Thursday, September 08, 2011

Interview Tips and Tricks

I've been on three interviews now during which I have been asked a variation of this question:

The most popular variant is: "What would you do if you got behind on a project?" Not knowing the correct answer, I answer honestly: "Revisit the requirements." This is also the true answer in that I became familiar with the research to which Alice refers, although I usually wind up saying that working harder is an option if the work is sufficiently interesting.

But let me throw the question to my readers: what are interviewers expecting here? The simplistic answer is: "Sure, I'll work 14 hour days for you, such is my dedication to my work." But I'm pretty sure that's not it.

Another tricky one: having gone in to interview for a job in field X, the interviewer starts asking my thoughts on related fields Y and Z. Not knowing the correct answer, I answer (somewhat evasively) by talking about my experience in fields Y and Z to the extent I have it. If I don't, or if I'm otherwise cornered, I answer honestly: "While I will consider all offers, I believe my greatest potential lies in field X." But again let me ask my readers if they know what's being sought? This one, it seems, could go either way. On the one hand, the company might actually have work in fields Y and Z and needs employees to be flexible about their assigned tasks. On the other hand, saying that you'll do whatever sounds ingratiating and poorly specialized.


Professor Hale said...

It has been mny experience that most interviews are a pointless waste of time. The only things you can get from an interview that are not on the resume are: Age, gender, skin color, foreign accents, sexual attractiveness and the ability to speak well on topics you calimed to know. All of those things except the last thing are things you are not supposed to consider in hiring workers.

The point of a trick question is not to see if they know the right answer, but to get them talking and see what spills out.

Having said that, most interviewers are incompetent to make any use of that level of information, so it all comes back to just the things they aren't supposed to ask (race and cup size).

A good interviewer will stick to basics like verifying the accuracy of the resume and seeing if you know and can talk about the things you claim to know. I have also taken technical competency tests for one job. I personally think those are good tools but government jobs don't allow them because they create racially biased results.

It also matters very much what kind of job you are seeking. Cocktail waitress doesn't need a resume. Small engine mechanic doesn't need a 4 year degree with excellent MS Office skills.

Ingratiating is not always the right answer.

I would answer the long hours question with some variation of: I can be flexible to accomodate changing requirements and last-minute taskings, but I expect an ordered workplace where management has the right amount of labor assigned to projects so that they can be accomplished on a routine schedule. If you are hiring me for management, that is how I would organize my labor force. Longer hours would be used on an exceptional basis only since such conditions incentivize employees to find shortcuts and management will be too too overburdened to do proper Q.C. and supervision.

samsonsjawbone said...

Regrettably, I can't offer you advice on this topic, as one of the perks of medicine thus far has been basically not having to go through this kind of process. However, I am familiar with medical school and residency interviews, and so I can agree with this:

The point of a trick question is not to see if they know the right answer, but to get them talking and see what spills out.


most interviewers are incompetent to make any use of that level of information

I guess this depends on who the interviewer is. If it's somebody intelligent, who is going to essentially be working alongside you (even if in a supervisory role), I do think they can use your answers to determine how well you fit in with the group. I can tell you that, for instance, the *primary* thing that will get you a residency spot, or not, is how well the interviewers think you will fit in with the rest of the people in the program.