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Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ning Wong, Jan 12, 2003.
I have a job interview for a web design job on MOnday.
Any helpful tips?
Have your portfolio ready, and be confident, but not overconfident.
Hrm. That's about all I can think of
Be yourself. Don't put on any airs, don't be overly serious or matter-of-fact, just be your own cheerful self, as it best fits into the company of the people you are with.
Goes a long way...
Eye contact. Smile. Honesty. Hard to go wrong with those.
Be sure that you know a great deal about the company to which you are applying. It is important to appear as though you know enough about them to be actively wanting to work for them, rather than just applying for any job.
Dress as that company expects—but on the high end. If the dress is business wear a dark suit. If the dress is business casual make sure that you have polished shoes and a sports coat—probably open collar with a long sleeve shirt. Or at least an expensive sweater. You want to look the part and as though you are successful.
Consider what questions you will be asked and what follow-up questions you may be asked, depending on your answers.
The advice of being confident, but not aggressive is important. Combine that with looking correct and you really maximize your chances.
Someone, somewhere, wrote a book or pamphlet with a list of questions that employers should ask job applicants. Despite the fact that all the questions were utterly stupid and reveal nothing about the applicants, employers continued to ask them, thinking them to be insightful and meaningful despite their inability to deliver quantifiable data. Luckily, most employers have quit asking many of these questions, but you may run across a stodgy executive or HR person who still uses them.
Some of these questions were:
What would you like to be doing in five years? This is a stupid question, because the honest answer is “Not working for you! I’d rather be lounging in the Caribbean on my cashed-in stock options, like you plan on doing!” But of course, the answer we give is something along the lines of an expression of an abiding and all-consuming ambition to be the hardest worker under the most oppressive conditions, which is a blatant lie. There’s one exception in which this question isn’t answered with a lie: Younger applicants take this question at face value and try to answer it seriously, because they still think they can change the world in five years. They’re so cute. Sometimes I wish I had a camera.
What is your greatest weakness? As if we’re going to go into a job interview and admit that we download internet porn. Books will advise you to turn this question around and express a strength, with an answer like, “Sometimes I work so hard, day and night, that I forget my family members’ names.” But this question is so manipulative that any attempt to be counter-manipulative will be laughably obvious. And an honest answer is simply out of the question. Good luck if you’re asked this question. Have an answer prepared in advance, just in case.
Why should we hire you instead of another equally qualified candidate? At face value, this is actually a valid question to ask. After all, employers are entitled to probe an applicant’s employability and fit within the company beyond what can be listed on a resume. But that doesn’t mean an employer will get any good information by asking it, because the answer to this question is always the same: “Because I’m so gosh-darn loveable!” Every applicant will phrase this answer differently, however, with a hopefully more professional-sounding spin. But how do you measure Bob, who says he’s a “people person” against Harry, who says he “works well with people”? An interviewer should dispense with this question and determine an applicant’s “gosh-darn loveability index” through the normal course of conversation. If he can’t do that, he shouldn’t be interviewing job candidates.
Are you willing to work unpaid overtime to meet an aggressive deadline? The interviewer may as well be saying, “Tell me a lie, and make it a BIG one!” If you need the job, you’ll say yes. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s as simple as that. What an interviewer thinks he can learn from this question, aside from a candidate’s level of desperation, is beyond my ability to comprehend.
Have you ever stolen from a previous employer? First of all, if you have stolen from a previous employer, shame on you. That’s even more dishonest than the lie of an answer you’d be expected to give to this question. And if you haven’t stolen from a previous employer, congratulations! Your answer will be exactly the same as the answers given by the common thieves, except that your answer will be totally honest. It’s too bad the interviewer won’t be able to distinguish between the honest and dishonest answers he gets to this question, since all the answers he gets will be the same. I’m quite sure the How to Interview pamphlet said that “if a candidate says ‘yes’ to this question, then that’s an indication that he is likely to steal from you.” How brilliant.
What sacrifices are you willing to make in order to make this company more successful? The problem with this question, and others like it, is that it conveys the attitude that the company regards its employees as indentured servants, born only to be spent on the company’s behalf. The candidate gets the feeling that the mere act of answering this question is tantamount to giving consent to such indentured servitude, and that failing to answer it correctly will tag him as a Bolshevik Revolutionist. Today’s employers recognize that employment is a two-way street (though it’s definitely a buyer’s market, right now), and that an employee’s commitment to a company’s success should be somehow rewarded. It’s true that companies depend on the bottom line to be viable, but they don’t have to have a formal, written policy of making people’s lives miserable in order to succeed. If this question isn’t accompanied by a discussion of benefits, bonuses, or stock option plans, it’s probably best to move on. Otherwise, it’s just another “How desperate are you?” type of question.
