Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why you should ask for and check references.

Over the years I have worked with managers that have varied ideas on checking references.  Some insisted, some liked to have them and some couldn’t have cared less.  Here’s why I always asked for and checked them.

Here is why I think it’s important to the hiring manager.
1.       It saves the managers if the hire doesn’t work out.
2.       It makes the manager feel better about their choice in candidates
3.       It could potentially bring up red flags that need to be addressed or change the decision of the hire (a good thing)

Here is why it’s important for you as the recruiter to do it.
1.       Having them done saves you time and effort if the manager asks for them
2.       It’s part of your value ad to the hiring process
3.       Here’s the big one.  Every reference that you speak to is a potential candidate.  They typically have similar experience or industry knowledge.  If you’re worried about them being a manager or too senior, ask the candidate for peers. 

Assume that they are on the market and interested.  Don’t say “you’re not looking right? I didn’t think so”.  Pitch Lowe’s like crazy to them and talk about a specific job.  If they are not interested ask them this “who else are you a reference for right now?” Do this after you have pitched Lowe’s and I guarantee they will give you a name or say “I do know someone else that is looking”

Make sure you ask the candidate for email and phone numbers for the references (some of this is on record in the candidates forms they fill out in LCP).  I send outlook invites to the references so I have a scheduled time to talk only after the candidate has given me permission or the go ahead to do this. 

If you are concerned that this will add hours of time to your already busy schedule I can tell you that this will actually save you time in the long run.  This will generate candidates and hires.  It’s a good meeting to have with your managers and directors to formulate a list of reference questions to ask.  They will like to get these, trust me.  It will continue to increase your credibility with hiring managers and candidates and over all it will make for a strong candidate experience.  Good luck!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why I never ask how much money the candidate is looking for.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Before you start coding in an interview ..........

The Coding Interview

Einstein Coding Interview Joke Image
Note: this part is part two of our series on doing your best in interviews. Part one: “How to Rock an Algorithms Interview”.
Here at Palantir algorithms are important, but code is our lifeblood. We live and die by the quality of the code we ship. It’s no surprise, then, that coding ability is what we stress the most in our interview process. A candidate can get by with mediocre algorithm skills (depending on the role), but no one can skimp on coding.
Suppose you’re confident in your ability to write great software. Your task in a coding interview (of which there will be several) is to show the interviewers that you in fact do have the programming chops — that you’re an experienced coder who knows how to write solid, production-quality code.
This is easier said than done. After all, coding in your favorite IDE from the comfort of $familiar_place is very different from coding on a whiteboard (on a problem you’re totally unfamiliar with) in a pressure-filled 45-minute interview. We realize that the interview environment is not the real world, and we adjust our expectations accordingly. Nonetheless, there are a number of things you can do to put your best foot forward during the interview.
First, though, we’d like to give you a sense for what we look for during a coding interview. Most important is the ability to write clean and correct code — it’s not enough just to be correct. A lot of people will be interacting with your code once you’re on the job, so it should be readable, maintainable, and extensible where appropriate. If your solution is clean and correct, and you produced it in a reasonable amount of time without a lot of help, you’re in good shape. But even if you stumble a bit, there are other ways to demonstrate your ability. As you work, we also watch for debugging ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, creativity, and an understanding of the ecosystem that surrounds production code.
With our evaluation criteria in mind, here are some suggestions we hope will help you perform at your very best.

Before you start coding

  • Make sure you understand the problem. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Specifically, if any of the problem requirements seem loosely defined or otherwise unclear, ask your interviewer to make things more concrete. There is no penalty for asking for clarifications, and you don’t want to miss a key requirement or proceed on unfounded assumptions.
  • Work through simple examples. This can be useful both before you begin and after you’ve finished coding. Working through simple examples before coding can give you additional clarity on the nature of the problem — it may help you notice additional cases or patterns in the problem that you would otherwise have missed had you been thinking more abstractly.
  • Make a plan. Be wary of jumping into code without thinking about your program’s high-level structure. You don’t have to work out every last detail (this can be difficult for more meaty problems), but you should give the matter sufficient thought. Without proper planning, you may be forced to waste your limited time reworking significant parts of your program.
  • Choose a language. At Palantir, we don’t care what languages you know as long as you have a firm grasp on the fundamentals (decomposition, object-oriented design, etc.). That said, you need to be able to communicate with your interviewer, so choose something that both of you can understand. In general, it’s easier for us if you use Java or C++, but we’ll try to accommodate other languages. If all else fails, devise your own pseudo-code. Just make sure it’s precise (i.e. not hand-wavy) and internally consistent, and explain your choices as you go.

