aspose file tools*
The moose likes Jobs Discussion and the fly likes Phone Screens: The Impression Big Moose Saloon
  Search | Java FAQ | Recent Topics | Flagged Topics | Hot Topics | Zero Replies
Register / Login
JavaRanch » Java Forums » Careers » Jobs Discussion
Bookmark "Phone Screens: The Impression" Watch "Phone Screens: The Impression" New topic
Author

Phone Screens: The Impression

Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Doing many phone screens these days, I've been trying to think about what I like in candidates. We've debated some of the questions and techniques I use. But here's the plain truth: some people got it, some people don't.
There's no magic formula. Part of it is confidence; confident people come acress better. Much of it is communication skills; answering questions well, not rambling, spinning the questions where you don't know the answer. Some of it is just having a certain je ne ce qui.
By all this I mean, within 5 minutes I'll know if I like the person. For face to face its often faster.
I think one of my indicators is speech patterns. Now for me, this is perhaps a personal bias. I can't easily explain what I look for, other than to say I know it when I hear it. Part of it is having a large vocabulary, technical and otherwise, but it's not simply knowing words and throwing them around. Part is succintly explaining things. Communication and presentation is huge.
--Mark
Rufus BugleWeed
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 22, 2002
Posts: 1551
I think you are just a sucker for a smooze artist with a good line. You want techies not sales people. That is unless your customers just pay you to let them win at golf.
When you go to buy a car did you ever ask the sales person, "Was this car designed and built by people that speak eloquently, that I'd like to go to the pub with on Fridays after work?"
[ December 08, 2003: Message edited by: Rufus BugleWeed ]
Arjun Shastry
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 13, 2003
Posts: 1874
Why don't people conduct some programming/business tests to find how really good is the candidate?In one of the company, I have seen this.First they test your programming ability.Say 1/2 hour test.Then another test where some business problem(related to that company) is given and candidate is asked to write Use cases,draw class diagrams etc.This goes for another 2 hours.Answer paper is distributed among project leads and some team members.Depending on performance,(s)he is called for HR+techninal interview.Written tests are definitely better than gauging oral communication and confidance in 5/10 minutes over phone.


MH
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:
When you go to buy a car did you ever ask the sales person, "Was this car designed and built by people that speak eloquently, that I'd like to go to the pub with on Fridays after work?"

Well, since I never said anything about speaking eloquently, I assume that's how you are trying to characterize what I was saying (although by my definatetion of eloquently, that is not what I was trying to convey).
So to answer your question, no, I haven't but I assume that's implied. If you don't realize communication is critical to engineering, go read Peopleware. It's almost implied that any successful car was build by engineering teams who knew how to communicate.
The last vechical I heard of built by people with poor communication skills likely burned up in the martian atmosphere.
Originally posted by Capablanca Kepler:
Why don't people conduct some programming/business tests to find how really good is the candidate?

Because it's not cost effective for many small companies (which is where I usually work).
--Mark
Manish Hatwalne
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 22, 2001
Posts: 2578

Originally posted by Capablanca Kepler:
Why don't people conduct some programming/business tests to find how really good is the candidate?In one of the company, I have seen this.First they test your programming ability.Say 1/2 hour test.Then another test where some business problem(related to that company) is given and candidate is asked to write Use cases,draw class diagrams etc.This goes for another 2 hours.Answer paper is distributed among project leads and some team members.Depending on performance,(s)he is called for HR+techninal interview.Written tests are definitely better than gauging oral communication and confidance in 5/10 minutes over phone.

I wholeheartely agreee with Capablanca, and I have probably taken test at the same company. I still have great respect from that company's technical strength, though I could not accept their offer due to sal issues.
- Manish
Manish Hatwalne
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 22, 2001
Posts: 2578

Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:

By all this I mean, within 5 minutes I'll know if I like the person. For face to face its often faster.
--Mark

Hmmmm,
Little confused by this statement!!! How does it matter if you like that person or not? The question is - is he good enough for the job or not! There was this nice girl that I interviewed, and I did like her a lot, but unfortunately she was just not good enough for us.
Jokes apart, but I have worked with few ppl I did not like but some of them were just brillint professionally, and I still have great respect for them. While working with others, irrespective of likes and dislikes it is possible to enjoy work and have great performance as long as you are mature enough to distingiush professional relations from personal ones. After all, if two ppl are different that does not necessarily mean that one of them is bad or not likeable. It's just a matter of relativity...
I do vouch for technical ability (not to be confused with technical awareness a.k.a londry list) and effective communication skills (not necessarily fluent salesmen, as long as they are willing to communicate their knowledge and approach ppl with their problems, I'd be happy. But willingness should be there).
I somehow prefer personal interviews to telephonic ones, coz I can see how efectively the candidate is conveying his knowledge, how he uses papers given to him and even his eyes and hands speak a lot.
- Manish
Al Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 30, 2003
Posts: 716
Originally posted by Capablanca Kepler:
Why don't people conduct some programming/business tests to find how really good is the candidate? <...> Written tests are definitely better than gauging oral communication and confidance in 5/10 minutes over phone.

