The 25 most difficult questions

which has "As Reprinted from FOCUS Magazine -- January 5, 1983" at the top.

The 25 most difficult questions you'll be asked on a job interview

Being prepared is half the battle.

If you are one of those executive types unhappy at your
present post and embarking on a New Year's resolution to find a new
one, here's a helping hand. The job interview is considered to be the
most critical aspect of every expedition that brings you face-to- face
with the future boss. One must prepare for it with the same tenacity
and quickness as one does for a fencing tournament or a chess match.

This article has been excerpted from "PARTING COMPANY:
How to Survive the Loss of a Job and Find Another Successfully"
by William J. Morin and James C. Cabrera. Copyright by Drake Beam Morin,
inc. Publised by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Morin is chairman and Cabrera is president of New York-based
Drake Beam Morin, nation's major outplacement firm, which has opened
offices in Philadelphia.

1. Tell me about yourself.

Since this is often the opening question in an interview, be extracareful
that you don't run off at the mouth. Keep your answer to a minute or
two at most. Cover four topics: early years, education, work history,
and recent career experience. Emphasize this last subject. Remember
that this is likely to be a warm-up question. Don't waste your best
points on it.

2. What do you know about our organization?

You should be able to discuss products or services, revenues, reputation,
image, goals, problems, management style, people, history and philosophy.

But don't act as if you know everything about the place. Let your answer
show that you have taken the time to do some research, but don't overwhelm
the interviewer, and make it clear that you wish to learn more.

You might start your answer in this manner: "In my job search,
I've investigated a number of companies.

Yours is one of the few that interests me, for these reasons..."

Give your answer a positive tone. Don't say, "Well, everyone tells
me that you're in all sorts of trouble, and that's why I'm here",
even if that is why you're there.

3. Why do you want to work for us?

The deadliest answer you can give is "Because I like people."
What else would you like-animals?

Here, and throughout the interview, a good answer comes from having
done your homework so that you can speak in terms of the company's needs.
You might say that your research has shown that the company is doing
things you would like to be involved with, and that it's doing them
in ways that greatly interest you. For example, if the organization
is known for strong management, your answer should mention that fact
and show that you would like to be a part of that team. If the company
places a great deal of emphasis on research and development, emphasize
the fact that you want to create new things and that you know this is
a place in which such activity is encouraged. If the organization stresses
financial controls, your answer should mention a reverence for numbers.

If you feel that you have to concoct an answer to this question - if,
for example, the company stresses research, and you feel that you should
mention it even though it really doesn't interest you- then you probably
should not be taking that interview, because you probably shouldn't
be considering a job with that organization.

Your homework should include learning enough about the company to avoid
approaching places where you wouldn't be able -or wouldn't want- to
function. Since most of us are poor liars, it's difficult to con anyone
in an interview. But even if you should succeed at it, your prize is
a job you don't really want.

4. What can you do for us that someone else can't?

Here you have every right, and perhaps an obligation, to toot your
own horn and be a bit egotistical. Talk about your record of getting
things done, and mention specifics from your resume or list of career
accomplishments. Say that your skills and interests, combined with this
history of getting results, make you valuable. Mention your ability
to set priorities, identify problems, and use your experience and energy
to solve them.

5. What do you find most attractive about this position? What seems
least attractive about it?

List three or four attractive factors of the job, and mention a single,
minor, unattractive item.

6. Why should we hire you?

Create your answer by thinking in terms of your ability, your experience,
and your energy. (See question 4.)

7. What do you look for in a job?

Keep your answer oriented to opportunities at this organization. Talk
about your desire to perform and be recognized for your contributions.
Make your answer oriented toward opportunity rather than personal security.

8. Please give me your defintion of [the position for which you are
being interviewed].

Keep your answer brief and taskoriented. Think in in terms of responsibilities
and accountability. Make sure that you really do understand what the
position involves before you attempt an answer. If you are not certain.
ask the interviewer; he or she may answer the question for you.

9. How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to
our firm?

Be realistic. Say that, while you would expect to meet pressing demands
and pull your own weight from the first day, it might take six months
to a year before you could expect to know the organization and its needs
well enough to make a major contribution.