While you’re coding

  • Think out loud. Explain your thought process to your interviewer as you code. This helps you more fully communicate your solution, and gives your interviewer an opportunity to correct misconceptions or otherwise provide high-level guidance.
  • Break the problem down and define abstractions. One crucial skill we look for is the ability to handle complexity by breaking problems into manageable sub-problems. For anything non-trivial, you’ll want to avoid writing one giant, monolithic function. Feel free to define helper functions, helper classes, and other abstractions to reach a working solution. You can leverage design patterns or other programming idioms as well. Ideally, your solution will be well-factored and as a result easy to read, understand, and prove correct.
  • Delay the implementation of your helper functions. (this serves a corollary to the previous point) Write out the signature, and make sure you understand the contract your helper will enforce, but don’t implement it right away. This serves a number of purposes: (1) it shows that you’re familiar with abstractions (by treating the method as an API); (2) it allows you to maintain momentum towards the overall solution; (3) it results in fewer context-switches for your brain (you can reason about each level of the call stack separately); and (4) your interviewer may grant you the implementation for free, if he or she considers it trivial.
  • Don’t get caught up in trivialities. At Palantir we are much more interested in your general problem solving and coding abilities than your recall of library function names or obscure language syntax. If you can’t remember exactly how to do something in your chosen language, make something up and just explain to your interviewer that you would look up the specifics in the documentation. Likewise, if you utilize an abstraction or programming idiom which admits a trivial implementation, don’t be afraid to just write out the interface and omit the implementation so you can concentrate on more important aspects of the problem (e.g., “I’m going to use a circular buffer here with the following interface without writing out the full implementation”).

Once you have a solution

  • Think about edge cases. Naturally, you should strive for a solution that’s correct in all observable aspects. Sometimes there will be a flaw in the core logic of your solution, but more often your only bugs will be in how you handle edge cases. (This is true of real-world engineering as well.) Make sure your solution works on all edge cases you can think of. One way you can search for edge-case bugs is to…
  • Step through your code. One of the best ways to check your work is to simulate how your code executes against a sample input. Take one of your earlier examples and make sure your code produces the right result. Huge caveat here: when mentally simulating how your code behaves, your brain will be tempted to project what it wants to happen rather than what actually says happen. Fight this tendency by being as literal as possible. For example, if you’re calculating a string index with code like str.length()-suffix.length(), don’t just assume you know where that index will land; actually do the math and make sure the value is what you were hoping for.
  • Explain the shortcuts you took. If you skipped things for reasons of expedience that you would otherwise do in a “real world” scenario, please let us know what you did and why. For example, “If I were writing this for production use, I would check an invariant here.” Since whiteboard coding is an artificial environment, this gives us a sense for how you’ll treat code once you’re actually on the job.