I think you mistake the usual use of phone screenings. They are typically used to evaluate a list of candidates and decide whom to bring in for an interview, screening tests, etc.
Your programming tests do nothing to show a candidate's personality and how well they will fit into your workplace. Nor do they reveal how good a problem-solver they are. Many of the best people I know keep a large technical library and build a mental index of their field. They will often completely bodge programming tests and the like because they don't work from memorized facts; They work from their mental indexes. I work this way myself.
I'm very much in agreement with Mark H on this topic. I won't say that I know enough after 20-30 minutes on the phone to 'like' a person, but I'll have a good idea by then. BTW a decent phone screen isn't 5 or 10 minutes, more like 20 to 30 minutes.
After a phone screen I'll know how they approach software engineering problems fershure, because I'll get their stories from their POV. Not only what they did but why and how they did it. What other approaches they considered and the short version of why they selected the approach they did. Invaluable.
The best thing about phone screens is that they're relatively low-investment and low risk for both parties. I can use a public phone to talk 20 minutes with a potential employer and get an excellent idea whether I want to pursue the opportunity then stay an extra 20 minutes at night to ensure I give full value to my employer.
A face to face interview (in my situation) consumes 4 hours at absolute minimum. Add in a few of their gimcrack tests and it can be 5-6 hours. Difficult to do unobtrusively. Chances are I'll be in on Saturday or pulling long hours at night to make it up.
BTW, Mark, I'm sure you grok the difference between like and hire? I'm pretty sure you'd like and respect me after a phone screen (and conversely), but that doesn't necessarily means it's a good match. No?
[ December 09, 2003: Message edited by: Alfred Neumann ]

SCJP1.4, SCWCD
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Manish Hatwalne:

Little confused by this statement!!! How does it matter if you like that person or not? The question is - is he good enough for the job or not!

Like has many meanings. To borrow from your comment, I can "like" a girl (as a friend) or I can "like" a girl (as in romantically).
In my statements in this thread "like" means "like for the job." There are people I've hired who frankly, I wouldn't want to hang out with outside of work. Sure they're nice people and all, but I just wouldn't see us socializing. However, I know that they'd be a good co-worker.
I'll rephrase it as, "within 5 minutes I'll know if this person is suitable for the job, and I'll be confident to within about 75% accuracy about his or her ability to do it."
--Mark
Kevin Thompson
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 04, 2001
Posts: 237
This confirms my long standing theory.
In IT professions, competancy & knowledge does not count. What counts is "impression" and "image". This is true even over the phone!
Generally, that is why skinny white boys with a cocky/macho personality are so overwhelmingly featured in our profession.
Kevin
P.S. I agree with the posters who actually LIKE phone interviews. It saved a whole lot of energy - that is true. It is just unfortunate - that "impression" still rules.
[ December 09, 2003: Message edited by: Kevin Thompson ]
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Originally posted by Kevin Thompson:
This confirms my long standing theory.
In IT professions, competancy & knowledge does not count. What counts is "impression" and "image". This is true even over the phone!
Generally, that is why skinny white boys with a cocky/macho personality are so overwhelmingly featured in our profession.

Oh I got news for you. Competency and knowledge don't count for much in any industry. The ability to win the confidence of others does. The medium hardly matters.
I've been running around in various sales positions long enough to know that you rarely sell actual products outside of a commodity-driven market. The things that make money are trust, relationships, and making other people's lives easier. When you figure out a way to project those qualities in an interview, you'll raise your chances by an order of magnitude, if not more.


Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.
- Robert Bresson
Al Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 30, 2003
Posts: 716
Originally posted by Kevin Thompson:
This confirms my long standing theory.
In IT professions, competancy & knowledge does not count. What counts is "impression" and "image". This is true even over the phone!

A little cynical, are we? I've seen image and this ain't it. Image has something of the flashy about it, but what I'm looking for is anti-flash. Sort of a calm competence. Been there, done something like that.
Originally posted by Kevin Thompson:
Generally, that is why skinny white boys with a cocky/macho personality are so overwhelmingly featured in our profession.

When you wrote that two images flashed into mind. Both 'skinny white boys' but a world of difference. One fellow worked for me years ago and epitomizes my image of the 'self-starter'. You could hand him a job and he'd matter of factly go about it. Come to you with a list of questions if and when he needed it. Apart from that he'd just go do it. Confident but not cocky. He'd freely admit ignorance but then go and learn what he needed to do. The ultimate low-maintenance worker.
The other guy was exactly as you describe. He thought he could do anything and usually got in over his head and crashed. I wouldn't hire him on a bet mostly because he knew everything.
The right image is everything. The first guy had it but the second didn't.
Al Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 30, 2003
Posts: 716
Originally posted by Michael Ernest:

Oh I got news for you. Competency and knowledge don't count for much in any industry. The ability to win the confidence of others does. The medium hardly matters.

