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Question - How does somebody impress you on a job interview? Jim Kerr (jak7 (AT) opsirm1.em.cdc.gov)

Answer - I don't do many job interviews.

When I do, my approach is to find a business-related topic the candidate says he or she cares passionately about and then try to gauge whether the person has gone out of his or her way to learn about it and think of it in new ways.

I want to know if a candidate has formed a complete model of how a project or company works. How does he or she engage? Do they dive into something? Talking about a subject a person cares a great deal about allows me to really explore the lengths to which he or she might go on a project we assign.

My general advice to job applicants is to find out as much as possible about a company in advance. Perhaps the most efficient way to do this today is by studying the company's site on the Internet's World Wide Web. Not every company has one, but more and more do each day.

On a Web site you can learn not only about employment opportunities but also about the needs and challenges the company faces. In fact you can often learn more about a company on the Web than you would by actually spending a day at the company.

A demonstration of deep corporate knowledge on the part of a job applicant impresses me - and almost any other prospective employer.

Question - What do you think is more important to your success, raw intelligence or hard work? Matthew Nagowski (NagM msn.com)

Answer - Hard work, without a doubt. But not just my hard work. What really matters is the hard work of people who come to work with me.

Raw intelligence weighs most heavily in a little contest like a math puzzle. But over a period of years, when you're in business building complex projects and working with customers, success is much more a result of dedication and persistence than brilliance.

I don't mean to discount intelligence. I value it highly, and it is essential to many kinds of success.

But even when intelligence appears to be the reason for a success, hard work probably had a lot to do with it too. Thomas Edison said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." I believe that.

Question - I have developed software that may be patentable. Naturally I hope to profit from my idea. What is the best way for a software inventor to market his or her product, or present it to an established software company for further development and marketing? Gerald Cohen, Birmingham, Mich. (entrefilet aol.com)

Answer - If the idea really is patentable, you probably should patent it so that you can disclose it to people without the anxiety that somebody might take it. Obtaining a patent isn't cheap, but its protection can be invaluable.

Microsoft sometimes buys patented technologies. From time to time we even buy a whole company when it owns a product or technology that we think has strategic value.

We get a massive number of suggestions from customers - for everything from feature improvements to new products. Microsoft pays close attention to these volunteered ideas because they help us understand what customers want. We're grateful for the suggestions.

But when somebody has an unpatented idea that they want to profit from, companies such as Microsoft and IBM just can't let themselves look at it or evaluate it at all.

We might already be working on the same idea or we might come up with something similar on our own. So we tell people who approach us with a proprietary idea which they want to protect that there's nothing we can do to cooperate with them.

The same policy is in place at most, if not all, large software companies, I'm afraid.

Question - Do you have a photographic memory? Yat Hing Chan, Australia (cyh tpgi.com.au).

Answer - I've never met anybody who had a photographic memory in the literal sense.

It's well-documented that there are people who can recall detailed information that they have only scanned and never really thought about. I'm certainly not one of them.

I have a good memory, though, for information that I've been deeply involved with or have cared about.

I can remember all the moves of many chess games that I've played.

I can still remember all my lines in a high school play, "Black Comedy." I was so afraid that I'd forget the lines that I just burned them into my head.

I remember financial data very well, too.

I can visualize the source code to the version of BASIC that I wrote for the first microcomputer, back in 1975. That was the programming code that got Microsoft started, so maybe it's no surprise that I can still see every detail of the first page, the second page, the third page - as if they were in front of me.