Thursday, 1 November 2007

What they say and what they mean

Long Long Ago, I Made A Promise. I said that I'd get around to writing down what I thought interviewers said and what they actually mean.

Since that post, we've had a new baby. Getting ready for that took a lot of focus off the blog and consequently this post was not written...

... until now!

Now I know you can pick up a book and read lots of this stuff already, and I absolutely implore you to do that if you have time. For those of you who don't have time, here is my quick summary of what I think interviewers might be angling toward.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Recognise that if you are unprepared for this, then there is no limit to how much rope you have in hand to hang yourself with. Don't adlib this one.

The question seeks to find out how you see yourself, how you think others see you, how you handle critisism and also importantly what your goals are (if indeed you have any).

To prepare for this consider your goal. Why are you taking the interview? What is the role you want.

With this in mind, think about what you have to get you there and what holds you back. Then think about how you and your employer can close those gaps holding you back (training, mentoring, University, experience).

Explain how these then fit into the job description on offer and make sure to use some of the terms in their job ad. It will help it ring true in their minds.

Mostly, keep this concise and well polished. It shows a massive commitment toward the company and demonstrates you are willing to put some effort into the interview (which shows respect of the organisation).

When have you done more of you than is required?

There are two types of employees in most places. The 9-5 guys (go home, switch off, do something else), and the rest of them (toss problems in their head, etc).

The key point here is to demonstrate that you did something not expected by your employer. For example, did a degree on my own part-time, solved a problem at home on my own time, championed an initiative while preparing in my own time.

The employer isn't so interested that you give 50 hours and are paid for 35, they ARE interested in hearing you are passionate about your profession.

The girl who goes home and thinks about the problem in the back of their mind and comes to work with the answer will feature higher in the interviewers mental scorecard. Companies love to have energetic staff who motivate others around them.

So in short, the interviewer looks to hear that you are in it for more than just the money and want to hear you demonstrate it.

How would you handle poorly performing staff?

Only really applies to those in team lead or management positions.

Mostly this is a question of ettiquite and social skills. Are you able to talk to people in a non-confrontational way? Do you need daddy (management) to bail you out?

You might be given this question in a behavioural context. For example 'You have found a member of staff browsing the Internet for illegal music during work hours instead of working on their project. How do you approach this situation?'. It's the same question in different clothes.

How you answer this depends on the type of person you are. Remember that employers want staff to value their policies and respect them, they want you to help nip problems in the bud early, and they want you to be able to communicate and listen to others.

Do your research on the company. Find out a little about their culture. And don't be afraid to ask at the end of the interview for more detail on the company culture to learn what is expected of staff.

What is your worst experience and what did you learn from it?

Straight to the point question. The interviewer is asking two direct questions.

1. Have you experience and in what areas?

2. Do you identify and learn from your mistakes?

Cover those two angles to give them interviewers the details they need. You won't really be able to bluff this as the interviewer will often ask you to explain more detail on the experience.

Keep this answer short, a few minutes at most. The better you can tell this story, the more punch your answer will have.

What have been your most and least productive times?

The short answer is they want to know that you will get enjoyment from the role on offer.

Interviewers want to hear you describing the experiences you have had that fired your motivation and use this to determine if they think you will be equally or more fired up in their workplace. Was your motivation financial, challenge, technical, fear?

They are also interested to hear about the lower points. If you were less productive, what did you do about it? The interview should be able to accept and recognise that we don't always make the best career choices. It's OK to admit you tried something and hated it.

It is likely they want to understand that you are happy to be out of your comfort zone and try new things, and clearly want to know if things interest you so they can determine if you are a good fit into the organisation.

Most companies want a higher workforce skills mobility, staff who are multiskilled and can flex into roles as needed. If you happen to be one of these types of people, be sure to highlight it here.

How would others describe you?

Exactly as it says on the tin. How do others see you?

Keep your answer to this short and use simply words like 'honest', 'reliable', 'trustworthy', 'competent'.

Don't worry about embelishing the answer more than this, but do prepare examples for each point.

What skills do you bring to a team? / What skills do you think this role demands? / What will the challenges be in this role?

If you have read the role descriptions, the answers they want are all in there. They just want to know you have thought about the role.

Your only job is to highlight the tie between your CV and their job description.

I'd suggest a simple excercise here.

  • Print your CV and the job description out.
  • Sit them side by side and number the items across the two which support each other (e.g. the job asks for Oracle skills, circle this in both papers).

Just doing this will focus your mind on how good a match your CV is to their job description. This should be enough to get through the interview.

Try hard to avoid taking paper into the interview and reading from it. Have a few small bullet points, but don't read line by line.

Why do you want this role? / Why should you get this role?

There isn't a hidden question here, they want to hear your summary of what makes this a good fit.

