September 10, 2012

Could you score an interview with this manager?

Filed under: For Managers, Hiring, Interviewing, Q&A, Readers' Forum, Stuff I love

In the September 11, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager takes us into “the lab” and shows us how he actually interviews candidates to determine whether they can do the job.

Special Edition

Ever wonder whether the job hunting and hiring methods we discuss on this blog really work? Do you wonder whether there are managers that actually expect applicants to do the job in the interview? In this Special Edition, get ready to sit down at the table for an interview with a manager who gets it!

Ray (I’m withholding his last name) heads up product development and business development for an enterprise software company based in the midwestern U.S. This column is not an endorsement of his business — he is not my client — but I sure love his approach to hiring, because it’s what I teach job hunters to do in How Can I Change Careers? The method is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview by demonstrating how they’ll do the work profitably.

And that’s what this hiring manager does — he asks job candidates to show how they’ll do the work, right in the interview.

I’m ready to tie on a napkin and let Ray serve up his methods in his own words — from a recent series of e-mails, with minimal commentary from me. Then I’d like you to join us on the blog to chow down on these interviewing and hiring methods. Do you think you could score an interview with a manager like this? (You might even have a few comments about how he does it!) This all started innocently enough with a nice thank-you e-mail Ray sent me last week:

Dear Nick,

I love your approach to interviewing. As a hiring manager, I turn my interviews into exercises designed to give job candidates the chance to show me that they can do the job. Sort of Reverse Crocodile Headhunting! Thank you for the wonderful ideas in Ask The Headhunter!

So I asked Ray about his business and how he interviews.

I hire product evangelists, product managers and product marketers for a software company. Our products are sold to large enterprises. Successful candidates need to combine business skills with software technology skills to help design product strategy and product positioning. The sad part about my method is that, as a hiring manager, I have to step candidates through the whole process of showing their value. I have 99% given up on the idea that a superior candidate is going to walk in and be prepared to do this all themselves, without me asking. They all need to read your book!

What do you ask, and what are you looking for in those candidates?

The first question I ask: What two people would you start a software company with?

Some candidates limit their answers to personal friends or family, instead of best-in-the-world business owners or technical software geniuses. E.g., Pete and Mary instead of Warren Buffet and Richard Branson. When I explain they could have mentioned anyone in the world, they say, “Oh, I didn’t know it could be anybody like that.” It kind of implies a closed mind set that won’t work outside the box.

I want to determine whether they study business people and the software business in particular. Most great business people study role models. If they want to work in the software industry, you would think that they actually study the best software companies and the best business minds at some point.

What’s a great response to the question?

My personal response would be Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci. Give Da Vinci a few months to understand iOS and Objective C and his apps would be remarkable, I suspect! By the way, I’ve never limited the choice to living people.

What I like about Ray’s approach to interviewing is that, while he opens with a “blue sky” question about starting a business, he quickly starts asking candidates how they would actually do the work:

What will your first product be? This is a perfect chance to demonstrate their analysis and strategy skills in our exact business area. If they do their pre-interview homework, this is a lob shot for them to use it to astound me with their ability to think and thus to do the job.

I love it. Ray asks people to do the job — conceive a product! Next questions in the interview?

If they make it this far, our meeting now turns into a chance for them to start working with me as if this were a real product discussion:

  • What will you price this at?
  • What will our first target market be?
  • Who should our first prospecting call be with?
  • Who will our competitors be?
  • If our first product is destined to never sell successfully… what will be the cause of the failure?
  • If it fails because of that reason, what should our next product be?

I might then give them an exact product situation using our current product line and current product market conditions. By the end of this exchange, I know already if I want this person to work for me, or for my competitors! We’ve already had a full dialog about a completely relevant and plausible project idea that would be similar to their eventual work if hired. Nick, in your words, they’ve already shown me that they can do the job and they should already know if they’ll like collaborating with me.

Dear Ray,

Thanks for serving up this week’s column, and for showing readers how a real manager applies Ask The Headhunter methods to interviewing and hiring. Whether you got your ideas from me, or developed them on your own, all I care is that they work!

Now I hope readers will join us on the blog to talk further about this approach. And if there are folks in the audience interested in working for your company, they’re welcome to say so — and if they can show they can score an interview with you, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with them off-line. And if something comes of it, we’ll report back.

