Wednesday, August 28, 2019

On The Contrary

On The Contrary

It appears that the clouds have wrapped the hilltop,
But a massage of cool mist is being done over its head.
And the groves are swaying in pain wanting it to stop,
Instead, they are dancing in the rainy winds on the moist bed.

The roar of the thunderstorms is as horrifying as a monster,
Without which there won't be a grand welcome of the rains.
A deadly threat to the farm fields is the leaf-eating caterpillar,
Without which the sky and the rainbows are just the remains.

If you are chasing a thief for some cents and a few dollars,
Should the ailing mother of that criminal die of starvation?
If a corrupt leader is running a nation wearing a white collar,
What should the people vouch for: governance or destitution?

If sitting in utter silence is taken as an act of ignorance,
Then who will care about his struggle of looking up to you?
If a man with persuasive skill utters words with elegance,
Will you trust his words or his devious actions against you?

Plenty of trees are cut down for the sake of ambition,
But the revenge of Nature is looked upon as bad luck.
When a loud voice of anger leads to violent commotion,
Just listening to its pleading undertone can prevent havoc.

If fame pours in a lot of fans and fills up the cup of glory,
Then why is it sitting in the darkest corners of loneliness?
If gold coins and silver platters are treasured to curb misery,
Then why are they just covered in cobwebs of uselessness?

Now that I am clueless about what my next lines should be,
I decide to end it as there is no more juice left in the can.
On the contrary, is this poem as mindless as it seems to be,
Or is it the embers flickering from the whims of a mad man?

August 28, 2019

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Subtle Art of Conducting Job Interviews

Conducting a job interview is an art. A company looking for good candidates will have to master this art. 

I was unemployed for five months. “Unemployed” is a heavy word if you have lived through it. I had applied for numerous job openings. But, I got only a few calls for interviews. It really took a toll on my emotions seeing every minute of every day just pass by without bearing any fruit. Having financial commitments and a family to support, believe it or not, it's tougher than it sounds. As time progressed, in spite of keeping my mind occupied with interview preparation, I began to lose focus while anxiety overpowered me gradually. The feeling of idleness was even harder to get rid of.

Now I have finally got a job and I thought: why not share my interview experiences? There are tons of resources available on how job seekers should prepare for interviews. This post tries to give a guiding light to the recruiters and highlights some of the good practices to follow in order to unleash the potential of job seekers.

When the candidate gets a call for the interview, it is safe to say that his profile was screened and the hiring manager found it to be suitable for the company's needs. As a preliminary step, it is crucial for the recruiter to set the agenda for the interview. Let's admit that there isn't a company that works on all the science and technology in the market. The candidate should be briefed about what areas will be focused on during the interview. And if possible, study material should be provided. This will set the expectations correctly. (Mind you, this is not to be mistaken with the skills mentioned as part of the job description.) Then it should be up to the candidate to choose the interview date. Top companies like Google, Atlassian, and Amazon follow this step diligently.

Some companies do telephonic interviews before they call the candidates for in-person/face-to-face interviews. Prepare only those questions which could be answered over the phone. If it's going to be a programming question, let the candidate know well in advance that a laptop and an internet connection is required. But please do not ask system design or software architecture related questions. He will neither be comfortable to answer them nor will he answer them convincingly. Such questions are best answered on a whiteboard in an in-person interview. That's why it is rightly said that a picture speaks a thousand words. If you are looking for logical answers to programming puzzles when the candidate is not equipped with a laptop and internet, then be satisfied with the approach; don't expect him to dictate the program statements over phone.

Personally, I dislike telephonic interviews. In my experience, the calls disconnected in the middle of ongoing discussion or the interviewer's voice broke in between. Then I had to shout, "Hello? Can you hear me?" many times. It was quite embarrassing. Just when I thought I could get back in action, the flow was lost. It was annoying. There was one occasion when luck favored me. When the recruiter scheduled a telephonic interview with me, I asked him if I need to be ready with a laptop and internet. "No need. There will be no programming," he replied. But then my sixth sense told me to be ready anyway. And it happened just as I anticipated. There was a programming question; the interviewer had assumed that I was in front of my laptop connected to the internet. Fortunately, I cracked that telephonic interview round.

On the day of the in-person interview, you should be compassionate enough to understand the state of the candidate's mind. It will be nervous and messed up with unwanted thoughts. It will be relentlessly seeking for peace. For experienced professionals, getting a call for the interview itself is difficult; because, the candidate might have applied for more than 50 job postings in many months and this could be his first interview. So, it is very important for the interviewer to make him comfortable. Just before the interview begins, make the candidate feel more at ease and completely at home by offering a glass of water, tea or coffee. Ask him if he wants to use the restroom. Give him a moment to collect his thoughts. Treat him as a valuable guest and casually express that it has been an honor to have him for the interview and you are eager to know about him and his professional journey. This kind of hospitality will help him relax. He will give his best shot in cracking the interview. Therefore, it makes a big impression on him. It reflects your company's culture. Think of the candidate as a potential team member, not as someone who has come to challenge you. It should be your objective to understand his strengths, not his weaknesses. Don't make him feel inferior to yourself.