10. How long would you stay with us?

Say that you are interested in a career with the organization, but
admit that you would have to continue to feel challenged to remain with
any organization. Think in terms of, "As long as we both feel achievement-oriented."

11. Your resume suggests that you may be over-qualified or too experienced
for this position. What's Your opinion?

Emphasize your interest in establishing a long-term association with
the organization, and say that you assume that if you perform well in
his job, new opportunities will open up for you. Mention that a strong
company needs a strong staff. Observe that experienced executives are
always at a premium. Suggest that since you are so well qualified, the
employer will get a fast return on his investment. Say that a growing,
energetic company can never have too much talent.

12. What is your management style?

You should know enough about the company's style to know that your
management style will complement it. Possible styles include: task oriented
(I'll enjoy problem-solving identifying what's wrong, choosing a solution
and implementing it"), results-oriented ("Every management
decision I make is determined by how it will affect the bottom line"),
or even paternalistic ("I'm committed to taking care of my subordinates
and pointing them in the right direction").

A participative style is currently quite popular: an open-door method
of managing in which you get things done by motivating people and delegating

As you consider this question, think about whether your style will
let you work hatppily and effectively within the organization.

13. Are you a good manager? Can you give me some examples? Do you
feel that you have top managerial potential?

Keep your answer achievementand ask-oriented. Rely on examples from
your career to buttress your argument. Stress your experience and your

14. What do you look for when You hire people?

Think in terms of skills. initiative, and the adaptability to be able
to work comfortably and effectively with others. Mention that you like
to hire people who appear capable of moving up in the organization.

15. Have you ever had to fire people? What were the reasons, and how
did you handle the situation?

Admit that the situation was not easy, but say that it worked out well,
both for the company and, you think, for the individual. Show that,
like anyone else, you don't enjoy unpleasant tasks but that you can
resolve them efficiently and -in the case of firing someone- humanely.

16. What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a manager
or executive?

Mention planning, execution, and cost-control. The most difficult task
is to motivate and manage employess to get something planned and completed
on time and within the budget.

17. What important trends do you see in our industry?

Be prepared with two or three trends that illustrate how well you understand
your industry. You might consider technological challenges or opportunities,
economic conditions, or even regulatory demands as you collect your
thoughts about the direction in which your business is heading.

18. Why are you leaving (did you leave) your present (last) job?

Be brief, to the point, and as honest as you can without hurting yourself.
Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. where you considered
this topic as you set your reference statements. If you were laid off
in an across-the-board cutback, say so; otherwise, indicate that the
move was your decision, the result of your action. Do not mention personality

The interviewer may spend some time probing you on this issue, particularly
if it is clear that you were terminated. The "We agreed to disagree"
approach may be useful. Remember hat your references are likely to be
checked, so don't concoct a story for an interview.

19. How do you feel about leaving all your benefits to find a new

Mention that you are concerned, naturally, but not panicked. You are
willing to accept some risk to find the right job for yourself. Don't
suggest that security might interest you more than getting the job done

20. In your current (last) position, what features do (did) you like
the most? The least?

Be careful and be positive. Describe more features that you liked than
disliked. Don't cite personality problems. If you make your last job
sound terrible, an interviewer may wonder why you remained there until

21. What do you think of your boss?

Be as positive as you can. A potential boss is likely to wonder if
you might talk about him in similar terms at some point in the future.

22. Why aren't you earning more at your age?

Say that this is one reason that you are conducting this job search.
Don't be defensive.

23. What do you feel this position should pay?

Salary is a delicate topic. We suggest that you defer tying yourself
to a precise figure for as long as you can do so politely. You might
say, "I understand that the range for this job is between $______
and $______. That seems appropriate for the job as I understand it."
You might answer the question with a question: "Perhaps you can
help me on this one. Can you tell me if there is a range for similar
jobs in the organization?"

If you are asked the question during an initial screening interview,
you might say that you feel you need to know more about the position's
responsibilities before you could give a meaningful answer to that question.
Here, too, either by asking the interviewer or search executive (if
one is involved), or in research done as part of your homework, you
can try to find out whether there is a salary grade attached to the
job. If there is, and if you can live with it, say that the range seems
right to you.