What do you think of Ray’s approach to interviewing? Could you score an interview with a manager like this? How would you apply Ray’s methods in other kinds of jobs and companies?

I didn’t ask Ray whether he’s worried that he’s revealed all his interview secrets — and that, now, anyone who applies for a job at his company “will know what’s up.” Do you think it matters? Want a shot at an interview with Ray? You’ll have to prove you’re worth it!

[UPDATE: If you have a serious interest in talking with Ray about a job at his company, drop me a note and I'll get it to Ray. It's got to get past me first. Please: No tire-kickers or resume spammers. In fact, don't send a resume. Just use the ideas discussed here to make your case. My e-mail link is way the bottom of the right-side nav bar of the blog.]

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28 Comments on “Could you score an interview with this manager?”
By mj
September 11, 2012 at 6:45 am

Dear nick and ray, You know I would have had a great out of the box discussion with ray on solving his business problems. Alas, ray will never meet people with solutions because the HR black hole of scanned resumes and the such. There are 23 million plus folks unemployed and more have given up looking for work who have committed themselves to reeducation and change of fields during this economic downturn. Many who have given end up it is reported are building thier own opportunities by starting businesses themselves. Yes with thier own money or from their folks, because no lender hands out money or justifies the risk without skin in the game. The hiring managers need to have skin in the game, get rid of the machines and pick up the phone or at least open up a conversation on LinkedIn with people seeking jobs and who have Ideas. As I told my professors when I

By WD40
September 11, 2012 at 7:00 am

Dear Nick and Ray,

Thank you both for this exchange. Ray, if you’re willing to entertain talking to someone who is looking for an opportunity, yet without industry experience in software, please let me know. I’m hungry.

It is encouraging for a job-seeker, who is met with a lack of sophistication when interviewing, to know that there are a few (a different kind of 1%-ers) hiring managers like Ray who “get it,” and do not fall into the trap of thinking “all I want to do is run through the resume, determine fit, and be done with it so I can get on with my day.”

Case in point: I recently interviewed for a product marketing position with a large grocery retailer based in Texas. Despite four separate interviewers, two of whom hold reputable MBAs, there were no questions of the sort that Ray asks… even though I brought and attempted to share my mini-portfolio of previous projects with an eye on how this would help the marketing department and the company. I fielded questions such as “tell me about your greatest failure and what you learned from it.” Really? Now, there was one person who wanted to see my ability for analysis and strategic thought, but it was the same canned HBS case that the interviewer gave to every single applicant (I know because a friend interviewed for the other opening, and was disgusted with the interview process at this company). This discombobulated mode of interviewing shows why the company is struggling.

I really like Ray’s approach, because it shows:
1) The applicant has done their homework prior to the meeting.
2) The applicant has prepared mentally for the day of the face-to-face interview.
3) The applicant has the ability to think on their feet, always ready to contribute.
4) The hiring manager wants a contributor who can add value, even if there is a learning curve.
5) The company cares enough to give hiring managers (thus potential employees) leeway and creativity in how they run their business.
6) HR is not meddlesome (as in pushing a standard set of interview questions) and this might be a pleasant place to work.

The ONE time I was in an interview and provided the same exchange that Ray uses, I got the job. This really is a no-brainer.

My question is, how does one get past the HR monkeys to get to the enlightened hiring managers like Ray? I know Nick has addressed this in the past, so my question is more for Ray, and those in his position – how do you, the hiring manager, ensure you’re getting the quality candidate who will interact rather than simply react?

By MJ
September 11, 2012 at 7:05 am

…continued…
was taking classes for my MBA, I’m not here to be an employee, I’m here to be an employer. When any initial HR discussions includes How much, meaning How little, one will work for, the interviewing ends. Employers who are frustrated with the level of candidates need to take a look at the front gate HR policy at their company. PS… the spell check program is not working on this site, therefore I suggest Ray start with this opportunity.

By Ray
September 11, 2012 at 7:23 am

In response to MJ:
When I am hiring, I look at all the resumes, sometimes before HR even sees them, and then I ask HR to process those of interest to me.
I never rely on HR to screen my candidates.
World-class collaborators are so very difficult to find, that I explore every channel, even non-traditional sources. My last hire for a product marketer/presenter, was made after discovering his great self-made videos on YouTube, and reaching out to him directly to convince him to apply for my open role.
Thanks for your thoughts MJ.
Ray

By A fan in Massachusetts
September 11, 2012 at 8:02 am

Ray – You are amazing and wonderful. It is clear you would be a joy to work with.

