Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Campus Interviewing

Had a chance to visit an Engineering college campus and conduct a day full of interviews. It was a long time since I had been to a college campus, usually the people I get to interview are 2 year experienced people with fake resumes or 4 year experienced people with even fakier ( if thats a word) resumes.

The only good motivation for agreeing to go to this college campus interview was, I could get away from the drudgery of work and the college was close to where I stay( evil plans of returning back at 2:00 PM and get a 2hr sleep). There were other perks that were lurking around in the back of my mind but lets not get into those now.

The HR folks ( ah! bless them! for being so beaut!) sort of nudged us engineers by saying some thing equalant to "now don't get too geeky on these kids! they are just normal people". I was looking for a place to bury myself, when I found out that a couple of engineers who came with me actually took it as a compliment. The HRs must be thinking "thanks to hawkeye's short-circuit law... we can fool these geeks anyday.." I interviewed 20 college kids and oblidgingly selected 19.

Okay! I cant hold it back no more! Guess how many hot chics were there among those 20 people.. guess.. hmm.. guess again..! yup! you are right a big ZERO! The lazy old cow, who accompanied me for this interviewing thing, who is gzillion years old and already looks half dead kept interviewing chic after chic. I was thinking, "God! what you doin to me! maaan". There was one just one girl among the 20 i interviewed and all that was hot about her was her lunch box.

I decided to make the interview process very interesting by framing the first question as follows "Can you tell me 2 questions which you would like your interviewer to ask you". As soon as the candidate says those questions, I asked those to them back again ( its a neat way being lazy without looking like it). most people were surprised by this question and kept stupidly blinking like " do you want me to tell subjects or programs".

I noticed several interesting things during the interview

1) Right answers were directly proportional to confidence.

If a person got a tough question first up, he invariably fumbled even the easier questions that followed later. I decided to make one guy sweat it out by giving him a tough programming question, he expectedly fumbled. Next I asked him a fundametal question in co-ordinate geometry (distance between two points equation). he couldn't answer it. Then I hand held him ( not literally..for those smart alecs!!) through pythagoras theorem etc.. he was slowly able to solve it. Then, he slowly picked up momentum as I increased the level of difficulty he was able to answer everything.

Human Brain takes time to ramp up

2) Dont ask them what they want to do. they don't know!!!!

Okay! I have been through this phase so I could understand these folks. But I wanted to humor myself before giving em' the job. So I asked them. "Tell me atleast 1 thing which you know really happens in the software industry". The best answer I got was "they execute projects". No one knows what happens inside a company. They dont know what sort of designations are available ( except CEO and Project Manager). They dont have preferences " I 'll work on anything Sir!". Was the popular answer I got!.

3) You get random, outlandish, tense & nervous people! Beware!

I had the most bizzaire interviewing experience! Ya! I got folks at all points in the spectrum. But there was one guy who showed up unkept with an unshaven beard, torn T-Shirt and some faded Jean thing. The panelist who was supposed to interview him was so scared of him that she wanted me to join her in interviewing this fellow. From the looks of it, I thought he just survived some tornado outside and straight away came to attend this interview.

The girl stupidly asked him why he showed up in such a dress ( it doesnt really matter). He bluntly replied that she should be interested in what he had to say than his dress ( boy! did I agree with him). On seeing his marks, I found out that he was School first in his XII Std but he had sacked and given-up in his college and consequently ended up with some pretty average scores. Before I moved to my standard first question ( "can you tell me 2 questions"), the wretched creature next to me yelled " why are your marks so low ?". Apart from being indecent, it was completely unnecessary for the interview. If we selected em based on the marks why have an interview at all. His reply made me shout aloud "Lord! love Howard Roark". He said "I don't believe in numbers , if you feel I can do the job give it to me". Boy! this kid had balls!. Ignoring ackward stupid gasps from my other panelist who wasn't coming to terms with this person at all, I asked him "can you tell me 2 questions "( yah! I am obsessed). This kid didn't expect this and said "Operating Systems and Data Structures".

