Some Basic Interview Advice

November 6, 2009

Notes from a recent training session (rather a basic one Рbut fundamentals are easily forgotten in stressful situations) :

Advance Preparation

Keep a copy of the job advert and spec

Keep a copy of your application form / CV

Research the department / organisation + make notes

  • Understand where the organisation is going

Prepare questions to ask the interviewers

On-the-Day Preparation

Re-read your key documents – your application form / CV etc.

General Tips


  • Punctual
  • Smart
  • Polite
  • Natural but not casual

During the Interview

  • Take your time
  • Ask for repetition / clarification of questions – either because you need them or to give you time to answer
  • Give brief answers – ask if more detail is required.
  • Answer questions

Interview Feedback

November 4, 2009

Having secured my demotion ūüėČ I asked some of the interview pannel to provide feedback on my presentation / interview.

Persentation Strategy and Style

  • A risky strategy, but it worked – ND
  • Liked it – ND
  • Personally enjoyed it – MD
  • Concerned that others may have found its tone too¬†jokey, inappropriate or too long – MD
  • Lecturing style (fine) – MD
  • The typefaces were harder to read for someone with poorer eyesight – JJ


  • Good¬†speed, compusure, passion¬†and¬†knowledge – MD
  • Enthusiastic – MD
  • Came across well – JJ

Business Content

  • Too much emphasis on past glories rather than what I will do for business in future¬†– MD
  • Too little emphais on how my¬†skills relate¬†to the business vision / strategy – MD
  • Too little focus on fundamental business benefits¬†– delivery cost, time, qualities – MD

Technical Content

  • Confident – JJ
  • Obvious proficiency – JJ
  • Too much technical detail – MD

People Content

  • Some concern about some of the attidudes I expressed through my use of language. “Don’t have time for Muppets” was memorable and unhelpful¬†– JJ

Advice for the Future

  • Consider the audience – what do they want to hear? What is their emphasis? – MD
  • Emphasise what I will actually do for the department, and the benefits the department will receive – MD
  • Shorter answers are better – people can always ask. Be brief, but provide oportunites for questions – MD
  • Attitude in the build up to the interview is important. It is difficult to be positive in an interview if you’ve been negative about the process – JJ

Thanks for the feedback!

Answers to Microsoft Interview Questions

March 4, 2008

I have not actually been interviewed by Microsoft (yet), but here are some of the answers I’d like to give to some of the questions¬†that they’ve been¬†known to ask:

Why is a manhole cover round?

Don’t you mean a¬†person-hole cover? Either way, it is because the person hole is round.

How are M&Ms made?

They’re made in the M&Ms factory.

How many manhole covers are there in the USA?

I really think¬†you mean¬†person-hole covers. Anyway –¬†roughly 1 for each hole.

One train leaves Los Angeles at 15mph heading for New York. Another train leaves from New York at 20mph heading for Los Angeles on the same track. If a bird, flying at 25mph, leaves from Los Angeles at the same time as the train and flies back and forth between the two trains until they collide, how far will the bird have traveled?

Does it really matter? I think the stupid bird will be dead, anyway.

How would you redesign an ATM?

I would design it to give me lots of money when I typed in a secret code.

What is the difference between an Ethernet Address and an IP address?

You can’t wash your hands in a… no, wait, that’s buffaloes and bisons.

If you could add any feature to Microsoft Word, what would it be?

I would say that I’d make it debit money out of people’s bank accounts and into mine, except that Microsoft has already done that for their own bank account whenever there is an upgrade.

There is a room with a door (closed) and three light bulbs. Outside the room there are three switches, connected to the bulbs. You may manipulate the switches as you wish, but once you open the door you can’t change them. Identify each switch with its bulb.

I’d disconnect the switches. Then I could easily identify that none of the switches actually connected to the bulbs.

Give me an algorithm to shuffle a deck of cards, given that the cards are stored in an array of ints.

52-card pick-up.

How would you test a keyboard?

I wouldn’t – I’d throw it away. Keyboards cost next to nothing these days. It would be cheaper to buy a new keyboard than waste my time trying to test one.

The interviewer hands you a black pen and says nothing but “This pen is red.”

I’d say, “thanks for the pen”, and take it home with me.

Write a function to print Write a function to print the Fibonacci numbers. .

void printFibNumbers() {
print "The Fibonacci numbers."

Explain a scenario for testing a salt shaker.

Chips! Sometimes called “french-fries” or “fries”, they’re pieces of potato that have been deep-fried.

How would you explain how to use Microsoft Excel to your grandma?

I’d shout. Very loud.

Suppose you go home, enter your house/apartment, hit the light switch, and nothing happens – no light floods the room. What exactly, in order, are the steps you would take in determining what the problem was?

I’d ask my wife what she’d done to the light – again.

Applying for A Vocational Course: Beating the Odds

October 5, 2007

When I applied for a vacancy on a teaching course, there were 100 applicants for each post. I used a little trick that got me as far as interview. For every 12 people interviewed, only 1 was selected. I used the same trick again, and got selected for the course. Here’s what I did:

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Filling in Application Forms

October 5, 2007

Some basic tips:

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IBM and The Coffee Machines

October 5, 2007

Back in June 1999 I attended a day of assessments for a post at IBM Hursley for a programmer’s post.

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