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Shock at low pay for high skill

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Andrew Johnston12/07/2021 21:58:21
6575 forum posts
701 photos

in the early 1970s, when it looked like my school career was going to end in a major car crash, an apprenticeship was considered, at W H Allens in Bedford. They made steam turbines, diesel engines and pumps. My father knew the apprentice master through the IMechE so we visited one Saturday morning for a factory tour and I informally sat the entrance test.

Ultimately I didn't follow the apprenticeship path and also ignored the advice of my school not to go to university. In both cases that was a good choice. No idea where I'd be now if I'd followed the apprenticeship route. Certainly not at Allens as within a few years they'd gone out of business, sold the factory and it's now a housing estate. I'm glad I followed the academic route which gave me experiences an apprenticeship wouldn't have been able to do. I picked up the practical skills anyway starting as soon as I could hold tools. I had a small workshop with a lathe and pillar drill while I was at school and it's progressed from there. It varies from year to year but I make about 20% of my income from machining, usually in conjunction with some mechanical design work.

I've always been amazed by the questions asked in interviews. I've been asked to draw an inverting and non-inverting opamp! One of the more intelligent questions was describe a microcontroller, microprocessor and DSP, and discuss where each one would be used. Another was discuss the range of TTL families and talk about cost versus performance trade offs. Another was about metastability in digital circuits. Of course i knew what it was and the consequences, but the point of the question was to kick off a discussion about how to characterise it and how that could be used to minimise the problem in the design phase.

As for the weight of air question that was simple as I know the density of air at STP.


brian jones 1112/07/2021 23:39:28
347 forum posts
62 photos


As for the weight of air question that was simple as I know the density of air at STP.


Well A do you think that was a dumb question to ask alledgedly bright young things?

Does 200lbs sound a lot to you?

how about - Victorians used a lot of manpower to do things, how much continuous power W do you think a normal adult male can produce continuously 35. 50, 100, 200, 300, 500 (not peak athletic power)

Victorians discovered that labourers ate a lot more calories than the power they produced

How about a horse = days work 1hp. This was James Watts sales pitch

JasonB13/07/2021 06:58:11
22603 forum posts
2643 photos
1 articles

I would have thought the air question should have been asked in metric after all industry and education has used it for years and bright young things have little idea what a pound is let alone if 200lbs of air is a lot.

Old School13/07/2021 08:42:03
406 forum posts
39 photos

We had a vacancy for a maintenance engineer apprenticeship in a plastics factory. Three budding hopefuls turned up all similar academically, the practical test was to wire a 3 pin plug complete with wiring diagram attached. Only one managed it and he got the live and the negative the wrong way round but he did spot it in the end. He got the job.

Andrew Johnston13/07/2021 11:02:20
6575 forum posts
701 photos
Posted by brian jones 11 on 12/07/2021 23:39:28:uq

Does 200lbs sound a lot to you?

Yes, it's a bit of an overstatement; the theoretically correct value is 153lbs.

I suspect the question doesn't do what you expect. If the interviewee doesn't know the density of air then any value given will be a pure guess. After the values are given it is an exercise in simple arithmetic. Some of the better interview questions involve the design of something. It allows the interviewer to see how the problem is approached, what extra information is asked for and what ideas arise.

The question on power output is incomplete, for how long is the output to be sustained? For an hour or so I'd expect 75-100W, longer then nearer 50. But it will be highly dependent upon the individual.


JasonB13/07/2021 11:31:38
22603 forum posts
2643 photos
1 articles

I think Hot Air could also affect the resultwink 2

brian jones 1113/07/2021 11:44:27
347 forum posts
62 photos

Well this was 30 years ago and its surprising how many ordinary measurements were done in imp units back then first and quoted metric after

200 - 153 well thats a bit OCD - I did say round figures - see not listening to the question Pike but the answer was not important, its how an unexpected event was handled and it was also a basis for a discussion

So if the air volume in the room was inside a plastic balloon - how many men would you need to push it through the serving hatch in 1 min 1,2,5,10

Remember that program Scrapheap Challenge?

I shudder to think what interviewing is like today, what with all the PC, pushy, discrimination etc that you have to guard against, Slightest mistake and its all over the papers I daresay.

Ive had piles of CVs foot high (30cm) to review, agent DEMANDS meeting to discuss applicants. After the first 100 you see a pattern of BS and are left with 10 - of which one was possible - I wont go on - nightmare of potential annoyance and waste of time.

This should go on the other thread about man management

SillyOldDuffer13/07/2021 12:00:30
8512 forum posts
1914 photos
Posted by brian jones 11 on 12/07/2021 18:10:25:

Well SOD you come up with a question to test thinking on your feet

a) applicants are nervous dont frighten

b) dont be a smartarse question much be general

c) let the question show why you are asking

BTW do you think I would have employed you? If its your own business BTW, its that much more pointed "will I profit from employing this person?"