(FYI – I am not a job-seeker but a consultant who discovered Nick’s books & blogs along the way. His ideas are also great for the self-employed. And, let me tell you, I have had clients who I have to pull along and push along … people who never think of their own businesses/opportunities, Ray, the way you obviously do. You are a gem!)

Another great topic, Nick. Thanks, as always.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 11, 2012 at 8:40 am

What really cracks me up is that if employers took a fraction of what they spend on job boards and passive recruiting, and spent it instead to teach managers to do what Ray does, recruiting and hiring would be a pleasure for all involved — and we’d see more interesting interviews and better matchmaking!

Many thanks to Ray for letting me publish his interview questions, which come across like an exciting discussion between people with a common interest — the work! And thanks for participating in the discussion, Ray!

By Red Pirate
September 11, 2012 at 8:41 am

Very good post. I was glad to read of an interview for a PM job that actually asks questions related to the job. I just had the opposite experience–4 hrs of interviews where I was asked situational questions, i.e., “tell me about a time…..” w/o specific questions on product management. I was amazed! Now I worked my PM experience in answers to many of the questions I was asked but I think an interview of both situational and content would have been much better.

By Peter
September 11, 2012 at 8:45 am

I’ll be honest…I’m not as impressed with this example.

I’d probably stop the interview half-way through and excuse myself. Anyone (living and not already a successful business owner) who gets through the whole interview process would (IMO) be a fool if they didn’t simply walk out and start their own company. I don’t see why you would work for someone else when you have the whole business plan worked out. All you might need is to bring in some investors and Rays Company could be the first one.

Please understand that I’m not saying this approach doesn’t’ work and no disrespect to Ray. I just know I would want to work with something more grounded in reality.

Rays example of Steve Jobs and Leonardo De Vinci is very curious to me. First, Steve Jobs would not work for anyone but him-self or unless He planned to take over running the company in short time. Steve Jobs was a great salesman, but He was not an inventor (IMO). Anyone familiar with Steve Jobs treatment of Steve Wozniak when Jobs worked at Atari would know to watch their backs. Just Google “Steve Jobs, Wozniak Breakout” and you’ll have a better idea of Jobs personal/business ethics. Regarding Da Vinci, the man created things greater than any software developer could dream to match. I don’t believe Da Vinci, if He was alive today, would be satisfied simply building APPS when He excelled at working with his hands and created great works of art that have survived hundreds of years.

I absolutely agree that it’s important for everyone to go into any interview and show how they can do the job and make the company money. It’s important to take an active role in the process and not just sit there answering question after question. As Nick has reminded us, you are also interviewing the company to see if you want to work for them.

I used some of Nicks suggestions 4 years ago in getting my current job. I had a meeting about the position before even filling out an application and ended the meeting with my future boss (now current) telling me to apply for the position.

Having confidence in your ability and knowing what you bring to the table is key. Be honest, realistic and be confident in your abilty. Never ask someone else if your capable of doing/achieving something.

Best wishes,

By Lynne
September 11, 2012 at 8:50 am

Hi Nick and Ray –

Like Ray, I strive to have the job seeker do the job in the interview.

I’m at a different scale – I hire college students for civil engineering internships at a small municipality to do very specific work.

When I schedule the interview, I remind applicants that the job will be for the City’s sidewalk program and will require basic surveying, condition inspection of sidewalk, communications with members of the public, good judgment, attention to detail, etc.

I start the interview with a brief overview of the sidewalk management program. Then, I have them:

• Explain how a laser level and rod are used to collect elevation information.
• Take 5 minutes on their own to write a response to a sample property owner question about the sidewalk program.
• Estimate the volume that a concrete wheelbarrow can hold (while viewing a photo).
• View a map of reported sidewalk problems and explain how they’d plan and prioritize condition inspections and why.
• List information required to start a road reconstruction design.

If the answer is not known, some students will give up and just say, “I have no idea,” while others will try to reason through a response or explain how they’d find out.

