How to interview your interviewer … or … do you really want to work for this idiot?

Now that I’m out of the corporate world, let me share some wisdom from my slavery days.

Corporate life is nothing more than glorified slavery. Over thirty years, I’ve seen it all. Sleaze, politics, tears, exploitation, lies, anger, depression, betrayal, divorce. I saw it all. And I walked out.

Still, if you need a job, you need a job. You have a family to feed and a career to manage, and you’re willing to do what it takes. Fair enough.

The least you can do is to avoid getting into a bad company, especially on your first job. When one is fresh out of college and desperately seeking a job, it is easy to fall into the wrong company. Believe me, a bad first job will haunt you through your career.

Before the interview:

1) Ignore all those buffoons who offer expensive training courses on “interview skills”. You don’t need them. All you need are your qualifications and your sincerity. The best and most effective interview skill is – Be yourself.

2) Do your homework. Read everything you can about the company. Don’t be deceived by the apparent size of the company. A small but well-managed company will be a far better employer than a large, glamorous MNC with a dubious reputation.

Remember, “Yatha Raja, thatha praja“. As is the King, so are his subjects. If the company’s promoters are rogues, you can’t expect your future boss to be any different.

3) Always reconfirm the interview date and time. And do this immediately. If you delay, the interview will go to someone else.

4) Always be on the dot of time. And remember to consider the time it will take to complete your entry formalities at the gate and the wait for the elevator. If you are delayed for some reason (and the only acceptable reasons are an earthquake or a public riot), then always call up and explain yourself.

5) Always dress conservatively for an interview. First impressions always matter. Always.

At the interview: The classical warning signs: 

1) The watchmen at the entry-gate:  A rude watchman is a sure sign of a stingy company that doesn’t care about its visitors or employees.

2) The front desk: The receptionist is the public face of the company. She (it’s usually a she) is expected to be friendly and helpful. A disgruntled receptionist is a classic symptom of a sick company. Don’t be fooled by a dazzling smile or an equally dazzling cleavage. If the receptionist is unhappy you can always tell by her body language. In particular, watch how she talks to salespeople and job-seekers, and how she answers the phones.

3) The waiting time: If you are kept waiting at the front desk, then beware. This means your interviewer is either a bad time-manager or he’s deliberately making you wait just to rattle you. Either way, it’s a bad company to work in.

4) The dumb questions:

These classically idiotic questions are asked by classical idiots who don’t know how to conduct an interview.

a) “Tell me about yourself”.

Really? Even in this century, there are people who start an interview with this ridiculous question. Actually, I’ve asked this question too. That’s because I was a classical idiot too, once upon a time. Apparently, there’s an esoteric psychological reason behind this asinine question. Whatever. It’s still a question that insults the applicant’s intelligence.

The polite response to this question is that all you have to say about yourself is in the résumé that the interviewer already has. If he wants any specific information outside the résumé, he is welcome to ask a specific question.

b) “Why do you want to work for this company?”.  Another foolish question.

Which is followed by another foolish question, “Why do you want to leave your current employer?”.

The correct answer, but the answer no one likes – Your company is better than my current company.

For a first-timer, this question is sometimes asked to see if he knows something about the company. The correct and polite form of the question then, is “Can you tell us what you know about our company?”.

The intelligent answer is, “Yes I can”.  And then give a concise analysis of the company’s history, current financial reports, research activities, reputation in the outside world, and the like. A short, sweet and sincere report that shows you know your way around the Internet and that you are serious about whom you work for.

If your interviewer has any common-sense, he will offer you the job on the spot.

c) “Where do you see yourself five (or ten) years from now?”.

This is the uncrowned king of foolish interview questions. What am I supposed to answer it with? I’ll be the president of the company, I’ll be your boss, I’ll be your son-in-law, I’ll be successful and happy, I’ll…what?

There is one correct answer: Five years from now, I will be five years older.

c) “How soon can you join?”

The question asked by a fool. Obviously, an employed person has to serve his current employer a month’s notice, at least. If your interviewer doesn’t care about this, he is the wrong person to be your boss.

Even if you are a fresher and are desperate for that first job, don’t say you will join tomorrow morning. Tell them you need a week to wind up whatever personal obligations you have. Take that week to study the job offer thoroughly and understand its legal implications.

d) “When will you get married?”.   Or worse, “How come you’re not married?”

No matter which gender you are, there is one appropriate response. Walk out.

e) “Why did you get divorced?”.  Same answer as above.

f) “What salary do you expect?”

Frequently asked by idiots in order to confuse freshers.

A well-managed company will always disclose its emoluments to fresh graduates – instead of playing guessing games with nervous applicants.

The intelligent answer is, “I believe the normal salary for this post in reputed companies is about Of course, if your company pays more than this, I would not mind!”

h) “Can you give me one reason why I should hire you?”.

This bombastic query is meant only to demean you. The appropriate answer is – Eff you.

