Joel On Interviewing 11: Programming Questions

(Interesting to non-programmers too).

For programming questions, I ask candidates to write a small function in C. About 5 lines of code.

Question 1: Reverse a string in place. Every candidate I've ever interviewed in my life has done this wrong the first time. Most people who think that they know C really do not understand memory or pointers. It's amazing that these people are working as programmers, but they are.

Many "C programmers" just don't know how to make pointer arithmetic work. Now, ordinarily, I wouldn't reject a candidate just because he lacked a particular skill. However, I've discovered that understanding pointers in C is not a skill, it's an aptitude.

In Freshman year CompSci, there are always about 200 kids at the beginning of the semester, all of whom wrote complex adventure games in BASIC for their Atari 800s when they were 4 years old. They are having a good ol' time learning Pascal in college, until one day their professor introduces pointers, and suddenly, they don't get it. They just don't understand anything any more.

Ninety per cent of the class goes off and becomes PoliSci majors, then they tell their friends that there weren't enough good looking members of the appropriate sex in their CompSci classes, that's why they switched.

For some reason most people seem to be born without the part of the brain that understands pointers. This is an aptitude thing, not a skill thing – it requires a complex form of doubly-indirected thinking that some people just can't do.
(Note: I am cutting out a very interesting discussion of how he interacts with candidates while they are writing test programs)

Inevitably, you will see a bug in their functions. So we come to question 5: Are you satisfied with that code? You may want to ask, "OK, so where's the bug?" The quintessential Open Ended Question From Hell. All programmers make mistakes, there's nothing wrong with that, they just have to be able to find them.

Very, very rarely, you will find a candidate that doesn't have any bugs the first time. In this case, this question is even more fun. When you say, "There's a bug in that code," he will review his code carefully, and then you get to see if he can be diplomatic yet firm in asserting that the code is perfect.
Watch Yourself.

In our business we have the happy occasion of offering a job to a candidate. But we also have to turn candidates down. Most understand, but there is really no easy way to let a person down. I still find it hard to do.

How you react to not getting a job speaks volumes about you and your personality. We have a situation right now where a candidate is not happy that they (I don’t want to assign gender to protect certain people – sorry Mike I am well aware that it is a grammatical error. I would rather you sue me over that than someone sue me if they find out I am talking about them) didn’t get moved on to the next step. In fact they are sure we are wrong and they are the perfect fit.

The problem is that this person hasn’t met our other candidates and doesn’t know anything about them. So this candidate really doesn’t have a reference point. The fact is we have better candidates, stronger candidates, all-around excellent candidates.

Instead of accepting this reality gracefully the candidate has decided to contact the client directly and complain about us.

And I don’t mean diplomatically either I mean all out defamation of character.

I understand that this person is angry and upset and maybe feels that we didn’t assess their talent properly. However there would have been a better way to go about it.

This person could have phoned the client directly and said this:

We haven’t met but I interviewed with the recruitment firm that you retained on this search and they didn’t feel I was as strong as the other candidates.

I respect their opinion but I feel it was wrong. I would like to have a chance to interview with you and prove that I can do the job.

That might not have gotten this person the interview but they would have ended up looking like a professional. Instead they look like someone who doesn’t react well to minor setbacks and then assigns blame to others in the most derogatory manner.

This is not a good message to send about your managerial skills.

Remember it’s not just about how you act during the interview but how you act during all “touch points” during the process. This includes the recruiter, the researcher, the recruiter’s administration assistant…Everyone you have contact with will talk to the other people – make sure they all think highly you. Get them on your side.

You are being watched.

So watch yourself.
Behaviour Analysis

1) What problem does it solve?
2) How well does it solve the problem?
3) What new problems does it add?
4) What are the costs?
5) Is it worth the costs?

via Bruce Schneier via Cutting Through
Soft Power

Hard power is the use of carrots and sticks to bend others into following your will. Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals.

Both are valid tools but attraction is preferred because, with it, you don't have to buy anyone off or spend time forcing them to do what you want.

Remember, if some people are dead set against you (foes), there are others (neutrals) who often hold confused and inconsistent views of what you've got in mind. Your job is to make clear where your goals and their values coincide.

Attraction depends on credibility. That's why you must always proceed in a reasonable and even-handed manner. Arousing suspicions about the honesty and fairness of what you say will erode your soft power.

via Joe Nye
What are your Weaknesses?

Do you get this question? I don’t ask it very much because the answers can be really canned but you should be prepared for it just in case.

You should not answer with things like “I’m lazy” or even worse “I’m a perfectionist and it really bothers me when others don’t work as hard as I do”. That is the worst and the oldest answer in the book.

But an interviewer wants to know that you have taken an honest inventory of your skills and know where your strengths and your weaknesses are.

For example I have been asked the question before and here is how I have handled it.

“I am actually a shy person and have had trouble meeting people in the past.” (this is true although most people don’t believe me) “Also paperwork is not my forte”

Just answering the question isn’t enough however. If I am interviewing you I will ask you what you are doing to improve yourself in this area. This is where you can make or break the answer. It’s fine to have some bogus answer about your weaknesses but you better be ready with a plan of action.

For example I took the Dale Carnegie Course and that really helped me get over my shyness. Also I hired a personal organization coach to help me with my paperwork skills.

There is no point having an answer to the “What are your weaknesses” question if you aren’t doing anything about it.

So think of weaknesses in terms of the things you are actively trying to improve upon. And if you aren’t working on something, now would be a good time to start.

One more thing: When an interviewer asks this they are generally talking about softer skills as opposed to a hard technical skill.

What are your weaknesses?

I don’t know HTML

What are you doing to improve in that area?

Taking a course.

See this is no good. Make it something related to Human Relations or some other soft skill area.

And for God’s sake if you are in sales for example don’t say, “I’m a lousy cold caller”
Job Offers

What’s in a job offer? Usually they are pretty formal documents outlining salary; start date; reporting structure etc.

When you get a job offer you should have a pretty good idea what is going to be in it. If you are working through a recruiter you should know what the money is going to be. In fact if your recruiter hasn’t brought it up you should broach the subject with him/her.