They are interested in seeing if you listen and if you can summarise well.

If you were paying attention in the interview, you should try to put in a few comments about the things your learned at the interview today. This is clearly trickier, but shows you are an active listener.

What will you do if you don’t get this role?

Bit of a nasty question, but can be fairly asked.

I'd recommend you make clear that you will want to understand why you didn't get the role, therefore will look for feedback from the interview panel if possible.

I'd also mention that you will continue to look for a role similar to the one on offer as it appears to be a very good fit.

All of this said and done only really works if you are committed to the role.

Do your research, think about the role and your skills / experience match, and bring your experiences to the fore of your mind so you can tell them to others.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Are We Nearly There Yet?

I bought a book around 6 months ago called Software Estimation: The Black Art Demystified. It's one of those types of book along with Code Complete which should be on every developers reading list, and by reading list, I mean read it once per year, every just a refresher.

So the book was parked after around 80 pages shortly before Emily arrived (our new baby), and now she's here the book is gathering dust.

Two articles appeared on my aggregator recently. One from Joel Spolsky on Evidence Based Scheduling and one from Jeff Atwood on Planning Poker, partially responding to Joel's post.

Both posts are very well written and are worth a read. They rekindled my interest in this topic, sort of the point of them I suspect!

As the Black Art book explains, everyone thinks they can estimate. While influencing people's decisions can prove hard, actually changing their approach to estimating I find is even harder.

A few techniques I wonder about using:

  • Planning Poker. I love the idea of this, it seems a smart and tidy approach to reach a good consensus. However the flaw here is you need a set of equally able and open minded people who actually listen, otherwise failure is on the cards. I feel a slightly diluted version of this will work well to turn the tide.
  • Track estimate against actual. I think of all of the suggestions, this is the easiest to deliver and shows exactly how good your estimates are. The FogBuzz product from Joel's company uses this to good effect.

I've set myself a target to read this book cover to cover within the next 2 months and hope to reflect on it here.

What do you think? How do you approach estimating in your workplace?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Clarifying Requirements

As software developers, we have a job to push back on unclear requirements and to help achieve a clearer, and importantly a shared understanding of the system.

Most users will not be versed in creating contracts. As a result, ambiguous terms will creep in without the user realising. Phrases such as 'The interface must be intuitive' don't make our jobs any easier.

When I receive these types of requirements I used to spend time reading and marking the documents by hand. This can be quite a laborious process and is very dependent on the experience of the reviewer.

I've been using a technique to help me become more consistent at giving feedback on requirements and to help establish a shared vocabulary of ambiguous terms.

The idea is simple. Create a document with all of the terms you know of which lead to ambiguity, then create an index showing where each of these terms appear in the requirements document.

I'm afraid I'm a Microsoft Word man, so the technique will need to be adapted to your personal tool of choice.

  1. Grab a copy of the text in this list of ambiguous terms. Pop it into a new word document and save the document somewhere.

  2. Take a copy of the document to be reviewed (the target document). You will be altering this document and don't want to change the original.

  3. Make ALL of the text lower case within the target document (explained in a moment)

  4. Use the 'automark' feature to highlight the terms in your 'requirements' document. This feature asks you to select a source document for the automark entries. (In Office 2007 this is found under the references tab, 'insert index', then select the 'Automark' option.)

  5. At this point, Word has marked each phrase in the target document where the phrase in the 'ambiguous terms' appears.

    Now, to create an index showing the user where the terms are:

  6. Insert an index using the index feature within Word. In Office 2007, this is in the 'references' tab under the index section.

  7. Finally, review the usage of the terms in context and send appropriate comments back to the user.

The automark feature of Microsoft Word is not the greatest for this usage, but if you are prepared to follow these steps and develop your own version of the ambiguous terms document (and share it with others in your team), this will help contribute toward better quality requirements.

In particular, I dislike the requirement for the ambiguous terms document to need two columns, both containing the same text. I haven't looked to solve this, let me know if you do!

In itself, the process is not fantastic. But if you share a master copy of the ambiguous terms document, then the whole team can contribute their experienced view to improved requirements.

(The concept here was unabashedly taken from Code Complete by Steve McConnell. Grab a copy and read it, highly recommended).

Update: I've pushed the 'Acceptable Terms' doc into a published Google Doc here
and have updated the URL's above

Monday, 3 September 2007

A few baby pictures / videos

If you have no interest in babies, please stop now. I won't be offended!

End of notice!

I've put some more pictures up here.

I also took a moment to upload some videos. One where little happens, and another with hiccups.

Also, if you haven't seen it and can bare it enough to not cringe, here's a video of Euan on safari...

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Baby 3 - delivered safely...

Some pictures over at

Too late at night to post much, suffice to say Allie and Baby are well.

