A Tale of Two Interviews!

posted by Dilip on June 13, 2018

It was the best of questions, it was the worst of questions…..” –A made-up quote!


Most have a very different—one-sided—view of what a strong and compelling response is for interview questions. With many of my clients I conduct debrief after key interviews and learn from them what questions are being asked and how they responded to those questions. Of course, in most of the cases I use this as the last step to close the loop during our interview preparation process and learn for myself how to up my own game.

Recently, one of the clients could not clear her interviews and go to the offer stage, despite going through many rounds and preparing well for the technical responses to the typical curve-ball questions that are asked during such interviews for hardware/systems positions. Although I do not prepare my clients for deep technical interviews I do conduct mock sessions in which I ask “HR” questions (what is your management style?) to coach them to provide proper responses with which they are comfortable. When I read what she wrote down as her responses to these questions I could see why she did not make the cut and kept getting rejected in a series of interviews with different companies.

Here is an example of how this client, a hardware and systems manager, responded:

What is your best day at work? OR when are you most satisfied in your everyday work?

My best day at work is when,

A hardware or systems product is released due to team’s diligent work,

I get appreciation from customer or executives about the product my team worked on

Product release goes hassle free and everything goes smoothly

My team and others remember my birthday this week and throw me a party

My boss congratulates me for the product release, despite some feature gaps and asks me to take off early if I wanted.

My team lets me take my birthday cake home with me for my family!

Another candidate for the same job opening responded thusly, instead:

  • I come to work early, as usual, with the impending product release, and learn that the team is already struggling with an unexpected and suddenly major problem that is going to jeopardize the release date of the next product. The problem cropped up because the main vendor suddenly changed its product, which was a key part of our solution. I gather the team, we brainstorm and come up with a better workaround using a very creative solution and we are able to protect the release date, despite the unscheduled work required for this workaround.
  • While this is going on my boss comes over to my desk and says an important customer is upset about a feature in our released product that is giving them a major headache and they are going to stop using our product if we cannot solve their problem urgently. As the team gets underway implementing the vendor-induced showstopper above, I call the product manager and we both get on the phone with the customer. Delving into technical details, I am able to provide that customer a workaround to get them going and then assuring them that this use case is an outlier, but still we’ll address the root-cause analysis (RCA) with priority and give them a date for its completion with a working solution within a week. This makes the customer happy, but my boss chides me for missing the use case that caused the grief to this customer. Disheartened, I see his reasoning and move on.
  • One of my Leads has a personal emergency and needs some time off to take care of this urgent problem. I sit with her and understanding her needs, I provide her my support and ask her to take personal time off and not to worry about all the urgent work that is going to be affected, especially the major release just 10 days away. I assure her that with my own expertise I can pinch hit for her and provide hands-on leadership to her team to keep her task on track without taking any credit due away from her or her team. She is relieved and asks for a month away from work.
  • Late in the day the Release Manager comes to tell me that the new release regime is going to require additional time and QA sign-off, delaying the typical release cycle by 2-3 days. This is now going to require the impending release due in 10 days to go through some additional hoops to comply with this regime. I study the situation, get hold of the QA manager and work with him to accommodate this change with some adjustments to how my team and QA interact during first releases under this new regime, making this work in parallel to protect the original release date, despite this additional delay.

I realize that the day is done and I go home happy!

Although I cannot say that the second candidate’s response would win her the interview, but I can say for sure that responding this way shows a different—and more desirable—mindset.

Whom would you hire?

Lesson: When you narrate your responses to behavioral questions in an interview, consider the implications of how you may come across by providing a response that puts your company ahead of your needs and this can put you in a better light.

Good luck!