The anti-climax was that the kid had stacked up everything on his ability to answer anything that was thrown at him. He had removed marks et all from the equation and put too much pressure on the tech interview. He probably backed himself to do something he wasn't ready for. He ended doing the interview poorly and didnt answer fairly easy questions. was a good experience in anycase. Nothing wrong with this fellow, just that before you chose a tough path you have to make sure you can survive it. The latter is more difficult than the former. If he were to pick up on his tech strengths I am sure he would be a valuable asset.

Ramesh whose reads this blog ( Hi Ramesh :-) ), interviewed me for my first job and we both knew I didn't do that well in his round, but I was selected (I wonder why! :-) ).Well... the underlying point is interviews are mostly random and unless you spread out the evaluation over many factors and many people you may not get a consistent evaluation of a candidate. The reason is tenseness and tough first questions can throw off a person and thereby cause aberrations in performance!

There was another tense person who was attending his first ever interview, he was so tense that he started stammering horribly, I asked him to calm down and write whatever he wanted to say. He was technically good and I wrote in my assesment comments "forget the talk! he is really good"

On my way out! I heard my co-panelist and a HR person dicussing; the HR was saying "you know what, this guy was stammerring so much that I rejected him. what would he do in client telecons". To which this girl replied " ya.. even we had one very arrogant guy for the interview! we rejected him because of his bad attitude! "

Well! it takes all kinds to make up this world!


Anonymous said...

The guy in rags proved your conviction wrong. It does show what is inside the rags on a statistical average but those you were referring to are abberations.

A fundamental question: what can you judge in 30 minutes about some one's capability which he has accumulated over years of college education! It boils down to law of chances; those who picked a few good ones can consider themselves lucky.

Hawkeye said...

not sure what u mean by my "conviction". but i do think, it doesnt matter what he is wearing or how his college marks contrast with his +2 marks. he got a 60% which is the min required to be in an interview. if he does well in the interview he is good enough.

any the answer to your fundametal question is: nothing is good enough then to test a person, how good is a 3 hr semester-end-exam to test 6 months of hard work and education, how good is a 3 hr +2 board exam to test 14 years of school education (the future rests on this one exam). if we keep going like this there is no end..

thats how the competitive world works. u must be able to handle 30 minutes or 1 hour whatever is given to you.

the best we can do is to refine the process more. which i guess will take time.

/*"the underlying point is interviews are mostly random and unless you spread out the evaluation over many factors and many people you may not get a consistent evaluation of a candidate. The reason is tenseness and tough first questions can throw off a person and thereby cause aberrations in performance"*/

and btw 45 mins - 1 hr will give a sufficient idea of whether the person is doing well or not.. aberrations are caused mostly bcoz f the 2 factors mentioned above..

Anonymous said...

Consistency shows up as law of averages works (which recursively applies to itself) in all cases. if you pick those who have scored more than 80% for interviews, the likelihood of getting good ones is high. If you have to show what you have in 30 mins., you should have done that way all through your life and that is what is reflected in your marks in first standard, fifth standard, +2, B.E. and so on. I guess your non-belief in grade system is contracdicting what you are looking for. If you scavenge the rumbles you get only dirt. Occasionally you find treasure but that is not norm.

Hawkeye said...

completely agree with all your points! but i suspect you arent readin me correctly..

I think we are saying the same thing. If I say; grades are important and it should be one of the top 3-5 factors in an interview. But If one other factor is so strong that it offsets *relatively* poor grades then it should be considered as "requirements met".

does this put us on the same page! just that this keeps the mind open for one of the aberrations u mentioned..

I dont think I expressed a non-belief in the grade system. I am not sure why i came off like that!

these 2 sentences reflect the opposite!

