Thursday, June 23, 2005

How The Group Interview Went

Pretty well, considering. It helped that I was all mellowed out with my prescription meds. I should really be drawn on Ativan more often.

I would like to thank the earlier-mentioned Mens Wearhouse Guy'dLines web site for their utterly incomprehensible how to tie a tie animations, with four different knot variations, which is four more than necessary. I chose the "four-in-hand" knot and spent about half an hour figuring out that monster. I also took a shot at the windsor knot and half-windsor knot, but gave up on those when I realized that successfully tying a windsor would require spontaneously growing an extra arm or two.

And that would make me look stupid in the interview.

Ken was giving me some hints before the interview and also keeping me on my toes. ("Think quick: what's two plus two?" "Four.") Now, I always thought that the only way I'd be getting offered this job would be if I were being interviewed alongside four
silver-medalists from the Special Olympics, but Ken reassured me that there would only be one other candidate in the conference room who was any real competition. I was expecting four other Asian kids, all Rhodes scholars, yapping about BEA Weblogic and Kerberos and NNTP. So who was right?

Well, there were four Asian guys interviewing us: the recruiter, some tech guy, the company VP, and this jolly, tubby guy. But I walked into the International Biometric Group offices and I couldn't help but laugh. There was one guy, Christopher, sitting in the lobby dressed the way I thought I should've been dressed — in an actual male model-style suit. And, for all my neurotic agonizing about my wardrobe, there was this other guy in a button-down shirt, khaki churchgoing pants, and sneak-ers. I can't believe I thought they'd ostracize me for my suede. Seriously, fuck did I know?

Rounding out our Interviewee League of Justice, there's this dude Michael, who's maybe five years older than the rest of us, works at Lehman Brothers, is clearly used to making presentations to dudes in ties, and could easily be picked out as the competition. There's also some non-descript guy who's wearing a suit and not a tie. Guess which of us ain't getting called back.

Here's the story of the interview. The five of us and the four of them sat on opposite sides of the conference table, like they copied the format from a reality show. We introduced ourselves, then Dave, the recruiter, told us that the purpose of the group interview was to see how we'd interact in a group. Did any of us have some ideas how he might accomplish that? Silence. Scratch that. Nervous silence.

Michael, Mr. Lehman Brothers, finally broke it with something cogent and guaranteed to make the rest of us look like stupid undergraduates by comparison.

Recruiter Dave asked something else, Michael comes up with an answer, and Dave, apparently sensing the start of some sort of pattern, wants someone else to take a turn, too. Awkward silence. So the corporate VP speaks up, out of turn, with only the first of his obnoxious rants: "Okay guys, what we're looking for right now is how you can meet with clients, and when you're meeting with clients, silence is bad. We've been watching from the moment you came in here, seeing what you've done. Because you're gonna have to deal with clients, and anybody who doesn't think they're ready, you might as well not waste your time here, you can just leave." Apparently, someone's a bigwig VP with important things to do, and he just doesn't have time for a bunch of kids too shy to answer a barrage of obviously loaded questions.

Somewhere in there, VP-guy also gives us a big lecture about the importance of eye contact, bitching that we're all looking down at the table and "we could at least pretend to be interested." Then his cell phone rings, and Captain Hypocrisy here decides that feigning interest in the meeting is overrated. He didn't even leave the room. He's also whispering and passing notes to Jolly Tubby Man when Michael's up at the front of the room giving his little extemporaneous presentation.

We're all giving a presentation — the tech guy is asking us a question based on our resume. Chris gives his presentation, and I give my presentation — "You're given some data in an XML file. Write a program that creates an HTML page from the XML file." — and I subtly (and quite accidentally) change the subject so they think I answered the question they asked even though I really didn't, and then Mr. Suit-And-No-Tie gets the freaking easiest question in the entire world. "Write a function in C++, Java, and Visual Basic that calculates the Fibonacci sequence." Now, that's the easiest question in the entire world because there's not a comp-sci major on the planet who hasn't taken at least five exams with that question on it. He gets the C++ version more or less correct, he gets the Java version even less correct, and then he tells the panel there that he "hasn't programmed in Visual Basic in a long time and wouldn't feel comfortable answering the question." But he got two-thirds of the question right, so they let him slide. Shamefully.

Now it's time for the final guy to get his question: "What is the difference between JSP [Java Server Pages] and client-side Java?" And No-Suit-No-Tie-Sneakers stands up and says, word for word, "I haven't programmed in JSP in a long time and I wouldn't feel comfortable answering the question." Like, he doesn't even take a stab at it.

I guess that's the wrong answer.

The VP doesn't have time for this nonsense; he has important things to do, things that require him to wear a tie and dress business formal. In short, he fucking flips, in the passive-aggressive way that someone who thinks he's so important he shouldn't even have to tell you that he's important flips. "Then JSP shouldn't be on your resume. So, here, why don't you take your resume and you can cross out the things that you don't want us asking you about, asshole." (Okay, he didn't say "asshole" but he said it with his eyes.) They pass him his resume across the table. The poor kid looks at it, decides that he's probably not going to be climbing out of the hole Mr. VP dug for him, and tells us that he doesn't think this job is right for him and he's sorry for wasting everybody's time. He gets up to leave, taking his resume with him, and the VP goes into conniptions again: "Hey, hey, hey, don't take that, leave the resume, hey, there's notes on that, hey, hey, leave that here, hey, hey," before Sneakers puts down the sheet of paper.

That's pretty much the blogworthy part of the interview. There was this group project where we had to market our own imaginary Mapquest-like web application. I got a bit flustered during my part of the presentation.

Anyway, I'm no longer interested in the job. By the end of the two hours, the interviewers had taken Suit-No-Tie out of the room and fed him to the pirahnas in the lobby. The remaining three of us left together and walked up Broadway, talking about the interview and exchanging e-mail addresses, which I doubt we'll ever use. We also talked about the company and the executives, including one (guess which) who Michael and Christopher euphemistically called "intense" and I called downright "rude." As you can tell, I'm no longer interested in the position, as cool at it seems from a technical point of view. I thought I wouldn't want it because I'd have to deal with clients or wear a tie, but honestly, if the boss is gonna be a dick before he's hired you, imagine how awful he'll be once you're working there.

They gave us a take-home assignment, which I might or might not do. I do have to write to them and withdraw my application... I'm just trying to decide how much I should say. I wish I could be the kind of person who glare at Mr. VP when he picked up his cell phone mid-conference: "Excuse me, you have something more interesting going on there? Anything you'd like to share with the group?" Oh, man.... Confidence.