Most people are worried that they will get lowballed but trust me on a typical search I will have talked to 50-100 people in a similar role. I generally know what the market rate is.

So money shouldn’t be a surprise when you get the offer nor should things like start date; vacation and other small details, these questions should be brought up and answered through the recruiting process.

Additionally you should already have a comfort level with the people you have met and have a reasonable idea of the company culture.

Also you should be clear on what the duties are going to be before you get an offer.

In short their shouldn’t be any mysteries unless there are some specific promises the company has made about the job that you have asked for in writing.

What am I getting at?

By the time an offer comes around you should have already made up your mind whether you are going to take this job or not. The only reason you shouldn’t is if there are some surprises in the offer.

People who get an offer and then take a week to make up their mind always mystify me. My question is – what were they doing through the three interviews and the four weeks that the process took to get to that point?

If you have doubts voice them early on, if you really aren’t going to take the job drop out of the process – trust me there are other candidates that could easily take your place.

But don’t play this game (as some people do) of getting an offer extended and then acting like it is a 40-page document that needs to be read and reread and scrutinized word by word for you to accept. When that happens my conclusion is this: there is a competitive offer or one coming and the person is trying to decide which one is better.

Nothing wrong with that but you should be upfront about it. For one it will cause the company that is most serious to make the best possible offer for your services.

And when it comes right down to it you want the best possible offer right?

Starbucks Characters

The Starbucks that I frequent has a separate room upstairs for lounging around in comfy chairs with your newspaper and a coffee. It can be reached by going through the front door or the back and the latter lets in some interesting characters.

One is the Sleeper. Actually, I call her Sleeper Two because there used to be a Sleeper One before her. Sleeper Two comes in at 7am. I think she hangs out in the Tim Horton's across the street until then. She always brings two plastic bags full of stuff with her. She never gets a coffee but marches in with a determined, business-like step, rearranges the furniture to suit her sense of order and then, without ever actually lying down, sprawls out on the couch and goes to sleep.

Today, The Clumper came in. He's becoming a 7am regular too and, like The Sleeper, he never gets any coffee (or anything else). He seems to be at least 70 and I know he's coming because he drags one foot as he slowly climbs the stairs. Once he's up he breathes very heavily. Then, he sits down and taps his toes. Soon, he takes scissors and scotch tape and a lot of paper from a plastic shopping bag and goes to work. I don't know what he's doing but he makes a lot of scraping and rattling sounds - which I don't like...
A Little More Conversation

My wife and I went out for dinner in the Italian restaurant in the Sheraton. At one point, I looked across at a booth where another couple was holding an animated conversation. However, they didn't quite seem "in sync". And, when I looked more closely, I saw they were talking to two other people on their phones.

There's more at The Belmont Club.
Does Starbucks have brand problems?

Do only Communists go to Starbucks? If you read the warblogs, you might think so.
Why is one of America's most powerful unions likely to endorse Howard Dean, the candidate of latte-sipping lefties?

And now the lefty latte sippers can crow about the 21 Iraqis who were killed while in U.S. Custody.

This terribly insightful article is for all you "latte-sipping, iMac-using, suburban-living, tertiary-industry-working WASPs".

In Australia, the Democrats are the latte-sipping, pseudo-intellectual, absolutely-irrelevant minor political party.

“Well, this is obviously some Green or Democrat member of the latte-sipping elite class. Obviously a member of that dreadful Baby Boomer generation, as his pandering to the wimminists and eco-crazies makes clear. Unable to cut it in the Real World of adversarial politics – can’t have been a real man...Definitely some crazed socialist lefty.”
Isn't it a problem for SB that so many people think it's the favourite haunt of effete airheads who hate anyone who won't agree with their naive schemes? And, here's another problem. The latte-sipping lefties hate Starbucks too! Uh oh!

Update: Brand afficionado Fouro has beaten me to the punch on this topic, here.
Know How To Explain Your Job

I often work for other executive search firms on a project-by-project basis. My project managers rarely take me out to meet their clients so I depend on them for the details of the job description and requirements. But, they're often short on info. They'll tell me, for instance, that they need someone with strong experience designing and implementing security architecture but they don't tell me what that is. Instead, here's what they do say, "Ask the candidate. If she can't explain it to you in layman's terms, hang up because I don't want to talk her."

Therefore, my advice to the true careerist is to make sure that you're always able list your job responsibilities in clear, simple terms.

Recruiters and interviewers almost always have a checklist of requirements that contain certain buzzwords. And, you're always free to ask her to run them by you so you can check off which ones you have. And, as you do, make sure to provide specific evidence of the extent of your experience in those areas.

If you're speaking to anyone but the hiring manager, don't assume the person shares your specialist's knowledge. First, explain what you do in laymans' terms. If the interviewer is a specialist, she will follow up with detailed questions.

If she isn't a specialist, it's important to patiently help her understand what you do. Because, as ignorant as she might be, she's still the person who will pass you onto a specialist but only if you press the right buttons first.

Who is on your reference list and why? I am always surprised by who people consider appropriate references.

I think the problem arises from people’s lack of knowledge as to what we ask on reference checks. Here are some questions that I ask on a reference check. Now look at your reference list and ask yourself if these people could answer these questions.

1 Did you hire this candidate – if so why? Did he/she live up to your expectations why/why not?

2 What did the candidate accomplish during his/her time there?

3 How was he/she perceived by internal stakeholders?

4 How would you rate this person’s influencing skills?

5 How would you rate this person’s ability to operate independently?

6 How would you rate this person’s time management skills?

7 What are this person’s strong points?

8 How do they compare to others who have done the same job?

9 How would you rate them overall on a scale of 1-10. What do they have to do to get closer to 10?

10 What areas were you coaching this person on? Did he/she improve? How does he/she take constructive criticism and feedback?

11 Did he/she ever disappoint you?

12 What motivates this person?

13 How does a manager get the best performance out of him/her?

14 Why did this person leave? Are they eligible for rehire?

This is a partial list. I have kept it somewhat generic but I will tailor a reference if the client is interested in finding out about certain areas of concern. Look at these questions. Can the person who you worked with at the next cubicle who you used to go to lunch with answer all these questions? Can your neighbor? Your Priest?