If the interviewer continues to probe, you might say, "You know
that I'm making $______ now. Like everyone else, I'd like to improve
on that figure, but my major interest is with the job itself."
Remember that the act of taking a new job does not, in and of itself,
make you worth more money.

If a search firm is involved, your contact there may be able to help
with the salary question. He or she may even be able to run interference
for you. If, for instance, he tells you what the position pays, and
you tell him that you are earning that amount now and would Like to
do a bit better, he might go back to the employer and propose that you
be offered an additional 10%.

If no price range is attached to the job, and the interviewer continues
to press the subject, then you will have to restpond with a number.
You cannot leave the impression that it does not really matter, that
you'll accept whatever is offered. If you've been making $80,000 a year,
you can't say that a $35,000 figure would be fine without sounding as
if you've given up on yourself. (If you are making a radical career
change, however, this kind of disparity may be more reasonable and understandable.)

Don't sell yourself short, but continue to stress the fact that the
job itself is the most important thing in your mind. The interviewer
may be trying to determine just how much you want the job. Don't leave
the impression that money is the only thing that is important to you.
Link questions of salary to the work itself.

But whenever possible, say as little as you can about salary until
you reach the "final" stage of the interview process. At that
point, you know that the company is genuinely interested in you and
that it is likely to be flexible in salary negotiations.

24. What are your long-range goals?

Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. Don't answer,
"I want the job you've advertised." Relate your goals to the
company you are interviewing: 'in a firm like yours, I would like to..."

25. How successful do you you've been so far?

Say that, all-in-all, you're happy with the way your career has progressed
so far. Given the normal ups and downs of life, you feel that you've
done quite well and have no complaints.

Present a positive and confident picture of yourself, but don't overstate
your case. An answer like, "Everything's wonderful! I can't think
of a time when things were going better! I'm overjoyed!" is likely
to make an interviewer wonder whether you're trying to fool him . .
. or yourself. The most convincing confidence is usually quiet confidence.

Agile Methods Miss the Point

From artima developer, Agile Methods Miss the Point, by Dale Asberry, April 5, 2004


Elaboration of the seven principles contributing to my success - the Princples of: Enabling Others, Simplicity, No Complaining, Least Work, Least Surprise, Least Damage, and "It Just Works".

Where'd it come from

I was working on my JCM7 presentation Jini and Web Services: Judy Project Overview when I realized that I was making choices about how I developed the Judy codebase. I'm not really sure why I hadn't consciously recognized what I was doing -- especially since I remember following these principles for years... maybe from the project being "my baby", or, possibly, from the complete lack of time I have to give to it. Mostly, I think it came from me thinking about how to describe Judy to my audience. Since software is for, and about, people, I decided to include it in the presentation.


One thing bothers me about the "Agile" movement is the fervor of the religious dogmatism from many of the practitioners. Before I get flamed, hear me out... I personally think many of the agile practices solve several problems that have afflicted the industry for decades -- I use them to solve problems myself. Yet, these practices are still fumbling around the most basic tenet. Software is for, and about, people. Fervor and dogmatism, while good at spreading and enforcing "the word", ultimately squashes critical thought (and the people engaged in it). Principles, on the other hand, are only meant as guides. Dogma are inflexible, hard and fast rules and includes the resulting punishment when a person strays.

Back to the Subject at Hand

Focusing on these principles, coupled with shuffling their priorities to meet the needs of the moment, has resulted in a steady progression and happiness with my chosen career - regardless of the methodologies (Waterfall->RAD->RUP->Agile) and technologies (COBOL->C/C++->Delphi->Java->Jini->Web Services) available to me.

The Principle of Enabling Others

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for life." At the end of the day, this makes me more productive by focusing on what software development is really about -- the people I work with. Paradoxical, I know, but very powerful.

The Principle of Simplicity

If it isn't simple, then it's wrong. In programming terms, simplicity is relative to the level of abstraction. This principle is fallout from having to maintain, review, or otherwise interact with uncounted lines of crappy, overly-complex code from lazy programmers. I particularly despise having to write sub-optimal code myself to work around the limitations of someone else's (fill in the blank) framework/API/application.

The Principle of No Complaining

Don't complain if you're not willing to fix the problem. Nothing is more destructive nor demoralizing than a contentious spirit. Complainers are lazy, petty, and spiteful with no intention of ever being helpful (although they are usually pretty crafty about trying to make it look like they are).