/* He had removed marks et all from the equation and put too much pressure on the tech interview*/

/*unless you spread out the evaluation over many factors and many people you may not get a consistent evaluation */

infact i specifically mentioned aberration is when poor interview performance is caused due to some special factors. the norm would be that a good interview performance reflects a good candidate.

if you believe in marks and grades which are evaluated in less than 3 hours then you should believe in the interview system to which is important is subjective and best left to the interviewer!

but i do dislike too much grade emphasis! it reflects some old mentality.. if you want to judge a person based on how someone else has judged him..just set a cut off mark and select people without interviewing.

Grades dont really reflect how good a person can be at work. work and exam conditions are different. there are so many good people in the industry with average grades that this cannot even be considered an exception or an aberration.

Anonymous said...

I am not saying grades are the only factor. They are a factor in the rubrics for selection. Again, grades play a role in selecting candidates for interviews who are fresh from college (that is what we are talking about here and not interviewing experienced people). May be I am old (I have an ace up on you on that). Agreed that there is always a way in cheating a system (Chandra Babu's song is apt in this case - Buddhiyulla manitharellam vetri kanbathillai; vetri petra manitherallam buddhisali illai) but that is exception and it is difficult to separate such people. They will be caught in their own web, if not here, somewhere else. If they are not caught, then we need to acknowledge them and offer them opportunities to become managers (as they can execute every time and make the system work and that deserves credit and praise). I do not believe in grades based on my personal experience but that is my opinion. But I also believe in statistical measures and you find good among the good and bad among the bad, on an average. I remember movies where in the interview scenes questions such as "What is the capital of ...." to which the interviewee responds "Why do I need to know this as part of my job which has nothing to do with this". How does the interviewee know what the intention of the interviewer is? May be he is being tested on how he is responding to absurd questions? May be the job requires (interviewer probably knows better about that) that kind of skills where they have to handle people who come up with absurd questions, irrelevant to the problem on hand. Attire is another factor in an interview. That reflects their attitude towards the interview and how seriously they take the job. Not that they have to dress up, but definitely they should not dress down - that is within their control. If they do not care about their presentation, they are not going to care about their company's presentation which usually translates to non-conforming parts in company's products and poor quality output.
The comment about 'hot chic' clearly brings out the intention in interviews of this nature. You are there just to have fun and did not care about the candidate that you want to bring on board for the company.

Kogi Kaishakunin said...

I think it is sad that one needs to answer questions like Pythogoras Theorem co-ordinate geomentry. Bollocks mate, you are going to end up employing some moron who has good rote memory. But I like your two question idea.

I feel that yes, you should ask candidates to solve problems. But pay attention to how he goes about trying to solve the problem. Not if he gives you the answer.

(So Bharath, how did you discover Ayn Rand, Kurosowa etc so late in your life. FYI, you used to laugh when I mentioned these at Crescent)

Hawkeye said...

1) I think its obvious that "hot chics" was a joke. No need to expand on it. It does't take much effort to do a serious job in the interview and jest about it afterwards.

2) Answering the other comment! I think distance between 2 points, anybody beyond XII std ( especially campus students should be able to say it). I was asked the same question in my interview and I could do it. That being the case I have qualification to ask this question to another person.

as i said these questions are subjective. just about any question can be called "ballocks". But I am surprised how many mis-interpretations are possible in a fairly simple blog.

non-belief in grades, basing decision of right answers.. all this is really not in the blog (or even suggested by it)

In my opinion 45-60 minutes is enough to get a very good idea about a person.

rather than how right he gets it, its the approach that matters. ever since my TA days I have never focussed onresults grades etc..

I have a soft corner for campus folks.. realy I do.. its mostly based on my own experience. I made them feel as comfy as possible..joked a lot and asked them 1+2 kind of questions . Infact among the 19 i selected 16-17 answered about 5% of the questions satisfactorily..I dont belive is branding students based on marks..infact one guy had a 59.4 aggregate and HR didnt shortlist him..(less than 60) we went and fought that numbers shouldnt be taken into account and he should be sent in..

probably we should be a little bit open minded about interviews and really come to terms that there is no right way to interview! I even like Microsoft interviews and if thats the kind of people they want they r justified in that process. The people who get thro interviews are essentially those who believe in it.

