Interviewer’s first-time experience

Reading Time: 3 minutes

On Thursday, I was asked by my manager if I would like to ‘shadow’ some technical interviews on Saturday for hiring Software Developers for our company (‘Shadowing’ interviews means that one is just an active observer of how an interview is being conducted and learn how the candidate is evaluated and judged by the main interviewer).  Since, the event was being conducted on weekend and that too at 9 a.m. (so early in the morning) I made the excuse of having some prior appointments. However, on Friday evening, when he asked me again if I was interested, I checked up my calendar, it was totally clear (since I don’t have a social life), I agreed to go ahead and do it as I thought it would be a learning experience for me.

So, Saturday arrived and I dragged myself out of the bed, to drive to the office to reach in time for shadowing the interviews. In total, I took 5 interviews in the day, each lasting at least an hour. With each interview, I became more and more comfortable with my position on the other side of the interview table than my usual position as a candidate.

In the first interview, I quietly observed how the main interviewer was conducting the interview – how he was testing the candidate, how much of hints to the solution he gave if the candidate was struggling, how he was trying to make the candidate comfortable (but I felt the candidate was getting intimidated). At the end of interview, he asked me to assess the candidate before he filled up the feedback form.

The second interview also went along on the same lines, with me acting as the inconspicuous interviewer. However, this time, the main interviewer, asked me a few times during the interview to ask anything if I had something in my mind. I chipped in asking a few test cases to ask the candidate to check the validity of the solutions proposed by him for these test cases. At end of this interview, the main interviewer asked me if I would like to begin the proceedings in the next interview. I was a bit hesitant but I agreed to see how it would roll out.

In the third interview, I was a bit nervous since I had to begin the proceedings. And the candidate belonging to the fairer sex also didn’t help to calm down my jitteriness. Since, I didn’t have much time to prepare a new question, I asked a question which I was asked during my interviews. As I began asking questions, I realized that the first thing I had to ensure that the candidate understands the question i.e. I should be able to communicate the problem statement effectively.  The second thing was to quickly realize the loopholes in the solution proposed by the candidate and try to push him towards thinking a better solution. I had to repeat this process a few times but the candidate was not able to nail the problem down. After asking the first question, I gave the charge back to the main interviewer to lead the interview.

After the third interview, there was a break and then I was asked to shadow another interviewer.  Now, this main interviewer’s style was quite different from the last interviewer as I discovered in the course of my fourth interview. The candidate turned out to be a senior from my institute. The main interviewer did all the talking this time and emphasized on coding down the solutions, without giving enough time to first listen through what was going on in candidate’s head. So, the candidate kept coding for 45 minutes and he never interrupted him, so there was a dead silence which killed me.

After the fourth interview, when the HR folks came to schedule another interview, then the main interviewer was reluctant as he was planning to leave soon. At this moment, I volunteered to lead the interview and asked the main interviewer just to stay there initially shadowing how well I was conducting the interview. Although, I am not the one who would put his hands up and say I will do it, but I simply couldn’t bear the thought of getting killed twice in the same day by another 40-something minute long, silent coding session. Hence, I agreed to lead the interviews, although, at that moment, I didn’t have any questions prepared.

I raked up my brain to recollect questions from my previous interview experiences as a candidate to select a few questions to ask as an interviewer. Now, the fifth and last interview of the day was the most interesting one for me. I asked the candidate three questions and whenever the candidate struggled, I tried to drop him a hint. However, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the desired solutions from him in an hour-and-half long session. At last, when I was asked to fill up the feedback form, I realized how hard it is to fill up 3 simple columns and give your final verdict which would disappoint the candidate. So, sadly my first verdict as the lead interviewer for a candidate was ‘Not Inclined to Hire’.