Verbal Communication Overshadows Non-Verbals

Anthony made some great points about phone interviews (below) but I've got a bone to pick with Annie, Fortune Magazine's job-hunting advisor. She says:
Studies have shown that about 90% of human communication is nonverbal, so you're in a kind of limbo when the interviewer can't see you.
I think that's hogwash. Non-verbal communication might be really important - BUT ONLY UNTIL YOU TALK TO THE PERSON.

Unless a person is visually stunning - in a positive or negative way - or has a peculiar scent, her verbal manner of presentation is going to be a very powerful factor in creating your impression of her.

Once the person opens her mouth and you can see how well-informed she is, or not, the other things fade into the background.

And, regarding a phone interview, it's not a telepathic transfer of ideas. You get a real sense of what someone is like from the way he speaks.

In fact, I often worry that I judge a person too much by the way she presents herself on the phone. If she sounds dull and uninteresting I might have trouble thinking of her as a good candidate no matter what her credentials are.

And when it comes to hiring, I think verbal presentation is more important than non-verbal.

Think about this. Have you ever spoken to someone on the phone and started getting slightly entranced by that person? You might even have mildly romantic thoughts about him or her.

You think, "Wow, she sounds so nice!" But when you meet her, she isn't your cup of tea. At least, not romantically, although you might like her as a friend.

Well, in the case we're talking about, interviewing candidates for a job, you're not looking for a romantic partner. A skilled friend is just what you want. And, if the "verbals" are there, the non-verbals are not usually an issue.
Joel On Interviewing 10: The Impossible Question

The third thing in the interview is the impossible question. This is fun. The idea is to ask a question that they have no possible way of answering, just to see how they handle it.

"How many optometrists are there in Seattle?"
"How many tons does the Washington Monument weigh?"
"How many gas stations are in Los Angeles?"
"How many piano tuners are there in New York?"

Smart candidates will realize that you are not quizzing them on their knowledge, and they will enthusiastically leap into trying to figure out some back-of-the-envelope answer. "Well, lets see, the population of LA is about 7 million; each person in LA has about 2.5 cars..." Of course it's OK if they are radically wrong. The important thing is that they leap into the question enthusiastically.

They may try to figure out the capacity of a gas station. "Gee, it takes 4 minutes to tank up, gas stations have about 10 pumps and are open about 18 hours a day..." They may try to figure it out by area. Sometimes they will surprise you with their creativity or ask for a Los Angeles yellow pages. All good signs.

Not-so-smart candidates will get flustered and upset. They will just stare at you like you landed from Mars. You have to coach them. "Well, if you were building a new city the size of Los Angeles, how many gas stations would you put in it?" You can give them little hints. "How long does it take to fill up a tank of gas?"

With not-smart candidates, you will have to drag them along while they sit there stupidly and wait for you to rescue them. These people are not problem solvers and we don't want them working for us.
Phone Interviews.

In our business we do a lot of phone interviews. In fact I have done searches where I have never met a single candidate face-to-face. In almost every case my evaluation of the candidates over the phone was dead-on accurate. After 15 years of this you develop a pretty good intuition around these things.

For the person being interviewed I guess there could be some trepidation.

A recent letter to Ask Annie in Fortune Magazine wanted to know how to “survive” a phone interview.

Annie feels that phone interviews are weird because:

“Studies have shown that about 90% of human communication is nonverbal (body language, eye contact, and so on), so you're in a kind of limbo when the interviewer can't see you”

This is true but think of it another way. The interviewer can’t see you so he or she cannot make judgments based on your looks, if you are a little overweight it doesn’t matter. Nor will they judge you on your shoes, hair, or grooming.

So for a phone interview you can dress as comfortably as you want.

Another upside is that you don’t have to take a whole afternoon or morning off just to get to the interview. From my side I feel that I get more questions asked in a phone interview because there is less small talk made. A lot of emphasis is made in interview training on making the candidate “comfortable” you have to do less of that in a phone interview.

From the candidate side remember you should be prepared as well – make sure you have a good list of questions and always make sure you know what the next step in the process is going to be and the timing of that step. Don’t be afraid to ask for a face-to-face interview or to confidently state that you think you can do the job.

Enthusiasm counts for a lot in job interviews but more so on the phone. I like to hear enthusiasm in the candidate’s voice. It equals energy and energy is contagious.

Annie’s full response to her reader is here:
Good Question

Perry on Politics interviewed Andrew Sullivan and asked this question:

TP: Having been a proponent of gay marriage, what is the best argument against it that you have heard? And what is your response to that argument?

One could ask a candidate about an important decision she made and then ask what was the best argument against her point of view.

This would reveal:
1. Her depth of understanding of the issues.
2. Her comfort level in looking at things from someone else's perspective.
Soldiers for Hire

Do combat-soldiers make good hires? Photon Courier thinks so. My immediate reaction is to agree but I really don't know.

A Canadian general, Romeo Dallaire, led the UN forces in Rwanda. He was given detailed plans of the massacre three months in advance by a whistle-blower within the criminal government.

He reported his news to the UN which ordered him to tell the government about the informer in its midst. Dallaire seems to be a very decent guy, but he apparently followed orders which must have seemed absurd. What conclusion can we draw from this?
Cute Phrase Time: The Moronic Inferno

This is what Lynn Crosbie calls the endless parade of stupid TV ads. But I think it can be appropriated for other uses, as well.

Occasionally an ad appears that is so repulsive, I feel compelled to tell the corporation responsible...Otherwise, I watch the moronic inferno like everyone else, contented enough that Bea Arthur is no longer shilling for Shoppers Drug Mart.
Reminds me a bit of "The Bozo Invasion" which is what you get when you place an ad for a job in the newspapers. Although, there are some alternate definitions:

When a company grows that fast, it opens itself to the "bozo invasion," the addition of inferior employees, [McNealy] said.

You’ve all heard the Theory of the Crappy Manager, also called the Bozo invasion (where a poor top manager hires mediocre talent to create a pyramid of poor performance).
Your Workmates: Friends, Neutrals, Foes

One of saddest truisms of political debate is that it is almost impossible for either side to convert the true believers of the other. Experienced polemicists advise us not to try; it is only the uncommitted middle that is worth talking to.

