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Failed the Interview, Got the Job

July 23, 2013

The interview wasn’t going well.

What’s a UCS system?

I don’t know.

What are the critical pieces of a change management system?

I’m not sure.

What does TCP/IP stand for?

Ah. . .transport control protocol, internet protocol. It’s the addressing. . .

What’s a Cisco 7000?

I don’t know.

And so it went. For twenty minutes it was the A+ Certification exam, and I hadn’t studied.

And I was really confused. This was not the interview that I was expecting.

I’ve written hundreds of pages of training materials. I helped write the Microsoft Certification exams for several years. To properly write an exam, you have to understand something called Bloom’s Taxonomy.


The idea was the higher up the taxonomy the better the question will gauge a person’s grasp of a concept. I could ask, “When did the US Revolutionary War start?” That’s a knowledge question. (July 4th, 1776.) A better question at the comprehension level might be, “What were some of the central issues that led to the war?” An answer might be something like “Taxation without representation.”

An even better question at the Application level might be “What were the economic drivers that lead to the American colonies feeling empowered to rebel?” Okay, that might be at the Analysis level. Basically, the US didn’t need to trade with England.

The point is that if all you are asking is knowledge questions, you have no idea if someone understands the information or they are simply good at memorization. I’m generally pretty good at memorization, but I didn’t realize that I was going to have to recall computer terms.

What are the essential elements of a data center change strategy?

I have no idea.

And so it went. I was interviewing for a position with a large non-profit. I was to lead their messaging team. They were migrating from GroupWise to Microsoft Exchange. I was familiar with both systems. But, I wasn’t going to be an engineer. I was interviewing for a manager role. Although, I wouldn’t have expected this type of an interview for an engineering position either.

The interview finally wound down and I estimated I’d offered an answer on maybe 40% of questions that Derek had asked me. Clearly, whatever he thought was important was different than the skill set that I was bringing with me as I walked through the door.

Well Rodney, do you have any questions for me?

I figured, I had nothing to lose. I’d failed the interview up to this point. Anything I could do to salvage it couldn’t possibly make it worse.

Just a couple. Would you say that you typically hire for knowledge or for potential? You know, given the choice?

Well, knowledge changes so quick, we are interested in people who can adapt and learn new techniques and new information.

Yeah, I realized that when I had to write a training course to analyze network traces. I actually knew nothing about network traces when I started. Fortunately, I had access to some great resources and it turned out to be the most popular course we ever delivered.

I really wanted Derek to see me as a person who had the ability to quickly learn what he didn’t know. I knew I was capable of doing the job that I was interviewing for. The other interviews had gone fairly normally. One with a future peer, and then a lunch meeting with my future manager, Mark. Mark’s most pressing question was “If you get the job, what are you planning to do the first day? And the first week?” He wanted to know if I had a plan or roadmap for where I was planning to take the team. I think I comported myself pretty well in these interviews.

Derek was what at Microsoft we called the AA, or As Appropriate interview. He was my future boss’s boss. And I was sure I’d bombed this interview. Even with my attempted save at the end, I didn’t have high hopes.

I was working as consultant at Microsoft at the time, so I flew back to Washington and jumped back into being a Program Manager for Microsoft Dynamics.

Several weeks later, my phone rang and it was a Utah number.

Rodney? This is Mark. We’d like to extend you an offer to come to work for us.

Leaving Microsoft was hard. I’d just started a new contract and felt like I was just starting to get my feet under me. And the compensation for a consultant is substantially higher than a fulltime employee. However, it was an exciting position and one that I felt would be a great fit for me and my family.

Much later, I talked to Mark about my interview experience with Derek.

I’m surprised after that interview that you actually offered me the job.

He interviews everyone that way. It’s really annoying. But, that interview didn’t figure into it. You got the job at lunch.


Yeah, you were the only candidate who actually had a plan for what you wanted to accomplish.

You never know what is going to be the key element.

This week, I’m going to be talking about “action” and “knowledge.”

Monday – GSD (Getting Stuff Done) vs certifications
Tuesday – Do you hire for potential or for knowledge? (How I failed the interview but got the job)
Wednesday – Worst experience firing someone
Thursday – How paralysis by analysis cost the Project Manager his job
Friday – Mountains of perspective

Rodney M Bliss is an author, blogger and IT Consultant. He eventually learned all those terms. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and 13 children.

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