How To Ace The Brain Teaser Interview

Interviewers are less interested in the answer you get than in the road you use getting there. Thus, the best strategy is to take your time, think out loud, and let the interviewer see you sweat .

Solving these puzzles too fast may work against you. The interviewer may think you’ve heard the puzzle before. And, you will have missed the opportunity to talk about how you would use the skills you just demonstrated to add value to the company. Let the interviewer participate with you in solving the puzzle.

Puzzles make up less than 10% of any interview. “The puzzles are a small part of the interview process at Microsoft,” says Ron Jacobs, product manager for the Platform Architecture Guidance Team. “It’s very effective in giving us insight into a candidate’s potential. And that potential is the hardest thing to gauge. We know the resume looks good and they seem to have the skills. These puzzles put them in a place where it’s just them and their raw thinking abilities.”

Puzzles are usually designed so that there are no clear answers. Sometimes the interviewer will throw a candidate a hint that points to a wrong answer just to see how the candidate will defend his position and push back. “Confidence is good,” Jacobs says. “Microsoft values that kind of independent thought.” But don’t let the attitude slip into stubbornness or arrogance, he adds.

Jacobs had three interviews at Microsoft. In 1997, in his first time at bat, Jacobs impressed people that he was a “Microsoft hire” but he was thought not right for the position at hand. In his first interview, he was asked to design an airport. Jacobs immediately began to wax eloquent about how he would design a world-class international airport like Seattle’s Seatac or Chicago’s O’Hare. After letting Jacobs go on for 5 minutes, the interviewer said, “But all I need is a small regional airport.” Jacobs learned a lesson: “I didn’t clarify precisely what the customer needed.”

In his second interview a year later, Jacobs anticipated brainteasers but didn’t get any. He was asked to solve a coding problem instead. Since then, he’s interviewed for an internal job. “My take on the big picture here is that when we ask these questions we are looking not so much for the answer but how the candidate thinks about the problem and approaches the solution,” Jacobs notes.

“Some candidates will be very quiet for a few minutes and then spew out an answer. This is generally a bad approach,” he says. “A better approach is for candidates to think out loud as though they were collaborating with me on the answer. I especially like to hear them ask questions which clarify the problem. Sometimes we will ask an intentionally vague question to test for this.”

Hudson Highland's Hangover

Hudson Highland's latest numbers are out and the firm lost close to 7 million in the last quarter alone and almost 25 million so far this year.

For those who don't know Hudson Highland is the former executive search arm of TMP Worldwide (The Monster Board). TMP punted the firm not too long ago when it was obvious that the executive search division wasn't making money fast enough for TMP shareholders.

Not surprising since it was a cobbled together division of boutique firms they had bought in cities around the globe. Not only are mergers between search firms difficult (as I mentioned in an earlier post) those difficulties are amplified when you try to do it on a global scale. Perhaps Hudson needs to go on a diet? Well their pr people might want to, considering the following sentence:

one of the world's leading providers of specialized professional staffing, retained executive search and human capital solutions

Is it just me or did they just say the same thing three times?

Joel On Interviewing Attacked

In Joel Spolsky's Guerilla Guide to Interviewing, he says he likes to ask candidates to: "design a house". The "design a house" question was imported from Microsoft and using it the way Spolsky does is a terrible way to interview.

He states, "I will not hire someone who leaps into the design without asking more about who it's for. Often I am so annoyed that I will give them a hard time by interrupting them in the middle and saying, 'actually, you forgot to ask this, but this is a house for a family of 48-foot tall blind giraffes.'...

Unless you are an architect, the only house you will ever design will be one for yourself. So what's wrong with assuming during an interview that the question referred to a house for yourself?

If you ask me how I pick out a pair of shoes, I will assume you are talking about how I pick out shoes for myself to wear, not that you are asking how I would behave if I were a fashion consultant to someone else.

Imagine this:

Interviewer: Joe and Tom have $21 total. Joe has $20 more than Tom. How much does Tom have?

Candidate: 50 cents.

Interviewer: No, it's 60 cents. This takes place in a country where there are 120 cents in a dollar. You should have asked me to clarify that.


