- wadE

It's been quite awhile since I've put something new out, and as usual it's not because I don't have time. In fact it's the opposite. I got the boot in January from my job. This didn't come as any surprise, and in fact I was rooting for it. I have been job hunting since last October. It started out well, and I honestly thought I'd have something new by January/February. But here we are in April, and I'm jobless, I repeat, jobless.

During the past six months I couldn't tell you how many interviews I've done. Most of them in the beginning were phone interviews as I was still thinking I wanted to stay in consulting and looked for work that allowed me to travel, which meant my potential employer did not have to be in the Twin Cities area.

As 2003 came to a close I decided to focus on finding a job outside of consulting. An actual "real" job. An "industry" job.

You see, consulting has permanently changed. High priced consultants are giving way to Outsourcing Agreements and much of the work is being done overseas. And far more important, the money has dried up. My friends who have left consulting over the past 4 years have actually left for MORE money. Consulting used to be that you sacrificed everything because you were making a lot more money than your friends who had real jobs. Now people leave consulting and get 10, 20, 50% raises.

At any rate, the past six months has given me more practice at interviews than anyone should have. Here are some of my favorite types of interviews and interview questions.

Behavioral - Remember back in high school or college when you were coached on how to interview? Don't answer "yes" or "no". Always tell a story. Well the behavioral questions leave you no choice. You know these well, they are the "Tell me about a time when..." questions. "Tell me about a time when you felt you were in over your head on a project" was a question I was asked just yesterday. Everyone asks this type of question these days. My advice is to have several stories pre-planned. I have a few standard ones committed to memory. Tell me about a time when you: had to work with someone you didn't like, had to change the mind of management, had to handle a conflict between team members, had to perform duties that weren't clear or poorly defined, etc. Basically, think about the job you are applying for and the typical problems you would encounter.

Chatty - I recently had a 20 minute interview with a head hunter during which we talked for about five minutes on actual relevant topics (my background, what I'm looking for, etc.) and the rest of the time was spent talking about the woman's company...and not important information about it, no we talked about the name of the company, and what it means, and how her husband came up with the idea for the name. Then we talked about her daughter who is in high school, but has been taking college level math classes at the university as part of a program for gifted math students. To top it off I took this call in the shower because I was expecting a different call that was very important. Anyway, my advice for the chatty interview is to be polite, show interest in what the person is talking about, and try to steer the discussion back to you and the job. In this particular case steering wasn't quite as important as many of the headhunter interviews don't have a specific job in mind and there isn't much to talk about...which brings me to the...

Headhunter - This is the interview with a third-party of some nature. In many cases they don't have a specific job at the moment lined up for you, but they found your resume on the internet and wanted to chat with you to get a better idea of what you are looking for and to meet you in person to see if you are a serial killer. Seriously! One interview in particular. I put my suit on at 9:45. Drove to the interview. Waited 5 minutes. Met with the headhunter. Started the interview. Someone came in frantic, asking for her immediate help. She left for 10+ minutes. Came back, apologized. I reminded here where we left off. I asked some questions. I left. I got home and took off the suit at 10:43. Without a specific job lined up there isn't much to talk about, they really just want to get a feeling if you are relatively normal. Make sure you have some knowledge in the areas that you are looking at, and that you can hold a conversation. The basic question is the open ended, "Tell me a little about yourself" and "Tell me what kinds of jobs you are looking for." You usually don't hear much from these people again. You enter their system, but you are behind all of their currently clients they have staffed at various places. The only way you get into the rotation is when they have a position that they can't fill with people they already are working with. In this economy, that's a tough proposition.

Microsoft - These questions are called Microsoft Questions because they are the type of questions that Microsoft actually asks in their interviews. They generally fall into four categories: Riddles, Algorithms, Applications, and Thinkers. Riddles and Thinkers are the ones most of us will get asked. Algorithms are things like "What's the difference between a linked list and an array" or "Write a function to print the Fibonacci numbers." Application questions are something like "How would you redesign an ATM" or "How would you build an alarm clock for deaf people?" These are technical questions for programmers and technical architects. The Riddles are questions like one I was asked back in December, "How many Christmas Wreaths will be sold this year in the metro area?" The point isn't to actually come up with the correct answer. The point is for you to talk through your thought process on how to come up with an answer. Thinkers are also strange questions. Something like, "What was the hardest question asked of you so far today" or "How are M&Ms made?" I even found one website that listed this as an actual MS question: Interviewer hands you a black pen and says nothing but "This pen is red."
How the hell do you respond to that? "Um... ok, great." Needless to say, I have no plans to interview with Microsoft.

Dumb - "What kind of animal would you like to be?" What? I have been asked, "Where in the world would you like to live and why?" What does that have to do with anything? People say, "Its purpose is to get past your pre-programmed answers to find out if you are capable of an original thought. There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer, since it is used primarily as a test of your ability to think on your feet." Whatever. It's still dumb.

Future - "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" I always want to answer, "Taking over your job." This type of question pops up from time to time, and can be tough. Do you answer truthfully, or do you say what you think the interviewer wants to hear? I recently missed out on a job because they felt (and rightfully so) that I wanted more leadership roles in the future, and that probably wouldn't have happened at this particular place. I could have lied to stay more within the lines of what they were looking for, but I'm not quite desperate enough to do that... yet.

Opinion - "What would you do in this situation" or "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" My favorite from this category was actually a very good question. "If I asked your wife or best friend what you should be doing (as a career), what would they say?" That's a really good question. Especially if you are in a position where you really aren't sure what you want to do with your life. Which I think is most of us out there.

There is also a completely different style of interview you may take part in, and that is the Job Fair. Your basic job fair takes place at a hotel or convention center where various employers setup booths and you are free to wonder around from employer to employer with resumes in hand looking your very best. You usually have some information listing the various employers and the types of jobs they are currently hiring for. When you find an employer you would like to talk to you walk up (or wait in line) to speak with them. You start by introducing yourself and go right into a 30 second spiel on who you are, what you do, and why you are interested in them. "Hi I'm so-and-so. I've been a whatchamacalit for seven years working mostly in the widget industry. I have experience in building tree forts, leading armies of ants, and making tea. I am interested in your company because I know your IT department doesn't monitor its employees web surfing." That generally gets the ball rolling and they will tell you more about their company, what they are looking for, and maybe ask a few questions about your resume and background. Some job fairs will actually have you pre-register and employers will look over resumes beforehand and set up times to meet with you. My most recent job fair was of the former type. The highlight was the ridiculously long line for people to talk to the FBI. Since the FBI was the only employer there who was looking for people with more skills than it would take to run a gas station (no joke, Holiday Stores where there), I decided to wait in line to chat with them.

The FBI was looking for field agents (yes, like Agent Mulder) with background in computers (ages 23-37). Their process takes from 2-6 months to go through, and assuming you pass the various interviews, you then go to Quantico for training and physical testing (running, pull-ups, sit-ups, weight lifting, etc.). Once you pass that you get assigned to a location for no less than 4 years, then you may begin to petition for a transfer. Once they said, "You would not be assigned to Minnesota" I gave up right then and there. I really didn't like the idea of being sent to Idaho for 4 years with no hope of parole. No offense to all of our Idaho readers.

So, wish me luck in my quest to find a job that pays six-figures and allows me to continue to write SP articles at a feverish pace. :-)

- 04/14/2004

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