1.04.2005

On this Page

» RANT: HR = Teamwork?
» RANT: Fiction or Reality?
» Q&A: I had nailed every question...
» TIP: Help your references help you
» Q&A: None of the interviewers response to my Thank-you notes...
» TIP: Speak your interviewer's language
» TIP: It's not always what you know...
» Q&A: Does asking questions make one look incompetent?
» Q&A: so... what's your greatest weakness?
» TIP: Thrive or Survive in an interview

RANT: HR = Teamwork?

Is it just me, or does HR love to talk about teamwork, like my high school basketball coach? While I appreciate the work HR do to make the work environment more pleasant, I have a hard time saying the same for their corny interview questions.

One of my recent (worst?) HR interviews went like this:

  • Give me an example of a sacrifice you made for the greater good of the team.
  • How important is recognition to you? Felt like telling her "recognition is not everything, it's the only thing." but I managed to bite my tongue.
  • Then she asked, "what does the word teamwork mean to you?"

I told her, with a straigh face, "make sacrifice for the greater good of the team, and recognize that recognition is not everything."

BTW, I didn't get the job. Ohh, well...

Category: C++ Quant > Random Walk

Your Turn!

 

RANT: Fiction or Reality?

Ran across this list of tricks interviewers use on job hunters.
The trick: Dropping a pen, usually equidistant between the interviewer and the candidate.
The reason: People who are customer-oriented will be quick to pick up the pen.

The trick: Spilling something on a candidate during a lunch or dinner meeting.
The reason: The interviewer wants to see how the candidate handles such a difficult and potentially embarrassing situation. The real personality will be revealed.

The trick: Asking the candidate to drive them both to a lunch meeting.
The reason: The interviewer wants to see if the candidate is a hurried and aggressive driver or a courteous and careful driver.

The trick: A last-minute change in the interview time or place.
The reason: The interviewer can find out how well the candidate handles the change.

The trick: Keep a candidate waiting for as long as an hour.
The reason: Does the candidate find something to occupy the time during the wait or does he or she get anxious or angry at the delay?

If you think these tricks are dirty, get ready for this one: call candidates at home posing as a telemarketer. The reason? To see how the candidate might deal with an annoying client. Thank God I haven't run acrossed an interviewer like that. (If I do one day, probably don't want to work for him anyway.) One thing for sure, I'll think twice about yelling next time a telemarketer annoys me ;-)

Category: C++ Quant > Random Walk

Your Turn!

 

Q&A: I had nailed every question...

...still they decided not to extend me an offer. What could possibly go wrong?

Answer : If you scored high on the questions (as you thought you did), my guess is you probably didn't 'click' with the interviewers.

A good interview is a one-two punch of "hard" test and "soft" test. The "hard" test refer to technical questions that are designed to see if you are competent and it is the easy part of the interview if you know the subjects well (ie. interest rates, mortgage backed securities, etc)

The "soft" test is a bit tricky. These are not really questions because an interviewer rarely voices them - s/he keeps these questions in the head, and derive the answers from your answers to the technical questions and from the way you carry yourself through out the interview, starting from the moment you walked through the door. Can you speak the non-technical language to a customer? How would you react in a stressful environment? Some would even have you meet with traders, bankers, and other project stakeholders. The "soft" test is also known in the consulting industry as the "airport" test: if you and the interviewer are on a business trip together, can he stand being stuck with you in an airport for several hours, or would he rather kill himself?

It's not uncommon to see people prepared to "take" the first punch, but not prepared for a followup punch (like a regular boxer). And that's what make the first punch so deadly: it's also designed to fix the attension of the interviewee, so s/he would more likely to reveal his/her true self (when the followup punch comes).

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

Your Turn!

 

TIP: Help your references help you

I've never suspected my effectiveness as a reference until recently when a friend of mine called me up.

Peter: "Hey Bud. Expect a call from [insert your favorite firm]. They are trying to fill a C# Architect position for their Credit desk."
Me: "No worries. Anything in particular you want me to focus on? I mean, aside from the usuals."
Peter: "Well, I was going over in my head the projects we delivered together. Do you a couple of minutes to go over them quickly with me?"
Me: "That sounds great. It's been a while. I can barely remember."
Peter: "What they are trying to deliver is a lot like project X. Boy, wasn't that a challenge?"
Me: "yup. It's a beast..."

Next thing I know, I was recalling the projects with excitement as Peter pointed out specific aspects of the project: the midnight calls when the server crashed, the long hours we had to put in to accommodate the scope creep, the free luxury massage treatments we were getting... the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Peter: "I owe you one Bud. I hope I can return the favor someday, or at least get your a couple of beers."