This requires us to accept the existence...of an enemy who can only be treated with destruction and subjugation. But it also reminds us that there is a vast public that is neither friend nor foe, which must be won over.

Holding this distinction clearly in mind is hardest for those who believe reason can settle any dispute. The words 'enemy', 'neutral' and 'friend'...have defined policy from time immemorial: destruction to the enemy, respect and punctilio towards neutrals, succor to friends.
via The Belmont Club
Is a strong leader the sign of a weak people?

Oliver Stone: Fidel is not the revolution, believe me. Fidel is popular, whatever his enemies say. It's Zapata, remember that movie? He said, "A strong people don't need a strong leader."

ALB: So you think that if he went off the scene the revolution would continue?

OS: If Mr. Bush and his people have the illusion that they're going to walk into an Iraq-type situation, and people are going to throw up their arms and welcome us, [they are] dead wrong. These people are committed. Castro has become a spiritual leader. He will always be a Mao to those people.

ALB: In the first film, Comandante, he asked you, "Is it so bad to be a dictator?" Did you think you should have responded to that question?

OS: I don't think that was the place to do it. … You know, dictator or tyrant, those words are used very easily. In the Greek political system, democracy didn't work out that well. There were what they called benevolent dictators back in those days.

From a long interview.

Naturally, the more people can do themselves the less they depend on someone else to do it for them.

But strong here refers to more than the ability to make good decisions (intellectual power) and enforce them (police power).

It refers to the control of all decision-making power and strict control of people's behaviour.

Stone thinks that a benevolent dictator can create strong people so that, eventually, he can relinquish control. Just like a parent. That's not unreasonable. Whether Cuba needed a strong leader for 40 years is another story.
Joel On Interviewing 8: Jargon

I like passionate people who really care. They are careful to explain things. I have rejected candidates because when they talked about their previous projects, they couldn't explain them in terms that a normal person could understand. Often, engineering majors will just assume that everyone knows what Bates Theorem is or what Peano's Axioms are.

If they start doing this, stop them for a minute and say, "could you do me a favor, just for the sake of the exercise, could you please explain this in terms my grandmother could understand." At this point many people will continue to use jargon and will completely fail to make themselves understood. GONG!
Joel On Interviewing 9: Leadership

If the project was a team project, look for signs that she took a leadership role. A candidate might say: "We were working on X, but the boss said Y and the client said Z." I'll ask, "So what did you do?" A good answer to this might be "I got together with the other members of the team and wrote a proposal." A bad answer might be, "Well, there was nothing I could do. It was an impossible situation."

Remember, Smart and Gets Things Done. A good way to tell if somebody Gets Things Done is to see if historically she has tended to get things done in the past. In fact, you can even ask her to give you an example from her recent past when she took a leadership role and got something done - overcame some institutional inertia, for example.
Andy Pearson: Using Emotion To Make Money

I really enjoyed the discussion Simmy and Fouro had about Opera (below) but I didn't have a clue who Andy Pearson was. So, for others in the same boat, I've posted a few bits of the info Fouro linked.

Pearson was an aggressive, macho son-of-a-bitch who wrote stuff like "Muscle-Build the Organization" and "Tough-Minded Ways to Get Innovative". Then he joined Tricon and had the opportunity to see his new mentor, CEO David Novak, in action.

Novak had established a culture that gave the common worker the kind of recognition and approval he craved and this triggered an emotional commitment to do good work.

Pearson saw employees weep with gratitude in reaction to a few words of simple praise. And, though he would have dismissed that kind of mawkish display as sentimental rubbish before, he now saw that it could be used to give a company a competitive edge.

The trick is that enthusiasm can't be imposed from above. If you're going to use the need for recognition and approval to get ahead, you have to cater to them. (Sychophants and romeos have known this for a very long time).

So, now Pearson knows what great leaders do. They find a balance between ends and means. They're shrewd and rigourous and results-oriented but they remember something Mr Bonaparte said: "Give me enough cloth (for medals and ribbons) and I will conquer the world.”
Oprah is A Breath Mint

Simran is mad and he wants every one to know that "Oprah is not a Business Leader" - no matter what Harvard thinks. He says she's a Brand. (Fouro, we want your two cents here.)

Simmy formed this opinion after reading a Fortune article in which Opey "happily" admitted that she can't read a balance sheet. She "knows how to relate to people, how to sell, and how to manage" but no durn fool who runs a billion dollar organization and is happy she can't understand the heart of the business is a business leader. The worst thing is that she lacks the motivation to better herself and, heck, the key trait of business leaders is that they're progressive and want to expand their abilities.

Martha Stewart, on the other hand, now there's a woman after Simmy's heart. She is a business leader who has a deep knowledge of how a business is run (and lost).

But, Simmy, let me axe ya dis. Don't all of the business books tell you to pursue your strengths and delegate everything else? And, isn't that what Okra is doing? You've seen her show. She regularly features Suzie Orman. So, she believes that people should know how to control their personal finances. The problem is that her personal finances are beyond the scope of any ordinary person. So, she can either become an accountant or hand off the responsibility. Don't you think she's made the right choice?

And, here's another question. Could Condi run a business? And here's another one. Should I start a magazine with that name? And the first cover...?

If any working women - or guys - want to start a blog called Condi, proposals are welcome.
Joel On Interviewing 7: Does She Have Passion?

When interviewing an experienced candidate, you want to talk about her previous job. In this question, I'm looking for one thing: passion. When you find a project that the person worked on recently, here are the good signs:

She gets very excited talking about it; she talks more quickly and gets animated. This shows that when she is interested in something, she will be passionate about it. There are far too many people around who can work on something and not really care one way or the other.

Even if they are passionately negative, this can be just as good a sign. "I was working on installing Foo Bar Mark II for my previous employer, but he was such a dope!" These are good candidates we want to hire. Bad candidates just don't care and will not get enthusiastic at all during the interview.