If you are actually trying to hire the best people, using this question the way Spolsky describes won't tell you much of anything.
Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters

Heidrick's Struggle

Walt Disney Co. said its board chose executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to help it find a new chief executive officer when Disney CEO Michael Eisner steps down.
The board expects to announce a successor to Eisner by June 2005, Disney said in an e-mailed statement. Eisner has said he will step down when his contract ends in September 2006.

Disney's board last month said company President Robert Iger will be the only internal candidate considered, along with outsiders, to succeed Eisner and said it would hire a search firm.

The board has said Iger is "highly qualified" and an "outstanding executive." In a Fortune magazine article in September, Eisner said he as no plans to remain a director or return as chairman.

Via The New York Post

The New York Times has a long article about Iger and succession that was accessible without subscription when I checked today. But then when I tested this post it didn't work. If you have a subscription You can read it here.

Otherwise you can read it here

Grow During Hard Times

Historically, greater changes in competitive position have been achieved in times of uncertainty than during a steady or improving environment.

While it may be tempting to play defense it is precisely during difficult times that a renewed will to win and well-calculated offence can deliver the most benefits.

True growth companies do not view themselves as cyclical. Nor do they accept cyclical downward adjustments to their growth expectations. They simply recognize that when conditions change, strategies and tactics must also change.

Companies have headed toward stagnation when management lowered growth expectations or backed away from the commitment to grow. Growth is not always linear, but it should be a constant requirement.

During our most recent fiscal year, when some companies were cutting back, we increased R&D spending by 16%. That investment pays off: about two-thirds of our revenues come from products or therapies introduced during the past two years.

The will to grow and the will to win are inextricably linked. Growth companies are highly competitive; they hate losing. But since true winning is measured over time, a quick, apparent victory that sacrifices the future isn't winning at all.

The will to win has a flip side: not giving up when you are temporarily behind. Staying in the game until a new product can be introduced or until an investment has had a chance to pay off is acritical ingredient in long-term success.
Art Collins, CEO of Medtronic

Taking Stock

I don't feel that recruiting firms should be publicly traded firms (I don't have a good reason for this it's just an emotional reaction.

Also I don't think they make good investments either. They are at the mercy of economic conditions and are only as good as their consultants. If one or two key business developers leave it can really hurt their revenue stream.

Also when you are publicly traded you have to answer to shareholders every quarter and that can cause problems from a strategic planning perspective.

Consider Canadian search firm Caldwell Partners. Its stock has been underperforming lately and now is facing pressure from shareholders to do something about it.

"We're not for sale and won't be for sale . . . in any shape, size or form," Douglas Caldwell said yesterday, a day after the largest holder of the company's publicly traded non-voting shares said it is "exploring all possibilities" for maximizing the value of its investment in Caldwell. "We've had no offers or expressions of interest in buying the business."

He added, however, that if an offer were to materialize, "we [would] have an obligation to our shareholders to look carefully at it and have our board scrutinize it."

But Mr. Caldwell, who is also the firm's chairman and chief executive officer, indicated that its focus is on acquisitions -- possibly in the United States -- saying market conditions for such a move have improved substantially after four poor years.

Acquisitions are also problematic in our field. When one search firm buys another what are they buying really? Search firms don't manufacture anything so we have no plants or capital equipment. We have at best fancy offices and a good database. The real value in any search firm are the consultants it employs. But consultants are people and they can't be bought and sold. I was once involved in a merger of two executive search firms. I was with the firm that was bought. Some of us left immediately. The rest stayed for no longer than two years. So the buyer essentially paid a lot of money for a temporary workforce and some resumes.

Not. Real. Bright.

More on Caldwell here

The Most Famous Canadian

As everyone is the world knows by now, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp is running a contest to discover The Greatest Canadian.

But, really folks, you and I know that greatness is not measurable.

What you end up with is Deb Grey, Canada's first female leader of a biker gang, promoting Pierre Trudeau because she found him sexy when she was in junior high. And nobody promoting Gabriel Dumont. And everybody whining that it isn't fair.

So, I'm starting a more reasonable contest on this blog. THE MOST FAMOUS CANADIAN. That, at least is measurable in objective terms. If Shania Twain is selling a few million records a year and maybe 10,000 people in the world know who Johnny Macdonald was, then the Ms Nice Flat Gut deserves to win. Doesn't she?