Because I interview students who are still learning, I end interviews with feedback on their responses:

• “I was hoping you would have prepared to talk about surveying by putting in an hour reading the first chapter of a survey textbook—you had a week.”
• “Your response assumed that every property owner has $5000 immediately available to spend on sidewalk repair. Do you think that’s the case?”
• “Any laborer on the sidewalk crew would know that the wheelbarrow can hold about 1.5 cubic feet of concrete and that it’s very heavy to push…never mind your full cubic yard guess. A cubic yard is 27 cubic feet. Laborers know things you don’t and vice versa. You’ll both learn from each other.”
• “The objective is to minimize future injuries. I was hoping you’d want to focus on injury locations and then on streets with heavy pedestrian use or high concentrations of problems.”
• “Road design requires knowing project objectives such as slowing traffic or adding a bike lane; budget, timeline, property lines and other survey information including elevations, utility information, accident history, condition of existing features, soil types, drainage demands, etc. etc.”

I then explain that I know they’re technically competent because of the college they attend, but I’m looking to grasp their attitude toward work, professionalism, approach to new problems etc. This interview method is informative, brief, fits the applicants and results in good hires.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

@Peter: I’m not sure what you mean about preferring something “more grounded in reality.” Ray’s approach isn’t exactly what I advocate – laying out a live problem and asking the candidate how they’d deal with it. But I also tell people not to take anyone’s advice, including mine :-), but to formulate their own approach. I think Ray does that, while keeping the discussion more open-ended. That is, he lets the candidate take the lead.

But your comments about entrepreneurship are dead-on. If a candidate already has a biz plan worked out, why apply for a job? They should consider starting a biz. But even such talented people aren’t cut out for starting a biz – they work better on the inside, with a company behind them. A lot depends on their disposition.

Elsewhere I’ve discussed a related strategy for nailing the job you want. Instead of sending our resumes and chasing interviews, produce a plan and meet with prospective investors and customers. Present your plan. Impress them. And you’ve got prospective employers right there in front of you. I did that myself before I started my own business. The president of the company, who met with me and hired me, was convinced for years that he had somehow manipulated me — I was pitching a business plan to him — into a job. In fact, it was just the other way around!

Motives vary, and so do people’s objectives. I think Ray is looking for people who are entrepreneurs but don’t want to start their own biz… yet! I’ll bet some of the people Ray has hired will be on their own someday!

(Good points on Jobs and Woz, but I think DaVinci would sketch out some apps for his underlings to build, then he’d invent something to replace both the pc and the smartphone/tablet… Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter!)

By Nick Corcodilos
September 11, 2012 at 9:02 am

@Lynne: I love the feedback you provide. Blunt and useful. Have you had any candidates “come back” after your informative criticisms and re-apply for the job with a better approach?

By Lynne
September 11, 2012 at 10:11 am

@Nick: Thanks! Because my intern salaries are heavily subsidized via a college program, applicants are typically work-study students who are finishing junior year, and seeking a first or second technical internship. I haven’t had any come back with a better approach, but I’m hopeful that many apply lessons learned to the next interview.

A friend pointed out that at this stage in their lives, most students have heard nothing but how talented and special they are. Job interviews are often their first collision with the real world. The classic misstep I see is cover letters (or resumes) that include statements about what would be good for the applicant “I’m looking to add construction management experience to my design experience.” I’ll say: “I’m looking to cut your hair – I’ve never done it before, but I’m a fast learner and it’s one of my personal goals. Are you eager to say yes? What if I could tell you I own professional scissors, spent 30 hours observing haircuts and asking questions, and then practiced on my dog? Are you slightly more willing to consider saying yes? You usually need to earn your chance at trying something new.”

Unsolicited applicant opinions are also popular: “I’m confident I’d be a great addition to your office because….” I’ll say, “This letter isn’t about you. It’s about me and the job I need done. I don’t know you, so I can’t value your opinion. I value my own opinion and the opinions of people who I know and respect.”

By Nick Corcodilos
September 11, 2012 at 10:29 am

Lynne — I love it! Bring scissors! Students are my pet project, and I do all I can to help adjust their point of view. Schools do virtually nothing. My son had a high school English teacher who taught how to shake hands, how to talk to people about working together, and how to handle many of life’s encounters. But there’s no such course. Now that my son is in college, I’ll be pounding on the school to prep him for work. They just don’t do it. (Well, a few schools do. They’re few. Maybe it’s worth producing a list!)