I've rarely met an engineer able to win my confidence who couldn't deliver above the average. If ever. It's not a matter of being a great communicator. Much more conveying the impression that she knows her hash.
Originally posted by Michael Ernest:

I've been running around in various sales positions long enough to know that you rarely sell actual products outside of a commodity-driven market. The things that make money are trust, relationships, and making other people's lives easier. When you figure out a way to project those qualities in an interview, you'll raise your chances by an order of magnitude, if not more.

If they bring that to the interview they will also bring it to the job. Make my life easier. When I'm selling myself in an interview I'm trying to show that I can sort problems out and make the manager's life easier. It works, too.
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Alfred:I've rarely met an engineer able to win my confidence who couldn't deliver above the average. If ever. It's not a matter of being a great communicator. Much more conveying the impression that she knows her hash.

That's one reason I wonder why people place so much emphasis on certification and relatively little on learning to communicate to another person how they can apply their skills to problems other than their own.
Just to make sure my point is clear: it's rare you find someone who communicates well and doesn't know jack. So I mean to say that "mere" competence and knowledge isn't enough. But you do find them. I've hired (and let go) a small but memorable number of people who presented themselves really well, when over time it became evident that they didn't do much more. Thing is, they won people over all the time, so it's not like they were bad hiring choices -- they just weren't doing the "whole" job I think is important.
Rufus BugleWeed
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 22, 2002
Posts: 1551
That's one reason I wonder why people place so much emphasis on certification and relatively little on learning to communicate to another person how they can apply their skills to problems other than their own.

Maybe you could write us another book.
Tim Baker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
just because some people do not communicate easily in interview situations wher often very hard and unusual questions are asked of them, does not mean they will have communication problems within a work team. they are two totally different situations.
as someone with communication 'difficulties' i don't interview at all well, and it's why i don't have a job. but on my last job (which came to end of contract) i had no problems at all seeking help with technical problems, giving advise and solutions to other people and generally working in a team (my supervisor actually commented on this at my annual review when i put communication in my weaknesses section). i think you will find very few people would have problems that actually affect their ability to do the work, but i'm sure there are many more people who don't interview well, particularly within IT.
if so many employers want to be so shortsighted then i guess it is their loss, because i'm sure i'd make a better employee than 90% of the other people out there.
[ December 10, 2003: Message edited by: Tim Baker ]

Kim Jong II (North Korea's Dear Leader) said:Nuclear weapons don't kill people, people kill people.
jason adam
Chicken Farmer ()
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 08, 2001
Posts: 1932
To take a situation that just recently happened to a friend at work:
He'd been looking around for some jobs in the LA area, but currently lives in Denver. He sent in a resume to a company advertising positions for Java developers. They said they wanted to interview him, but they made it a policy NOT to do phone screening because, as others in this post stated, they didn't believe it gave the candidate a good enough venue to represent themselves. So he goes down there and does the interview. Within 10 minutes, they start asking all these questions about Struts and detailed web app design patterns. The guy has never used Struts, and knows the basics of design patterns in general. All that time wasted going down there for a job he was never right for in the first place.
Could have easily avoided the whole mess if they would have taken those 10 minutes over the phone to give a brief description of what skill set they are looking for. Phone screening isn't the best way, but it can weed out those who are just obviously wrong for the job. You think hiring managers have time to sit around and do interview after interview? Unlikely. Why not use the phone to make everyones life easier? It's why it was created in the first place!
And sorry to hear about you not having a job, but I think if someone can't handle themselves well under the pressure of an interview, they can't handle themselves well under the pressure of any number of situations that will most likely present themselves in the workplace. It's like saying I'm smart but I don't test well. You may have some sorts of smarts, but you obviously don't have the smarts that the test was designed for. Same thing with a job.
I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Ernest that knowledge, and communicating well that knowledge, go hand in hand. If someone doesn't know their stuff, they may be able to throw around the lingo and sound like they know what they are talking about, but anyone who knows the subject matter can see through that in a heartbeat.
You know what one of the biggest impacts on me being able to get hired pretty darn quickly compared to others has been? The fact that I was an elementary school teacher for 3 years. Not that I'm pretty capable on the technology front, but that I've done a LOT of talking to people, both young and old, and I know how to get points across at various levels.
These days, people who know how to program, and program reasonably well, are a dime a dozen. People who can easily get along with a team, which requires HUGE communication skills, are still a rarity.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Tim Baker:
just because some people do not communicate easily in interview situations wher often very hard and unusual questions are asked of them, does not mean they will have communication problems within a work team. they are two totally different situations.

Most employers disagree. No test, no question, no setup in an interview can provide true fidelity into how someone interviews. It's not perfect, but it's one of the better tools.
Originally posted by Tim Baker:

as someone with communication 'difficulties' i don't interview at all well, and it's why i don't have a job
...
i think you will find very few people would have problems that actually affect their ability to do the work, but i'm sure there are many more people who don't interview well, particularly within IT.
...
if so many employers want to be so shortsighted then i guess it is their loss, because i'm sure i'd make a better employee than 90% of the other people out there.

