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Interview Question | Reply
Last month, I had 5 interviews - NI, TI, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon.com for summer internships.
In about 4 of them, the first question I got asked was "tell me about yourself". This question always stumps me - what the hell am I supposed to say? The interviewer already has my resume with my name, contact, major, GPA, career goals, work experience etc in front of him. What else am I supposed to tell him new? In the first 2 interviews, I took a while to think what I was gonna say and luckily enough, the interviewer seeing my discomfort went on with technical part. In the last 2, I was cheeky enough to tell them the truth that I don't know what to say more than what he can already read from my resume and that the weather was nice/I have 3 exams that day etc.

Do you have any suggestions?

Luckily, the technical parts were easy (they were Div II 500 -level questions like find if two numbers sum to N in an array in O(n), O(n log n) and how to sort an 1-0 array in O(n) time and average a binary tree etc).

I got offers from all except IBM. Since, I want to get out of Austin, I shall be working most probably for Amazon.com (I have my second round interview for Microsoft later this month) in Seattle. Anyone here from there?
Re: Interview Question (response to post by wrick) | Reply
I can't imagine fitting everything interesting about myself on a resume :-) I usually talked about hobbies and projects, of which I've always had a few (KawigiEdit was really the last big personal project I started before graduating).

Are you wondering if anyone here is at Amazon or at Microsoft? Either way, there's a good number of TopCoders in the Seattle area :-)

Edit: Also, whenever you come around for an interview at Microsoft, we should get something together to meet some of us :-)
Re: Interview Question (response to post by wrick) | Reply
In my career I've seen my share of resumes and interviewed several people and surprisingly, you learn a lot. When I interview people, I like to find out about more than the applicant's technical ability. If you catch an honest person off gaurd, you can tell what kind of person they are and if they will fit in the group or possibly cause problems. In response to "tell me about yourself" I'd keep it non-technical and very pleasant. When answering questions about technical ability, don't fudge or lie, that is, don't always tell them what they want to hear if it isn't true. But, when asked, "tell me about yourself", go ahead and tell them exactly what they want to hear if it is true. Paint the best possible picture of yourself. Leave out the bad bits (if any). It is probably the best way to sell yourself outside of your technical ability. In most cases and when it is possible, a good manager considers more than technical ability when making hiring decisions.

I've found that ultimately, at the end of the day, only a few applicants leave a good impressions. When more than one applicants exhibits the technical requirements, you may have to make your hiring decision on something else, and it could be this. I also like to try to gage the audience and try not to talk too much or too little.
Re: Interview Question (response to post by wrick) | Reply
they were Div II 500 -level questions like find if two numbers sum to N in an array in O(n)

I know how to do it if the array is sorted but otherwise I have no idea.
Re: Interview Question (response to post by rgrig) | Reply
It's interesting if it's possible to prove that impossibility :)
Re: Interview Question (response to post by Petr) | Reply
well...if you can hash in O(1), then it's impossible to prove it's impossible =)
Re: Interview Question (response to post by wrick) | Reply
They see loads of resumes and they will mostly look very similar. What you should be doing is probably to talk about how passionate you are about programming - you're not just someone wanting to earn a decent living but someone who loves coding. Don't be afraid to sound like a total nerd, they want people who are not only intelligent but really enthusiastic about what they do. Talking about online programming contests or personal coding projects is a real advantage. I spent quite a while talking about recent marathon contests in the interview which recently got me a new job for a fairly selective company.
Re: Interview Question (response to post by rgrig) | Reply
Depending on the constraints for N (let's say that N <= 2M) the problem is quite easy :)
Re: Interview Question (response to post by Malkava) | Reply
Whether it's easy to do it in O(n) has nothing to do with constraints. You're mixing theory and practice.
Re: Interview Question (response to post by d000hg) | Reply
I say just be able to read minds and be yourself. No need to be someone you're not.

Just remember this though, when people say "be yourself", they really mean "be your best self". Makes quite a bit of difference!
Re: Interview Question (response to post by dskloet) | Reply
You can say that when you have N numbers, each represent on k bits it can be solved in O(N + 2^k). So it's O(N) if k is O(log N).
Re: Interview Question (response to post by wrick) | Reply
I try to think of that question this way:

It frames "yourself" to them for the rest of the interview, if not further.

So think up ahead what it is you would like to emphasize about yourself, and don't be afraid to repeat things from your resume. Reading about someone is completely different from hearing something from the person. Plus the interviewer may not have had time to digest the info or even read it all. I've been in that position.

The resume is a way to weed out people. Once you're in the interview, the resume is almost irrelevant.

I like to sound confident and personable, and hopefully competent. And I like to make the point that technology is a part of my life regardless of work - it's a hobby more than a job. I'd be studying this stuff if I were painting for a living.
Re: Interview Question (response to post by wrick) | Reply
As tolkienfan says, it is a way to frame yourself. Is there something not on your resume that they might be interested in? Is there a particular project that is on your resume that you'd like them to focus on? This is your chance to lead the interviewer to your strengths. Take advantage of it.

I almost always start an interview off this way. But when I am on the other side of the fence, it stumps me too, which is why it is critical to prepare ahead of time.
Re: Interview Question (response to post by madking) | Reply
You might want to talk about being part of the topcoder community. Many interviewers will find that very interesting, because most of them doesn't have anything to do with programming contests.

I had the possibility to write problems for a HS SRM once. In two interviews the people I spoke to made me talk a lot about it, tell them a problem that I've made up, etc. In one case the interviewer decided to think on my problem, and at that time I was thinking on a problem that he gave me (so we were both solving each other's problems :)).

Anyway, topcoder is a really nice thing to talk about with interviewers. It makes them feel that you're really into programming.
Re: Interview Question (response to post by wrick) | Reply
Stumbled upon this topic while searching around, I figure since my company is sponsoring the upcoming TopCoder Open and I do a good portion of our interviewing I can probably answer this question for you.

Here is my take:

When interviewers (at least the ones that you want to work for) ask you to tell them about yourself they are trying to get at two things.

1) Is this person passionate about something. It doesn't really matter what (within reason of course), just that you are passionate about it. We see a ton of resumes and a significant amount of them look the same. What really sets people apart is passion. The way I see it, if you are driven about something that you aren't getting paid for, the potential drive you have for something that you_are_paid_for is huge. Its up to the company doing the hiring to put you in a place that you are going to want to succeed, but if you don't have that drive coming in the door, there isn't much we can do. Make sense?

2) Can you answer open ended questions. I know it is a pretty low level question, but there are few questions better at getting this point across. Think about it this way, the thing you should know most about is yourself, right? Well if you can't answer a question about yourself what does that mean for topics that you have less experience with. Playing Devil's Advocate, I'm sure a lot of you are going to say, "We can just lie". The whole, be your best self as opposed to being yourself. The fact of the matter is that the people doing the interviews have a lot of experience interviewing and reading people. Chances are, the person across the table from you can tell if you are lying or telling the truth. IMO, I would rather have someone be honest and tell me something less than impressive then for them to lie just to wow me.

If you, or anyone for that matter, has questions feel free to PM me or just post here, I am more then willing to answer what I can.

HTH

Chris Zuehlke
DRW Trading Group
Algorithmic Trading Group
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