Every engineer has a story to tell about a mortifying job interview. Well, most of us anyway.
Years ago, for example, a cube mate of mine described how he was chastised by the hiring manager for not wearing a belt to the interview. Given the non-existence of any kind of formal dress code at most companies today, that type of criticism is simply unfathomable to me.
With the ink still fresh on my diploma from the University of Minnesota, I had an interview for a mechanical engineering position at Medtronics at their headquarters in Minneapolis. It was a cold wintry day, which is pretty much every day in Minneapolis. The interview went well, I thought to myself as I walked back to my car, sidestepping mushy snow and slush in the parking lot. I started it up, then much to my dismay realized that the battery was dead.
I couldnt even wave anyone down to help, as I had no jumper cables. So off I schlepped back into Medtronics, had the receptionist dial my would-be manager, and then he insisted on coming out to help me personally, sidestepping the mush snow and slush in the parking lot.
I was mortified and though I don't think it was the resason that i didn't get the job, I always carry jumper cables with me now!
I once realized, on the morning of my flight, that I had booked from the wrong Springfield. I could make the 6 hour drive just barely or call the airline and make a change. My boss wasn't immensely pleased at the additional expense on that one.
@calebkraft When I was working for TI I was flying with another employee from Boston to Greenville, SC. In the cab on the way to the airport, we were looking at our tickets (paper then!) and realized that we were both on different flights at different times. That seemed rather odd, as, really, how many flight could there be to the tiny town of Greenville SC from Boston on a given day? Closer scrunity revealed that he was booked to Greenville, SC and I was booked to Greenville, NC. Had I not been flying with him, it's likely I would have happily soared off to the wrong Greenville!
@kfield: Had I not been flying with him, it's likely I would have happily soared off to the wrong Greenville!
Sometimje in thje mid 1980s (when security was a lot laxer than today) I was on a flight from the UK to Japan. A short time after we got airborne the pilot came on the intercom and waffeled on for a bit, and ended with something like "We will be arriving in Tokyo in about 11 hours"
And a woman's voice piped up from a few rows in front of me saying "Tokyo? I'm going to San Francisco!" ... and everyone aroudn me looked up from the books and magazines they were reading ... and we all looked at each other with wide eyes ... and someone started laughing ...
Karen: I was chastized for not wearing a TIE to an interview in Silicon Valley once. The very first words out of the CEO's mouth were: "So you don't respect me enough to wear a tie?"
I thought I was overdressed, with a sports coat, nice slacks and shiny shoes. I smiled and muttered something about how I thought it would be less formal, given it was Mountain View, but that just made him angry.
An acquaintance of mine wore a clip-on tie to his engineering job interview. Functionality trumps form? With a clip-on, if the interview isn't going well, you can always try and switch ties halfway through it to see if it might improve your prospects.
@seaEE: An acquaintance of mine wore a clip-on tie to his engineering job interview. Functionality trumps form?
I find myself sitting on the horns of a dillema (and it's not very comfortable, let me tell you :-)
I no longer own a suit or a tie (apart from a black tie for funerals, and the small tin box in my office that's marked "Emergency Bow Tie," of course).
On the other hand, I'm still enough of the old school to think that if you are going to wear a tie in the first place, then make it a real one.
On the other hand (damn this dilemma, why can't it keep still) I typically don;t notice a lot of stuff, so I really wouldn't know if the person in front of me was wearing a clip-on tie or a toupe for that matter...
@Kfield: I always carry jumper cables with me now!
My father-in-law introduced me to this portable jump-starter thing (you can get them from Lowes or Home Depot for ~$60 for a basic one to ~$100 for a posh one. This is like a battery with cables (and other stuff) that you can use to jump-start yourself.
Mine also has a regular power outlet and a USB charger outlet -- buth of which would be useful in a crisis -- plus it contains a small compressor so you can easily pump up a flat tire (very useful to get to the "fix-a-tire" place).
I have one of those portable jump starters with the USB, light, and compressor. It is a lifesaver when you're ready to check out of the hotel and find that one of the kids left the van's light on all night, draining the battery. It has a permanent home in the van, now. We can charge it from a home outlet, or a cable from the car's 12V socket while driving around. Convenient, and blessed peace of mind!