You are correct, there are many false negatives--people who don't interview well but are good engineers. However, there are, percentage wise, fewer false positives--people who interview well but aren't good engineers. They are, therefore, less risky, and it's only marginally more costly to find the good interviewee. No one claims it's a perfect system, but remember, employers can't afford perfect and can certainly do without it. They only need good enough. Some people slip through the cracks; you might be one of them.

It's not being shortsighted, it's doing what's right for them, even if it's not "fair" to you.
--Mark
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Originally posted by Rufus BugleWeed:

Maybe you could write us another book.

Hee, good one.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Don't even think about it, this is the subject of my upcoming book!* :-)
--Mark
*No really, it's upcoming, I swear. I just need to finish my b-school applications and then I can get back to negotiating with the publishers in January.
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

That's it Hersch, make me a market....bwahahahahaha
Al Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 30, 2003
Posts: 716
Originally posted by Tim Baker:

just because some people do not communicate easily in interview situations wher often very hard and unusual questions are asked of them, does not mean they will have communication problems within a work team. they are two totally different situations.

It depends upon what we're talking about here. Interviewing well is a learned skill for most people. It was for me. Actually there are two answers to the problem, quality and quantity. Learn how to present yourself as a calm professional with *good enough* communication skills. Quality. The other part is learning how to generate enough solid leads so that the stakes on any single interview aren't too high. Quantity.
I recommend two books: Guerilla Tactics in the Job Market, available used from Amazon.com. And Sweaty Palms, a specialist book about learning how to interview well.
It's frustrating to bodge an interview but it should not be a tragedy.
Originally posted by Tim Baker:

as someone with communication 'difficulties' i don't interview at all well, and it's why i don't have a job. but on my last job (which came to end of contract) i had no problems at all seeking help with technical problems, giving advise and solutions to other people and generally working in a team (my supervisor actually commented on this at my annual review when i put communication in my weaknesses section). i think you will find very few people would have problems that actually affect their ability to do the work, but i'm sure there are many more people who don't interview well, particularly within IT.

Shyness and nervousness can be overcome. If you have a speech impediment or some such it is harder. Even there you can learn to show the inner you to *most* potential employers. It would seem from your stories that should be good enough. Good personal references can help here as well.
Just remember that most people have problems with interviews. Most people get nervous. The kind of congenital smooth liar which Michael writes about out mostly don't congregate in technical fields. Their gifts are usually more in sales or other fields where a gift for the gab can be a real help. The problem with technical fields (from their POV) is that their lack of real output shows up sooner or later.
So many of them end up managing the rest of us. Lucky bloody us....
[ December 11, 2003: Message edited by: Alfred Neumann ]
Tim Baker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
i totally reject that someone who finds interviews hard would have a problem under pressure in an actualy job. maybe if the jobs was doing presentations or some such, but most IT jobs don't involve this.
you may also note that "Shyness and nervousness" is not what i am talking about. i've been on many interviews and nolonger get nervous at all. i'm just no the type of person who is very 'chatty'. i don't see the point in talking about the weather with someone i've only just met. if someone wants to talk to me about something in particular then i'm fine and can hold a conversation, but i'm certainly not a conversation starter. also when someone asks me a stupid question like 'what do you think your work style is' it takes me a while to work out what they are talking about so that i can formulate some kind of bullshit answer. then there are the stupid HR questions like can you think of a time when you had to motivate people you work with to come up with a better solution. ow my memory isn't very good so i usually can't remember crap like that. i try to think it over before interviews but they always seem to come out with different crap. if they asked me a future tense question virtually the same then i could give them an answer almost immediately, like 'how would you deal with someone in blah blah situation'. but as it is they ask these stupid questions and i have to think for a while before i give them some random answer, significant bits of which are made up just to get them so sod off. if you think of something that is real but doesn't exactly meet what they wanted then they make you think of another one and you just end up making it up. this type of crap might be easy for someone who has say 5 years experience behind them who has worked on many projects, but i cant believe they ask this crap to someone who has just graduated and only has 1 years experience working on one project. they try to get round this by saying you can use experiences from your social or university life aswell, but these never really apply. 'yes when i was making my cornflakes this morning i came up with a really innovative idea that hadn't been used before and won me a nobel prize'
whoops long rant alert
HS Thomas
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 15, 2002
Posts: 3404
Tim, your post/rant is interesting to read (as always).But do us all a favour and use Capital 'I' when refering to yourself.
You probably text a lot and the i creeps in.
regards
Al Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 30, 2003
Posts: 716
Originally posted by Tim Baker:

i'm just no the type of person who is very 'chatty'. i don't see the point in talking about the weather with someone i've only just met. if someone wants to talk to me about something in particular then i'm fine and can hold a conversation, but i'm certainly not a conversation starter.
also when someone asks me a stupid question like 'what do you think your work style is' it takes me a while to work out what they are talking about so that i can formulate some kind of bullshit answer.

