Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tips for interviews

A friend’s son, in his final year at college, appeared for a job interview and was asked to participate in a group discussion on, “Elections or IPL? Which should be postponed?”. Friend was furious that the selection process had been reduced to mockery and I tried to explain that the topic was irrelevant. What the interviewers looked for was how well the candidates marshaled their thoughts and presented their views.

I remember reading that Microsoft delighted in asking questions such as, “how many barbers are there in the USA?” You were supposed to start with a known premise (approx population of USA) and work your way through logically. The process of reasoning was what was evaluated, not the actual answer.

Richard Dawkins says in an introduction to an article, “Mirrors of the mind” by Richard Gregory,

“For years as a college tutor at Oxford, I would try the intelligence and reasoning powers of entrance candidates by asking them at interview to muse aloud on the conundrum of why mirror images appear left-right reversed but not upside down. It is a provocative puzzle, which is hard to situate among academic disciplines. Is it a question in psychology, in physics, in philosophy, in geometry or just commonsense? I wasn’t necessarily expecting my candidates to ‘know the right answer’. I wanted to hear them think aloud, wanted to see if the question piqued their interest and their curiosity. If it did, they would probably be fun to teach.”

So, it was the demonstration of passion that mattered, not how much you knew.

I could not find a link to Richard Gregory’s piece where he has explained the conundrum of why mirror images don’t reverse top-down, but if you wish to know the answer, here is one source.


CodeNameV said...

Nice article. A friend of mine told me one such interview-story about Thomas Alva Edison. I dont know how far it is true, didnt try to find out if its true also!! It goes like

Thomas Alva Edison just invented the electric bulb and was on the look out for an able sales manager. There were a large number of applicants. During the interview, Edison would offer each candidate a chair at dinner table and would serve hot soup. Most of the candidates were sent out with out any questions asked. Only one person (whos name my frnd could never tell me :) till date) was finally interviewed and eventually selected. Then this guy asked Edison, why every one was sent out without an interview and why he was actually interviewed. Edison replied "When I presented the other candidates with hot soup, they didnt even taste the soup before using salt and pepper. You were the only one who actually asked the question 'is pepper and salt in the soup enough?' to yourself."

Some times right frame of mind and thought process are very much necessary and in today's world this thought process is certainly an important factor because the logic behind this thought process is the one which leads to a conclusion.

Rachna said...

I think it makes sense. To see how people think on their feet and under pressure. Basically, to test what one can glean from one's knowledge and present it in a logical manner - a great tool for interviewers.

Balajisblog said...

Raj - I do not know about mirror image conundrum, but, for my first job, I distinctly recollect that one of the panelists asked me - "why do you have a moustache" ? He did not even bother to wait for my answer. I got selected in the company, where I served honourably for 19 years. Assuming that moustache is a sign of manhood, having reached senior management cadre a few years back, and after switching a few jobs, I came to the conclusion that shaving that very visible sign of manhood is a good way to blend in completely with such cadre. So, I knocked it off a few months ago. While I was in the process of removing it, the question that the interviewer asked me when I was " raw and innocent" flashed in my mind. I wonder whether the experienced talent spotter that he was, could quickly guage that I could rise up the ladder in career and one day would wisen up and remove the stain !! I will polish these thoughts, and plug it in my blog one of these days.... Balaji

Raj said...

Codename V: Very true. That was a nice one about Edison.

Rachna, I agree. But, it will leave the interviewee clueless.

Balaji: Can you describe your emotions on the day you parted with your dear moustache?. Somewhere in my archives, you will find a moving epitaph to mine.

Indu said...

That's an awesome one, Raj! I've been following your blog for quite some time now and it makes really interesting reading!

Well.. On the interview bit, one of the panelists during my interview asked me this question - Where is fraud? Wondering what to answer, I hesitantly replied, Fraud could be anywhere. To which he raised a counter question - In that case, do you call me a fraud. I promptly replied - I am yet to find that out! The panelist, in due course, became my immediate superior and a great friend after which I asked him what exactly the answer was to that question. He replied that there was no right or wrong answer to that question.

Well.. I think the key to any successful interview handling pressure!

Raj said...

Indu, thanks. What a fraud your boss was!