7lbs10, little girl, no name yet.

My god, a little girl. How scary is that. How the hell do girls work? Need to find the Haynes manual....


Bed time for me.

Friday, 31 August 2007

What do I put in a CV

I've been helping someone with a few pointers to help make their CV stand out. Thought I'd share my thoughts:

  • Don't show collected skills, demonstrate usage of them. Many CV's try to throw in words but don't show how the skills were used. Remember that you need to actually use a skills to have it. Keep your core skills sharp.
  • Show money savings as a result of your involvement. In the UK we often are involved in money making or saving organisations. Try to show your value add. If you don't know the real numbers, show percentages. e.g. I saved approximately 10% on build time by removing dependencies between libraries
  • Step back and try to see your CV as grids and lines and think about design and layout. There is a good article on coding horror showing that more about general website design. I think the same layout rules apply to CV writing when you want to lead the reader down the page and into areas of focus. Naturally content is important, but so is the feel of the CV.
  • Remember you have soft skills too. Think about your consultative angle (communication, leadership, negotiating). Use these words within your CV.
  • Show passion. David Intersimone wrote a blog post a while back explaining that he'd pick a person with less skills but more passion for IT than a person with more skills but less passion. The passionate employee will usually go the extra mile and usually pull more rabbits from hats. If you are passionate about IT, drop a little bit of this spice into your CV and remember a little goes a long way.
  • Walk away for a while. Leave your CV alone for a few days, print it, then sit down for a 1/2 hour and read it with renewed vigour and a fresh head. A good CV should read smoothly like a good book. Make sure that others will enjoy reading your CV.

Hope these tips are a little more off the wall than the typicals ones you see.

What do you think makes a good CV?

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Linked In

Oh, and in case you never spotted it, I'm also on linked in:

On Facebook

Find me at:

At least, I'm pretty sure that's my link....

Still be posting here and seeing if the link to blogger works.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Anime For Me

I love the anime Spirited Away.

I've been trying to find time to watch more of Hayao Miyazaki's stuff, but as always, life kinda gets in the way.

There is something very absorbing in Anime, it takes me back to my childhood memories in an odd sort of way.  I can't remember anything in my memories that tie with this.  It's more of a nostalgia I get when I watch them.  Does anyone else get that?

The film's directed by Hayao nearly all feature flying.  One of my early dreams was about flying too.  Who hasn't had one?  I wonder if that is the tie?

I've only had this dream once, but some 25 years on, I believe I vividly remember it.

It goes like this...

I find myself walking alone toward the seaside (Ayr, my hometown).  I notice that as I pick up pace toward running, I feel lighter.  I run harder and faster and lift slightly off the ground.

The feeling of floating in the air was simply beautiful.  I drift around the clouds, swaying and soaring up and down.

As the day ends, as the sun starts to drop toward the horizon, I find myself being pushed back toward the ground.

Now the odd bit here is that I start to see a group of, well let's say small hairy troll things with sharp weapons of a sort.  I am trying hard to push up and fly high to keep from the ground where they are.  They are chasing toward my landing spot, I see them running below me ready to get me!

I start to slow my pace in the air and push closer toward them, and just before my feet are grabbed I woke up in a sweat!  It was intense, pleasurable, scary, and clearly memorable.

That's one of the coolest things about dreams.  They never need to make any sense.

As I said, this happened ages ago, but the memory of the actual flying piece was amazing.  I get some little twangs of nostalgia for that dream when watching flying scenes from anime.  Something about their style captures that state of mind perfectly.

What's the most memorable dream you've had?

Monday, 25 June 2007

Things I Found Funny

Sorry, this is a direct RIP OFF from Dare's posting today.  But these gems are too good not to share.

  • XKCD: Pickup Lines: "If I could rearrange the alphabet..."

  • YouTube: A Cialis Ad With Cuba Gooding Jr.: From the folks at NationalBanana, lots of funny content on their site.

  • YouTube: Microsoft Surface Parody - "The future is here and it's not an iPhone. It's a big @$$ table. Take that Apple"

  • Enjoy.

    Saturday, 23 June 2007

    How I Conduct Interviews

    If you find yourself in the role of interviewing someone for your workplace, you might find a few of these ideas useful.

    Clearly these are my own ideas and they won't do it for everyone. But if you take at least one of these points, I will have done my bit!

    Get your ducks in a row

    Before the interview starts, be clear on what your ideal candidate is. You need to know their skills, personality, strengths, daily tasks, and what the challenges are in their role which will push them.

    I think knowing this type of stuff without needing to read it allows the conversation to feel natural. The more paper you need to take in and refer to, the less eye contact you make and the less comfortable both of you will feel.