@Polyspace: It has a permanent home in the van, now. We can charge it from a home outlet, or a cable from the car's 12V socket while driving around. Convenient, and blessed peace of mind!
I agree about th epeace of mind -- mine goes with me everywhere -- I didn't know you could charge it from the truck's 12V socket while driving -- I just take it out of the truck on the first day of each month (the evening if it's a work day) and plug it into the wall and leave it overnight to "top up" as necessary.
Max, the manufacturer recommends plugging it into the wall because the charging unit has overtemp protection, while the 12V socket connects directly to the unit's internal battery. The instructions (I actually read them this time!) say to limit direct charging to three hours, or the battery could explode.
I've also learned to take ice packs along - to put in the car seats so the hardware doesn't burn tender flesh. It's amazing that the electronics survive such harsh conditions, but they are tested for just that environment. I used to run some of the test equipment for microships going into cars; it's a serious test!
Great story Max. I was exactly one week early for a job interview once. It wouldn't have been so bad because all of the people I was supposed to be interviewing were out of the office and they would be none the wiser. Well, it would have been fine except that the receptionist called all of them in an attempt to find out why they weren't in the office for the interview, each assuming that the boss had changed the date. The boss was called last to finally confirm that I was, in fact, not bright enough to understand entry level calendar operation. I didn't get the job.
@Duane: The boss was called last to finally confirm that I was, in fact, not bright enough to understand entry level calendar operation. I didn't get the job.
The thing is that this can happen to anyone (although once is enough). I actually ended up getting the job -- they said that I carried the interview off with "great aplomb" considering the circumstances -- from my perspective I'd already burnt up all of my adrenalin and I was just floating along willing to let the universe have its way with me :-)
Ok, this is too much fun. Although I am not an engineer, I have my own humiliating interview experience to relate. Fresh out of college with an English degree, I was applying for a job as a printing supply sales rep for A.B Dick (imagine that company name on your business card). I wore a brand-new brown plaid suit circa late-1970s (a friend later quipped that he didn't realize Ralston-Purina also made suits). The weather was monsoonal, pouring buckets as it occasionally does in Austin, Texas. I hydroplaned all the way to the interview site, parked my car, dashed through the parking lot (a lake), and slipped and fell into a pool in front of the entrance. I endured the interview soaking wet in my plaid suit, and amazingly was offered the job. Didn't take it, though, and ended up on a circuitous path that eventually led me to high-tech PR.
Oh my, what possessed you to buy that suit in the first place? Would love to get a picure of you wearing it for my "engineeing fashion through the ages" (you qualify as a member of this community!). I see lots of that type of stuff at our local Goodwill store - is that where your's ended up?
Sounds like Max had to endure a lot of anxiety, stress and hassle. But in the end, I assume he showed up the next day for the interview at the correct time. So all's well that ends well. And you can consider the ordeal you went through the day before to be a practice run. Right?
@Colli: I remember some corny innuendo graffiti...
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear ... thes eare the jokes The Muppet Show refused :-)
I remember that the first year students were called "Freshers" ... the first week of the new year was called "Fresher's Week" -- during this period the older students used to say "Feel a little fresher every day!" (those little scamps)
I flew from Zimbabwe to Australia once for a job interview. There was only one flight a week so I had to be there for almost a week. So apart from the actual interview I went out with the guys who worked there on a few jobs, and the boss of the section took me out to a couple of sites to (a) show me their equipment and way of working and (b) probe my knowledge of the sort of gear they were using.
All went well until he took me to a radio site 15 KM outside a main town. He gave me the keys to unlock the gate, and I unlocked the door to the equipment room. We went inside, went through the equipment, then went outside again. Which is when I realised that I had left the keys on the desk in the radio room, and the door had locked itself as we went out.....
We had to drive back into the town (where fortunately someone had another key), drive back up, retrieve his keys, drive back to the town, return the borrowed keys.....I thought I had stuffed that one up good and proper.
I got the job, so I must have had something going for me AND the boss must have had some sense of humour (or pity...). And it turned out to be a nice job, and I'm still in it.
If this sounds familiar to some readers it's because I had a longer version published some time ago in these pages here....