Since you can’t use those exact words, the next best answer is, “I’m sorry. I do not understand the question. Since you invited me for this interview only after studying my résumé, I had the impression that my qualifications and experience were directly relevant to your company’s needs. Am I to understand that this is not actually the case?”.

Usually, the interviewer gets confused and loses his cool. If this happens, you are looking at the wrong employer. Smile and leave.

It’s just an interview, for heaven’s sake. It’s not an inquisition. The purpose of which is to see if you and your potential employer are compatible and want the same things – not to make you feel like dung.

Two other classical warning signs: 

  • How your interviewer talks to his subordinates. Especially to the person who serves you refreshments during the interview. If they don’t have the courtesy to offer you refreshments, that’s another warning sign!
  • An interviewer who talks about himself, and little else.

A person who talks too much about himself and talks down to people under him is the most avoidable boss in the corporate world.

You can always tell a good company from a bad one. There’s a happy air about a well-managed company, that you can sense as soon as you enter. Noisy, cheerful chatter is a good sign. Sullen silence is not.

For a fresher, that first job is worth waiting for. Better that you remain unemployed for a few weeks, than join a bad company and regret it, as I did with my first job and several jobs thereafter.

The same wisdom applies to marriage, as I found out the hard way.

Cheers … SKS


Five people you shouldn’t hire.

ziggyLife is a brutal teacher. And I’ve learned my lessons the hard way, both in my professional life and in my personal life. Just as there are some people you should not allow into your personal life, there are certain specimens you should not permit in your work-place. And if you’re an entrepreneur like me, who has staked everything he has, you need to be extra careful.

These are the mistakes I made, as a senior manager in the days when I was an employee and as a business owner later in life. I’m sharing my blunders with you, so that you don’t make the same mistakes and pay a heavy price – as I did.

Think twice before you hire any of these:

1) Personal friends. Never make this mistake. Your langoti yaar is great company for evening drinks and weekend outings or a shoulder to cry on. He knows everything about you and your family. And that is exactly why you should keep him out of your work-place. He or she may be well qualified for the job, but so are many other people who are not your friends.

History is replete with real stories of treacherous friends. Not for nothing does Chanakya say, “Beware the friend who knows your deepest secrets.”

If he’s a friend who’s in trouble and looking for a job, by all means get him a job elsewhere. Just not in your office. I speak from bitter experience, people.

2) Relatives. Especially your spouse’s relatives! This is an obvious mistake, but people make it all the time. What will you do if that relative proves to be worthless as a worker? You can’t retain him, you can’t fire him. And you’re the one who gets screwed by the management.

Of course, traditional family firms do hire their relatives. Some of them are successful, but many of them are not. After all, if India’s biggest company can split in two because of a family feud, then what about a small-timer like me?

If you don’t want your blood relatives to become your bloody relatives, keep them out of your work-place.

3) Religious bigots. No one can spoil the work-place more than a bigot. He or she will refuse to follow the official dress code, waste official hours in heated religious debates with co-workers, festoon his work-space with over-size religious icons, and regularly skip work for various esoteric religious reasons.

In a democracy, religion is a personal choice. And it should be practised in one’s personal time.

It is usually easy to spot a religious bigot during the job interview. It’s not too difficult to see the difference between a person who is not a zealot – and one who is.

4) Social media addicts. Such types will spend more time on the Internet than on actual work. Even if your company blocks out certain websites on the corporate network, these Net-heads will still find a way to indulge in their addiction.

The larger the company, the more the amount of valuable corporate time that is wasted by such net-freaks. And these are the people who can do a lot of damage to your personal and corporate reputation, when they use social media to express themselves against you.

Freedom of expression is just great, and I’m a strong supporter. But there’s a right time, a right place and a right way to enjoy that freedom.

Spend all the time you want in the cyber-world, but not at your employer’s expense. I live in the real world, and the real world has real bills that need to be paid in real money.

5) “Premier” institute hot-shots. Through my career, the employees who gave me and my employers the most trouble were the alumni of the “premier” institute that I hail from.

Yeah. That’s right. Our good old UDCT. Now known as the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.

It is something that seems to be unique to the alumni of “premier” institutes in India, my institute included. That belief that they are higher forms of human life, that swagger, that body language, that attitude. And rarely, if ever, is that attitude supported by real technical expertise or professional prowess.

And rarely, if ever, have I seen a significant difference between the graduates of my “premier” institute and their humbler counterparts from other institutes – especially in the pharmacy discipline that I belong to.

Where does this attitude come from, I wonder? Is it part of the syllabus? Or do students imbibe this attitude from those who teach them?

I worked with some big MNC’s when I was a corporate citizen. And each of my employers discovered that it was preferable to hire from local, non-premier institutes. And each of those employers made me miserable for forcing them to hire from my “premier” alma mater.

That is a mistake I will never commit again.

“The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.” … J Paul Getty (1892-1996), founder of Getty Oil Company and billionaire.

Cheers … Srini.