    Make sure you are happy with your technical knowledge for the area of interview. You don't have to be an expert, but you need a good bearing around the technical areas to keep the conversation on topic.

    Remember that you are also on interview, you need to give out the right impression too.

    Help them relax

    No, not a massage...

    Imagine yourself having moved jobs. First Friday comes around and you are invited our for drinks. You don't know anyone yet, so when that first person says a casual 'hi there, how are you?', 'where are you from?', 'do you like the new job?'.

    All of these questions are very open questions which help open the conversation. You are both likely trying to establish common interests be it people you know, things you've done, things you aspire to.

    It's exactly the same at interview.

    Give out warm, friendly signals at all times and try to keep the start of the interview geared to learn broadly what they are like and what they have done.

    Use their name when appropriate. Again, you would do this normally when you first meet someone, same thing applies here. The added bonus is it helps to relax others by making them feel familiar with you.

    If you offer a drink, please please don't fill it right up. It's easier to knock over and any slight shakes they have will cause it to spill raising their stress.

    Broad brush strokes to start, then detail the smaller areas

    Ask very open questions early into the interview. After I explained about the role and company to the candidate, I will use something open such as 'tell me about yourself?'.

    Let the candidate talk about themselves in their own way without it being pushed by you. Try not to interrupt them, take notes of areas to dive into afterward instead of stopping them talking.

    The hardest part here is being a good listener. It's possible that nearly the entire interview line of questioning can stem off of the answer to this one question which helps to give the whole of the interview a very natural conversational flow to it.

    Be careful to listen to what the candidate is saying. It is easy to fall into the confirmation bias trap, hearing what you want to hear.

    Use the notes to delve into things which are interesting. 'I was interested to hear you worked with the health service. What was that like?'.

    Once you've gone into the detail as far as you need, pan back up again in your notes.

    Get a good set of stock questions

    Candidates will freeze. So will you. Be prepared with some good general questions. I've leave you to Google for your own though!

    However take care not to just read a script without thinking about what you are asking. You may just be repeating a previous question.

    Speak from the heart

    If you come over as passionate about IT, you will win over 9 out of 10 candidates. Candidates who see you being passionate and open will assume that this is because of the place you work at.

    If the candidate asks me about my job, do I like working here, I will do my best to be entirely honest. All jobs have craps bits in them and all jobs have gems (some more than others). The candidate it interviewing you as well as you them. Do what you can to build trust and confidence, it will make decision time easier for all.

    Some workplaces will not allow this unfortunately.

    Don't be afraid to tell the candidate the areas which concern you. I make sure that if I have any doubts about the candidate, I get them into the open there and then. 'I notice that you don't have any experience with SQL. We really need this skill, can you help me understand if there are any things you have done which contribute toward your knowledge of this area?'. Again, try to help them along, show them the goals they need to score.

    Clearly there are legal traps in what you say, so be careful what you try to find out.

    It's not a competition

    I only learned this lesson after my first year of interviews. I tended to ask questions of candidates and tried to catch them out by showing how my knowledge was far more accurate than there knowledge. I thought this showed me their weak areas which helped me learn who was the best candidate.

    Looking at this now, I see that I missed the point entirely!

    What I really should have done was focus on their strengths.

    Give them as much opportunity to shine and don't try to upstage them. They will only close up, you will lose their confidence.

    See your role here as cross examining the candidate to help them remember as much as they can about their experiences. Try to guide them toward any areas you think may contain gems.


    Not all people are created equally. No matter what you learn about interviewing, you will eventually meet someone who you can't get to open up to or can't relate to. When it happens, the best thing to do is try to get them to talk about themselves.

    If the candidate is clearly freezing up, then change the direction or tempo of the interview. Do something a little different like suggest that they perhaps take over the line of questions for a short while. Offer to answer any question related to your work and promise to answer it as honestly as you are allowed to. They might see this as a little humorous, it can crack the ice a little if the interview isn't going well.

    When I get a clam, I make sure to tell the recruiting agency if there is one. They need to prepare the candidate properly, and although I may not select them, I do want them to find the right job.

    End game

    The final things I tend to ask candidates are

    • Was there anything I didn't ask that you wanted to discuss?
    • Are there any answers you were not happy with?
    • Do you need any more information to help you decide on your next move?

    Keep the door open, even if you don't want to hire them. You never know when you will run into them again.

    The calm after the storm

    Make totally sure that as soon as they leave, you structure and document your thoughts. You will have forgotten their answers within 1 hour! :-)

    The more you can see interviews as a social conversation, the more you will get from the candidate.

    Oh, one more thing. Learn how to smile properly and shake hands. It helps make an impression.

    Friday, 22 June 2007

    Ignoring you?

    Sorry I've not been attentive to this blog.

    No excuses from me, just a quick sorry. You can imagine other things need attention too!

