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Christopher Marks

Do you have any questions for us?

4 min read

Interviewer: Well, that concludes this part of the interview process. Before we proceed, do you have any questions for us?

Candidate: Sure do.

Here’s a question to help me understand the culture of the company. A manager walks over to her associate, who’s brewing a coffee at 6:45am. She forgot the VP arranged a meeting with a major client, so she needs a revised report on her desk by 10am. The report would just need the most up to date financial data, but she also stipulates that there has to be a page with 3 green triangles, 2 blue rectangles, and 1 red circle.

The associate understands the importance of the request, so he gets started right away. But he misremembers the details of the report, and convinces himself that his boss asked for 3 blue triangles, 2 green rectangles, and 1 red circle.

At 7:30am, the associate walks over to his analyst, who had been at the office until midnight the previous night, and tells her that the report is now her responsibility. He also says it has to be finished by no later than 9:30am. He makes sure to stress the importance of there being a page with 3 blue triangles, 2 green rectangles, and 1 red circle. The analyst gets started right away too, and without taking any breaks, manages to finish the report by 9:55am. The associate briefly scans the report, checks that the page meets the specification, and has 2 copies printed out for his manager’s meeting.

When the manager sits down, she takes a look at the report and doesn’t notice the mistake. But as they’re walking through the specifics of the deal, the client does, and is not impressed. They lose the sale, and their reputation is damaged.

Whose fault is it?

Interviewer: Well. It’s the fault of the manager for forgetting the meeting in the first place. It’s also the fault of the associate for misremembering the details. But the analyst is also to blame for not being able to get the report finished on time so that it could be proofread properly. The VP of Operations may also be to blame for the lack of organisation and structure that allowed for this problematic situation to arise, but that would depend on if this was something that happened regularly.

Candidate: Sure. Now assume that each person doesn’t have full information of the situation, and they are real people with real egos and reputations on the line. The last thing the manager remembers before seeing the final report is that she made it the responsibility of the associate at 6:45am. The last thing that the associate remembers before seeing the final report is giving the analyst instructions at 7:30am. The analyst knows she made the report to the exact specifications that the associate asked for.

Who does the manager blame? Who does the associate blame? Who does the analyst blame? Who does the VP blame?

Interviewer: The manager would mainly blame the associate for the error, though she would also put some of the blame on the analyst. The associate would blame the analyst, and would likely forget that they were the one who asked for the wrong colours in the first place. The analyst would blame the associate for messing up the instructions and for making it the analyst’s problem in the first place. The VP blames the manager.

Candidate: Where does the blame really lie?

Interviewer (bad answer): The associate should be blamed for misremembering the colours, and the analyst should be blamed for getting the report finished late.

Interviewer (good answer): The employees share the blame because they are a unit that works as a team. The important thing is that they identify the systemic problems that allowed for this mistake to occur, so that they can avoid it in the future. In this case, it may mean clearer communication and better organisation from the manager and VP.