Thursday, May 13, 2010

Practice Interview and Single Points of Failure

Practice Interview and Single Points of Failure

I interviewed for a new job today.

It wasn't a new job, really...more of a transfer to another department, so the application process was brief: email a form requesting a transfer.

A friend at work, a co-worker in the same department in which I currently work, also applied for the same position. We've often talked before about the challenge and frustration of interviewing for a job. No matter how sure I feel, no matter how confident in my experience and skills, the interview process seems knock about 50% of the wind out of my sails even before I knock on the door. I know my friend feels the pressure, perhaps even more than I.

To help my friend, and myself, I sketched out a minimal set of questions that seem to be representative of what is typically asked during an interview. I included one question that is specific to the position I'm seeking, the one about the single points of failure. The new job would be in the Quality Control department (QC). The phrase has stuck in my head, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed relevant to a wide range of jobs.

My plan was to set up a practice interview, with my friend and I taking turns asking each other a question and coaching each other about what might be a good response.

We ended up running out of time and we didn't practice, but I still think the questions are good.

Practice Interview Questions

1) Tell me about yourself.

2) Why do you want to work as a ___________?

3) What frustrates or challenges you about being an ________________?

4) What do you find most enjoyable about your present job?

5) What single points of failure have you found as an ________________?

6) What weaknesses do you have as an employee?

7) What strengths do you have?

8) What questions do you have for me?

The reason that I think single points of failure sticks in my mind is because it coalesces into one concept several frustrations I've experienced.

My present work assignment requires careful measurements and strict attention to detail and procedure. In many situations the procedure requires verification by a second person, or an entry into a logbook. This introduces a level of redundancy or double-checking that actually helps reassure me that I won't make a serious mistake.

However, several procedures do not require any verification. I tend to regard these tasks as slightly less critical or vital. I imagine the supervisors saying something like, If this task is not performed exactly right every time it is not really a major mistake, therefore we will save time and energy and do the task quickly, without second-person verification.

I don't believe this is an appropriate attitude, because I don't believe the consequences are necessarily always minor.

The phrase single points of failure highlights the fact that any system that allows critical tasks to be performed without some sort of redundant verification is a weakness, a weakness that can break the entire system, much like a faulty spark plug can break the performance of an automobile.

It seems reasonable to me that most employees, and certainly all managers, should view their department as a system, and they should look earnestly for single points of failure. If something is important, it should not be liable to failure through one person's mistake...there should be additional layer, or more, of protection in the form of redundant verification and double-checking.

If something is important, it should be quite difficult to break.