A really good sign that a candidate is passionate about something is that when she is talking about it, she will forget for a moment that she is in an interview. Sometimes a candidate comes in who is very nervous about being in an interview situation -- this is normal so I always overlook that. But then when you get her talking about Computational Monochromatic Art she will get extremely excited and lose all signs of nervousness. Good.
How to Pick Managers for Disruptive Growth: Part 1

Sometimes the right stuff is the wrong stuff.

Many hiring executives assume that successful managers can be identified using phrases such as "good communicator," "results oriented," "decisive," and "good people skills." And they look for an uninterrupted string of past successes to predict that more successes are in store.

The theory is that if you find someone with a track record and with the right-stuff attributes, then he or she can successfully manage the new business venture. But there's a more reliable guide.

The management skills and intuition that enable people to succeed in new assignments were shaped through their experiences in previous assignments.

A business unit therefore can be thought of as a school, and the problems that managers have confronted within it the "curriculum" that was offered in that school.

The skills that managers can be expected to have and lack, therefore, depend heavily upon which "courses" they did and did not take as they attended various schools of experience.

Managers who have worked their way up the ladder of a stable business unit—for example, a division that manufactures standard high-volume electric motors for the appliance industry—are likely to have acquired the skills that were necessary to succeed in that context.

The "graduates" of this school would have finely honed operational skills in managing quality programs, process improvement teams, and cost-control efforts. Even the most senior manufacturing executives from such a school would likely be weak in starting up a new plant, because one encounters very different problems in starting up a new plant than in running a well-tuned one.

When a slowly growing firm's leaders decide they need to launch a new-growth business to restore their company's vitality, who should they tap to head the venture? A talented manager from the core business who has demonstrated a record of success? Or an outsider who has started and grown a successful company?

The school-of-experience view suggests that both of these managers might be risky hires. The internal candidate would have learned how to meet budgeted numbers, negotiate major supply contracts, and improve operational efficiency and quality, but might not have attended any "courses" on starting a new business in his or her prior career assignments.

An outside entrepreneur might have learned a lot about building new fast-moving organizations, but would have little experience competing for resources and bucking inappropriate processes within a stable, efficiency-oriented operating culture.

In order to be confident that managers have developed the skills required to succeed at a new assignment, one should examine the sorts of problems they have wrestled with in the past. It is not as important that managers have succeeded with the problem as it is for them to have wrestled with it and developed the skills and intuition for how to meet the challenge successfully the next time around.

One problem with predicting future success from past success is that managers can succeed for reasons not of their own making—and we often learn far more from our failures than our successes.

Failure and bouncing back from failure can be critical courses in the school of experience. As long as they are willing and able to learn, doing things wrong and recovering from mistakes can give managers an instinct for better navigating through the minefield the next time around.

See here via BusinessPundit
Joel On Interviewing 6: Fresh Grads

Part two of the interview is a question about some recent project that the candidate worked on. For interviewing a college kid, ask him about his senior thesis or about a course he took that involved a long project he really enjoyed.

For example, sometimes I will ask, "what class did you take last semester that you liked the most? It doesn't have to be computer-related." Actually I am usually pretty happy if they choose a non-computer related course.

Sometimes you look at their schedule, and it looks like they are taking the bare minimum number of Comp Sci courses, but every elective is something related to Music. Then they will tell you that their favorite course was Object Oriented Databases. Yeah, right. I'd be happier if they admitted that they just liked music more than computers, instead of sucking up.
Adorable Bunny
For a good time click here
A Pleasant Surprise
Click here

Post Script: I've been posting all weekend, so if you're just coming back today be sure to scroll down as Friday April 9.

It's not all Joel and Dell. By the way, I think those two articles are great, that's why I'm serializing them. But you can tell me if you've had enough. MK
I need an IT Trainer

Location: Toronto
Requirement: strong experience creating courses for people in IT
Responsibility: develop courses for 60-100 people in two data centres
Attraction: it's a new role, there is a clean slate for you to build on
Mental Multi-tasking Ruins Memory

We often try to mentally register information while silently talking to ourselves.

In the classic case, you are introduced to someone and at the moment of being told the person's name you are also thinking of other things. For instance, what you're going to say next.

To remember better you must register information better.
To register better, pay attention - fully - for a moment.

via Pegasus NLP
Joel On Interviewing 5: The Plan, the Introduction

Before the interview, I read over the candidate's resume and jot down an interview plan, a list of questions I want to ask. Here's a typical plan for interviewing a programmer:

1. Introduction
2. Question about recent project candidate worked on
3. Impossible Question
4. C Function
5. Are you satisfied?
6. Design Question
7. The Challenge
8. Do you have any questions

The Introduction phase is intended to put the candidate at ease. I spend about 30 seconds telling the person who I am and how the interview will work. I always reassure the candidate that we are interested in how he goes about solving problems, not the actual answer.

By the way, in doing the interview, you should make sure that you are not sitting across a desk from the candidate. This creates a formal barrier which will not place the candidate at ease. It is better to move the desk against a wall, or to go around and sit on the other side of the desk with the candidate; this does help put the candidate at ease. This results in a better interview because it is less distorted by nervousness.
Dell 5: Dell's Flexibility

Mike Dell sees that some of tech's legendary figures lost their way by refusing to admit mistakes. He cites DEC's Ken Olsen as one who stuck with his strategy until the market passed him by and hints that Sun's Scott McNealy could be next.

He, on the other hand is non-dogmatic and very flexible. In 2001, he scrapped a plan to enter the mobile-phone market six months after hiring a top exec from Motorola Inc. to head it up. He decided the prospects weren't bright enough to offset the costs of entry.

Then, Dell wrote off its only major acquisition, a storage-technology company. Dell backed out of the high-end storage business because he decided its technology wasn't ready for market. "Guys that have been in the saddle for 15 and 20 years tend to get too religious. He's the exception to the rule." (Ed Zanders, ex-prez of Sun).
Which one would you want as a supervisor?

A couple of years ago my daughter and I visited a working ranch outside San Antonio. The grizzled old guy in charge had given her some chow pellets to feed the steer calves when she asked, "What's the difference between a steer and a bull?"