Work is like Dodgeball

Every Wednesday night, I head over to a run-down gym in SoHo to play a game meant for schoolchildren with a bunch of 20-somethings. After a long & stressful day at work, throwing and dodging high-speed rubber balls is actually the absolute perfect way to let loose. Plus, the people that play are generally friendly, and my teammates are awesome. Even better? We’re undefeated on the year (at the time of writing this post). Go Hogs! So, why should you care about my dodgeball obsession? Apart from the fact that you should immediately join your nearest dodgeball league, the game has helped reinforce five important lessons about being successful in the workplace, which I’d like to share with you.
Communicate & coordinate. In dodgeball, it’s essential to communicate with your teammates, understand the plan of attack, and know where & when to throw the ball. Without proper coordination of throws, you’ll likely lose the game. The same goes for the workplace. Proper communication with coworkers, clients, and/or consumers is essential. Plain & simple.
Understand & embrace your role. Some people can throw the ball really hard. Others can catch the ball really well. Some people are excellent dodgers. Others can do it all. On a dodgeball court, everyone has a role. And the team has a better chance of success when everyone does what they’re supposed to. If Dwiddy, one of our best catchers, gets out on a stupid throw, we’re losing one of our best players because he didn’t stick with his role.
The same concept goes for the workplace. Companies function best when employees understand their roles and do the best they can at what they’re good at. I’m a decent designer, but I’m better at communication and idea generation, that’s why I’m a project manager. I get more done for our company in my project manager role than I would in a designer role. On the dodgeball court, it’s a different story. I like to think I can do it all! :)
Don’t lose your cool. I’m competitive, to say the least. In my first season of dodgeball, I was known by the refs as a complainer. I’d see someone cheat, or I’d disagree with a call, and I would start yelling and whining. The refs didn’t love on-the-court-Sam, to say the least. This season, I’ve been better. I learned that losing my cool only hurts myself and my team. I played worse when I got upset.
The same goes at work. People make mistakes. The Internet goes out. The heat is too hot or the air conditioner is too cold. Things won’t always be perfect, it’s just the way it is. The important thing to remember is that losing your cool won’t solve anything (most of the time), and staying focused on your goals and the task at hand is simply the best option. Further, your coworkers and superiors won’t react well to complaints and whining.
(Work hard.) Play hard. The dodgeball league is full of young professionals, who work all day and come to the gym at night simply to have fun. The ironic thing? Apart from my coworker and teammate Dave Zhang (thanks for re-introducing me to the game!), I have no idea what anyone I play with does for a living. Why? Because when we get to the gym, it’s all about dodgeball. Work hard during the day. Play hard on Wednesday nights.
Never turn away from the action (or risk being hit in the back of the head with a fast-flying rubber ball). Don’t be afraid of a challenge. Don’t be afraid to try and fail. When the other team’s fastest thrower sizes you up and launches the ball, open your arms and make your best effort to catch it. If you turn away, you have no chance; you’re going to get hit in the back of the head.
I feel the same way about challenges at work. Sure, you won’t always succeed. Sometimes you’re going to drop the ball. But better to try your best and approach scary situations with confidence than to turn away. You’ll gain from your experience. Maybe you’ll learn something you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. There’s nothing to be afraid of, apart from maybe a couple of bruises.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Things to do after the interview.

The interview may be over, but your chance to make an impression is not. Here are 10 strategies to continue boosting your candidacy.
1. Show that you're still interested
Leave no doubt in the interviewer's mind about where you stand. Ask for the job at meeting's end with a phrase such as, "I would really like to contribute to this company and am hoping you select me."
Also, don't leave the room without a clear idea of what will happen next in the hiring process. Will select applicants be invited back to meet other people? By what date do they hope to fill the position? Such questions demonstrate enthusiasm for the job, and knowing the hirer's timeframe will help keep you from panicking if a week has passed without a phone call.
2. Set the stage for further contact
Nobody wants to be a pest, but could your silence as days pass be misinterpreted as indifference? Avoid the guesswork by finding out before heading home what the employer prefers in terms of checking in. Lizandra Vega, author of "The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land the Job You Want," suggests asking the recruiter about her preferred method of follow-up communication and whether it would be okay to touch base again.
3. Be punctual
If you tell the interviewer you'll send a list of references tomorrow morning, make sure you do it. Keeping your word and answering requests in a timely manner speaks volumes about the type of employee you might be.
4. Know when to sit tight
If an interviewer requests that you follow up by phone in a week, respect her wishes. Calling the next day can be construed as pushy and desperate.
5. Send a prompt thank-you note
A positive, nonintrusive way to stay on an employer's mind is to send a thank-you note. Vega recommends emailing one within 24 hours of the interview, then following up with a handwritten note that arrives one to three business days later.
6. Send each interviewer a personalized, powerful follow-up letter
This piece of communication is another chance for you to shine, so don't waste space with generalities. Ford R. Myers, a career coach and author of "Get the Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring," recommends including specific references to each person you met and tying your accomplishments directly to the company's stated challenges.
You also can use the letter to introduce achievements that didn't get discussed and to elaborate on interview answers that you felt lacked punch.
7. Address one of the company's needs
Another effective way to follow up is to act more like a consultant than an applicant. "During the interview, you learn a lot about a company's weaknesses and/or areas where the company wants to expand," states Linda Matias, president of CareerStrides.com and author of "201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions."
"Consider creating a proposal on how you would address one of those areas. Doing so will demonstrate that you have the knowledge and also the enthusiasm to make a significant contribution."
8. Keep thinking and learning about the company
Be prepared for additional interviews or follow-up phone calls by continuing to research the organization and the field. Gain new information about a topic brought up in conversation. Think of additional questions you'd like answered. These actions show the hirer that you didn't stop caring about the company after the interview was over.
9. Leverage outside resources
Networking should never stop. "If you have contacts and connections with anyone who might influence the hiring decision, or who actually knows the interviewer, ask her to put a good word in for you," Myers says.
10. Accept rejection with grace
Finally, keep emotions in check and don't burn bridges if someone else gets hired. One never knows what the future might hold. The accepted candidate may not work out, or a different position may open up.
"If you are rejected, the first thing you should do (ironically) is send a thank-you note," Myers says. "This will help distinguish you from other rejected candidates and put you in a positive light."