On a few occasions, it has so happened to me that the interviewers didn't show up or didn't show up on time. And even when they showed up, there was that unwelcoming attitude with their faces bloated with ego. (Yes, as a candidate, I am quite observant.) They didn't even wear a smile. It turned me off. I felt like I was treated like garbage ready to be broomed out fast. They didn't even care to ask me if I wanted to have some water. It just shattered my hopes. Come on people, we are humans first, professionals later!

Now let's start with the interview. Irrespective of candidate's experience, always begin with simple and fundamental questions, then gradually raise the bar with subsequent questions. Then you will have a fair idea on where the candidate stands on a scale of ten. You will understand his strengths. With this progressive way of evaluation, the candidate's self-confidence will be restored, and he will be able to think right. With bar raiser questions, give him hints. It's just because of the interview environment, he could be just missing a tiny bit or trying hard to recall. Secondly, ask him to explain the current project or the most exciting project he has worked on. He will be happy to answer it if he has really worked on it. Start understanding more about it by probing deeper. Don't assume or expect that he will cover the entire journey all by himself. He needs signposts. This will bring out how well he is able to structure his thoughts and communicate them to you. You will really learn whether he fits well in your team or not. You will learn about his proactiveness - whether he was able to stretch and deliver. After the interview, with such hospitality, even if the candidate is unable to meet your expectations, he won't have bitterness in his heart. He will remember you for the positive experience and will try again to join your company.

Instead, I was asked a single question directly from the advanced topics of computer science. It was about a subject I was not comfortable with. When I didn't answer, I was shown the door. They did not care to learn about my past experiences or my areas of expertise. Then I wondered, how is it even possible to gauge me only on one question? It was like I was in an exam with only one question to be answered which I don't know! It felt awful. This happened because the recruiter did not brief me about the focus areas although I had asked for them well in advance. This feeling of bad taste made me decide that I will never try for that company again even if they are working on rocket science or paying me millions of dollars a month. In another interview, when I began to answer, I was interrupted many times and the questions were simply thrown at me. Ultimately, I was never allowed to finish my answer. I couldn’t help feeling that the interviewer was trying hard to get rid of me.

Given any software engineering problem, there are various possible ways to solve it. If the candidate comes up with his own way to solve the problem, learn the solution. Be happy that he was able to come up with an original solution. Open your mind and imagine the possibilities of the candidate devising elegant solutions for your company. Secondly, don't expect him to answer all your questions. It's not going to happen. It's wrong because there will be many things that you wouldn't know if you were in his shoes. If he is able to answer 60% of the questions correctly and he makes me feel that he could add value to the company, I would hire him. You have got to trust your intuition about him.

On the other hand, in most of the interviews I faced, the interviewers were looking for those solutions which they had in mind. Then I discreetly told them, "Sorry dude, I can't read your mind! How can you be so narrow-minded?" You cannot have predetermined answers set as expectations from the candidate. You have to be open to understand his approach. It may turn out that you end up learning something new. I feel pity for the company that such interviewers work for. On another occasion, I was being hammered with questions for which I didn't know the answers. I easily sensed that they were making fun of me as they chuckled and giggled because they enjoyed pulling my leg. To me, it just reflected their character.

After the job interview, let the candidate know that you were pleased to meet him, thoroughly enjoyed conversing with him and thank him for his time. Tell him you will get back to him in a day or two with the feedback. Then respond promptly - this is non-negotiable. Responding with a result - be it positive or negative - and providing feedback is a must. Otherwise, the candidate will cling to the hope that he has made it. If he knows that he hasn't made it, he will look forward to attending other interviews that may be lined up for him with a clear mind. Your response will give him the benefit of doubt. It is frustrating and depressing when the candidate does not get a reply, especially when he's waiting for days to hear back from you assuming that he has done well. Trust me. I know how it feels. If he hasn't made it through, write an email to him informing the outcome, with a personal touch. Believe me, it will mean a lot to him. He will appreciate you for the mail and will thank you for the opportunity. Don't worry about how he feels. We're neither children nor savages; we are all professionals.

Some might ask: why follow these practices? Let me tell you why. It's obvious that the candidate feels bad if he doesn't clear the interview. But nothing hurts him worse than being treated like a jerk. These practices are about bringing fairness to the interview process. Following them will lessen the effects of failure and disappointment like, frustration and depression. This will help the candidate introspect on the areas of improvement and he can face interviews with renewed confidence. Moreover, these are simple guidelines that are certainly not difficult to follow.

Well, there you have it. I just wanted to bring out the incorrect practices that I have faced and briefly touch upon how to improve the interview process so that it helps both recruiters and job seekers. I attended interviews for software engineer positions at Google and Atlassian. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it. But, I will fondly remember the interview experiences and how nicely they were carried out.

The bottom line is, in India, the interview process needs transformation. Interviewers need to be trained. Conducting workshops is even better. They need to evolve to become better human beings. Remember that no one is immune to joblessness. It's impossible to evaluate a person in a few hours against a lifetime of effort he spent on a job. It's not just the skills that matter, but also having good people. So be nice. It costs nothing.

An interviewer can become a candidate anytime. So be mindful about how you want to be treated by others.

Further Reading