I thought, hmm, how's he going to explain that one to a 13-year-old girl? But he just looked her straight in the eye and said, "A steer is like a neutered puppy." Perfect. A simple, accurate explanation without getting into gory details.

A week later we were back in L.A. and standing on the sidewalk outside a Beverly Hills restaurant with my family. An actor/model/whatever type guy walked by with a Great Dane.

"Oh, that's a cute dog," my daughter said. "Is it a boy or a girl?"

The man grabbed his dog's testicles and announced proudly, "Isn't it obvious?" I was appalled, but also in the minority. (Although I suspect the dog didn't enjoy the experience either).

"Oh, so what?" said my sister, who spends her days auditioning for commercials. "He's probably a groovy young actor."
The rest is about politics. Via the Photon Courier
The Future Of Manufacturing in North America

The little red wagon--the Radio Flyer--is no longer made in America. There's been much media commentary about the departure of this manufacturing activity (for China), and I believe that John Kerry has even chimed in on the matter.

But here's a product that is made in America: CT (CAT) scanners for health care. They sell for around $1 million each. General Electric builds them, in places like Waukesha, WI.

Why is GE building medical machines in the USA?

1. Product engineers regularly work on-site with assembly workers. And GE is quick to credit production workers with important productivity improvements.

2. The ability to get new, improved products to market more quickly is enhanced by having all the players in geographical proximity

3. And by having skilled, highly-motivated people in all functions.

Even so, if CT scanners could be made small enough to fit in a FedEx package, the geography of production might have been different.

Why are components sourced overseas?

Mechanical components come from GE's plant in Mexico, generators from its factor in India and displays from its site in Beijing." What would happen if legislation required all of these parts to be made domestically? The costs of the finished systems would go up and the GE products would be less competitive, encouraging hospitals to opt for systems built by non-US suppliers, such as Siemens.

International trade issues are complex. Sloganeering and demonization are not very helpful. Unfortunately, that is the level at which most political discussion of these matters is presently being conducted.

What kind of products will be produced in the USA in the future?

1. Products that are physically large enough for transportation costs to be significant.
2. Products which require:
a. frequent changes to compete in a fast-moving market
b. alert, motivated workers, participating in the improvement of the production process
c. management not threatened by worker participation.
d. engineers on the shop floor and customers heavily involved in the product planning process.

From a well-written posting at the Photon Courier.
A Good Rant About Thinking Straight

I didn't start this blog so I could rant, but a few idiots today just pushed me over the line. People need to understand that some things in life are counterintuitive. It doesn't seem right that a piano and a golf ball dropped from the same height at the same time will hit the ground at the same time, but they will. Life is full of these counterintuitive principles that can only be discovered by looking at facts, not hunches or feelings. Yet many people think their feelings carry more weight than objective facts.
Climate of Fear in Canadian Business

Terrorists posing as innocent Muslim civilians have caused problems for their co-religionists in the business world. Canadian Business reviews the issues.

1. A Saudi-born product manager refused to be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed at the US-Canadian he didn't get through.

His HR department told him that he could apply for a waiver through the US Embassy that would allow him to bypass the procedure.

2. Pre-911, beards and headscarves were seen as purely religious symbols. Now they are suspected of being evidence of a Taliban-style point of view.

Muhammad Ishaq, who wears a beard, was told by an interviewer that the manager of the company refused to hire a Muslim. (He refused to file a complaint so the government couldn't help him).

An Arab surgeon was offered a job at an un-named Toronto hospital but only if he changed his name. (So, he accepted an offer in the US).

3. Muslims are subjected to jokes and taunts at work. For instance, an employee asked his co-worker if he has a pilot's licence.

(The Canadian Islamic Congress wants companies to issues clear guidelines against such behaviour).

4. Bill C-36, Canada's anti-terrorism law lacks appropriate checks.

5. Mohammed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, thinks the media make it seem as if most Muslims look like Osama bin Laden.

Also mentioned are the problems of lawyers and doctors from other countries whose credentials are not accepted here. And, the fact that Canadian businesses do not provide prayer rooms for spiritually-inclined employees.

These issues are irrelevant in this discussion. Professionals from many backgrounds have the same problems and Spiritual Rooms are not provided for the practitioners of any religion.
Joel On Interviewing 4: How To Avoid Bias

An interview is like a very delicate scale and if you know a little bit about the candidate beforehand it's like a big weight on one side of the scale and the interview is useless.

So, before the interview, I avoid anything that might give me some preconceived notions about the candidate. Because, if I think that someone is smart before she walks into the room, just because she has a Ph.D. from MIT, nothing she can say in 1 hour is going to overcome that prejudice. And if I think she is a bozo, nothing she can say will overcome that initial impression.

Once, right before an interview, a recruiter came into my office. "You're going to love this guy," she said. Boy, did this make me mad. What I should have said was, "Well, if you're so sure I'm going to love him, why don't you just hire him instead of wasting my time going through this interview."

But I was young and naïve, so I interviewed him. When he said not-so-smart things, I thought to myself, "Gee, must be the exception that proves the rule." I looked at everything he said through rose-colored glasses. I wound up saying Hire even though he was a crappy candidate. You know what? Everybody else who interviewed him said No Hire.

So, don't listen to recruiters; don't ask around about the person before you interview her; and never talk to the other interviewers about the candidate until you've both made your decisions independently. It's the scientific method.
For links see Joel 1.
Dell 4: Dell's Process-Oriented Strategy

Dell is not a product innovator. His penny-pinching ways leave little room for investment in product development. And, he has no patience for the costs of entering new markets. He kills off products when they don't show quick profits.

But, for Michael Dell, inventing the Next Big Thing is not the goal. He wants to focus on his strength as a super-efficient manufacturer and distributor. That's why Dell continues to hone the efficiency of its operations. The company has won 550 business-process patents., for everything from a method of using wireless networks in factories to a configuration of manufacturing stations that's four times as productive as a standard assembly line.

Dell's expansion strategy is to capitalize on that asset. The game plan is to move into commodity markets -- with standardized technology that's widely available -- where Dell can apply its skills in discipline, speed, and efficiency. Then Dell can drop prices faster than any other company and prompt demand to soar.

