Monthly Archive for April, 2004

Job interviews are torture

Interviews can be a nightmarish experience. Up until this year my main experience of them had been as a candidate. Even then, I’d not been through a formal interview/assessment process for some time. (Most of my jobs in the last few years I’ve managed to get through referrals / networking with interviews that can be described as “informal” at best).

So, it was a bit of a culture-shock for me to act as an interviewer for new staff when I became President of Imperial College Union. My arrival in office co-incided with the departure of several long-serving members of staff (not related, I think…) and so I’ve actually been involved in quite a few interviews. This still didn’t quite prepare me, I don’t think for the somewhat hellish task of recruiting a new Union Manager.

It would not be an understatement to say that recruiting the new Union Manager will probably be one of the biggest tasks I undertake whilst in office. The person who is hired will have a major influence in the development (or not) of the Union over the next five to ten years. And whilst I am involving a number of my fellow student officers in the process, as well as external advisers, it is ultimately my responsibility to get it right.

We held our first round interviews yesterday. Going through the shortlisting had been bad enough. That’s not to say that the day went badly. It actually wen’t quite well. However, the thing I find really difficult is giving feedback to candidates afterwards when I call to let them know that they are not being invited to a second interview. I don’t really like telephones – I find them too impersonal and much harder to get my message across. Of course, it’s difficult for the candidates too. At the end of the day it’s their future at stake and they are convinced that they are right for the job. It’s difficult to deal with someone who wants to keep telling you about how good they are and can’t accept they are not going to get a second interview.

What’s worse is dealing with the subjectivity. We try to make recruitment somewhat scientific. Candidates are assessed against a published job description and person specification. There are a standard set of (initial) interview questions to ensure that everyone is explored in the same way. To a limited extent, scoring is possible. However, to a large extent the decision is going to be made on instinct. Is this person going to ‘fit’ in the organisation? Are they going to be able to work with my team? If the answer is no, how do you get across those judgements, fairly, in a way that gives them useful feedback.

I’m not sure I know the answer. But I think I’ve just learnt that when I’m tired is a bad time to try.

I’m number one. Again.

On Monday I reported that this site was being ranked very low by Google on the search string Mustafa Arif. Well, thanks to Alex‘s intervention, as of yesterday, Google now puts my site back in the number one spot.

Woohoo! Thank you Alex. My geek cred is now so much higher.

A declined invitation

Some of you will be surprised (and others unsurprised) to learn that there is a masonic lodge associated with Imperial College (for staff, students and alumni). Back in January Richard Walker (one of my Deputy Presidents) and I were invited to join the lodge.
Regular readers of my column in Felix will have noticed a casual mention, noting that we had politely declined.

Google remembers

At some ungodly hour this morning I sent an email round to a few people announcing this site to the world. There was no real reason to do this other than: a) to keep my fingers busy; b) to justify to myself the time I wasted invested in overhauling it.

One of the first responses back was from Alex Buckley who pointed out a series of embarassingly clumsy typos (duly noted and corrected, thanks Alex!). A more interesting element in his message, however, was the observation that my web page didn’t appear very high Google’s page rankings. In fact, it barely appeared at all with the search term Mustafa Arif.

Now, most of you will be aware that Google is probably the best search engine currently available (having stolen the crown from AltaVista several years ago. Google uses an alogorithm called PageRank to achieve its high accuracy. Basically, amongst other things, it ranks your web page according to the number of other web sites that hyperlink to it with the search term. So, the more people link to this site with a hyperlink like Mustafa Arif, the higher Google’s PageRank for it will be.

My site used to have a high page rank (and indeed used to come out as the first link) at its old URL when hosted by the Department of Computing at Imperial College. Unfortunately, when I moved over to my own domain name most people didn’t bother updating their links, partly because the site remained out of date, and partly because the old URL continued redirecting. Consequently, the old URL slowly dropped down the rankings (until the redirect died) and the new one never really made it up there.

In contrast, Alex’s page comes up as the first result when you Google for Alex Buckley which is mightily impressive. Alex has offered to re-instate the Links section of his now skeletal site to help push my ranking up, which is awfully nice of him. I guess I need to persuade more of my friends to do likewise.

Spurred on by Alex’s observation I decided to Google for myself (something I haven’t done for a while – and I soon remebered why). The trouble with the web is that many things just never get deleted and Google remembers where they are and digs them out for the world to mock you with. Yet another benefit then of getting your own site’s PageRank up (thus gaining a slightly higher probability of control over what surfers read about you).

Comments on online bulletin boards are often what I most regret when I search for myself on the web – especially those on Live!. From a mis-spent youth there are also things I’d rather forget in the Usenet archives. What I was somewhat more surprised to find, however, was the script for The Tragedy of RomEEE and JulISE, a pastiche of the Shakespearean play written as a joint ISE/EEE contribution to the 2003 EESoc Revue. Somehow I got talked into playing myself on that occasion…