Interview at IIM-L

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The personal interview stage for selection into the IIMs becomes very crucial when you haven’t done well enough to sell yourself in the group discussion stage. This thought was playing back again and again in my mind as i was waiting for my turn to be interviewed for selection into IIM-L. Since I was assigned the last serial number in my group, I had to wait for almost two and a half hours for my turn. After waiting for those two long hours, finally my turn came.
I entered the room, a bit nervous about what was going to happen in the next few minutes. I greeted them and sat down after taking permission from the panelists. There were two of them — one of them asked me to hand over my certificates to him while the other panelist had taken a pose which gave clear indications as to what was coming my way. He had leaned back on his chair, put his hands behind back, folded them and was resting his head on them. And so began my memorable interview experience.

He began by saying that they don’t want to take engineers at Lucknow. All the engineers have the same mindset. He questioned me why should they take me despite the fact that i am also an engineer. I tried to sell the engineer community by saying that the engineers have strong analytical skills if not better. Since they have gone through a rigorous 4-year engineering course, they are capable of handling the 2-year rigorous management course. They are also good team players as they are likely to have worked in teams on some projects and assignments. He tried to refute my view by saying that that is the problem. The engineers have only strong analytical skills but lack creative skills. I tried to counter this argument by saying that engineers are also creative and it can be seen in their innovative final year project.
(#1: Later i felt that i should have tried not to defend the entire engineering community but should have tried to showcase how i am different from regular engineers.)

As expected, next question came what was my final year project. I tried to explain to them that my final year project is to create a robot that can assist the visually challenged person by using GPS and infrared technology. A stick is mounted on the robot which is held by the visually challenged person. The first panelist asked me what’s the benefit of it if we are still using a stick. I said that in the current case, using a stick the person builds a visual map in his memory but while using my project he can traverse even in “unseen” locations. The second panelist, who was always trying to counter my statements, said that this is nothing innovative. If i had designed some chip which can be implanted in the brain to help the person create a visual map, then that would be called something innovative. The people in Japan and China have already made robots which can massage your body. That is called innovation. I didn’t back down from my stand and i stated that although i have heard about such developments, but i haven’t heard that it has been successful.
(#2: I think i should have tried to bring into focus also the constraints of equipments available in India. Also, the fact that I was not knowledgeable enough to work in field of nervous systems. But, i think at that time they have got on my nerves.)

Now, they looked for the first time at my personal data form and then asked me where did i live. I replied that i live currently at Guwahati. Then began the part of interview which made it special. They ask me what do I know about Guwahati. What kind of crops and industry are present at Guwahati. At that time, the only thing that flashed in my mind was bomb blasts. But i considered that as not a good enough answer and at that time, i couldn’t even remember the Assamese tea. I said I don’t know. They laughed and then said that I have been living there for almost 4 years and still don’t know anything about GuwahatiI said that my actual home is in Bihar and not in Assam.
(#3: I wonder how i missed to look upon my local area’s history and geography)

The first panelist asked me then how did Bihar got its name. I replied that maybe it has got its name from the Buddhist monasteries known as ‘Vihara’. He then asked me where did Buddhism started. I said BodhGaya. Next he queried who started it. I said Gautam Buddha. Then he asked me if I knew who was he apart from the person who started Buddhism. I replied that he was a prince. He probed further by asking which state. I said I don’t know. Then he asked me to name a few rivers of Bihar. At that time, I could only recall three names — Ganga, Kosi and Kiul. He then asked which river has been a source of problem in the past. I replied that it’s Kosi. Then, suddenly the second panelist started talking about Brahamputra and how big it is. Then he asked me if i knew where it originates from. I said I don’t know. The first panelist asked me to take a blind guess. I said maybe from Himalayas. Then he asks me where does it go. I said it goes to Bay of Bengal. He asked if I was sure that it goes to Bay of Bengal and not Arabian Sea. In the heat of moment, I nervously replied that I am not sure but I think that it goes to Bay of Bengal.
(#4: Telling ‘maybe’, ‘I am not sure’ was not such a good way to reply back in interview.)