Hawkeye said...

last post by anonymous was good! especially the chandra babu quote.. but the thing is it can be seen in 2 ways..

the 2nd last comment regarding ayn ryand.. dude when did u talk to me about Ayn ryand dude..u kidding me :-)

Anonymous said...

a person in arr fans group referred this blog to me. i am much like the anonymous b4 me, in terms of age. let me call myself anonymous-2.

bharath, i like the way u kept the blog honest. u kept the readers informed about your initial assumption and later dissapointment. i think many people will identify with your style of writing, mostly because u dont show a "i'm holier than thou" attitude many writers show today. i liked the way you politely responded to anonymous-1 with a lot of courtesy. that prompted another elderly anonymous (me) to post a comment here.

it takes a lot of maturity to crack jokes about yourself like geek etc. good keep it up!

i agree with most of your points. i also am surprised why many people decided to argue with you. anonymous-1 unfortunately always took you out of context. the fact that you started interviewing collge students with easy questions in wonderful, good!. i wanted to test your theory about distance between two points.

took out a paper and drew two points and within a minute i could use pytho. theorem to solve it. and its been a decade since i stopped programming and a decade more since i had anything to do with maths. it doesnt require knowledge by rote as someone incorrectly pointed out. its an amazingly good presence-of-mind question. it made me feel good about myself. a good first question to get warmed up! i am thinking of using it myself.

great blog! good humor! .. continue it!

Suresh Ramani said...

I think enough has been said already, but still couldn't resist myself from typing in my opinion ..

1. I really enjoyed the discussions between Anonymous-1 and Bharath .. A-1's policy of stressing on academic performance and presentation will work well in most cases .. its like narrowing the criteria to ensure a high probability of a 'hit' .. but, sometimes one has to really examine the connection between the qualifier (academics/presentation in this case) and the actual thing (the job). If for example, the position for which the candidate is interviewing for will never have to face a client, but has to be good technically to get the job done then the presentation really would't matter. Coming to academics, I really don't believe that the testing system established by the Universities in India are a good judge of ones technical expertise.

For that matter, even the credibility/reliability of the IQ tests are questioned by the experts. In conclusion, I feel that it is not right to judge ones suitability to a position based on such general criteria such as academics and presentation without understanding the actual requirements of the position itself.

2. I think there are lot more fators affecting ones performance than just the "tough first question" and "confidence". There a million (or more!) combinations in which these things could work in the brain .. For ex:- a tough first question can raise the conscious level of some people and answer the rest of the questions easily if they weren't focussing on not answering the question correctly ..

On to my own theories on the subject .. (sorry, I am too lazy to create my own blog :-) .. and it is more relevant here and moreover a lot more people read this blog :-))

The amateur interviewers focus on finding out what the candidate does not know .. A more seasoned interviewer focusses on finding out how a candidate approaches a question/problem .. but, a perfect interview is all about
1. finding what the candidate knows that is relevant to the job position he is being considered for.
2. finding out the candidate's attitude towards the job
3. finding out what affects the candidate's productivity - positive and negative(ex:- pressure/confidence/knowledge/willingness/commitment etc.)

Finally, the sane part of the brain takes control and I shall stop typing now :-)

Aslan said...

re. grades.. what if the college is autonomous n has relative grading [happens in all IITs/NITs- talkin frm 1st hand experience] n the students score high grades by suckin up to their profs in theory/lab classes n the ones who have their dignity n don't get low grades? do u still think the 'lickin arse' attitude will help in, say an IT org? this is more often the case than not. in fact, some cos. have an upper cut-off when they visit high-end colleges to avoid kids who wudn't join [go for MS/MBA] n who have only good tech. knowledge but low IQ n commn. skills.. how wud havin high electrical engg grades help u write good programs. what if ur grades r screwed jus 'cuz u weren't interested in the discipline u chose? probable case.. as u said, u don't know what happens at a s/w firm until ur inside the system. same thing goes for BE. think abt it.. btw v. nice blog!

Anonymous said...