I see. You don't like job interviews. You tend to see them as a bunch of BS that they make you go through in order to get to the job.
Well you're wrong. Even though the people who interview frequently don't interview very well there usually is a point to it. You're going to have to learn to do it and do it well to thrive in this business.
Even when it is complete bullshit (as sometimes is) you learn how to drown their BS with your own.
Going into an interview I know that I have to tell some of my stories. I'm not talking fiction but rather my experiences as I've come to understand them. When I'm asked an awkward question (such as what my working style is) I usually give them a punchy answer and illustrate with a story. Sometimes the story is not right on point, 'tis true. That happens when the question is not on point. When the interviewer is clueless.
When an interview drifts I take over and start asking the question(s). What are the challenges you or the organization are facing? They MUST have challenges or why else are they interviewing? When I hear some of the challenges then I can link that to something in my experience and tell a story or two, and we're off and rolling.
Or not. Sometimes they are just hiring for a slot. A slot is something they do because of tradition or something. I have no interest in slots. Some interviews are just like that. Usually they have one or more problems which I can get my teeth into and start brainstorming about.
When you can convert an interview into a brainstorming session you're already halfway to the job, because the interviewer is now seeing you acting as a member of their team. They are visualizing you there solving their problems, and the decision to hire after that is pretty painless.
[ December 11, 2003: Message edited by: Alfred Neumann ]
Tim Baker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
Originally posted by HS Thomas:
Tim, your post/rant is interesting to read (as always).But do us all a favour and use Capital 'I' when refering to yourself.
You probably text a lot and the i creeps in.
regards

No I don't TXT at all, but when I switch in to rant mode my fingers have to keep up with my brain and the shift key slows me down
With regards to interviews again, you're right that I don't LIKE them, I don't think you'll find many people who do. "oh well I didn't get the job but at least I had a fun interview" !?! And yes they are a chore that you have to go through to get a job. Obviously I know there is a point to them in general, but a lot of the stuff they do nowadays seems to be totally abstract and hardly relevent, particularly for someone like me at the entry level. The sort of crap they want is not the sort of thing that you 'learn', and it's not the sort of thing that practice really helps with either. I'm not going to worry myself over trying to be a type of person I'm not. I'm just waiting for a company with a sensible interviewing process.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
I going to comments on Tim's comments. Tim, please don't take thie personally, I'm just trying to illustrate the other viewpoint to your comments.

So we all agree that an interview is not a "true" work environment, but a proxy under which they can evaluate you and estimate how well you'll do on the job. (If you disagree, speak up now.)

Originally posted by Tim Baker:
i'm just no the type of person who is very 'chatty'. i don't see the point in talking about the weather with someone i've only just met. if someone wants to talk to me about something in particular then i'm fine and can hold a conversation, but i'm certainly not a conversation starter.

Every top engineer and/or manager I know emphasizes that communication is the key to a successful development team. The non-chatty person goes into an interview and does talk much. now this person may be fine when it comes to working in a team, but how is the interviewer supposed to know this from seeing a quiet candidate?
I'm not saying that people don't hire quiet candidates--we do. What I am saying is that you can't expect the interviewer to know that you're one way in the interview and another while on the team.

Originally posted by Tim Baker:
also when someone asks me a stupid question like 'what do you think your work style is' it takes me a while to work out what they are talking about so that i can formulate some kind of bullshit answer. then there are the stupid HR questions like can you think of a time when you had to motivate people you work with to come up with a better solution. ow my memory isn't very good so i usually can't remember crap like that. i try to think it over before interviews but they always seem to come out with different crap. if they asked me a future tense question virtually the same then i could give them an answer almost immediately, like 'how would you deal with someone in blah blah situation'. but as it is they ask these stupid questions and i have to think for a while before i give them some random answer, significant bits of which are made up just to get them so sod off. if you think of something that is real but doesn't exactly meet what they wanted then they make you think of another one and you just end up making it up. this type of crap might be easy for someone who has say 5 years experience behind them who has worked on many projects, but i cant believe they ask this crap to someone who has just graduated and only has 1 years experience working on one project. they try to get round this by saying you can use experiences from your social or university life aswell, but these never really apply. 'yes when i was making my cornflakes this morning i came up with a really innovative idea that hadn't been used before and won me a nobel prize'
whoops long rant alert


Originally posted by Tim Baker:
also when someone asks me a stupid question like 'what do you think your work style is' it takes me a while to work out what they are talking about so that i can formulate some kind of bullshit answer.

First let me state that for about half the engineers, when you ask them a question they think is BS, it's vry clear how they feel about it. It doesn't help when the interviewer feels his or her questions are being looked down upon.
I don't know what that question means, specifically. If I was asked it, I'd ask for clarification (always a good idea because it shows you know when to gather more information). Now I'm guessing it's something about working in teams, working alone, how you solve problems (e.g. I absolutely must have a whiteboard), etc.
I would liken this question to one I often ask, "what are your weakenesses?" You might nthink it's BS. I find it to be a good filter. Some people say, "I don't have any." Wrong answer, we all have some, you just don't know what they are. Some have to think about it (their answers usually don't say much). The ones who say, "I am weak at FOO but I have been addressing it by..." are the ones I like. It says to me that they do self-evaluations and pro-actively try to improve. Changes are, they've been improving in many areas relevant to the job.