Classic Steve Jobs - Hire people smarter than me - he did that


Well let me put a different slant on it. As a job interview only has about 30 minutes to assess the capabilities of an individual, the onus is on the interviewer to ask questions carefully tuned to get information out of the candidate. Therefore don't waste time testing Year 9 arithmetic, when paper qualifications give a much broader idea of the candidates mathematical attainments.

Furthermore, such questions risk unbalancing the clever candidate who thinks it's so off-beat it must be a trick question, and they appear to 'fail' when they start searching for hidden meanings. This might lead the interviewer to reject a candidate with the high-value skill of being able to think outside the box.

Being good at mental arithmetic under interview pressure is rarely a job requirement. People skills are usually more important, and far more difficult to establish.

We agree it's not the interviewer's job to put candidates in their place! Yet that's exactly how fast ball questions are likely to be perceived. Interviews are a two way process and good candidates often reject prospective employers, or use the interview to gauge just how easy the interviewer can be manipulated if they get the job. Ill-considered questions put the interviewer at a disadvantage!

Nervous employees are not necessarily bad employees. In the right position, they perform as well as anyone else. Interviewers often make the mistake of recruiting people like themselves, or people they can bully. Neither are good choices.

Andrew Johnston says in a later post 'in the early 1970s, when it looked like my school career was going to end in a major car crash...'. Been there, done that! Old chaps often make the mistake of assuming youngsters must know more than they do. They forget their own foolish hormone fuelled youth, and expect boys and girls to arrive fresh from education with a lifetime's experience. They may be unlucky enough to meet an old f*rt with a chip on his shoulder, determined to 'prove' the young are useless because they can't wire a plug, or work a tape measure. This is daft because on-the-job skills of that sort can be taught in 20 minutes. Recruiting graduates because they happen to be able to change a fuse is foolish if you need mechanical engineers to drive a CAD package and do stress calculations! But even at the hands-on end of engineering, good employers understand the need to train and develop staff. Best to ask questions that flush out interests, aptitudes, and enthusiasms.

Asking well-aimed questions is even more true if the immediate goal is profit; in the age of calculators, spreadsheets, and the internet, exactly how much value is there asking an arithmetic question that most of us could solve with paper and pencil in a few minutes? In my opinion Brian's weight of air question fails the 'so what?' test.

Another objection to mental arithmetic questions is they are closed, that is Yes/No/Right/Wrong answers. Much better for interviewers to ask open questions that encourage the candidate to develop a line of thought, whether it's faulty or brilliant.

In my experience there few good reasons for asking adversarial questions. Deciding between otherwise equal and well-qualified individuals; pursuing a fruitful argument; and - of course - lie detecting!

Even done well, interviews aren't particularly good at selecting the best people. Beware ladies and gents who are good at interview. Assessment Centres do rather better. At these candidates are put together through a series of joint exercises (with actors and surprises); paper exercises testing data handling, problem solving, reasoning and decision making; plus a series of interviews (both ways) over three or four days. Being residential, candidate behaviours are also observed during meals and breaks. The process flushes out good and bad behaviours relative to other people, intellectual ability, core competences, and how well one deals with superiors, subordinates, and solves difficult problems of all sorts. Slight problem - assessment centres don't guarantee success and are eye-watering expensive.


Edited By SillyOldDuffer on 13/07/2021 12:01:57

Martin Kyte13/07/2021 12:17:26
2728 forum posts
48 photos

You get much more information about the candidate with questions like "how would you go about making, designing, solving etc" and 'tell me about why you want this post, know about this company, things that you have done in the past that really pleased you etc" than questions that have yes no answers.

It's the interveiwers job to get people to open up and talk about themselves.

regards Martin

Edited By Martin Kyte on 13/07/2021 12:17:46

derek hall 113/07/2021 13:09:44
216 forum posts

I would rather not get into the debate about which is better the graduate engineer or time served, but I recall a phrase a long retired work colleague who was an ex chief petty officer with 22 years with the navy. He said....

"Someone with a degree is someone who can work out the square root of a jar of pickles but can't take the lid off"

Made me laugh then and still does!


Apprentice time served ONC/HNC I went to local tech colleges when they existed - otherwise known as the "The Toothickfor University"

Andrew Johnston13/07/2021 13:41:45
6575 forum posts
701 photos

It's sad that yet again I have to wonder why a new member thinks it's necessary to insult forum members. The OP has broken the old adage - it's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt.


Nick Welburn13/07/2021 14:26:46
123 forum posts

Apologies if I’ve offended any here, just enjoying the debate.

Bezzer13/07/2021 17:10:17
157 forum posts
13 photos
Posted by Andrew Johnston on 13/07/2021 13:41:45:

It's sad that yet again I have to wonder why a new member thinks it's necessary to insult forum members. The OP has broken the old adage - it's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt.


Couldn't agree more thumbs up

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