Wednesday, February 15, 2006

One on One

Now, one of the things I like about my job is the fact that I get to interview applicants.

I work in a fairly small company with fairly complex job requirements, you see. In addition to that, I hold one of the more senior management positions (as far as five years would be considered "senior") and generally have an excellent idea as to how the business works. To top it off, I spent some of those last five years collating data from HR transcripts, analyzing online job-hunting systems, and critiquing various forms of composition -- all of which allow me to make good educated guesses based on tiny little details.

What that last sentence effectively means is that I can take one look at a resumé and produce a number of relatively accurate remarks about the applicant at hand. I'm not right all the time, mind you, but I've surprised a few people on occasion.

It actually feels strange whenever I do this. I try to go about life without any premeditated expectations floating around my head, but right before I meet and talk to an applicant, I just have to make a few guesses about his or her character and experiences. That way, when I finally perform the interview, the whole experience transforms into a game: Was I able to read this person correctly? Will the applicant's actual personality change anything? What's my batting average so far?

I like to think that I've done rather well for myself. If anything, it's at least improved my skills in resumé-writing. :)

One of our previous HR personnel once told me that I had a habit of asking "casual" questions during interviews. When I asked her what a "casual" question was, she explained that it was something that didn't seem to have anything to do with work -- a bolt out of the blue, you might call it. Not that she minded, however: She assumed that it was my way of putting the applicants at ease.

Not necessarily, I told her. One can infer quite a few things from the answer to a casual question, as long as we know well enough to listen.

The trouble, I think, is that applicants always mean to make themselves look good. While this is to be expected, it sometimes keeps interviewers from finding out the stuff they really need to know. And rest assured, there are inevitably times when such knowledge would mean the difference between picking the right person for the job, or getting stuck with a dud.

Let's take skills, for example. I've noticed that applicants who have had only the slightest bit of experience with a certain field will invariably pad their resumés with it. We're likely to write down "Basic knowledge in Japanese", for example, even if we've only attended a single Japanese-language class in our entire lives.

So I end up asking "casual" questions. If an applicant's resumé tells me that he has basic knowledge in Japanese, I'll probably find a way to fit in a quick "Konnichiwa. Watashi wa Sean desu. Douzo yoroshiku?" in the interview somewhere. It tends to get a sheepish smile in response.

One of the most common "casual" questions I ask is "Do you surf the web?", and the answer is almost always an affirmative. In a company that works extensively with Internet technologies and web solutions, this happens to be a lot more important than people think.

"Do you surf the web?", for example, uses the term "web". If an applicant doesn't know what the "web" is, mind you, then I already know that he has no business applying for an Internet-based business.

The question usually gets followed up with "How often do you surf?". This helps get an idea of how much exposure the applicant gets when it comes to the Internet. I've had people tell me that they only log on for about an hour each week to check their e-mail; but on the other end of the spectrum, I've interviewed hardcore junkies who sit at a terminal for six hours at a time. The more regular exposure an applicant has, the more adept she most likely is at our line of work. (With that said, the more exposure an applicant has, the greater the chance that they'll slack off in front of an unlimited DSL connection.)

And then there's "What site do you feel embodies good web design?" (i.e. "Pick a web site that you think is good, and explain why."), which, to be quite frank, is a very vague question. I've found it very useful, however, for revealing exactly what the applicant visits regularly. Most people, after all, tend to name the first good-looking site that comes to mind. (One person pointed out the Playboy web site with his answer, which immediately got me skeptical about his work habits.)

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not an HR person, and at this rate, I'll never be one. I'm a business manager and a writer, however, and I find it easy to look into peoples' depths of character from my position. In fact, it's fun looking at things from a non-HR point of view; you get to personally identify the rationale behind a lot of rules that way.

So at this point, I'm slogging away in front of my computer, knowing full well that hiring season will most likely last from now until mid-May. I went through two applicants this morning, and I've got a couple more dropping by the office tomorrow. I continually promise myself not to intimidate them too much with my sullen demeanor, my scruffy countenance, and my "casual" questions.

In that sense, it's probably a good thing that you've read this post all the way to the end.

For all we know, the next applicant I interview could just be you. :)


3sha said...

I like casual questions. And I'm peeved at interviewers who get right to the point in a rushing manner, it's as if they don't really care much about a future-employees.

But what I really hate most are HR managers who discriminate against graduates who aren't from the top four universities. ^_^

Sean said...

3sha: Naahh. Interviewers who get right to the point are probably just in a hurry or something. Either that, or they're just doing it to see your reaction.

I've never seen an HR manager who does the discrimination bit, though. I'd call it unethical if it weren't for the fact that I don't have the experience to judge them accordingly. :)

Arashi-KIshu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sean said...

Hmmm... is this the first time anyone's deleted a comment here? I could almost swear that I remember another deleted comment somewhere...