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November 30, 2006
The Other Side of the Table
One of the comments to yesterday's post turned the topic around by asking me how I like to be interviewed. That's a fair question, and I'm going to resist a quick answer of "In as fawning a way as possible". I have to say that I haven't been out on the conference-room trail in a few years - I'm not one of those people who goes out and interviews every couple of years just to keep their hand in. But I have been on the other side of the table a few times.
I think that one thing I look for is the quality of the questions I get asked. You want to join a company with good people, and what a person is curious about is a good window into how they think. That's one reason I'm not a fan of the mechanism-quiz technique, because at its worst it embodies some personality traits (bet-I-can-find-things-you-don't-know, test-until-destruction) that I find unappealing and counterproductive.
And that's why I don't necessarily mind getting questions that I don't know the answer to (as long as they're not questions that I obviously should know the answer to, naturally). It's good to be able to recognize anomalies and potentially interesting clues in a mass of data, so when someone picks out an oddity from a presentation of mine, I'm pleased (again, as long as it's one that I already knew about!) Many times, the answer to such questions is "Well, we don't actually know why that happens, but here are some possibilities. . ." The part of that answer after the comma needs to be included every time the first part is used, by the way.
I like seeing that the place I'm interviewing at is run in a reasonably organized manner. I'm not talking synchronized watches (which would make me run the other way), but if no one seems to have any idea of what my schedule is or where anyone can be found, it might be a bad sign for the way that projects are being run as well. (The flip side is that some apparent disorganization might be from everyone doing productive work instead, which isn't so bad).
And most of all, it's good to get the impression that people are doing things that they're interested in. At a small company, that's usually not a problem. But large companies have all sorts of people, and most places have some disgruntled time-servers taking up office space here and there. Any recruiting committee should know not to put these folks on an interview schedule. I've been on such committees myself, and you really do think about these things. So if I visit a place and end up talking to Wally out of the "Dilbert" strip, it's at best a mark against the people who made up my schedule, and at worst a bad sign for the whole department.
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