So, come on, friends, use the Comments section to cast a vote. And please indicate your point of origin. Candidates get one point per Canadian vote. Two points per US vote. And three points for each vote from outside the Canadian world.

Ay Yi Yi, The Resume Wiki

Funk soul brother, Jeremy at Ensight, has a wicked frikkin' feature called The Resume Wiki.

ResumeWiki is a community edited resume centre. You post your profile (goals, etc) and resume and anyone is free to edit it or post comments on it. You are free to omit personal information (this is primarily about improving your resume, not getting you exposure).

Have you ever heard of such a thing? Far out, dude! This is really unique. So check it out, now!

PS: Wicki. Isn't that a funky word? I hate it. It seems so...odd. I mean, "blog" makes some sense. Apparently it comes from "www" but that doesn't mean "world wide wicki". How about "collaborative blog" shortened to "coblog" or "cog"? Or Wide Open Blog shortened to Wog.

The Visions of Johanna

Ain't it just like the night to play tricks
when you're tryin' to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we're all
doin' our best to deny it...
In this room, the heat pipes just cough.
The country music station plays soft,
But there's nothing really nothing to turn off.
Just Louise, and her lover so entwined,
And these visions, of Johanna, that conquer my mind.
Bob Dylan's girl has published a book. It be called: Hiring The Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets & Science Of Hiring Technical People.

She got a nice endorsement from Joel Spolsky, the founder of Fog Creek Software whose essay on interviewing I serialized on this blog. He writes: "This clear and comprehensive book joins Peopleware and The Mythical Man Month as must-reads for technical managers."

I'm impressed. And, for those who are interested, there's a vision of Johanna here. Though I don't have anything on Louise. Or her friend.

Face Reading

Face reading is part of the job for Wolf Gugler, president of an executive search firm with offices in Oklahoma and Canada. Gugler takes note when candidates' necks blush in interviews.

"Sometimes it can be attributed to nervousness, but it may be a telling factor as to how they'll respond to a customer or boss when put on the spot," Gugler says. He also notices when candidates lose eye contact.

I have no further comment. I just like it when an old friend of mine is quoted in a newspaper. Good job Wolf you old face reader you!

Full article here

Resume Quiz II

What should your resume resemble, an invoice for services rendered or an invitation to a fancy dinner?

Which one of these would you prefer to see in a resume?
A. Efficiently hired, strategically trained, cost-effectively supervised, and objectively motivated subordinate staff.
B. - hired, trained, supervised and motivated subordinate staff

Grade these Good or Bad:
a. A resume is more than two pages long.
b. A resume is jam-packed with words without any empty spaces.

Grade these Yes or No:
Will it help you get a job if you insert puffy adverbs in front of all your verbs?
(eg. successfully completed, efficiently managed)

Will employers think that you're after an unchallenging and irresponsible position in which your ability, training and experience can be ineffectively and unprofitably ulitized unless you tell them otherwise?

Do employers want you to announce on your own say-so that you are an organized, hard-working, heads-down professional?

If you worked somewhere from 1990 to 1991, should you specify the months you started and left so that the employer knows it was more than December to January?

Does an employer want simple facts and figures about your experience?

Should you include a photo of yourself in your resume?

Should you include graduation dates?

Should you list positions you held over ten years ago?

Should you try to hide the fact that you are over forty?



You have to tread very carefully if you are looking for another opportunity while still employed. If your boss finds out it could cause problems in your current job - especially if you don't end up leaving. And the worst case scenario is that you could be fired if they feel you were looking on company time and using the company's resources to aid your job search.

There are two questions around the subject featured in the Boston Globe which deal with the subject.

One deals with the possibility that your boss might ask you directly if you are looking for another job. This is a loaded question and is fraught with all sorts of implications depending on your response.

The best response in the article (in my opinion) is this one : If you're looking but don't want to show your hand, simply respond: ''I'm always thinking about my future and exploring opportunities here and elsewhere. If anything gets serious, you can be sure I'll let you know."

One thing to remember is that your boss is also taking calls from headhunters as well and would definitely consider a better opportunity if it came along. So another way of phrasing it would be: "No I am not looking but I get the occasional call from headhunters pitching a job as I am sure you do" This might remind your boss that taking a call from a headhunter doesn't mean you are looking.