If you could be any kind of animal, what kind of animal would you be? I’m totally serious. In the days of stodgy employer oblivion, this question was actually used to help weed out applicants. Did they have a table of animals with corresponding point values associated with them that they used to score applicants? “Well, Bob has more experience in COBOL than Harry, but Bob wanted to be a mongoose, so we’ll hire Harry.” Did this really happen? Luckily, when employers actually began to realize how stupid it is to disqualify good candidates based on their answers to this question, this question was the first to go. But if you are asked this question, here’s a hint: It’s better to be a tiger than a bunny. Try to keep your answer somewhere on the top of the food chain.
And there’s one more utterly stupid question I’d like to mention, but it comes with a story. About a year ago, I interviewed with a telecommunications company whose headquarters were based in Finland. My interviewer, a Finnish native, spoke English fairly well, but we definitely had a “culture clash.” Instead of engaging me in conversation, he read questions from his laptop. And, yes, they were these questions, from the How to Interview pamphlet. After about the twentieth question, or so, he looked away from his laptop, actually made eye contact with me (for the first time), and began talking to me. He complained about how, in the US, he cannot ask certain questions, and that it interfered with his ability to hire qualified candidates. He complained about how his engineers don’t get along, and that projects were always late. He then asked me (from the heart, not from the laptop!) if I had ever had a conflict with a colleague and how I resolved it. Imagine how thrilled I was to receive such a heartfelt question!
I began to spin a tale about a newly hired engineer at my old company who’s first assignment was to work with me on a subroutine that would predict how long customers would be on hold and announce that predicted hold time to the customers periodically while they were on hold. It was my job to code the routine, and it was the new engineer’s job to come up with the algorithm to predict the hold time. Our company had already accepted a flat-fee payment for this job, and we had two weeks to do it. I had the coding done and tested in two days. All I needed was that algorithm. Keep in mind, this was supposed to be a super-easy assignment for the “new guy” so he could feel productive early on as he began climbing the learning curve on the company’s proprietary development system. After a week, he still didn’t have anything. I asked him what the problem was, and he said he was still working on it. After two more days, my boss told me to see what he had and see if it was salvageable. He resented another engineer looking over his shoulder and wouldn’t show me his work. Under orders from his supervisor, he shared his “research” with me, but we were already a week late by then. I discovered that his problem was that he wanted it to be absolutely perfect. He didn’t want it to announce that a customer would be on hold for 42 seconds, only to have a CSR come online in 41 or 43 seconds. That was totally unacceptable to him. I told him that would be good enough, and that perfection wasn’t achievable. He became outraged and accused me of sloppy engineering. He wouldn’t release the algorithm to me until it was perfect, no matter how long it took. I explained to him that we had already received payment from the customer for this job, we were behind schedule, and that, according to our contract with the customer, we were actually incurring daily fines for late delivery. Thanks to him, we were actually losing quite a bit of money on this very simple project. He said that was no excuse to produce an inferior product. I countered that if we all tried to achieve perfection in every project the way he does, our company would go out of business within three months.
In short, I thought his pursuit of perfection interfered severely with the company’s profitability. He thought that my concern for profit made me a sloppy engineer, willing to shove anything out the door for money. Minutes before he was fired (and without prior knowledge on my part that he was about to be fired), I told him that “I’d rather be a sloppy engineer with money in the bank than the best engineer without a job!”
After he left, I slapped an algorithm together in about an hour and delivered the completed project to the customer. The customer was so thrilled with the performance of the “Hold-Time-Predictor” that they waived the late-delivery fees. Through “sloppy engineering,” I managed to exceed the customer’s expectations and save my company a huge load of cash. I even received a nice bonus for my effort – or lack thereof, depending on whose side you take.
I concluded my story by emphasizing that I believed that, especially from the company’s point of view, being the best at something isn’t nearly as important as being profitable. It is more important, I said, to deliver an adequate product at a nice profit margin than to deliver - or fail to deliver - the best product at a tremendous loss. As long as you meet specifications on your products and meet or exceed your customers’ expectations, all that really matters is how much money you take home at the end of the day. Why else are we in business?
I really thought my pragmatism would impress him and set me apart from the rest of the engineers he had interviewed. The HR guy was there during the interview, and I could tell he was impressed. (He even took me aside after the interview and told me so.) How refreshing, I thought it must be, to hear an engineer express an interest in the bottom line and not be blinded by an unsound and crippling ambition to be the best at all costs.
Then my interviewer, in deadpan fashion and with no response to my story, turned to his laptop and read the final question of the interview:
How important is it to you to be the best?
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Watch out for the stupid questions. Don't blow it like I did.