    Back again now though.

    Sunday, 27 May 2007

    Desktop Tower Defence

    Lorna warned me off of this, but I didn't listen. The most simple of games, luring and addictive, give it a shot.

    (hehe!! This feels like Halloween 3, with the silver shamrock egging everyone on to just try it. The consequences are horrific (but in a cheap sort of 80's horror way)).

    Should you double unbracket when writing? I never know...

    Sunday, 20 May 2007

    Off to Berlin

    I'm at a conference for the next 3 days in Berlin, specifically at the Estrel Conference Centre to attend the Business Insight 2007 conference.

    Looking forward to some of the content at the conference, but will miss the family... At least I get to buy a cool toy for them or something similar on the way back!!!

    PS - Bryan Adams was awesome. Really good old skool rock concert. :-)

    Sunday, 6 May 2007

    Bryan Adams

    Off to see him at the SECC tomorrow night with Allie. Promises to be a really good gig I think!

    New house, nearly...

    So the survey came back on the house, and none of this I expected...

    - £60000+ for wiring, heating, windows, slate and plastering
    - £60000+ for rebuilding the bulging gable end wall
    - dry rot in existing extension
    - damp in 3 rooms
    - a few windows which need replaced
    - conservatory is rotten, needs pulled
    - kitchen is harder to access for construction than I'd thought

    Must have been the best £650 I've even spent! Nearly bought a disasterous house!

    So we are back to the question of whether we extend the existing property or continue to look.

    Friday, 27 April 2007

    Under a rock

    I've been in hiding for the past few weeks. Sorry.

    We've found a house we are interested in putting a bid in for. It's a step up, so the nerves are jangling. All these questions; can we afford it, is it worth it, will we have the energy to do it up?

    We need more space though, that's for sure. I was approaching the point of kicking off extension work to the house, but it's fallen by the wayside to this idea.

    Don't want to jinx anything by saying more. Fingers crossed though!

    So this weekend is gardening to get our house in a good state as we start thinking about selling it. Got a few estate agents in next week to price my house.

    As Lorna says, watch this space!

    Monday, 16 April 2007

    Australian Pink Floyd

    Went to see these guys playing on the 31st of March. Totally awesome. Few pics and a vid here, but the quality is very poor (sorry).

    The stage was setup in the same type of form as the Pulse tour. Good light show, all in all costs around £25 per ticket.

    I can't remember the entire play list, but included:
    - Shine on you crazy diamond (of course)
    - Another brick
    - Breath
    - Money
    - Learning to fly
    - Great Gig in the sky (Beautifully performed. My absolute favourite song of all time)
    - Set the controls for the heart of the sun
    - Pigs (Three different ones) - it wins my award for most freeky Floyd tune
    - Us and them
    - One slip
    - On the turning away
    - Astronomy Domine
    - Comfortably Numb
    - Wish you were here
    - High hopes
    - Time
    - One of these days (I'm going to cut you into little pieces)
    - Careful with that axe Eugene (ha ha!)
    - The Wall

    I know I've missed at least 3 more...

    Highly recommended if you get the chance and are any degree of a fan. I'd go back to see the exact same gig again!

    Synchronising data - Handy

    (Following my post about Sync'ing data)

    I've failed so far to get any of the Lotus Notes utilities to export to Google or Fumbol servers from within the NAG network (behind whatever firewalls exist).

    Meantime, I've found a utility called Handy. It's able to take an exported Lotus Notes file and convert it into an iCal. Google calendar imports iCal's which suits my purpose.

    The command line I needed was:

    handy -a calendar_in -o calendar_out.ics -f dmy4/

    The switches tell you:
    -a : which file to use for input
    -o : which file to create
    -f : what is the interal input file date format

    From there, it's fairly easy to import an iCal into Google Calendars.

    The issues I have at the moment:
    - Haven't tried to automate the Lotus Notes export. A quick search shows this isn't promising.
    - I'd like to be able to export just a delta of the Notes changes. Again, doesn't look promising.
    - The export benefit relies on me importing this iCal into Outlook at home to merge the calendars, or exporting my Outlook calendar to Google. Neither are my ideal.

    I'm starting to think that this isn't something which is easy enough to do for the benefit it gives me. My goal I think may shortly change to simply exporting my work calendar to Google so I can view it at home.

    Shame, I really like the benefit of a single calendar view... I hate giving up on goals! Grrr.

    Sunday, 15 April 2007

    Parkour - when things go wrong

    Awesome stuff this, if a little unhinged...

    I first saw Parkour on Top Gear. James May was racing through Liverpool in a 205 against 2 parkour tracers. It was awesome. The parkour tracers won of course

    Then came Casion Royale, with the opening chase scene. Again amazing stuff, unbelievable at times.