The Principle of Least Work

Do the least it takes to make the software useful, but, prepare for the future. Do whatever it takes to make the work easier (see enabling others). If someone else has already done it, see if you can use it. This principle is not condoning laziness -- there is already to much work that needs to be done and not enough time to do it.

The Principle of Least Surprise

Always do the least surprising thing. In other words, make it work intuitively. And, don't trust your own intuition. I wasn't able to find who discovered this principle, but it is true on many levels, not just GUI design. Unfortunately we are forced to live with products that fail to follow this principle. Why is so much software so baffling?

The Principle of Least Damage

Firstly, don't let the user do something they don't understand. Secondly, if you do, always give them a way to undo it. Finally, operations should only do one thing at a time in incremental baby steps -- except when the user knows what she is doing. Users should feel safe using the software.

The Principle of "It Just Works"

Never expect or require the user to RTFM. Lead the user to her goal. Encourage the user to explore. Expect the user to say, "wow, it's so easy to use!" Frankly, I'm completely fed up with all those software projects that force me to grab the source from HEAD (just to get a usable distribution) and then requires me to read the source code just to figure out how the application works.

Final Thoughts

If you remember and focus on software (use and development) being about people, then whatever principles you follow will equally lead to your success.

Notes on CSS floats

From April 3rd 2003 entry:

Not long after I updated my CSS, a reader pointed out that when resizing text, the content column would “jump” to the right, overlapping the sidebar. Not good.

The problem: I needed to clear the floats that enable the navigation to be horizontal. This didn’t seem to be a problem in my old, positioned layout. But when floats are used to lay out the columns that follow the navigation, not clearing can cause bizarre issues.

The solution: Adding a simple clear: left; to the #content declaration (since this

follows the navigation) solved the text resizing issue.

Something to keep in mind if you’re using a floating layout, along with an unordered navigation list that also uses float.

So… clear, clear, clear.

Beyond the five paragraph essay

This is a post originally from T Burke at Swarthmore. I found the link via

Beyond the
Five-Paragraph Essay

When I hand back
analytic essays, I try to leave room to do a collective post-mortem and talk
about common problems or challenges that appeared in a number of essays. I think
it helps a lot to know that the comment you got is a comment that other people
got, and also to know how some people dealt more successfully with the same
issue. All anonymous, of course, and following my Paula-like nature, nothing
especially brutal in terms of the actual grades dispensed.

I usually base
my comments on some scrawled meta-notes I keep as I work through each batch
of essays. Sometimes there are unique problems that arise in relation to a particular
essay question, which is sometimes a consequence of my having given enough rope
for certain students to hang themselves in the phrasing of the question. Often
there are problems I’ve seen before and commented upon.

1) Some
of these perennial comments concern smaller but important stylistic errors and
misfires, such as:

Choice of
, which can be difficult in history papers if the student is writing
about contemporary texts as well as past events.

The only thing I strongly discourage is the use of the “royal we”,
though there are ways to make it work rhetorically if used with care. The
other thing I mark is switching randomly or rapidly between point-of-view.

Endless unbroken

Weirdly arbitrary

misuse of commas and semicolons

that I label “awk” (awkward) or “ugh” (ugh)
, where
there’s just something really aggravatingly roundabout if not absolutely
grammatically forbidden in the structure of the sentence or where the sentence
or phrase is plain-old butt-ugly.

, e.g., wildly overwritten or florid. The template I have in
mind here is an actual paper I graded some years ago that began, in apparent
seriousness, “Verily, the colonial state in Africa indeed formulated
a versilimitude of societal establishments…”

, the opposite of purple prose, with every sentence a completely
unadorned subject-verb-object monotone. The composite effect is like reading
a telegraph message. “Africa was ruled by Britain, France and Portugal.
They constructed colonial states. Most colonial governments were based on
indirect rule. Indirect rule was based on Africans having their own customary
rules and rulers. Colonial authorities controlled customary rules and rulers.
There were many conflicts over these rules. Indirect rule was an unjust system.” And so on.

over the difference between different sources or materials.
On a recent
assignment, for example, some writers ended up comparing a contemporary scholar’s
work with a primary source from the 1920s and acted as if the two sources
were contemporaneous with each other and written for more or less the same

purely “structural”, use of evidence or supporting material
where an essay has the feel of having been written with “blank spots” for evidence which the student then fills by more or less randomly pulling
out quotes from a text.