With that, he hang up.

I didn't realize what happened until I finished the phone call with the prospect employer two days later. It was one of the easiest AND best references I've ever given to anybody - instead of giving general answers(ie. with no teeth), I was able to give specific information and mini-stories. It's then I realized I rehearsed the call with Peter without knowing.

  • Peter was controlling the call: instead of answering with whatever comes to mind, I found myself recalling the conversation I had with him earlier. (In the absence of having a planned discussion, the mind wanders.)
  • I remembered the conversation with Peter pretty well 'cos I was doing the talking most of time - all he did was to got me verbalized my judgment by asking relevant questions.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want > Post Interview

Your Turn!

 

Q&A: None of the interviewers response to my Thank-you notes...

...Does that mean "Game over" for me?

Answer : If your Thank-you letters merely express gratitude for the interview, enthusiasm for the job, or just a simple Thank-you, they aren't making it easy for the interviewers to reply, and they just won't. Try to make it feel like a continuing conversation rather than just a 'notice'.

  • Mention one of the more interesting discussions you two had during the interview. This helps put a face to your email address. Also, it gives you an opportunity to introduce new thoughts you've had since the meeting, or to remind him the suggestions you made during the session.
  • Send an article related to your discussion topics or the interviewer's interest area. e.g. product/tool whitepapers, industry news. It helps show your initiative. If it's an article on the web, don't just send a link, copy & paste the content of the article.

Some also attach work samples. e.g. project proposals, postmortem, and presentations. Or follow up on questions that they didn't answer it well. Try them only when you need to further prove your skillsets.

To write a Thank-you letter that gets response, make sure it's a natural continuity of the conversations you had with the interviewers during the interview. Also it helps keep your name fresh in interviews' minds.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want > Post Interview

Your Turn!

 

TIP: Speak your interviewer's language

A young boy was sitting in the back seat of the car eating an apple. He poked his father in the front seat and asked, "Daddy, why does my apple turn brown?"

His father answered, "When the skin is removed from the apple, air reaches the flesh of the apple and causes oxidation. This changes the apple's molecular structure and results in a brownish color."

After a long pause, a small voice from the back seat asked, "Daddy, are you talking to me?"

The boy's father seems to forget for a second who's he's talking to. Some job hunters make the same mistake when they speak the same language to all interviewers, technical or non-technical alike. In a financial interview, it's not uncommon to meet a wide variety of people from various groups. For instance, if you are interviewing for a Quant developer position, aside from meeting with your peers, you may also have to meet with Quants, traders, analysts and other people that you are gonna support and interact with. And if all goes well, you would get to meet with your boss's boss, who most likely is a Managing Director.

An applicant may be able to impress his peers and Quants with object factory, yield curve construction, and similar topics that shows complexity, but the same conversation would most likely put a trader or a Director to sleep. They are more interested in P&L, interest rates and things in the 'bigger' picture. And when they hear these things, they want them to be simplied too. In other words, simplicity raises the applicant's qualification in their eyes.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu once said, "You cannot speak of an ocean to a well-frog, a creature of a narrower sphere. You cannot speak of ice to a summer insect, the creature of a season.". Think about that next time you pass the technical interview with ease and yet come up empty.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want > Interview

Your Turn!

 

TIP: It's not always what you know...

but also who you know. In a slow economy, it pays to job-hunt thru your circle of Wall Street friends, rather than relying on your resume alone.

Remember back in high school when that new girl showed up and you just knew you had to meet her? How did you do it? No doubt you did some research - figured out her name, where she came from, what classes she was taking - and then started to look for connections among your circle of friends to figure out who knew someone who knew someone who knew the girl. By following that relationship path and then spending some time talking with her - bam! You had a date for Friday night.

The same approach is just as effective for a job hunt on Wall Street. Not sure who to approach? If you have a specific bank in mind but don't know any insider

  • Explore the bank's circle of 'friends' - firms that it works close with. e.g. vendors, hedge fund clients. Do you know anyone work there? Chances are they have some inside contacts and may be willing to refer you.
  • Approach an insider who's been featured in a recent article. ie. someone who was quoted on a specific subject. Compliment him/her on the article and ask about the company (in that order). Get some recommendations about who else you might talk with, either at that company, or in another.
  • Consult with an ex-insider who may still have friends there. ie. a retiree of the bank. They will probably enjoy a trip down the memory lane.
  • Approach reporters who writes about your target firm. Compliment him/her on the story, and probe gently for the names of people she interviewed.
  • Participates in your professional community. i.e. not-for-profit organizations and subject based online forums. Develop relationships with people who share your interests and goals. Help them with their problems & they will help you with yours.