    I didn't really know what is was called until recently. So when I found out, I opened up, did a quick search and found a few gems (and more searching will show you many, many more).

    Only then did I actually have a sicko moment. What happens when it goes wrong?

    Clickty click. Here's what can happen.

    Very impressive when it all hangs together, but my god that must hurt when it doesn't.

    Tuesday, 10 April 2007

    Linked in - a tool for interview research

    This is a good post from Guy Kawasaki. He discusses using the LinkedIn tool to avoid asshole bosses.

    The book this refers to The No Asshole Rule is something I had to order from Amazon. I find organisational theory and psychology in the workplace very complex and hard to navigate, I enjoy reading things which distil other peoples experience in little nuggets of knowledge.

    There is a reason I wanted to write about this post from Guy. I see that his comments help give a backdrop for the comments I wrote about on writing your own interview questions. I consider that understanding how Guy explains the view of the asshole boss is kinda like taking a step back and looking at how others view yourself. See things from other people's point of view.

    That's the core of my advice to help others become good at taking interviews. If you can empathise with the interviewer, you can win them over.

    I've said this before:
    • You are candidate 20 of 35. Make an impression, get inside their head (What Women Want, in a sort of non-Mel Gibson way).
    • Engage with the interviewer and make them feel loved (i.e. not an asshole?).
    • You get my gist, and the analogy doesn't take much of a beating to fall over... :-)
    Still planning to blog a bit about the questions I've used / had asked of me and what I think of them. Busy with life at the moment though, not really seen the beige box for a while.

    Anyway, rant over...

    Wednesday, 21 March 2007

    Interview questions, your turn!

    I recently moved jobs and have been chatting to others who are going through the same pains.

    There are a ton of things to think about when managing your way through the recruitment minefield. I have conducted a lot of interviews in my last post, and one that I find people rarely prepare well enough for is the last question asked; 'Do you have any questions for us?'.

    If you are smart, you will have 2/3 questions you will have prepared. If you are lucky, you will remember 2/3 things you wanted to ask. If you aren't smart or lucky, you will come across to the interviewer as not really caring about the job.

    So, to try to help all my budding friends through the minefield in some way, here is the list of interview questions I took into my interviews. Asked properly, you will be able to convince the interviewer(s) that you are fully switched on and very interested in the post.

    Sorry for the long post, but I also wanted to have these here for reference when others ask me for suggestions like these.

    (In the form Q (question) and R (reason))

    Q1. Tell me about the competitive environment in which the company runs?
    R. You want to learn if the company actually has a functional structure. Many companies have objectives set by CEO's, then middle management take their lead on the objectives, passing these down until the person who does the grunt work (usually you) doesn't quite have objectives that match the direction of the company. Stafford Beer wrote about something called the viable system model which describes a company like the human body. Information has to flow two ways to make the body work, discrete actions are performed in units of the body, etc. You can imagine. So we are here trying to watch for those companies which don't have this function and will leave you feeling perhaps rudderless. You may also learn how you fit into the organisation.

    Q2. Describe the executive management styles?
    R. Another way of asking Q1.

    Q3. What are the current organisation / team challenges and objectives?
    R. Easy to forget to ask, but you are actually interested in what your boss is challenged with. Her / his objectives are yours if Q1 revels a working organisation. You will want to know that the work you are doing can be quantified and measured, otherwise in 3-6 months you will not know if you are improving, nor will your boss!

    Q4. How have the company goals changed in the last 3-5 years?
    R. We want to find out the direction of the company. This is more of Q1, does management information flow within the organisation? Do people describe the goals in simple terms? Do they understand the direction and how it impacts, therefore can they anticipate direction and plan accordingly?

    Q5. What will be my main objectives and responsibilities?
    R. You need to remember to ask this, it's easily forgotten or skimmed over. Getting a simply, memorable summary toward the end of the interview is useful. Alternatively, if you think you have this clear in your mind, then take a moment at this point to recap what you think you heard. It will give yourself confidence that you understand the ask of you, and will tell the interviewer that you are listening.

    Q6. How do you expect me to meet my objectives? What resources will be available to me?
    R. This shows that you are planning to involve others to achieve things. People work best in teams or some form of collaboration. Even the smallest company of 2 people will tell you that you will have only each other and your network of contacts. Asking this question also shows that you are keen and aren't just waiting for the salary announcement.

    Q7. What obstacles prevent these objectives being met?
    R. This shows you are a tactical thinker and are keen to understand. It will hopefully get the interviewer to explain more detail of the job and perhaps a bit about the political landscape of the organisation. More than that, you may just learn the boundaries of the role if you listen carefully.

