Bill Patterson on Mon, 15 Oct 2001 00:10:11 +0200

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[PLUG] interviews (Continued newbie questions thread)

It was posted that "an interview is like taking a fish out water to examine
its natural behavior."  I think this is a very true statement.  The crazy
thing is that you can observe a lot about a fish out of water, keep it or
throw it back.  I have been on both sides of the two major kinds of
interviews, technical and will-you-be-a-fit.  I have done a lot of
interviewing in my career and would like to share a summary of my thoughts.

When I am a manager looking for a fit for a hire, I do what I can to get the
interviewee to relax and feel comfortable.  It will never be perfect.  By
the time the interviewee has come to me, presumeably all of the requisite
background has been determined.  I get the interviewee talking about a
variety of things to see what topics are comfortable and how well we
communicate.  The person has to demonstrate knowledge and reactions that
could only come from the requisite experience and skill, but overall the
human-to-human communication and feeling is most important at that point.

When I am asked to "tech someone out," e.g. to find out if the person has
the requisite technical skills, I ask a range of questions about the
technical area.  Prior to each set of technical questions is a "how would
you rate yourself?" or "how much experience do you have with...?" question
that lets me know what the candidate thinks about his/her own skills.  Then
the technical question will show how that opinion meshes with my perception
of reality.  The range of skills tested is from low to high.  I'll ask very
elementary questions, mid level questions, and questions almost no one would
know the answer to.  This last category is important, not because I am
expecting the right answer to the tough question, but because although I
want to see if the person is really strong enough to answer it, I most
importantly want to know how well the person confronts limitations to
his/her own knowledge.  The know-it-all who invents false answers is not
someone I want on a team.

One time my boss and I were interviewing someone who had clearly been
coached not to name a salary demand.  We pressed and pressed and all he
would say was "we can negotiate that."  Well, we were negotiating and he did
nothing.  My boss thought this guy was the worst interviewee that he had
ever seen.

When I am being interviewed I try to make eye contact, be friendly, and get
the first 10 seconds' impression to be positive.  I try hard to let the
interviewer know what to expect in my range of skills, so as to not over- or
under-state my skill level and keep the interviewer's expectations in check.
I pepper my answers with pertenent anecdotes when I can think of them so as
to enhance "what I can do for you."  I try to show the energy I would put
into the job.   I lean forward appropriately.  I assert any extra things I
would do on the job.  If I perceive that the job would not be a fit, saying
so can keep me available for closer-fitting jobs at the same organization.

I have had my strange experiences as an interviewee.  Occasionally you meet
someone who thinks that if you don't know something she/he learned early in
her/his experiences that you must not know anything and are a fraud.  I
still haven't figured out what to do with these people.  Generally the
interviews from hell are due to misplaced expectations.  Misplaced
expectations can be minimized by an upfront statement to the effect that I
am not trying to sell myself but trying to work with the hiring manager to
see if our mutual interest would be served by working together.

Bill Patterson

Philadelphia Linux Users Group       -
General Discussion  -