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Once upon a time, I had a bad job interview. It was for an engineering internship. I hadn't had many interviews, I didn't know how they were supposed to go, but this one was downright boring. Several engineers talked to me, but they didn't have a lot of questions, they just told me a little about the company and asked "What questions do you have for us?" After about the third person I had no more questions about them. At one point a guy asked me if I had any hobbies, and I perked up and explained that I was learning ASP because in addition to engineering I liked web development, I knew my front-end tools pretty well but wanted to learn about the behind-the-scenes scripts, and his eyes just totally glazed over. He said, "Do you play volleyball? We have a volleyball team!"

Unfortunately the offers weren't exactly pouring in for me, so I took the job, and you know what? It was just like the interview. People were bored, there wasn't much going on. Nobody was passionate about the decades-long process involved in making a power plant. The best part was when they told another intern to make a department website, he'd never even heard of such a thing and didn't know anything about websites so they got him some books to read about HTML.

Luckily, I only wasted a summer internship on that mistake. But it taught me that you can, and must, learn a lot a from a job interview... in this case I learned from the interview that no one at the company was excited about talking about what they did, and didn't care much to listen to people. It held true after the interview.

I'm an engineer. I thought there was no reason for me to care about people. But the fact is, engineering is engineering everywhere. My whole life it's going to be connectors, wires, electrons, and getting the right blinky lights to light up. I like the work and it's satisfying but the only thing that makes one job different from another is the people that I'm going to work with. They have to be cool, and they have to care.

So anyway, I don't know what your #1 question is to ask in an interview but here's mine:

What do you love most about working here?

The answer I'm looking for is "It's a great group of people." Because even though we all go home and watch reality shows about competitive people screaming "I'M NOT HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS!" that's not how I want to spend my day. I am, actually, here to make friends. Meet for a drink later, go out for lunch. Like each other.

If they stumble and then mutter something about the 401K matching, I know to run screaming. The healthcare package should not be your favorite thing about the company you work at... that should be a given. It's like dating, I've told girlfriends that they can't stay with a guy just because "he's really nice". that's a baseline requirement. In a world where you only get to have one boyfriend at a time, you have to raise the bar... and I'm only going to have one job at a time.

I'm not interviewing for jobs now. I am interviewing people to hire, sometimes, and that's what gets me thinking about this. I try to ask them their stories, find out how they connect with other humans. Our HR department filters out anyone with a GPA that's too low, I go in assuming that the person in the chair is smart. But I want him to be the kind of engineer who gets to know the technicians on the line, calls meetings with the certification experts, gives the buyer a heads-up that we need a different part number in a few weeks.

I look at the person I'm interviewing and think sure, I can teach you to make airplanes. But you have to be something else: YOU have to be another reason for me to enjoy working here. I can't teach that. You have to show it in the interview.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2013 04:51 pm (UTC)
Excellent. I always enjoyed interviewing when I was looking for a job. An hour of talking about me?! What's not to like! But bad interviewers could put a giant damper on that.

But, interviewing candidates to hire was another bucket of worms. I sucked at it. Even late in my career. I never learned the fundamentals you describe here. My last job (the one I retired from) was tarnished to the end by a guy who's hiring I had a big part of. His people skills - which were critical to the job - were horrible. I saw it in the interview and glossed over it. I paid for that big time.

I would have liked to have read your last two paragraphs about 10 years ago :)
Dec. 6th, 2013 05:22 pm (UTC)
I recently was trained in interviewing the way. The interviews are actually much more interesting and involved and challenging than anything that I've gone through, but the questions really give us a good view into the candidate while providing good situational/experiential questions that match the corporate goals and objectives.

I still find it weird that you guys put your GPA onto your resumes. There are very few situations here people might ask for a copy of a transcript (usually intern positions only).
Dec. 6th, 2013 07:58 pm (UTC)
by situational, do you mean "Tell me about a time when you..." sorts of questions?

Because I have to be honest, I'm not a fan. I feel like an interview should be a conversation, and when I get those questions it's like the person is reading from a book about how to interview people. They're not creative, you get the same ones at every company.
Dec. 6th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
Not exactly. Kinda, but deeper.

Yes, an interview should be conversational, but at the same time you want to eliminate the person who's a good interview at all the standard questions but can't think and provide answers to questions that are outside of the standard realm.

When I get home I'll see if I can find the reference sheet from the workshop. We did a practice session and the questions were really much more useful.
Dec. 6th, 2013 05:49 pm (UTC)
It's like dating, I've told girlfriends that they can't stay with a guy just because "he's really nice". that's a baseline requirement. In a world where you only get to have one boyfriend at a time, you have to raise the bar... and I'm only going to have one job at a time.

I'm just gonna add - even when I have more than one boyfriend at a time, "he's really nice" isn't a high enough bar. :)
Dec. 7th, 2013 02:08 am (UTC)
*poly fistbump* :)
Dec. 7th, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
*high five*
Dec. 7th, 2013 02:10 am (UTC)
*takes notes for my next interviews*
Dec. 7th, 2013 02:34 am (UTC)
excellent point! Never knew how to phrase that.
Dec. 7th, 2013 04:00 am (UTC)
I wish more jobs would assume that you can teach me stuff. I've got tons of really great skills... so what if I don't know the specific thing that you're doing. I know physics, astronomy, some chem and bio. I can build shit, I can manage people (have you ever tried to manage several classes at a time plus students doing research plus your own research?). No, I don't have five or even 10 years "industry experience" but fuck, man, you think you can't teach me what to do? (I've never worked in a clean room for example, but c'mon how hard can it be)

Yet, I never made it past the throw the resume/cv into the bucket phase when I was applying for things outside of academia. Everyone wanted 10+ years of experience...for obviously entry level jobs, even. No wonder they can't find talent. There are some awesome interesting industry jobs out there. IDK maybe I'm doing it wrong. Or was, anyway, I've stopped bothering. Too much effort for zero return.
Dec. 9th, 2013 04:18 am (UTC)
"No, I don't have five or even 10 years "industry experience" but fuck, man, you think you can't teach me what to do?"

Honestly, some places can't. And it's not because you can't be taught, it's because they have no idea how to teach. If someone doesn't come in already adding value, they have no idea how to get them up to speed, even if they are bright, motivated and take the initiative to ask.
Dec. 7th, 2013 05:21 am (UTC)
Dec. 7th, 2013 04:12 pm (UTC)
The best thing about my job is that most of the time the people leave me alone to get on with doing useful things. Oh, and the money; I like having money.

Sure, actively bad coworkers is super annoying - but I'm never going to say "the best thing about this is the people", that would require me to like people...
Dec. 14th, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
I am jealous and intrigued that you are interviewing candidates-- I would love to be in a position to do that!

As is, I know I will be interviewing for another job in a couple years (that's just the way my contract works), so this is good to keep in mind.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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