Client Bites Recruiter

A candidate was submitted to a client company by a recruiter.

The candidate was not a match for the job so, during the interview, the company asked him for a referral of someone who was more suitable for the position. The candidate gave two names.

The recruiter then told his client that if these referrals led to hires, he expected to be given credit for them since they came from his candidate.

The client said "No way. It is part of our recruiting process to get referrals from everyone we interview". Inotherwords, it was their interviewing process that brought these referrals to light.

The recruiter objected that the candidate was only there to be asked for referrals because of the work he performed. What should the recruiter do?

from Semiconductor Jobs


That's what our Country is doing.

Canada's international economic competitiveness has sagged again, according to the annual global competitiveness report released Wednesday by the World Economic Forum.

Canada fell to 15th this year from 12th in 2003, while northern Europe, the United States and Asia remained home to the most competitive economies

Not only did we fall this year. It's part of a continuing trend:

In 1998, Canada stood sixth in this ranking and in 2004 we stand 15th," commented Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and chairman of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, the forum's Canadian partner.

Canada's competitiveness rating has declined in all but one of the past six years, and "among the larger economies . . . we've fallen from fifth to eighth," Martin added.

So who is kicking our butt?

Finland kept the top spot for the third time in the last four years, followed by the United States.

Rounding out the top 10 were Sweden, Taiwan, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and Iceland.

That's right Iceland is beating us.

How pathetic is that?

Read more here.

Business Comm: How To Speak Persuasively

I am a professor of rhetoric, I analyze discourse in a number of ways, including persuasiveness, for a living. And the basic rule in straightup argumentative persuasion is audience analysis.

It doesn't matter if one audience, whose decision is basically irrelevant at this point, found Cheney dominating. Speaking to the right audience is the single most important factor in persuading an electorate.

And on that score, Edwards was vastly smarter. I said it before, Cheney addressed wonks, Edwards normal viewers.

When I show students clips from presidential debates, they have little [of the background needed] to make sense of a flurry of details, the way Cheney argued.

They need to be told why something is important and have it boiled down. They are not unintelligent, they just need the speaker to help them listen to complicated material.

Cheney did not try to help the listener, he was speaking to his base and to pundits. I believe it was not a clear win either way on the merits, but in terms of address, Edwards made the right choice.
via, Wed Oct 6, 2004

A Day in the Life....

I found this quote from a British newspaper : describing the world of executive search:

"This is a world in which long-term relationships are built up with executives, who in turn use the executive search company that appointed them when they are in a position to hire others. Those relationships are carefully nurtured and maintained, providing a constant support for executives in difficulty. New candidates and old contacts are kept sweet through frequent contact, with lunches, cocktail bashes and the quiet chat over a gin and tonic, or two."

Wow! My life sure is glamorous.


I would describe it more like this:

This is a world of hundreds of phone calls. Of database mining and resume reading until you go blind. It is a world of clients with unrealistic expectations of market conditions and of candidates who mysteriously disappear off the face of the earth at the minute they get cold feet. But most of all it is a world of people who have no friends or acquaintances of a professional nature. Who when asked if they know anyone who would be a fit for a particular job develop professional amnesia over everyone they have ever worked with over their entire career.

Resume Blues

This was in a mediocre resume from an OK guy.

· Having in-depth experience in handling Accounts, Finance, Auditing and Taxation   functions in mid sized organizations.
English isn't his first language but he didn't have a native Canadian read his resume to correct minor errors.
· CGA from Certified General Accountants of Ontario and CPA from University of   XXX, USA.
He's got this in the Professional Qualifications section too. What's the point of repeating it?
· Well organised, prioritise the activities and focus to complete the assignments in time.
· Strong interpersonal and communication skills.
· Hard working, adaptable and willing to update skills in latest concepts and   technology.
· Analytical, detailed-oriented and ability to manage multi-tasks
This is "mere fluff". That's what they call it in law when the restaurant on the corner advertises "Best Roast Beef In Town". It's meaningless self-advertisement; not to be trusted.

