How to Take the Offensive in Interviews


The ability to present oneself effectively in an interview is one of the most important skills one can learn. It is a chance to truly distinguish yourself, and give life to the name that decorates your CV. Whether you are looking to enter into a good college, or secure a dream job, the following insights gathered from respected Hacker News blogger Steve Buckley will be invaluable:

LESSON 1: Carry an enlightened mentality.

Understand that interest is a two-way street, and that one of the easiest ways to make yourself attractive is to demonstrate a strong interest in the institution that the interviewer represents- be it a school, or a company.

APPLYING IT: Pay your dues and spend an hour or two doing background research. As networking guru Keith Ferrazzi says: I always make a special effort to inquire about the people I’d like to meet.”

What you should be looking for during this time are threads of the institution’s history, culture, and philosophy that appeal to you. If you can weave these into the conversation later on, you will not only show your knowledge, but also generate genuine enthusiasm for yourself.

Identify problems and challenges that the institution faces. These will not be so clearly advertised, and you may have to do some reading between the lines, but if you can offer any solutions to these problems, you transform yourself from another cog in the wheel to a valuable asset to the interviewer. 

LESSON 2: Ask strong questions.

Armed with your new mindset, and two hours of research, don’t be afraid to really ask some poweful questions. Any self-respecting interviewer expects this, how do you expect to take someone seriously who  does not have standards of their own?


Buckley suggests a few power questions to evaluate a company:

1. Why are you recruiting for this position?

2. How long has the longest employee (not management) stuck around?

3. What is the biggest challenge you face?

4. What is the new technology that they wish to implement/train people on, that they have not gotten around to yet.

5. Few companies are satisfied 100% with how they are. If you could flick a switch and solve a problem, what would it be?


Here are some that you might ask for college :

1. What is the student culture like? What values are heavily emphasized, what values are seen as less important?

2. What is the most challenging (though not necessarily negative) aspect of the school?

3. What kind of opportunities are given to students? What is the scale of influence, and authority allocated to student groups?

4. (And increasingly more relevant, as american colleges struggle with the recent economic downturn) where does this school hope to expand its brand/image to in the future? [And here is how I can help!]



Learning to Negotiate Ambiguity


We often hear the cliché about those who excel in the electronic arts,lacking social grace and other less-defined “soft skills”. Eric Sink, founder of SourceGear and web blogger, captures this sentiment of hard versus soft skills with eloquence:


To some extent, this deficiency arises from the tendency for computer programmers to think of things in “black and white” terms.  We polarize every issue toward one extreme or the other.  The basic element of a computer is a bit, and a bit is either on or off, never in between.  This “binary mentality” infects our perspective at a very basic level, often causing us to be somewhat clumsy when dealing with any topic that is characterized by shades of grey.

During one late-night conversation at Brown, a good friend, K—- described a lesson she learned
leading a student organization on campus: when it comes to selecting leaders, it is more important to be nice than it is to have the best technical skills. In execution, “hard” skills are necessary to achieve the results you want, but in planning, leading, managing, and other aspects of a job that involve other people, an ability to tolerate ambiguity is sorely needed.

This is a lesson I am still learning. Working with the iGEM team this summer, I would sometimes argue with Julius that the best way to motivate people is to demand a strict binary, “Are you in, or are you out?” With the hope that anyone who said they were “in” would then be bound by a code of honor to work hard.

Thankfully, he had the maturity to know otherwise: people do not live or work in strict black and white. Impatience to GTD is the mentality of a great doer, but will never allow you to become a great leader.


Succeed and give, it helps you live…

Dylan is leaving tonight to go to Palo Alto. Adrienne had a birthday yesterday. in commemoration of great friendships and as a toast to the end of finals, I organized a small party today in Minden Hall. Hyun from Mama Kim’s helped deliver the food, and was nice enough to stay and chat with us student entrepreneurs, and other movers and shakers.

there is little in life as pleasing as spending a good evening with close friends. Seth Godin in Linchpin was right in articulating that the fundamental benefit of giving is creating a community. I don’t think that any of us dare call ourselves lynch pins just get, but I think and I know that we have the potential to be great.

I think, more than anything, the people that we surround ourselves with is the most important thing we can imagine. Grades, even in the mist of finals, pales in comparison to the peaks you stand on when you gather in a good community. 

are you in dispensable, if you fall down who will pick you up and carry you forward? 

No man can help you die, that is true, but there are plenty who can help you live.




2012’s Student Councilor of IBE


Got this in the mail today. Best motivation to get out of bed and into finals 🙂


Dear Max, it is my pleasure to inform you on the results of the recent IBE election.  You were nominated to run for undergraduate councilor for 2012.  Congratulations, you won.  We will be getting in touch with you soon with more information on the role and how you can help to move biological engineering forward as a profession.  Thanks for your willingness to serve.

Best regards,

Mark Riley
IBE 2010 President


What is in (half) a day?

Got back to Providence at 3 pm today, following a trip to NYC’s passport agency.

Ran back into campus to attend the final Year of China meeting- 3:50 – 4:20.

Work/reply to emails – 4:20 – 5:50.

iGEM presentation/infosesh. 6-6:40.

PAC meeting – give shoutouts: 6:50 – 7.

Research for interview for book: 7-8.

GAME: 8 – 11.

interview: 11-12.

Midnight snack, home to write more emails.


What are finals again? :3