Friday, June 10, 2011

10 mistakes you can't afford to make in an interview

Here are 10 mistakes you can't afford to make.  Taken from http://www.candidateadvantage.com/
  1. Don't be late. That sounds easy enough but you never know what might happen. Plan for traffic or delayed mass transit. There may be security in the building that slows you down. A good rule is to allow an extra 30 minutes just in case. At the same time, don't be too early. If you've made it to your destination early, hang in your car or a coffee shop and arrive 5 minutes before your scheduled time. Spending 20 minutes in their lobby can be perceived as overly desperate and is almost as bad as showing up late.
  2. Never wear white socks to an interview, EVER! Even if the interview is casual attire, wear dark socks.
  3. Always bring copies of your resume. Chances are, every place you interview has a copy of a resume you sent them. Even so, it's best to be able to provide your resume to others who you may meet during the interview. During the interview if anyone asks you for a copy of your resume, politely offer him or her a copy. Never reply with "you should have a copy of the one I sent you." It may seem innocent but you come off as confrontational.
  4. Complete every application the company asks you to fill out. Don't write "see resume" on an application just because that information is on your resume. It may seem like a time saver to you, but to the company you will be tagged as someone who doesn't follow direction.
  5. Never smoke a cigarette before an interview or chew gum during an interview. Also, don't rest your sunglasses on your head or leave a hat on while interviewing.
  6. Treat phone interviews just as seriously as face-to-face interviews. Although it may seem not as formal as a face-to-face interview, phone interviews or "phone screens" are sometimes the most important interview of all. Some hiring managers use these quick phone calls to screen out the definite "NO's." If you don't take it seriously, you may never be invited in for a face to face.
  7. Respect everyone you interact with at the company on your interview. Be polite and professional. You may have impressed the hiring manager but if you were rude to the receptionist or human resources, you most likely won't get the job.
  8. Turn your cell phone off unless your current job requires you to answer every call. If so, inform the person who is interviewing you that this is the case. This actually may impress to the manager how dedicated of an employee you are.
  9. Ask for business cards. You need to remember everyone you met with so you can send them a thank you note. In addition, if you have tough time remembering names in general, leave their business card on the table in front of you during the interview so you can see it just in case you need to address them by name.
  10. Don't guess on questions you don't know. In some instances, interviewers will continue asking questions about your skills to see what you know and what you don't. Typically, if they are asking the question they know the right answer. Guessing makes you look bad. Instead, tell them as much as you know about a subject, and follow up by describing how you would go about finding the rest. Employers are looking for people who are resourceful, not people who guess, or worse, people they might perceived as a liar.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why You Must Kick the Sourcing Habit