@davidashton Great story David, and happy that you didn't blow the job offer because of a silly mistake. How is it that you wound up working in such exotic places? By choice? By necessity? By seredipity?
@Karen...Hi.....it was "More by good luck than good judgement" as me old dad used to say. I used to work for a company called SITA doing airline telecomms and travelled all over the world with that. You got quite a few stories from those days when you were editing EELIFE. In this case, however , Australia was not my first choice - it's so far from anywhere else! But I wanted to get out of Zimbabwe, and the job was a really good fit for my skills, and thankfully my employer thought so too. Australia is OK, the locals are quite friendly and they speak a language not dissimilar to English, the weather is not too bad and the tucker (food) is good.
In answer to your question, I'd put it at a mixture of all three - Seredipity (I love that word) that the job came along when I was wanting one, Necessity (that I needed a job and that was the only decent offer I had, Choice (well I could have chosen to say no to it and carry on looking) plus a good dose of Luck (as illustrated by the above story). Always a good combination...
@Max: Maybe he just has a poor sense of direction .. he thought he was going to England... :-)
Even Zimbabweans aren't that bad Max :-) Actually I was born in England and have tended to avoid its green unpleasant land ever since. (It's nice for a visit but I wouldn't want to live there.) Too much green gives me the heebies after a while. I used to come back from there on overnight flights, look out of the window in the morning and see brown Africa below, and think YES! I'm home!
At least Australia is sometimes the right colour. "The wide brown land for me" as a line in a local poem goes.....
@David: Funnily enough I was hearing the news about Zimbabwe on the radio on the way into work this morning. It sounds rather dire. I wonder how many of the folks who originally hailed Robert Mugabe as a hero are still happy with him after all this time...
@Max....."hearing the news about Zimbabwe..." this election has possibly the best chance of all the recent ones of really being free and fair (in which case Mugabe is out). However Mugabe by his own admission "Has degrees in violence" and is a past master at rigging elections. Be interesting to see what happens, especially if he gets himself in again. The people are in no mood to be cheated. It's an irresistable force and an immovable object scenario....
"I wonder how many of the folks who originally hailed Robert Mugabe as a hero are still happy with him after all this time..." Just about Zero. I never thought he was a hero, though after he got in he had the chance to be seen as one, but he blew it. The election that got him in had massive levels of intimidation, which the Brits chose to ignore as they wanted to get shot of the Rhodesian problem, it had been a thorn in their flesh for 15 years. For duplicity and underhandedness you can't beat British governments (hope you have no pollie rellies :-)
Translation: Pollie rellies = Politician relatives (think this is Australian slang, do you use those terms in UK or USA?)
@David: Which is when I realised that I had left the keys on the desk in the radio room, and the door had locked itself as we went out.....
It's that moment of realization that gets you. I received a frantic call from my 18-year-old son yesterday saying "Where are the spare keys to my truck?" ... he'd been to pick the dog up from the vet and -- on returning home -- had accidently locked it in his truck.
Fortunately I keep everyone's spare keys in my bedside cabinet, so there was no problem, but I could hear the panic in his voice when he first called.
My first engineering interview, I was on time. In fact I had several minutes to spare, and I remember using them to cram on some transistor theory which I didn't feel I was too strong in.
However, it was the first day of my second job that I remember most well. Three of us new employees were in the conference room with someone from Human Resources who was going over their benefits....medical...dental...yada... An hour or so into this, one of my fellow hirees asked, "So what kind of breaks to we get?" When the HR person explained the lunch/break times, he then asked, "Is it okay if I take a cigarette break now?" I thought it was a pretty funny and kind of bold first day comment! Always nice to have someone push the boundaries a bit. ;)
@kfield: Does your emergency bow tie happen to be a clip-on number?
To be honest I'd never looked (it was a present) ... but I just opened the can and it is indeed a clip-on ... .that will come in handy if I happen to be wearing a T-Shirt when the emergency occurs! :-)
A Book For All Reasons Bernard Cole1 Comment Robert Oshana's recent book "Software Engineering for Embedded Systems (Newnes/Elsevier)," written and edited with Mark Kraeling, is a 'book for all reasons.' At almost 1,200 pages, it ...