I hope those students can handle your scissors response. They have to learn to. And while your views on unsolicited applications may sound like common sense, in most HR departments such applications are welcomed without comment, then tossed in the trash. Except when they interview those unprepared “candidates” and further waste a manager’s time. Wouldn’t it be something if an employer sent out a cheat sheet to new grads, explaining how this works? You have a book on your hands, if you want to write it…

Kudos to you. If you’re near me, I’d love to join forces and do a joint presentation at schools that send you their students…

By Eddie13
September 11, 2012 at 11:39 am

Nick and Ray,

Great article with useful information for all job hunters. As an experienced Sr. Enterprise Sales Manager, I would knock this interview OUT OF THE PARK!! Though, I don’t think I’ve met too many people that would make it through this interview process (shame on them for not properly preparing). Those naysayers on this blog are upset that they just realized that they are closed-minded when it comes to thinking out of the box.

Nick, great information as always – keep on keeping us informed!

By Scott
September 11, 2012 at 11:50 am

Nick,
Inevitably, I will be competing against other candidates that are simply making a lateral move. How do I, as a person looking for advancement, convince Ray that I am the better long term candidate when I can’t answer some of the questions he will ask? For example, I may have great ideas that fill a niche but have no idea where to price this product or what the marketing strategy should be.

By Jack
September 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Hi Nick,

I’ve been a reader and fan for quite a while and am currently struggling with how to apply your techniques. I find that rather than interviews being only one on one sessions with hiring managers, they are marathon interview sessions where you get parked in a room and meet with 6 people in a row, for 20-30 minutes with each.

Sometimes I can tell that the hiring manager really likes me, especially if he/she has already invited me back for a 2nd round. I’m not sure what is going on behind the scenes, but suspect that after these type of sessions the hiring manager collects feedback from all involved and must then make a political decision if one interviewer gives negative feedback.

It’s hard to get up and do a whiteboard presentation six times in a row, each time within a 20 minute meeting..

By Nick Corcodilos
September 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

@Jack: Six whiteboard presentations… we’d have to come peel you off the floor! Clearly, it’s got a lot to do with the hiring manager and what he or she is interested in. I don’t think there’s any harm in explaining that you’d be glad to do a brief presentation to the team – so you only have to do it once. But a lot is in how you say it. You’d need to suggest pretty clearly why those folks should show up to participate, and let the main manager know what you’re going to deliver. I kind of like this disarming approach: “If you’d like, I’d be glad to do a brief presentation to your team of 6, about what I would do to contribute to your bottom line, and if I can’t demonstrate that, then you shouldn’t interview me.”

By Nick Corcodilos
September 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Anybody want to give some suggestions to Scott?

By Don Harkness
September 11, 2012 at 12:57 pm

great article. I think the key point is that Ray (and Lynne) afforded candidates something other than timeless & tired typical Q&A that gets to how a person would do a job, in that particular place.
In the techie world back in the day, and perhaps still Microsoft was well known for flipping a cc of some code to a candidate telling them there’s errors, and asking them to find and correct them.
Or to give them a problem point to a white board and ask for the code.

I work for a small company that a few years back was looking to build an executive team. I was brought in to work with the President to help with that. I evolved a process built upon Nick’s principle of “doing the job”. The challenge was what’s doing the job in executive/department head terms?
First I met them (via advertising and networking) I had a good grasp of what the President was looking for as to experience and personality. To the best of my ability I briefed them on the company, the President, the job, had them walk me through their CV, answered their questions etc.
From trial & error I got some sense of time and to save time, developed a list of the typical questions and just sent it to them to answer and send back. Yes I know that may give them some advantage, e.g. as time & reflection, but so be it. The intent was to save time. When I brought them in, I set them up in front of an interview team, their possible peers and boss, and possible subordinates. Allowed some time for questions from the floor, to clarify their answers etc. Then I’d turn the floor over to them. The “floor” was meant to be as close to a working meeting they could be having if they worked for us as head of department X…let’s say Sales. This was not a surprise as they had an agenda for their visit. They had only one question really “What will you do with this Department?” They could take 5 minutes or 2 hours. they could talk ad hoc, or death by powerpoint. Their choice. But they could take over for that period of time, lay out a game plan, grill attendees etc. eventually it worked pretty well, not perfect but much different from tossing questions back and forth.
If they did well on that, they’d have a one/one with the President to explore in depth.
I learned a lot from it.
* Many candidates were carless: e.g. typos etc
* Many were totally conditioned to typical Q&A interviews…didn’t know what to do if handed the baton
* Some didn’t research us, the industry and were not well prepared in spite of a very transparent approach
* Some didn’t present/speak/well in front of a group, couldn’t manage the group
* and one or two “got it” and did a credible job of organizing their pitch, how they’d come aboard, what they’d do in the 1st 3, 6, 9 months, likely scenarios of organization, what they saw as issues, strengths etc.
We hired 4 via this, 1 left on his own after a few months, 1 was with us 15 months, 1 about 6 left for personal reasons, and 1 stuck

