Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Interview Game

Everyone has a price - mine is chocolate. ~Author Unknown
One of my coworkers who has been with the organization for next to forever told me one day that he envied the wide and varied experience I've had working in so many industries. I thanked him for the compliment. It was a very nice way to say I've never been able to hold a job.
Well, that's not strictly true. Most of the time I changed jobs by choice either to get more money or to move somewhere warmer. I did leave one company to avoid being a casualty in a political housecleaning and got “re-engineered” out of a job, thanks to a political housecleaning, at another. More recently, I've been a contractor, which always means being on the verge of being out of work. I was lucky enough to be with one company for almost seven years before the contracts ran out, so I was thrilled to finally get a stable job again.
I ended up working for the last client to whom I was contracted. Since I had been there for a year, they pretty much knew me and what my capabilities were. As a result, the job interview was pretty simple.
“So, you wanna work here?”
“Better go to Personnel and apply, then.”
Most of the many interviews I have undertaken over the years have not been so succinct and pleasant. In fact, job interviews are boring and nerve-racking at the same time. They're boring in that you've heard these silly questions before; nerve-racking in that you're constantly watching what you say, trying to come up with just the right response, trying to gage the effect of the response, and trying to figure out if that look means something bad or is merely indigestion.
Hiring is a crap-shoot. My personal experience in hiring people was about 50-50 between good hires and not-so-good hires. So the process is stressful on both sides. That probably contributes to the pitiful nature of some of the questions that are tossed at the applicant. I have been asked some dumb questions in interviews. Some of these were unique, some I heard every time I walked into the office. Here are some unique questions and one common one to which I had a unique answer.
“Do you really make this much?”
A Personnel manager, holding my resume, opened the interview with that gem. What did he expect me to say? “Hell, no. I just pumped up the numbers so you'd offer me more money.” Nothing gets a conversation off on the right foot better than questioning the person's honesty.
“How can your company make stuff cheaper than [well-known and much bigger competitor]? You guys must make a lousy product.”
Another great opener. “Boy, you must work for a company that makes crap.” Well, gee, thanks. I like you, too. Oh, by the way, your dog’s ugly. What did I actually say? “Ours is cheaper because we only charge for the product, instead of having to charge for super bowl commercials.”
“I have a friend who's an airline pilot. He makes $200,000 a year. Another friend in New Jersey makes $400,000. Why do you want to work for what we would pay you?” (The top-end salary for the job I was trying to get was just under $100,000. The starting salary, obviously, wasn't going to be that high but was still respectable.)
Even as I write that question, I find it hard to believe that it was ever asked. I immediately thought of several apt replies. “I don't have a pilot's license.” “I never liked the idea of selling drugs.” “I dunno. Why do you work for what they pay you?” “Because no one is offering that kind of money for this kind of job, you nitwit.” Lord, I wish I'd have used one of them.
“How do we know we wouldn't be making a mistake in hiring you?” (Asked by a vice-president, no less.)
Golly, I thought that's why I've talked to sixteen different people here today, y'know? What I actually said was better. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “You're not making a mistake. But, if after a couple of months you think you did, you can always do something about it, can't you?” Believe it or not, I got the job.
“What is your greatest weakness?”
Almost every interview I ever endured had that question. Has anyone ever answered that question honestly? “Well, my cocaine use bothers me a lot.” Or how about: “I guess it’s my tendency to go into a homicidal rage whenever I fear rejection.” For the record, when I hired people, I never, ever, ever asked that silly question.
I finally got really tired of those words from prospective bosses and Personnel types. So finally, on a contract position interview, I looked at the supervisor who asked the queston, and said, “You mean besides my chocolate addiction?” She looked at me with wide eyes and almost shouted, “You too? I love chocolate!” So I said that, if she hired me, I'd bake her a set of my absolutely delicious low-fat brownies.
I got the job. She got the brownies.

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