Just like how you tell your friends you only want to know the new girl, ask insiders for insights on specific subjects (ie. what it's like to work there), not a job lead. The latter turns people off and won't get you very far. It's more effective to get referrals who will later get you closer to the hiring managers. If you plan to drop the person's name in other conversations, remember to ask for permissions.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want > Pre-Interview > Networking

Your Turn!

 

Q&A: Does asking questions make one look incompetent?

Not if you ask the right questions at the right time.

Questions like "How would you define success in this position after six months?" may hit a hot button that will give you more information which you can use to tailor your answers. Common questions include

  • What are your top priorities for the team?
  • What qualities are needed to be successful in this position? Are there any issues that you would like this person to work on?
  • Who are the key people the job holder will interact with?
  • Is there anything else you need to know from me to have a complete picture of my qualifications?
  • What are your pet peeves?

Questions like "What are your 90-day expectations for the person who fills the job?" minimize the possibility of being overqualified for the position. For instance, in an effort to impress the interviewers, it's not uncommon for an applicant to talk too much about unrelated qualifications, raising a red flag that you may become bored soon, therefore not a good fit. aka. the foot-in-mouth problem. Common questions include

  • How do you see this position evolving in the future?
  • How would you describe your management style?

Questions like "When do you need someone to start in this position?" show the interviewer your interest and enthusiasm in the job. These questions are best asked near the end of the interview if you think the interview went well. It also help eliminates the second-guesses many tend to have after leaving the building. Common questions include

  • How many more candidates do you expect to interview?
  • What's the next step in the process?
  • How soon do you expect to make a hiring decision?

Questions like "Is it okay if I take a week off before I start?" tend to turn interviewers off in the first interview since it gives the impression that you are sure the job is yours and it's not a decision for the interviewer to make.

Last but not least, use questions if you get stuck on a question, stall for time by asking them to clarify.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want > Interview

Your Turn!

 

Q&A: so... what's your greatest weakness?

I was interviewing this guy for another team the other day - he seemed pretty strong technically so I decided to throw that question out. He replied (along these lines)...

I have been involved with a lot of initiative. I see something that needs to be done and I do it. Sometimes I step on someone's toes without knowing. When I do, I apologize and make sure that the next time I ask their permission to "take on" the task, or at least get them involved.

I gave him the highest recommendation (which I don't normally do) as "your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness" is one of my favorite tactics as well ;-)

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

Your Turn!

 

TIP: Thrive or Survive in an interview

I don't know about you, but after interviewing a few candidates in a day, I can hardly recall much about any of them. It's not that my questions are repetitive, but their answers are - many candidates try hard not to say anything 'abnormal'. At the end of the day, they may all survive, but they also kind of blend together. How does one not only survive, but also stand out from the crowd?
  • Tango with me, but let me lead. Conventional wisdom suggests that you should hold your questions until after the interviewer has finished interrogating you. Tangling with the interviewer suggests you ask relevant questions throughout the interview. The best interview is not an interview, but a two-way conversation. You both should be fully engaged like partners. Letting the interviewer lead suggests you look for opportunities to ask questions, but don't force it. The best is to answer the interviewer's question fully then follow up with a question of you own. For instance, when the interviewer ask you for an example of an achievement, describe it then follow up with "Would the job holder be facing similar situations here?" This creates an opportunity for you to elicit more information from the interviewer about the job, and use them to tailor your answers.
    • Another good opportunity to ask questions is when you need clarification on a question. "Yes I am a team player. But before I get more specific, would you mind telling me the kinds of teams you have in your company, so I can give you relevant examples?"
  • Tell me your story. Stories are "Kodak moments" from your career. A good story is one of the most effective way to deliver an answer - not only it helps you not sound just like everyone else, but also makes the interviewer feel he's in charge - in charge of forming his own opinion about you through your actions instead of your words. A good story has three key elements: Problem you faced, Action you took, Result you delivered. The best ordering of the elements depends on the question. If you were asked to share an achievement, you might want to use the Result-Act-Problem approach, which emphasizes your results. Use the Problem-Act-Result approach if you were asked to describe a tough problem.
    • Make sure your interviewer understands the problem. If s/he doesn't get the problem, it's not a real accomplishment no matter how hard it is. If s/he does, s/he would most likely probe further for more depth such as "What were you thinking at that point?" or "Tell me more about your meeting with that person."

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want > Interview

Your Turn!