By Nick Corcodilos
September 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm

@Don: Amazing, isn’t it? People often don’t believe me when I explain that even top execs have no idea how to handle such meetings. They’re so brainwashed, like most of the world, into thinking that “interviewing” is dramatically (and painfully) different from doing their jobs. When, in fact, the best way to get the job is to forget about “interview skills” and just walk in and do the job. Thanks for sharing that!

By Chris Hogg
September 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

This is for Scott:

Many years ago a wise older gentleman shared a “secret” with me, about how to answer a question when we don’t know the answer: he said we should respond (verbalize) with a series of questions that we would ask that are applicable to the situation.

I still remember the example he used: “Suppose I am a staff person in a juvenile detention facility, I walk into a resident’s room, and see the resident sitting on her bed crying. What should I or would I do?” He then said that he didn’t know what he would do, but that he would ask the following types of questions before taking action: “Do I know this person, their general background and / or detailed history? Have I talked with this resident recently, and if so, has she presented any problems she is having? Has anyone told me anything in the past day or so that would give me a clue about what is going on? If I know the resident, does she prefer to be asked questions, or have a staff member reflect what is seen, or what? Is this the appropriate time, and do I have the time right now, to try to see if there is a problem the resident wants to talk about?” Then, he said, after getting the answers to these questions, he would be in a position to take appropriate action.

You say you have no idea where to price this product. So could you verbalize a set of questions you need to ask in order to get an idea? For example: “Do we have similar products that we have successfully (or unsuccessfully) sold, and if so, what were their asking prices? Would our sales and marketing team be able to suggest a price for this product, and if so, could engineering, production and customer support, support that price? Do we have a pricing team that works with new products to determine a reasonable price? Do we have an algorithm in place for determining a new product price? Do competitors have similar products, and if so, could we begin by pricing our product similarly? Are there companies or consultants we could call in to help set a price?”

On a different question, you ask how you can convince Ray that you are the better long-term candidate. I would imagine, as Nick continually suggests, that to do that you would have to figure out what Ray might ask in an interview, and study in detail Ray’s industry and Ray’s company, and come up with (some) answers or with questions you can ask as above . . . before interviewing with Ray. Dare I say that if you can’t or don’t do this, then, in fact, you may not be the better long-term candidate.

Hope this helps.

By Shirl
September 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

It is easy to see how Ray would use this technique, and I do the same but not to the degree that he has written.

While giving and receiving interviews my general approach has been to walk through scenarios. As my ability is to “look outside the box” I’ve have often steered the interviewer toward the type of conversation where answers are found, or thoughts developed. In my current position a new office was being developed and I was being interviewed by a management team that had an idea of what they wanted to do, but still had thoughts floating through their minds.

I walked them through a process of how to develop those thoughts into action and the steps it would take plus an approximate time frame to arrive where they wanted to go. The process opened up even more ideas during the interview and we were working on how to “create” the business and build the office.

I could see a literal “light of understanding” in the eyes of the interviewers. I took them through steps they never thought…but that is my background and talent. I talked them through the groundwork before developing a foundation. I was offered the job.

When being the interviewer I prefer to give a situation and ask how the person would assist. The situation is not limited to crisis or problems, but also praise. Positive attitude makes for great team work, especially if seeking to fill a management role.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

@Chris: That’s a great suggestion — thanks for offering it, Chris. Too often, candidates think an interview question requires an answer. Sometimes, the honest answer is that there is no good answer — so don’t fake it or roll over and play dead.