In markets that Dell thinks are becoming commoditized but still require R&D, the company is taking on partners to get in the door. Dell is putting its own brand on products from Lexmark and co-branding with EMC. Dell took on low-end storage production from EMC and cut its cost of goods 25%.

Comment: It sounds a bit like McDonald's. You don't go there for the "leading-edge" food. The appeal is price and fast, efficient production and delivery.

For links see Dell 1
A Microsoft Interview

My experience is in software sales. I had a telephone interview with a Senior Recruiter in Redmond and have been asked to submit a 30, 60, and 90 day business plan regarding the ways in which I would approach the position and leverage Microsoft's Business Solutions products to Medium and Enterprise business customers.

See Randy
Joel On Interviewing 3: Be Decisive

At the end of the interview you should be ready to make a sharp decision about the candidate - Hire or No Hire. Send word back to the recruiter and write two paragraphs of commentary to back up your decision.

Never say "Maybe, I can't tell." If you can't tell, that means No Hire. If you are on the fence, that means No Hire. Never say, "Well, Hire, I guess, but I'm a little bit concerned about...". That's a No Hire as well.

Remember this: it is much better to reject a good candidate than to accept a bad candidate. A bad candidate will cost a lot of money and effort and waste other people's time fixing all their bugs. If you have any doubts, No Hire.

Don't worry if you reject a lot of people. Never lower your standards no matter how hard it seems to find great candidates.
See Joel 1 for links.
Dell 3: Dell's Personality

Michael Dell does not lead by force of personality. He doesn't have the tough-guy charisma of Jack Welch or the folksy charm of Sam Walton. Vanilla and square is what he calls himself and in his firm no one gets to be a star.

Dell, for instance, often pairs execs to run an important business. That way, they work together, checking each others' weaknesses and sharing the blame when something goes wrong. It's called "two-in-a-box, a no-name management team.

See Dell 1 for links.
Joel On Interviewing 2: Smart and Useful

There are two main criteria for getting hired:
1. You've got to be SMART
2. You've got to be someone who GETS THINGS DONE

Our goal is to hire people with aptitude, not a particular skill set. Any skill set people bring to the job will be technologically obsolete in a couple of years, so it's better to hire people who are able to learn any new technology rather than people who happen to know SQL programming right this minute.

Gets Things Done is crucial. People who are Smart but don't Get Things Done often have PhDs and work in big companies where nobody listens to them because they are completely impractical. They would rather mull over something academic about a problem rather than ship on time. These kind of people can be identified because they love to point out the theoretical similarity between two widely divergent concepts. They're Smart, but not useful.

Now, people who Get Things Done but are not Smart will do stupid things and somebody else will have to come clean up their mess later. This makes them liabilities because they don't contribute and they soak up good people's time. They can often get the job done but not in the smartest way.
More here via Goodfellow
Dell 2: Personality Problems

Internal interviews at Dell revealed that subordinates thought CEO Michael Dell, 38, was impersonal and emotionally detached, while President Ken Rollins, 50, was seen as autocratic and antagonistic.

Few felt strong loyalty to the company's leaders. A survey taken after the company's first mass layoff found that half of Dell's employees would leave if they got the chance.

Within a week, Dell faced his top 20 managers and offered a frank self-critique, acknowledging that he is hugely shy and that it sometimes made him seem aloof and unapproachable. He vowed to forge tighter bonds with his team. Personality tests given to key execs had repeatedly shown Dell to be an "off-the-charts introvert," and such an admission from him had to have been painful.

Days later, they began showing a videotape of his talk to every manager in the company -- several thousand people. Then Dell and Rollins adopted desktop props to help them do what didn't come naturally. A plastic bulldozer cautioned Dell not to ram through ideas without including others, and a Curious George doll encouraged Rollins to listen to his team before making up his mind.

More here via BP
How To Use Google Better

Take the google online tutorial. Some highlights:

1. Google Calculator
2. Google Phonebook: By entering a person’s name and a city, state, or zip code you will find the phone number listing for someone who lives in the US.
3. Street Maps: Enter an address and it maps your route.
4. Travel Conditions: Enter an airport’s three-letter code followed by the word airport to find out about flight delays and weather conditions

via Dr Mercola
Joel On Interviewing 1: Three Types of People

There are three types of people. The unwashed masses, lacking even the most basic skills for the job. They are easy to ferret out and eliminate, often just by reviewing a resume and asking two or three quick questions.

At the other extreme, are the brilliant superstars. And in the middle, you have a large number of "maybes" who seem like they might be able to contribute something. The trick is telling the difference between the superstars and the maybes, because we only hire the superstars. Here are some techniques for doing that. (to be continued)
More here via here
Dell 1: Management Secrets

1. The status quo is not enough.

2. Celebration breeds complacency.
Success is greeted with five seconds of praise and five hours of postmortem on what could have been done better. No Victory Laps here.

3. No Excuses.
Admit a problem quickly and confront it. Never be defensive. Expose weak spots ruthlessly and fix them right away.

4. Cut costs and make money.
Every product should be profitable from Day One. Dell's quick to pull the plug on anything that doesn't make money fast. When top managers in Europe lost out on profits in 1999 because they hadn't cut costs far enough, they were replaced. After Randy Groves, head of the server business, delivered 16% higher sales, he was demoted. It could have been better.

5. Be Direct. Don't mince words. Question everything. Challenge your bosses.

6. No big egos. Work with partners whose strengths make up for your weaknesses.

More here via here
Out of the Box Interview Questions

The Question: "Ms. Candidate, imagine you've just died. You stand before God, who says, 'By the way, what did you do for a living?' You tell him and he says 'Hmm, would you like to try again?' -- What would you say?"

The Right Answer: "No thank you Ma'am. I did a good job and left nothing undone."
Which Archetype Are You ?

Archetypes are images that have recurred in human societies for thousands of years. They are universally recognized ideas seen across all cultures and are particularly clear in fairy-tales. (eg the Hero, Villain, Princess, Fool)

The idea is that these images are built into the human brain. We automatically understand them and think in these terms. So, by identifying the right archetype for your brand, you can use it to access a deeply rooted place in the human psyche and get a very clear response.