Originally posted by Tim Baker:
then there are the stupid HR questions like can you think of a time when you had to motivate people you work with to come up with a better solution. ow my memory isn't very good so i usually can't remember crap like that. i try to think it over before interviews but they always seem to come out with different crap. if they asked me a future tense question virtually the same then i could give them an answer almost immediately, like 'how would you deal with someone in blah blah situation'. but as it is they ask these stupid questions and i have to think for a while before i give them some random answer, significant bits of which are made up just to get them so sod off. if you think of something that is real but doesn't exactly meet what they wanted then they make you think of another one and you just end up making it up. this type of crap might be easy for someone who has say 5 years experience behind them who has worked on many projects, but i cant believe they ask this crap to someone who has just graduated and only has 1 years experience working on one project. they try to get round this by saying you can use experiences from your social or university life aswell, but these never really apply. 'yes when i was making my cornflakes this morning i came up with a really innovative idea that hadn't been used before and won me a nobel prize'
whoops long rant alert


Originally posted by Tim Baker:
then there are the stupid HR questions like can you think of a time when you had to motivate people you work with to come up with a better solution. ow my memory isn't very good so i usually can't remember crap like that. i try to think it over before interviews but they always seem to come out with different crap. if they asked me a future tense question virtually the same then i could give them an answer almost immediately, like 'how would you deal with someone in blah blah situation'. but as it is they ask these stupid questions and i have to think for a while before i give them some random answer

It's a very useful question from the standpoint of HR. If you can motivate people to come up with better solutions, you are showing leadership potential. Now you may hevae such potential anyway, and just can't answer questions like this. But again, how is the interviewer supposed to know that despite your inability to answer questions you really are a leader? By guessing?
I like Jason's analogy of testing. Do you know many mother's I've heard say, "my son is very smart but just don't test well." Well call Harvard and tell them they're wrong for mostly taking kids with SATs 1300 and up. They're missing out on all the really smart people with scores in the 700s! Interviews are about conveying information. The interviewer will ask questions which he or she finds most informative (just like schools find SATs informative).
As for future tense, those generally aren't as informative. It's not too hard to figure out what they want to hear. By giving concrete examples of what you actually did, oyu put your money where your mouth is. This type of stuff is a lot like programming, there is a world of difference between design and implementation. They want to make sure you can now just think of good solutions, but can actually implement them.

Originally posted by Tim Baker:
this type of crap might be easy for someone who has say 5 years experience behind them who has worked on many projects, but i cant believe they ask this crap to someone who has just graduated and only has 1 years experience working on one project. they try to get round this by saying you can use experiences from your social or university life aswell, but these never really apply.

Most people have had experiences: being an officer of a college club (with all sorts of planning, politics, and problems), dealing with a crappy lab partner, having trouble with school bureaucracy, having trouble meeting deadlines for class, etc. Even stories like "I flew to Europe and the airline lost my luggage, including the hotel name" can be used to demonstrate relevant job skills. I recommend coming up with a list of these soft questions and spending time thinking of answers, outside of the pressue of an interview. Brainstorm with your friends.

--Mark
Manish Hatwalne
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 22, 2001
Posts: 2578

Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:

In my statements in this thread "like" means "like for the job." There are people I've hired who frankly, I wouldn't want to hang out with outside of work. Sure they're nice people and all, but I just wouldn't see us socializing. However, I know that they'd be a good co-worker.
I'll rephrase it as, "within 5 minutes I'll know if this person is suitable for the job, and I'll be confident to within about 75% accuracy about his or her ability to do it."
--Mark

OK, OK!
Got it ... :-) :-)
I think I have seen far too much of favoritism recently, so I am a bit cynic. I have seen in these cases it does not matter what you know, what does matter is "who you know". Anyway, fortunately it is rather sporadic!
- Manish
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Manish Hatwalne:

I think I have seen far too much of favoritism recently, so I am a bit cynic. I have seen in these cases it does not matter what you know, what does matter is "who you know". Anyway, fortunately it is rather sporadic!