: an essay that indiscriminately throws every scrap of potentially
relevant material and information at a problem, organized serially as it occurs
to a student during the writing process. This is especially bad at shorter
lengths, where making good decisions about what to include and exclude is

Words and
phrases that implicitly or explicitly assert mastery of the entire corpus
of material related to the assignment
, often through language that compares
a source text to all other source texts of the class X from which the text
comes. Every once in a while, I get an undergraduate who has some justifiable
reason to assert this sort of authority, but most of the time, it is a mistake,
though often an unconscious one.

Bad introduction
that doesn’t do any sort of useful job stylistically or structurally
A writer can have an introduction that doesn’t do any structural work
but is stylistically compelling, or a writer can have a plain-Jane intro that
gets the structure set, but having neither is a problem.

Bad or nonexistent
paragraph transitions
. At its worst, this makes me feel like I’m
reading the private confessions of a schizophrenic.

2) The
most important fundamental issue I see again and again is a paper which is largely
descriptive rather than analytical, which proves that a student has “done
the homework” but not taken ownership of the material and crafted an argument
of their own. Sometimes I see an argument in the first paragraph or in the last
paragraph (the latter often appearing to be a last-minute discovery) that is
cut off from the rest of the essay, unexplored or unsupported. I often comment
that papers lack what I call “flow”, a sense that they are moving
relentlessly and naturally from one assertion to the next, building towards
some goal or overall point.

I often suggest
some pre-built analytic structures that go beyond the usual five-paragraph essay
that students are taught to write in K-12 schooling. These are hooks, conceptual
heuristics that I hope can help a student find an argument, a structure, a “flow” to the analysis. Here’s some of the structures I often suggest for history
papers written in response to a professor's prompt or question:

Simple compare
and contrast
. This is often the next step up from the plain five-paragraph
essay. I sometimes call it the this-and-that paper. The essay can be written
around a block comparison, where the two (or more) things to be compared are
discussed separately in longer multi-paragraph sections, or on a point-by-point
basis, alternating each paragraph. The key here that makes this structure
rise above the purely pedestrian is the conclusion. A compare-and-contrast
paper that concludes with an unresolved or rhetorical question about the meaning
of the comparison is banal and descriptive, but a paper that concludes with
an emphatic resolution of the comparison or contrast can be excellent.

Close reading.
An essay built around a very tight interpretation of a single word, phrase,
metaphor or other linguistic component of a source or scholarly account, or
focus on a tight comparison of several related passages. The implicit hope
here is that the writer will find a potent enough metaphor or passage to hang
a larger argument on if they pay close attention to the language of their
sources or material.

A structure that is more precisely fitted to historical writing, where it
traces the development of a theme or issue over time. This is also very simple,
and often produces a mediocre paper that is purely descriptive and non-analytical,
but if it is done well, can be very sophisticated. The key to doing this paper
well is picking a theme or issue where tracing its development over time is
itself a potent or pointed analytic choice, where pursues a chronological
dimension to an issue repudiates some other way of understanding it. (The
reverse, by the way, works equally well, namely, taking an issue that is commonly
understood as changing considerably over time and arguing that it actually
is quite static.)

A paper built around a full-scale attack on the source material or even the
assumptions of the essay question. The key to doing well here is tight discipline
and focus, remembering that this is for “argument’s sake”—but
also making sure that the criticism on offer isn’t arbitrary, a wildly
inconsistent grab-bag of fault-finding or a mouth-frothing disproportionate
polemic. The best essays under this heading will identify some deep axiom
or assumption made by the source material and ask, “But what if this
is not the case?” and go from there. Incidentally, I tell students that
just thinking about a contrarian essay is a good way to clarify the argument
in any essay—if you aren’t offering an analysis that is potentially
arguable, that you can think of ways to attack or counter, you don’t
have a good argument.

