted to withdraw it and ask another one.

As things had been going quite well until that point and as I think I had a good connection with the majority of the selection committee, I responded with "They told me you were a tough bastard, can I have another glass of water then?". This caused most of the people on the selection committee to break up laughing, including the guy asking the question who I judged enjoyed being thought of as a tough bastard. It may have just been luck, but the new quesiton was actually much easier for me to anser than the original one and the rest of the interview was much lighter and easier - in fact, I think everyone relaxed and quite a few laughs were had over the remaining hour. I also got the job and believe it was mainly because they felt I was someone they could work with and would fit in rather than any real assessment of my technical skills.

>> For a question like the OP mentioned, I would be looking for things
>> like Tim posted.  It doesn't have to be word for word, but it shows me
>> the depth of their experience troubleshooting in general.  As noted
>> (and as Tim noted), every problem is different.  I would like to see
>> body language while they answer it, do they dwell on certain things
>> like the minutia of technical details (not always good), etc.
> I hope you are not saying you wouldn't hire someone who... baarfs.

All depends in what direction they baarf! Most likely, I would immediately follow suit and it would become a bonding session.


tcross (at) rapttech dot com dot au
Received on Sat Sep 27 2008 - 01:04:34 CDT

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