Nepotism is a good thing! But like many good things, it can be abused, for example, when the owner's son is appointed as VP even though he doesn't know the first thing about running the company.
But as Michael noted above, business is about trust. (And it's even if you don't respect his opinion or mine, it's also held by an MIT EE/CS alum who now teaches at HBS.) When hiring someone, the biggest question is, "Is this person worth the money? Will he contirbute to the team, or just slow things down?"
Nepotism is huge. I always call my friends when I'm hiring. Why? Because wehave a trust relationship. My employeer trusts me, and I trust my friends. The transative proprty holds and so my employeer can assume that, if I say that my friends are smarter and more trustworthy than a random person off the street, that it's true. The guy in the interview may seem good, but it could be a facade; or we just might not have been able to get enough information about his work history. With my friend on the other hand, I know his work history in great detail, and there is no chance that he's just flash.
Think of it this way. Hiring is the process by which you select the candidate who will add the most value (within the time and cost constraints of the search). For any candidate, there are error bars for the uncertainly, so ultimately candidate value is viewed as some type of expected value (EV). Nepotism greatly reduces the error bars and so can (but not always) result in a higher EV for those candidates. The mistake, of course, is to hire someong who has small error bars, but also doesn't have much clear value.
--Mark
jason adam
Chicken Farmer ()
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 08, 2001
Posts: 1932
I got the interview for the job I have now because of who I know. The guy worked here, he has a great reputation and everyone knows that he knows his stuff. If he seems to think someone would be great for a certain job, why shouldn't they at least interview that person? I didn't get hired outright, and they did interview other people, so I wouldn't say there was favoritism, but if I didn't try and "network" with people, I probably wouldn't be here.
As Mark says, it's about trust. It's more of a safe bet for a company to go with someone who is recommended rather that someone that nobody knows. It's why most big companies give you a nice little bonus if they hire someone you recommend for a position.
But the inverse applies. If I'm not liked around here and I do a horrible job, and send praises about a friend that I think should work here, I very seriously doubt they'll give the person a second, or even first, look.
Who would you rather watch your child, someone that an agency assigns to you or someone that your sister has used for several years and highly recommends? (assuming that you have a good relationship with your sister, of course )
So yes, phone screens are a useful tool (I think that was the topic...)
[ December 11, 2003: Message edited by: jason adam ]
Manish Hatwalne
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 22, 2001
Posts: 2578

Favoritism (or Nepotism) after hiring is what I was referring to. It could cause lot of frustrations, bitterness, anger (among other things) when you're at the receiving end, and when you're deprived of your justified rights.
- Manish
Tim Baker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
well if your interviewing for a software engineer position then you are presumably going to ask a lot of technical questions. if someone can communicate about technical ideas and concepts to you the interviewer then i don't see why they wouldn't be able to communicate things like this to their colleagues. if you make sure there are questions that they wont know the answer to then you can test whether they will try and BS or are likely to seek clarification. i don't see how there are things you can't test in the interview.
on the subject of the BS questions, i don't consider asking about strengths and weaknesses to be in that category. those are quite clear questions that i think anyone can answer. but i actually had that 'work style' question in an interview. i did ask for clarification on it, at which point he gave me a funny look and then said something completely unhelpful which added nothing (i dont remember the exact words). sometimes at an interview you can tell that the interviewer has been given this list of questions by someone in HR and they don't even understand what they mean themselves, they hate giving the questions as you do answering them it seems. you might find some of the BS questions useful but i'm willing to bet that a lot of the replies you get are complete lies and fantasy, thus the people who give good responses are those that are good at lieing, where at least I am clear when I am struggling to come up with a real situation. I'm also interested to hear how having your luggage lost at an airport helped you motivate people to come up with a better solution.
HS Thomas
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 15, 2002
Posts: 3404
I think a company that does phone interviews should train the interviewer to motivate the respondent in a phone interview in order to make the best of a bad situation.
The first Criteria that an interviwer must meet is to be able to converse to achieve an interviwer - respondent relationship. (A description of the office environment, commute , weather usually) Followed by a description of duties and skills required and possibly enquire into the background and education of the respondent. As well as enquire about the expectations of the respondent.
Not all techies can meet the above criteria so I would expect this first part to be done by a socially skilled person. Who would then hand the interview over to a technically skilled person. IMHO this can be the start of a *good* interview.The first person would then close the interview. And if the respondent is called in for a second face-to-face interview expectations are higher for a good result all round.
Agencies are not as formal when they interview so these don't normally count as a phone interview in my book.
Manish Hatwalne
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 22, 2001
Posts: 2578

As Mark rightly pointed out, it can be abused. In fact, I believe favoritism is often used in derogatory sense.
Besides, I believe after tests/tech interviews if somebody is better that my friend's reference or owner's relative; I would rather hire him. I should believe more in my ability to assess and the screening process.
Trust is another matter though, I would raher seek references from ppl with whom the candidate has worked professionally. It is not uncommon to get referred by friends, relatives who only say nice things about the person, and they never ever get a chance to interact with this person professionally. This is sth I detest.
- Manish
Manish Hatwalne
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 22, 2001
Posts: 2578

Yeah, back to phone screening - One thing I have learnt is to space out my words, and to speak slowly and clearly. It helps immensely.
I still hold that phone screening are only good as initial screening tool for long distance ccandidates. Personal interviews, much better!!!
- Manish
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Well, since I am now charged with waiting until Mark H. publishes his magnum opus, then writing a competing title that is two inches taller, a better dancer, and much more fun to be with, I thought I'd offer a sample truism.
"Interviewing isn't a means to getting a job; it's a means to finding out if you want one."
And until you get that lesson straight, laddies, you'll be more or less subject to the competency of every interviewer you ever meet.
[ December 11, 2003: Message edited by: Michael Ernest ]
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Tim Baker:
i don't see how there are things you can't test in the interview.