Thematic. Hard to describe: this is a catch-all term for an essay that isolates a single
theme or issue in response to the professor’s initial prompt, and focuses
exclusively on it. On a recent assignment, for example, I had one very good
paper that took a general prompt about development policies in colonial Africa
and zoomed in very tightly on agriculture and gender. The good thematic writer
just needs to have enough faith in the heuristic they’re using to isolate
a single issue or problem—a thematic essay goes wrong when the theme
is very badly chosen or when the writer loses confidence and switches halfway
through to something else.

When it’s done right, this is just about my favorite
kind of short analytic essay, and it is one of the structures well worth learning
for its general utility outside of the college environment. In this structure,
the writer explores some simplistic or banal assumption or argument for the
first part of the paper, carefully bracketed off as a sort of “Let’s
suppose that X is true”, where it is clear that the author is just thinking
it through. Then halfway through the essay, the writer pulls the rug out,
revealing that the initial argument is totally wrong, and substituting some
other argument or line of analysis in its place. In the end, the reason I
like set-em-up, knock-em-down essays is that they are so clearly focused on
the purpose of analytic writing, at least in my classes, and that’s persuasion.
This is why I grade descriptive essays so relatively low: they only prove
that someone did the reading. An essay that is persuasive is an essay that
shows a student has command of the material, has taken ownership of it. It
doesn’t matter if their knowledge is less than encyclopedic in that case.

Frustrations with Drupal 4.4

Rule #1 when using the latest and greatest software: don't.

I upgraded this site to the latest and greatest Drupal at some point and totally messed up the site. First my green theme didn't work, then all the nodes died because I invoked some filters. As near as I can tell, the filter.module can't be working at all.


Rule #2 when using the latest and greatest software: See Rule #1.


Three times' a charm & Kris turns 30!


Or, Migraines: 3, Periods: 1

Had my third migraine of the year today. It started this evening around 5:30 at Costco. Kris' parents, Bob & Lil, and I had just finished shopping for Kris' birthday celebrations at the All-Star Baseball Academy of Mountain View. At checkout, my thoughts were, "Uh oh." My vision was suddenly doing funny stuff, but I couldn't quite confirm a migraine because I couldn't find the blind spot.

Five minutes later at the car, I couldn't see Lil's face when I looked at her. Sigh.

Lil gave me two 8-hour Tylenol, then drove us home, Kris arrived home as we were cleaning out the fridge for room for the cakes. When he got home, around 6:30, I went to sleep. Kris woke me at 7:30 (at my request). I scarfed down spaghetti and a Codeine from Kris' surgery (expiration March 2004 - how's that for close).

Off to set up the party. About 5 minutes after I got there, wham, more visuals. This time, pretty bad. I had no pain, but I was definitely 2/3 blind. Lil and I set up everything, people starting arriving. I don't think anyone could tell I was having problems.

Christina Valvo asked me about migraines, as she thought she had one earlier in the day. The symptoms certainly sounded like it, with the numbness, pounding headache and light sensitivity. I asked is she could tell I was having one right then, and she, along with Wade, laughed and said she couldn't.

The rest of the evening went well. I was in the batting cages three times. I did okay. Tom Senna, the owner of All-Star gave me some pointers while I was in the cage, helped me hit a few balls. Bob helped me the other times.

I had a great time. A lot of people came up to me and told me it was a great idea for a birthday party. There was a ton of activity, everyone seemed to be doing something, from the speed guns to the batting cages to the food.

Bob had a CD/DVD that he made about Kris' baseball career. It was really cute. We played it at 9:30 or so. Tom helped me set it up, we had to play with the laptop (Kris ran home at 8:30 to get the cables, such the sweetheart). People laughed and enjoyed the video.

After everyone came back to our house, the headache started creeping back. I took another Codeine. I tried to stay involved until 1:00, when everyone left, but it was so hard. I wandered away at some point, appearing again to say good bye, then disappearing. I hope no one noticed - it was Kris' night anyway.

I talked to Lisa at several points in the evening. She thinks this is my third migraine also. Kris thinks it's the fourth. Regardless, it's too many.

Update! I recalled I had some Trident gum on Thursday. It contains aspartame! That was probably the root cause of the migraine. Not that it lessens my head pounding, but at least I can, once again, avoid aspartame like the plague! The plague, I tell you!