    Q8. What is the timeframe to meet these objectives?
    R. It's a simple thing to ask so you know if they are being realistic. Listen carefully here, if the objectives are unclear but you have a timeframe, stop and think about whether the interviewer understands what is being asked, that you understand what is being asked, and whether you think that this may hint that the company expects more than is possible. Some companies however will be driven by regulatory goals which usually mean aggressive timeframes.

    Q9. What types of clients do you have?
    R. Tells you more about the sustainability of the organisation and the types of work you will be doing. If a company spreads itself across markets, it should find it easier to rough out market highs and lows. Beware of the niche company.

    Q10. How would you describe the culture here?
    R. Simple, do you think you will fit? Ask them to describe their workplace and may tell you all about the types of people.

    Q11. Who are your main competitors?
    R. Tied to Q1. A good employer will understand that their competition will not come from purely the market leaders and upstarts, but from the larger companies who cross marketplaces well. In software, Microsoft is naturally a good example of this.

    Q12. How do you encourage / reward staff and conversely how do you handle problem staff?
    R. Every organisation will have processes for many things. Understand this one and you will see how the value staff, how they are able to tap into the motivational well of staff and help them achieve great things. You will also learn if they are an understanding organisation able to properly address development needs.

    Q13. What is the 3/5 year business plan?
    R. Does the organisation function, does it understand it's marketplace, does the plan do more than simply sell more, does the plan include staff in it (in terms of improving work / life, opportunities, etc.), do they in fact have any plan? It will be your choice as to whether you want to follow a company with no long term plan. It's not always a bad thing to have a short term plan, this will really depend on the market they work in or perhaps the division of the company you may work in.

    Q14. How do you measure success?
    R. Ties with Q12. You will have to decide if your success measurement is the same as theirs, do you share a view of success with the organisation? For me, I look for an organisation that measures success in terms of building relationships (internal and external), building externalised knowledge (that is knowledge that doesn't leave an organisation when a person does, building experience (that is after all what we all pay top dollar for), measures of collaborative success across business functions (Viable System Model again), and how they measure the softer side of things such as happiness of staff.

    Q15. What is their own personal most recent success (or one from the organisation if you want) and what was the drive behind it?
    R. You know that they would ask this same type of question of you, it is a really valid and strong question to ask your boss. You should hear really sensible, stand up reasons for the drive behind something, listen for the weak answer with little reason for the change and perhaps false / misplaced success. When asking them to quote recent success, watch their eyes... If they look up, they are more likely to be making up an answer, if they look down they will be more likely to be remembering an actual event (doesn't always stand true, but keep an eye out for it).

    Q16. Where is the company weakest and strongest?
    R. Simple question which should give you good insights. Drill into details here if time permits, or write down items for discussion at a later interview.

    Q17. What do you do to attract / retain the right staff?
    R. You are really playing a game here. By this stage in the interview, if you are still allowed to ask any questions, the interviewer will be keen to recap on how good they are. This question allows them to do that. It's a good bullshit detector question, getting them to repeat something they likely already mentioned.

    That's it folks! Phew....

    Sunday, 18 March 2007

    Lazy Sunday...

    I love Sundays like today.

    Rain is pelting down outside, music is on inside, food is on the go, kids are having fun dressing up / playing, house is in a complete guddle because it's being basically used to the full...

    Best of all, those days where the agenda is so slack and slow that you get to tick off the little easy jobs which never seem to happen, the ones which require minimum effort for maximum reward.

    The kids have a freak out moment occasionally, but between storms it's lush.

    Warm socks, warm food, warm house, top day..

    Hope your Sunday is as good as mine.


    Thursday, 15 March 2007

    Blog by age

    What an interesting idea. The Ageless Project is discussed over at Research Buzz.

    I'm particularly interested in the highlighted blog, Don to Earth. Good read...

    Tuesday, 13 March 2007

    Linked In Outlook Toolbar

    I posted yesterday about my playing around with LinkedIn. After that post I downloaded the Outlook plug-in and played some more. This is a helluva neat tool, helps to improve your social networking impact with very little effort.

    What this 'little' plug-in does is actually a very simple approach pulled out in a very smart experience. It will scan your mailbox, find contacts you mail often, and allow you to invite them to the LinkedIn site from there. All done within a few simple clicks.

    I'm loving the feature to sync up the contact details from LinkedIn with my personal copy in Outlook. This seems to work a lot live Live Contacts - part of the MSN Live experience! (tm and all that jazz). Keeping my network of data in sync is quite important to me.

    The killer feature for this utility, and probably one of the reasons the network is growing so fast is the ability to simply let it trawl your contacts and invite the ones you contact most frequently. However it felt a bit invasive, kinda like spamming them. But, on the plus side, it was a very painless experience for me!