Then, they asked me why is that i did not mention anything in my extra curricular activities. I said that it’s because my hobbies are also of academic nature such as solving logical puzzles and reading novels. Then he asked me what kind of novel I read. I said that generally I read self-motivating novels. Then he asked what was the last novel I read. I said ‘Life of Pi’. Then he asked me a few factual questions based on this novel. I managed to answer all his questions except one factual question that was how did the protagonist got his name ‘Piscine’. He asked me how did this novel inspire me. I said that this novel conveys that we can survive even in the unimaginable situations with very few resources. It tells that the human basic instinct is survival. He then asks me, what other novel have i read. I said ‘Alchemist’. Then, he asked me what did i learn from it. I said that this novel also imparts optimism and teaches us to follow our path overcoming the obstacles in the path. Then he asked me don’t i believe in the theory that once we achieve our goal, rest of life becomes aimless since we don’t have anything to achieve. I said that I don’t believe in it because once we achieve a goal, we always try to attain higher goals and throughout life there is an unending process of goal-setting. As expected, the next question was what was my goal. I said that in the long run, I want to become an entrepreneur. He asked me which field. I said information technology. He probed me again by asking whether in field of hardware or software. I said software. He then asked me if i had any particular idea in mind. I said i would like to invest in the idea of building a web search which given an image as input could give description about this image such as historical/geographical information. He smiled and then said despite of me being unaware about my own surroundings, I want to build something like it. He asked me if I thought it would be successful. I said maybe. He asked me despite the chances of its failure, am I willing to take the risk. I nodded and said yes. Then he said that they were done and I may leave now. I collected back my certificates and left the room and heaved a sigh of relief. And so ended my first experience of a stress interview.
(#5: I forgot to mention that i acted as sun campus ambassador in extra co-curricular. I could also have mentioned that i played cricket at the inter-hostel level.)

my first experience of an official interview(opjems)

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Disclaimer: This interview was a successful one. You are advised not to follow this approach. You can follow it on your own risk.It just describes my personal experience. Luckily it worked 🙂

Preface: I had been selected for the interview round of OPJEMS scholarship after scoring better than other 18 students in the written test of opjems which involved questions testing your decision-making skills. The news of my selection was a big surprise for me.

Interview:

(The interview was conducted via video conferencing.i was jittery and nervous before the interview as expected.)
—————————————
me: hi, good evening sir.
op1: good evening, it must be quite dark out there in guwahati now, isn’t it?
me: yes, sir.
——————————————–
op1: you have an interesting profile, anurag. you have shifted from Bhagalpur to Delhi to Guwahati, it must have been a long journey.
( I am at loss of words at such an unexpected question. I had no idea which adjective to pick to describe my journey. just look at my response)
me: It has been an enthralling and long journey.
(I had no idea from where did that adjective come.)
———————————————–
#personality test
op2: Tell us the qualities that your friends associate with you.
me: patience, perseverance, confidence (though my voice was shaking literally), intelligence
(suddenly there’s a power cut and the connection is lost and i take a sigh of relief for a moment)
(back again)
op2: you are smiling ,what else do you want to say?
me: (smiling) my friends say about me that he makes a lot of PJ’s.
(op1, op2 and op3 are all smiling at me now.i don’t know whether i have made the right statement.)
(yorker#1)
op2: so anurag,are you now going to tell us a PJ now?
(I am speechless, later when I reflected back, I should have said a PJ even though it may be really poor. Perhaps,they wanted to test my performance under stress.)
me: Right now, i can’t tell you a PJ. Hopefully, by the end of this interview, I would have said a few PJ’s. PJ’s come spontaneously to me.
op2: Tell us who has been your idol?
me: My elder brother has been my idol.
op2: Why? What qualities do you like in him?
me: My brother is smart, has the ability to think quickly. He has always guided me and I wouldn’t have reached IIT if my brother hadn’t shown the path to me.
(bouncer#1)
op1:why do you think that you wouldn’t have got into IIT?
me: I mean to say that when a child is in school, he hardly knows which career is best for him.When I was in 10th, my brother got into IIT. So, he showed to me that there exists a possible path.
op2: Do you think you have inherited any qualities of my brother?
me: I have tried to catch up on making quick decisions from him.
op2: Can you give an example of it?
me: (stumped,vague answer) At times i take quick decisions. But there are times when I would have differed from my brother.
op2: So, you can think differently?
me: yes
op2: good
———————————–
# situation-handling test
decision#1
op1: Suppose you and your friend are giving an entrance examination.you are stuck on a question.but you know that your friend would have solved that question.Wouldn’t you ask him the answer?
me: No, it is against my morals.
op2: Now suppose that the situation is reversed.what will you do?
me: I will refuse to answer him.
op2: But he is your friend.
me: I believe that entrance examinations are supposed to be cleared on merit. I don’t want to change the system rules. If he is not good enough to clear the exam, he shouldn’t clear the exam. Suppose he clears the exam but he is not good enough, then he would fail at the higher education system.
op2: But how can you explain it to your friend at that time?
me: I won’t. I would simply refuse to answer.
———————————–
decision#2
op1: As you know that there is corruption evident everywhere.suppose that you are caught by a traffic policeman even though you haven’t crossed the red light.what will you do?
me: It depends on the situation. I think I can’t challenge his authority, I would pay the chalaan and go.
op1: Now suppose he is asking you to pay him bribe and he won’t give you any receipt. What will you do?
(i am at total loss of words.)
me: I would have tried to ensure that I get the receipt.
op1: But you just said that it is difficult to bully a policeman.
me: (silent for a long while).
op1: No problem man. It’s ok.
—————————-
#psychological test
op3: what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy?
me: Success makes me happy and failure make me unhappy. Sometimes solving a question also make me happy and helping strangers make me feel happy.
op3: what has been your biggest failure?
me: my rank in JEE. I knew that I could have got a better rank but I was too nervous while giving the exam.
op2: So did you learn anything from it?
me: yes, I have learnt that I must take in the things calmly and slowly.
op2: What do you mean by calmly and slowly?
me: Now, if  I get stuck at a question, I move forward to the next question.and try to solve it systematically.
op2: good.
op2: When was the last time you helped a stranger?
me: While I was coming for this interview, I gave directions to a stranger.
(everyone is now smiling.i don’t know whether they considered as a dumb answer or they were smiling at my attempt to tell a PJ.)
op2: (smiling) Did that make you happy?
me: yes
op2: good.
——————–
#i am stumped by a mile
op1: Suppose you are given 1-crore.make a plan to invest it.
me: (stumped) I … would start a software company providing innovative solutions.
(perhaps they wanted a detailed analysis of the break-up of the amount.once again, I have
let myself down.)
—————————–
#rapid-fire
op3: What is your favorite vegetable?
me: potato
op3: Give 2 reasons,why are you not a potato?
me: Firstly, a potato doesn’t have brain.secondly, potato is related to vegetarian and i am non-vegeterian.
(they are smiling again.i have no idea what sort of impression i have made.)
op2: Suppose there are 18 players participating in a knockout tennis tournament.how many matches would be there?
me:(instantly)17
op2: Suppose you are to turn into an animal,which animal would you like to become?
me: Ant.As my qualities of hardwork and patience matches with an ant.
op2: so small?
me: I will have the freedom to go anywhere then.
op1: Suppose you are given the freedom to invite any celebrity for dinner.whom would you invite?Bipasha, Aishwarya, Deepika?
me: Bill Gates.
op1:(smiling) Really? You would miss your chance to dine with deepika for Bill gates.
me: yes.Bill gates is a person related to my field.
op1: whom would have your best friend invited for dinner?
me: I can’t guess. It depends on him.
op1: But still,think whom would have he invited.
me:(thinking for a while about my best friend and then the answer was easy) Aishwarya.
op1: (laughing) your best friend must be then Abhishek Bachhan.
————-
#thanksgiving
op1:thanks a lot.
me:thank you,sir.
#thoughts after giving the interview
(this interview has made me aware of my lack of confidence while facing the interviewer face-to-face.it also teaches me to be a bit prepared about the questions likely to be asked.)
#thoughts after the result
I can’t believe it yet that I had a successful interview.Thank you chacha and chikda for being my inspiration in the field of cracking PJ’s.