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Competing With Microsoft For Talent

• volume 2 • number 6

It may not be the most ethical way to compete for prospective employees, but Silicon Graphics' approach is certainly creative. They use their Web site(sgi.com/staffing/University/Career Resource/sample questions.html) to post the standard interview questions used by their larger competitors like Microsoft and Intel, along with the appropriate answers.

The idea is to prepare unqualified candidates so they look good to recruiters – sort of like sending in ringers in reverse. By packing the competition's ranks with tutored candidates, Silicon Graphics improves its own chances of hiring top people.

The company also asks Web surfers to input questions they have been asked in interviews. Presumably this gives Silicon Graphics recruiters an edge, since they know what questions not to ask their own candidates. That might include one of Microsoft's questions: "I have one gallon of water and one gallon of wine. Take one cup of water and put in the wine, then take one cup from the wine-water mixture and put it into the water. Is there more water in the wine or wine in the water? Explain." It's a challenging puzzle and probably a good measure of a certain kind of intelligence, but only if the candidate hasn't heard it before. (By the way, the answer is the final water-wine ratios are equal in both gallons.)

But you don't need to go to these lengths to stay competitive; there are equally effective, if less inventive, ways of keeping potential hires guessing. For example, don't tell the candidate about the job during the first half of the interview. Use a variety of questions, and never ask anything predictable or cliched. Questions should be open-ended, and you should rely on past performance, not the candidate's prepared script, to reveal the competencies you're looking for. Finally, if you're asking the same questions you were a few years ago, it may be time to devise some new ones. This is your chance to be creative.