How do you come up with the “questions of elucidation” Chris suggests? Stop thinking like a candidate being interviewed. Think like you’re an employee and you were just handed an assignment. How are you going to do it? You probably need more information, some advice, and some guidance. If you don’t ask for it, you’ll fail and get fired. So ask the natural questions that will help you get the work done.

Worst thing a job applicant can do in an interview is act like an applicant. Act like an employee!

By Don Harkness
September 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm

@Chris, Nick.
Very good point on questions. Job hunters get tons of coaching, guidance and everyone’s 2 cents on answers…and it shows.

Hardly anyone & I mean hardly, from executives on down ask questions. And if you do it’s a big plus. I mean really you have NO questions or one or two that are obviously pro forma so you can say you asked questions.

Yes act like an employee with a new assignment who wants to know anything and everything that will help you come in, ramp up and do a good job. But don’t ask questions that are publicly available, particularly on our web site. Asking about that info, diving down into it is great. That shows you’ve done your homework and in so doing you are prepared to ask for pertinent details. …including about who you will work for, and with

By Lucille
September 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I like this post. Thanks Nick for sending it to us. I think the underlying assumption I see in this discussion is to turn the premise of the interview into finding a reason to hire, rather than finding a reason to fire.

By UCD-UnderEmployed and Clinically Depressed in the Midwest
September 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm

My hiring responsibility was VEL: Very Entry Level.

I instinctively began doing something my crew dubbed “The Walk”.

When I was younger, and my genetic deformity didn’t hinder me, I walked at a very quick pace. The first part of the test was how well you kept up with me, because it was a sizeable distribution center, and speed was essential.

If I had to pause for you to catch up with me, “The Talk” was very short.

If I paused to show you an aspect of the operation, and you asked questions, this would extend The Talk, but it would not slow The Walk.

Between the walk and the talk, interesting things would sometimes occur, demonstrating that talent can come in quite different packages, but hold the same effect: exceptional performance.

I had one young mother, quirky and unconventional, struggle to keep up with the walk because she wore the wrong shoes. Her determination to keep up with me got her in the door.

I had a young man, very long hair (this was late 1990’s), and a bit off-beat, but made very interesting comments as we walked. I hired him because I was curious where his observations would lead us.

Both, in their own way, became exceptional perfomers that held with me for over ten years.

Of course, they were looking for a job, but I was looking for people interested in the work.

Those were always the kind of people that stuck around the longest, through the best and the worst.

I was a branch of a company with less than 500 employees, and no HR department. I guess that’s how I got away with it.

On an unrelated point, @ Don Harkness, “death by powerpoint”–I love it!

By marybeth
September 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Great article Nick.

@Don Harkness: agreed–Ray and Lynn aren’t the typical employers in that they don’t ask the “typical” (i.e., useless) interview questions, such as what kind of animal would you be. I went on an interview on Thursday, and when asked what I would do if someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, I replied that I would say that I don’t know, but that I will find out and get back to them, or would find the person who does know and direct them to him/her. The woman interviewing me looked startled, and I thought, “uh oh, this may not be good”, but then she said “I’m so glad that you said that. Too many people think they have to know everything, and no one can possibly know everything. Your answer is perfect, and if the person asking you is upset, then it is his problem, not yours.” Wow. And no, the person interviewing me was NOT an HR jockey but would be my supervisor.

And re the question, if you have an idea or a product or service, why would you not work for yourself, not everyone is totally entrepreneurial. Some are entrepreneurial in terms of ideas and creativity, but NOT in terms of the day-to-day running of a business. There’s workflow and paperwork and taxes and employees and codes and all kinds of things that some entrepreneurs don’t want to bother with. Some may not be good at sales–and if you’re creating a product but don’t like sales or aren’t good at sales, then you either have to find someone who is good at sales (and marketing) or you work for someone else who can handle that aspect of the business for you. Some people don’t like instability, and while they’re excellent, hard workers, they don’t like the risks that go along with being an entrepreneur. They like a steady paycheck, benefits, etc.

By G
September 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm

At first I thought the introductory question “What two people would you start a software company with?” was silly since it wasn’t very clear but, for the kind of job Ray is hiring for, the ability to clarify ambiguous information is very important. An applicant who asked to know more about the specific requirements behind Ray’s question would demonstrate an important skill for product developers.

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