That's like saing a college should never admit a person who will fail out, because a good college can test to make sure they only admit people who are smart enough, work hard enough, won't be distracted etc. Sure, if I want to spent 100 hours with a dozen people I can test for everything from knowledge of EJBs to likelihood of blackmailing the CEO. I just don't have the time or resources. We "test" (meaning spend time investigating through conversations, tests, and referencees) some things and assume they are a reasonable proxy for the rest--but they are only a proxy.
Originally posted by Tim Baker:
you might find some of the BS questions useful but i'm willing to bet that a lot of the replies you get are complete lies and fantasy, thus the people who give good responses are those that are good at lieing, where at least I am clear when I am struggling to come up with a real situation.

You'd be surprised how bad many people are at lying. You might also be surprised how good some people are at telling who is lying. :-)

Originally posted by Tim Baker:
I'm also interested to hear how having your luggage lost at an airport helped you motivate people to come up with a better solution.

Here's an example (made up here to illustrate a point. You fly to a foreign country and they lose your luggage and hotel info. It's 9pm at night and you have no local currency, no luggage and no hotel. Some people will panic in that situation. You, instead, asked the airline to elp you call home where you called a friend with whom you had left contact info. The friend gave you the name of the hotel. You then got to the hotel and the night manager opened the small hotel store for you so you could get a change of clothes, billed to your room, which the airline had agreed to reimburse you for. This story says, a) you try to be prepared, b) you can handle a "crisis" situation, c) you are polite enough, even under pressue, to get people to help you.
This is, of course, a contrived example (although I had a slightly similar experience once flying into Japan missing my train, with no Yen, no hotel reservation, and no knowledge of the language). The point of the story is how you can use personal (meaning non-work) experiences to demonstrate your general personality and skills. This is what the interviewer meant by taking stories from
--Mark
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Manish Hatwalne:
Favoritism (or Nepotism) after hiring is what I was referring to. It could cause lot of frustrations, bitterness, anger (among other things) when you're at the receiving end, and when you're deprived of your justified rights.
- Manish

Not that I encourage such abuses of nepotism, but remember that you have no right to the promotion.
Life isn't fair. Specifically, not all companies play by "fair" rules (above the minimum required by law). If you don't like the rules your comapny uses, go find a better game.
I'm not trying to sound harsh, but I see too many engineers bitterly complain feeling the lost an entitlement. It's not. They need to learn to find places where this doesn't happen. (Remember, interviews are a two way street.)
--Mark
Tim Baker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:

Here's an example (made up here to illustrate a point. You fly to a foreign country and they lose your luggage and hotel info. It's 9pm at night and you have no local currency, no luggage and no hotel. Some people will panic in that situation. You, instead, asked the airline to elp you call home where you called a friend with whom you had left contact info. The friend gave you the name of the hotel. You then got to the hotel and the night manager opened the small hotel store for you so you could get a change of clothes, billed to your room, which the airline had agreed to reimburse you for. This story says, a) you try to be prepared, b) you can handle a "crisis" situation, c) you are polite enough, even under pressue, to get people to help you.
This is, of course, a contrived example (although I had a slightly similar experience once flying into Japan missing my train, with no Yen, no hotel reservation, and no knowledge of the language). The point of the story is how you can use personal (meaning non-work) experiences to demonstrate your general personality and skills. This is what the interviewer meant by taking stories from
--Mark

of course your lovely story did not answer the question in hand to give an example of how you motivate people to come up with better solutions, although it is a lovely story about crisis management.
you could take your idea of profiling a bit further and say exclude anyone with long hair because you don't have time to find out if they are a pot smoking slacker hippy, or just exclude all white people because you don't have time to find out if they will work as hard as your indian applicants. it doesn't actually take more than a few questions to find out if someone will be able to communicate effectively within a team.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Tim Baker:

of course your lovely story did not answer the question in hand to give an example of how you motivate people to come up with better solutions, although it is a lovely story about crisis management.

I never claimed that it was; it was a response to your statement, "they try to get round this by saying you can use experiences from your social or university life aswell, but these never really apply." I would argue that such examples do apply. Feel free to disagree. But if you want to get jobs, it helps to understand the needs of the gatekeepers (i.e. the interviewers) and try to meet them, rather than just calling them unfair.
--Mark
Tim Baker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
you posted it as a quoted response to what I said so if you did not say it it was implied that you were answering my 'question'
I'm not saying it's not possible for some situations to have personal life experiences that are relevent but in my case, there never seems to be anything relevent to the question they asked, such as the motivate people to a better solution question. theres normally at least 10 of these 'please give us an example of how you have blah blah' and for most of them I see very little value in what they ask.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://aspose.com/file-tools
 
subject: Phone Screens: The Impression