I'll bet any money that if I asked this guy for evidence of these characteristics he'd be taken aback - which means he just put the stuff in without thinking about it because he thinks it's what I want to hear.

Listen, friends, we take it for granted that you want us to think you're a highly-motivated and organized person even if you're not. So, telling us how great you are without evidence is meaningless. If you didn't win a prize for it or a special commendation, leave it out.
Professional Qualifications
· Certified General Accountant (CGA) from the Certified General Accountants of   Ontario.
· Certified Public Accountant (CPA) from the University of XXX, USA.
· Chartered Accountant (CA) from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.
This section should have been at the top of the resume. No dates. He didn't want me to see that he just got his CGA this year and got his CA in the 70s.
References: Available upon request.
Waste of space. I'll ask for them whether you offer or not.
Education: MISSING
I emailed him about his education. He sent a reply without a date. I emailed back asking when he graduated. 1973. He obviously left out his education so I wouldn't know. He also left out all of his experience before 1989. Is that a bad idea? No, but as soon as we see a missing date we know the reason.

Motivating Staff

Fortune Magazine has a fascinating series of articles about China in their most recent issue (which should still be on the stands - so go get it).

Most of the articles are on the website here although you may need a subscription to read them all.

One article that isn't on the site is about the huge city of Chongqing which is in Western China.

One Chinese entrepreneur featured in this article is a man named Yin Minshan who is the 66 year old founder and president of a company called Lifan which makes motorcycles.

Yin's method of motivating his staff? A sign over the front entrance that reads:



I don't think you could get away with that here in Canada.

BTW last year Lifan made a pre-tax profit of 15 million on sales of 553 million. The company now has foreign sales of 200 million and already has a factory in Vietnam with plans to open plants in India, Pakistan and Bulgaria. I guess the sign works.

Resume Quiz

I used to say that writing a resume isn't rocket science but, apparently, it is. Test your brilliance with this little quiz.

Which one of these would you rather see on your resume?

A. Efficiently hired, strategically trained, cost-effectively supervised, and objectively motivated subordinate staff.

B. - initiated a cost-control program and intense sales training effort. Result: department sales increased 25%, costs decreased 10%.


Business Communication: Mars vs Venus?

Bush isn't an awful public speaker; he's an awful debater.

Some people talk by arguing. They make points and attempt to defend them. A win is convincing their audience of the correctness of a position. A loss is concession that the position is untenable. Winning is more important than the underlying topic.

Some people are synthesizers. They listen, digest, and synthesize what they hear into a cohesive whole. This is how Bush works.
Mark Poling via Roger L Simon

Does this ring true, readers, based on your experience? Some people don't like "arguing", it's true. But isn't that because it's hard to defend their belief in astrology? (PS: Notice the bald statement that debaters are sophists).

Fishin' For Souls: Headhuntress Goes Straight

Transit ads in west-end bus shelters that have displayed sexy lingerie and the world's tightest jeans now feature a different invitation: come to church.

"We are not selling a product," says Rev. Cheri Di Novo, the driven, plain-speaking former executive head hunter turned minister. "It is a welcoming gesture."

She's blunt about misdemeanours in her youth and her discomfort when she walked into a church for the first time as an adult, one who owned her own executive placement firm, was married and had two children. "I thought I'd be the first to be judged. I did drugs, I'd slept around. What church would want me?

The Toronto Star

You Heard It Here First.

Some time ago I mentioned (on this very blog) about the rising demand for Auditors generated by the Sarbanes-Oxley act.

Now the big media - Canadian Business is taking notice. This week's cover story features 4 accountants with the title "Revenge of the Nerds" and the following money quote:

"Still, one big clue about the magnitude of the coming extra workload is the
demand for chartered accountants in the marketplace. Jeff Holloway, the
manager of Toronto operations for Robert Half International Inc., a
recruitment firm specializing in accounting and finance, has seen a huge
increase. "The demand, at this stage, may in fact outweigh the supply of
candidates that are available," he says, adding that salaries in the areas
of corporate governance, internal audit and business risk management have
gone up 8% to 10% in the past year.