    Anyway, the feature I am loving about this is the dashboard it gives within Outlook. Little reminders are put there such as who has updated their details in LinkedIn, birthdays which are coming up, which mails you need to reply to and more. Feels like having your own PA! ;-)

    While doing the invites, I started wondering where the boundry is. Do you really want to just stop at the professional network? Do you want to include your friends and relatives? Considering that most of my friends have some linkage into the world of IT, I found it hard to know quite who to invite. I ended up just inviting a slew of contacts because I network with all of them in some way!!!

    Looking below the covers a bit, I get the underlying reason why Google might want to buy this company. They could basically tap into the social network scene at the very root and create an experience which benefits the individual, and massively improves the knowledge Google have about you and your contacts, network, and trends.

    It will just be a matter of time for Google to get their applications embedded into phones and other devices and offer a totally connected experience like the Nokia presence feature. Have your calendar and expected location shared with others, walk near them, get informed of their up to the minute running plan, arrange for lunch at a click based on linking with restaurants, and share the lunch networking experience over the LinkedIn via some form of a bulletin on what that person is currently working on (like the answers page).

    Very cool stuff.... Glad I'm in IT! :-)

    Monday, 12 March 2007

    Linked in

    I've been spending a little time trying to build a linkedin network

    Seems like everyone is doing it....

    Synchronising data

    The Task
    For me, having a work and personal calendar separate is a bit of a pain. I'm not great at keeping both sets of dates and appointments in my head and can double book myself easily. Ideally I like to want sync them both together so I always have a good view of what's happening in both calendars.

    Problem is, my new place of work uses Lotus Notes, not Outlook! :0(

    I've been chasing the ideal world of data synchronisation for a while now. Devices and application I use are:
    - Pocket PC (Dell Axim X51V)
    - Lotus Notes 7 (work)
    - Outlook 2003 (home)
    - Google Calendar (currently home)
    - Yahoo Calendar (not using, but might)

    My requirements are simple (to me):

    1. Merge work and personal calendars "somewhere". This can be on the web or a device., preferably a device.
    2. Support Lotus Notes and Outlook calendars (my two primary sources).
    3. Automate the sync as far as possible. I don't want to have to remember to "Press sync" (I hate Palm's HotSync cradles because of this).

    Nice features would be
    1. Support two way sync of the "somewhere" with whatever sourced that data.
    2. Offline read access to the merged calendar via my Pocket PC. Don't require to change it offline.
    3. Keep the client installation simple. My work PC is locked down so I cannot simply install lots of software to make this happen.
    4. Sync contacts too for easier scheduling of appointments.
    5. Support Google calendars in some way, simply because I have mentally subscribed to the Google way of life...

    I cannot believe I am the only person who wants to do this. However I think Lotus Notes will be the biggest problem here. So full speed with the research...

    The Options So Far
    ScheduleWorld has an excellent diagram which on first impressions does exactly what I want.

    I use Lotus Notes (not by choice) at work for my calendar. This means I have the pain of making ScheduleWorld work with Lotus Notes which doesn't appear to be an out-of-the-box feature. This isn't going to give a smooth experience, but holds promise.

    Outlook 2007
    Yet another option might be Outlook 2007. This supports Internet Calendar Subscriptions which avoids ScheduleWorld and seems to give a good experience. Google Calendars supports RSS feeds, so this also holds promise for a picture where I push the work calendar into Google, share to Outlook and sync up Outlook to the X51V.

    I particularly like involving Google in the mix as their tools offer a good mix of a rich experience, solid service and the promise of more social networking features as we transition into Web 2.0!

    Also, I'm not very keen to spend more money on doing this.

    Remote Calendars
    Interesting this one. Remote Calendars seems to support sharing my home calendar with Google and supports two way sync. I foresee a problem in that there are limits over the number of records being synchronised (read a few people mentioning this, but no-one solving it).

    Roll My Own
    Not my favourite option here, but it's a possibility.

    As Lotus Notes both support structured files for export, there is an option of writing my own code to push this into an iCal format keeping the data very open and very usable. Writing something in MS Outlook to import this data doesn't seem to provide too many problems, but we will see...

    I'll add more solutions as I find them then go back and review them for others to read about.

    Monday, 5 March 2007

    Baby 3, on the way!

    I've mailed several of my friends already, but we have a 3rd baby on the way!!!

    We went to the Queen Mothers in Yorkhill for the scan. Amazing how smart the scan is to watch, all the little details... Thank god for only one heartbeat though!

    When we got home, Allie and I shared the scan with Ben and Euan. Both boys were impressed, but Ben was a little more intrigued. He and I went to the PC and look up the scans of himself and Euan. You could almost hear the 'click' when the little light came on above his head.

    Due date will be August 30th 2007.

    I've got Yellow Pages out now, looking for storage and builders...

    Damn. Just got the littlest one out of nappies! :-)