Harley Davidson associates itself with the Outlaw -- living outside of the rules, pursuit of freedom, and danger. Nike's association with celebrated athletes places it in the hero archetype. It offers the ordinary person the opportunity to put on the mantle of the hero by wearing Nike shoes.

Brands strongly aligned with single archetypes gain economic and market values at a rate double of brands that have no clear archetypal alignment. Users easily identify the meaning of the brand when it is aligned with an archetype. If an image or word goes against the archetype, it's likely to diminish the clarity and acceptance of the brand.

A book on archetypes and brands: "The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes," by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson.

Find more here. This is also a favourite topic of Fouroboros.
Map Your Luck Perspective

1. Name one person who is luckier than you.
2. List three things that make her luckier.
3. Does s/he do anything to improve her luck?
4. Are you happy for the lucky person?
5. Do you resent her luck?
6. Do you think luck is unfair?

see How To Make Luck
Obviously they haven't read this Blog

Some people think we don't like the term "headhunter":

"Business writer Charles Fleming, in his book Executive Pursuit, sternly admonishes job seekers: 'I use the word "headhunter" for you and for me. But you'd better forget it. For many headhunters the word is about as welcome as "quack" or 'shyster" in other professions.'' Mr. Fleming, you note, employs the inflammatory word even as he discourages its use. Charley Fleming, what a zany guy!"

Why would we not like that term? It's much better than "employment agency" or "personnel firm" "staffing associate".


I don't know why people would equate it with "quack" or "sawbones". More like "beancounter" perhaps.

But it sounds much cooler than those terms.
A Yarn About People and Competitive Advantage

The BusinessPundit takes a trip down memory lane. (Imagine this in the voice of Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man. Or Abe Simpson.)

My first job was at a hamburg joint. When my performance review came up my manager told me that a raise of 10 cents per hour was normal and then he asked how much I thought I deserved. I said ten cents. He asked why. I told him [that I didn't deserve anything special since] he could find anyone to flip burgers and mop the floor.

He said true, but good employees are hard to find and they do more per hour, so they're worth more. He said that someone like me would have plenty of other opportunities and he would have to raise my pay quickly to keep me. I got 40 cents or something; I don't remember exactly. And I learned a valuable lesson. Good people are worth more.

About 80% of the people I worked with in that place were worthless. But some were excellent. At peak times, we had 15 people in the restaurant, but give me the 7 or 8 best people on the team, and we could run at peak time with them alone. That's the point - the good employees didn't just flip burgers and stand back, they helped out in extra ways as needed.

Companies that pay bad wages and have high turnover often think they are keeping costs down. Maybe so, but they are keeping morale and productivity down at the same time.
Nuff said.
The Wisdom of Indian Cricket

1. It’s all about core competence. Make your natural ability your core competence and never abandon that approach. Don't be flexible to adjust to the situation.

2. Pursue one target single-mindedly. What matters is how well you do what you’re best at. Simply focus on the one activity your DNA has programmed you to do, and improve its execution continuously.

3. Ignore the Competition. Don't react to what the opposition is doing.

4. History is bunk. If you know something should work, don’t be afraid if the first attempt fails. Try the same thing again and again and again. You will hit paydirt sooner rather than later.

5. Forget homework. Get out there in the marketplace, in the thick of things. Now!

Gautam Ghosh explains it in context.
Interviewing Google-Style

Wall Street Journal: How do you choose people to work at your company?

Eric Schmidt: The principle that Google operates under is to hire very, very strong-willed, sort of driven people. Management is very, very thoroughly vetted. They want to change the world.

When we recruit people, we make the managers write an essay on how they're going to add value to Google. It's very hard to write an essay for a job that you haven't been offered yet. And the programmers do programmer tests; the marketing people do marketing tests; the salespeople have to do a sales pitch to the salespeople! Can you imagine?!

April's Fool

When my sister and I were in elementary school, many years ago, and my brother was not even in school, we would celebrate April Fool's Day by coming home at lunch and putting on "Fool of The Year" by Georgia Gibbs. Then, we'd point at my brother and say "That's you! That's you!". He would go nuts, really. We laughed hysterically until my mother had to come and break it up. He still remembers. At least he says he does.

I tried to find the lyrics; they're not on the web. But, I remember them fairly well. "I'm the fool of the year, I'm the fool of the year, for falling in love with you. I was taken by surprise by that look in your eyes and now, I'm the fool of the year."
Good News

The global executive search market shows signs of recovery after two relatively flat years. This is good news overall because I believe that recruitment firms are economic bellwethers - typically we tend to see a slow down in our business before the rest of the market notices and we tend to pick up when people are still moaning about how bad the market is.

"After surviving a nearly 40% drop in professional fee revenue in 2001 and 2002, the 20 Largest Retained Executive Search Practices Worldwide posted a 2% gain in professional fee revenue in 2003, according to the just-released annual search firm rankings issue (March 2004) of Executive Recruiter News (ERN), whose publisher has tracked the global business of executive search since 1970."

Read more here.

John Travolta's House

Here is a link to a bigger version of the same picture.

And here is a link to a front view of the house.
If You're Passionate And You Know It Raise Your Voice
Mark Cuban says:
I’m about as competitive as they come. I hate to lose in anything I do. I love to work with people who hate to lose. I want to be around people who get sick and can’t sleep when things don’t go well.

A by-product of passion is saying exactly how you feel in a way that will get someone’s attention. I expect people who work for me to yell at me. If someone is pissed off, if they think I’m doing something wrong, Blast me.

I have told just about everyone who has ever partnered or reported directly to me [that if] you have done your homework and are confident in your position, and when I don’t listen, raise your voice. I don’t see decibels as a sign of disrespect. I see fear to communicate a needed message as a sign of disrespect. If you don’t care enough about our product, customer, company, employee - whatever it may be - to step up and let me have it when I’m screwing up, then you don’t care enough to be here.

A little contention can go along way. If I raise an issue with someone on something, there is only positive that can come from it. One of us is probably going to have a valid solution and the organization will benefit. If raised voices allows us to come to a solution, I’m all for it.