Why You Must Kick the Sourcing Habit

I found this on ERE and was written by Lou Adler (Hire With Your Head - #3 Amazon Best Seller
) I’ve decided to bring recruiting back to recruiting. This is my new old mission. Somehow this has been lost in the past few years when overall candidate supply exceeded demand. Hiring top talent is not the same as finding top talent. While sourcing is a step in this journey, it is only a step, and one getting easier each passing day.
Consider this: at the current rate, by March 11, 2012, everyone will be connected by one degree of separation with everyone else either via LinkedIn or Facebook. (FYI: I define sourcing as the process of name generation only. If you pick up the phone and call a person who did not apply, and convince him or her to consider your position, you’re recruiting. If the person applied for a job and all you’re doing is qualifying the person, that’s screening, not recruiting.)
While sourcing is getting easier, recruiting these now-more-visible folks is getting harder. This will become even more challenging as the demand for top talent accelerates, and everyone makes a wholesale shift to contact the same passive candidates you’re contacting. In this case, good recruiting skills will make all the difference as to who attracts and hires the person.
Here are some interesting stats by way of a LinkedIn survey we conducted in late 2010, to validate this point. First, only 8% of the fully employed professional pool of candidates were actively looking and open to considering a lateral transfer. Another 10% were causally looking, but only interested in a better job than the one currently held. Everyone else needed a significant bump in compensation or a significant career move to even consider engaging in a conversation. Without a big employer brand, recruiters need to make the case that the jobs they’re representing offer something better. This is the first step in real recruiting.
As part of this “bring recruiting back to recruiting” mission, I put together this quick list of things modern-day recruiters need to be able to do to recruit top passive candidates. While they’re all important, which ones would you select as your top three?
  1. Know the job
  2. Know the industry and competition
  3. Partner with the hiring manager
  4. Market the job via voice and email
  5. Network, network, network
  6. Accurately screen and assess talent
  7. Recruit and influence top prospects
  8. Negotiate and close the offer
  9. Don’t take no for an answer
  10. Sell a career move, not a lateral transfer
Your top three might be different, but here’s mine.
Although the ability to partner with the hiring manager is essential, it’s second on my list, since in order to be a partner you need to know the job. That’s why knowing the job is first on my list. Third on my list is not taking “no” for an answer. To some degree these three in combination with all of the rest all represent a chicken-and-egg-type problem. (You can download a flyer with a more complete version of this Recruiter Circle of Excellence you see in the graphic, including a ranking scale, on the Recruiter’s Wall.)
Without knowing the job, there is no way either a hiring manager or a top candidate will respect your judgment or be swayed by whatever eloquence you manage to muster. Without knowing the job, persistence won’t help much, either. It will be like pushing on a rope. While there’s more to it than this, this is the reason I consider real job knowledge as No. 1.
Job knowledge is not simply knowing the list of skills and responsibilities listed on the job description. It’s understanding the actual work the person actually needs to do to be successful. For example, having a CPA, 5-10 years in corporate reporting including SOX, and strong international reporting experience is not knowing the job. Moving the company to the international financial reporting standards in two years, building a team of eight staff and professional accountants to assess and upgrade the current, cumbersome domestic SEC and SOX reporting process, and quickly developing a worldwide set of accounting policies, is knowing the real job.
Without this type of detailed job knowledge, you’ll get little respect from the hiring manager, and top people with other things to do will dismiss you out of hand. Of course, to obtain this critical information you need to get it directly from the hiring manager. One way to better understand the job is to ask these questions during the intake meeting:
  • What are the big things the person will need to accomplish in order to be considered a top performer?
  • Why would a top performer who is not looking, who is fully employed, and has multiple opportunities, want this specific position?
  • What are the biggest challenges the person will face on the job?
  • What are the big areas of leadership and/or strategy the person would need to successfully handle?
After you have these answers, then go through every critical skill on the job description and ask, “What does the person need to do with the skill as part of the actual job?” For example, for strong communications skills, you might get something like “make weekly presentations to the design review committee.”
If the manager asks why you need to have this information, tell him or her that this is the information passive candidates who aren’t looking need to know in order to decide if they just want to enter into a conversation. Then as a real zinger, ask the hiring manager if he or she would agree to see a person who could perform all of the work listed, but didn’t have exactly the same background listed on the job description. If the manager says “of course,” you now know the job. In parallel, you are moving toward partnership status.
If the manager says no, persist and ask the questions again, or read this article before you ask the questions again. The key: do not start looking for a candidate until the hiring manager says the real job as defined is correct, and also agrees to see all candidates who have done comparable work. Otherwise everything you do afterwards will be problematic.
With this “new age” job profile in hand, start contacting passive candidates and ask this question: “would you be open to talking about a possible career move, if it was significantly better than what you’re doing today?” They all will say yes. If not, persist and ask the question word-for-word again. When they say yes, you must then get these candidates to tell you about themselves first. Use this time to determine if the candidate is highly qualified and would see your job as a career move. If so, recruit the person. If the person is not perfect for your spot, network and get three names of some great people who are perfect. This is where persistence and all of the other skills listed in the Recruiter Circle of Excellence above will come into play. But if you don’t know the job, and aren’t a partner with your hiring-manager client, all of the persistence and skills listed won’t help much.