According to Sue Paterson, senior manager of national campus recruitment at
KPMG, on top of the 20% increase in university recruitment in order to
accommodate the "unprecedented growth" in the industry related to
Sarbanes-Oxley and Canadian Public Accountability Board work, her
firm--which employs about 2,600 accountants in Canada--is looking to fill
350 positions at the senior accountant and managerial levels. It's the same
situation at Ernst & Young, which employs more than 1,000 accountants in
Canada. "Our biggest challenge, without question, is the need to recruit and
retain talent to be able to carry out audits," says Pagnutti. "All the
change that has happened has resulted in more robust audits, and as a result
the amount of time that we are spending doing audits has increased. And
Section 404 requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley have also created demand for
resources, in order to be able to help companies comply." Firms are looking
at all sorts of ways to increase their staffing numbers, including
recruiting them from their international offices."

Told ya.

The Ugly Americans?

Do you ever get the impression from the news that all Americans are super-sized? I was in Detroit on Sunday night and if you think you can believe me, I'm telling you that they're not. They're just normal.

And, hey, I hate to over-generalize but I was at a rock concert and somehow, the people seemed more relaxed and happy and friendly than in Toronto. It might have been because there were lots of guys selling big glasses of cold beer in the centre of every hallway and lots of people were drinking them.

And, one more thing. When the main show started, everyone was out of his and her seat from the word go. I remember going to a concert in Buffalo and that wasn't the case there and it sure wasn't so last time I was at a big show in Toronto, but, here, it really made it a lot of fun.

But, then, this was the Vote For Change concert so these were the good Americans, weren't they? Now, the other guys, I'm sure that they fit the bill.

Fast & Easy IT For Small Business

Regular reader, Darren Barefoot recently set up E-BIZBLOG.CA

We all know the advantages that large orgs get from technology. And, those same solutions can work for small business.

We are firm believers that technology can improve business processes for small and micro enterprises.

So, we've created this blog to help small business learn more about fast and easy Internet and low-cost technology solutions suited to small business.

Simulate Moveable Type Using Blogger

Bill of Bill's World is an inventive guy. He came up with a simple way for people using Blogger to simulate Moveable Type which allows you to post a bit of your entry on the main page of your blog with a link to the rest of the article for those who are interested in reading on.

I found his idea very interesting and might give a try.

The Cold Hard Facts of Life.

I talk to up to a hundred people a day sometimes. I get resumes from lots of people that I recruit for potential opportunities. Some aren't a fit for the jobs I am working on. Should I call them all back and tell them?

Nick Crocodilos thinks so:

But some people who call themselves headhunters are little more than coldhearted opportunists, who are just looking to build up their list of job candidates to impress their clients.

Sorry but most clients I know aren't impressed by a list of "job candidates" unless they are qualified.

The headhunter has an obligation to follow up with you, even if his client decides against further interviews.

Just like the candidate has an obligation to return my calls when he or she has decided the job is no longer of interest? The return phone call is a two way street.

Such headhunters destroy their reputations when they treat job candidates like this.

Why does he keep using the term "job candidates"? We all know what a candidate is.

Look I'll let you in on a secret. We all hate being the bearers of bad news. Sometimes clients don't want to see our candidate for reasons that are mysteries to even us. Sometimes we have candidates who simply can't take no for an answer. The best way to look at it is this: If they want me they will call me if not forget about it.

I have been on plenty of job interviews myself and if I didn't hear back I just assumed I wasn't being moved to the next step.

I know what some of you are thinking: "But I want to know why I was not considered". Trust me you wont get the real truth even if they call you. Here's the truth: They didn't like you. They liked someone else better. Get over it. Move on.

Parrallel Universe?

"The recession and dot-com implosion forced many people to change jobs multiple times in recent years,' notes James Hunt, an executive recruiter in Manhattan."

A recession strictly defined is when the economy CONTRACTS for at least two consecutive quarters (6 months). Despite the use of the word this hasn't happened since about 1992.

The American economy did contract a couple of times in 2000-2001 but never for more than one quarter and always rebounding very strongly the following quarter.

In fact in the past three years it has grown an average of 2.5%.

Perhaps Mr. Hunt got into recruiting after 1992 and hasn't experienced a real recession which often takes a year or two to really recover from. 1992 was bad but talk to some headhunters who were around in 1980-81. That one was a doozy.

Oh the quote came from an article about email security which you can read here.