Following on from my last post on applying for jobs, this one discusses the interview process.

Firstly, something that continues from the application process is the desire for success.  I don’t like seeing the candidate fail.  I really want to see each person succeed, I want to fill the position.  I don’t want to have to re-advertise, sift through another pile of CVs, and spend days interviewing.  If I find the right person I can stop and get back on with my day job.

I always try to find something in the interview that mimics a task they might do in their job.  For programmers that means they must write some code.   For testers, they need to spot the bugs.  It always amazes me how many candidates fail these tasks.  These aren’t even difficult tasks, the code they need to write is little more than a loop and a few conditionals, the bugs the testers need to find are not exactly hidden away either.  So why do so many people fail in these tasks?

How can they have made a good career in the industry (I’ve recently been interviewing people with 20 years experience on very good wages) when they can’t write a 10 line  program?

Is it just nerves?  Sometimes I think nerves can be an issue.  Most of the time our work is not done under the same pressure as an interview.  I have worked at times where the pressure is far worse, but generally it isn’t and you have the support of a team to help you out.  Working
with some good colleagues can go a long way to taking the pressure off and so remove any nervous feelings, but in an interview you are on your own.  I try to be encouraging, have a conversation rather than an interrogation, and get the candidate in the right frame of mind before we set them the task.  Sometimes that works, sometimes not.

So what else is it?  Is it the support of the team that does it?  Do poor performers get a job somewhere less stringent in its recruitment process and then use their team to prop them up?  Do large companies not understand the performance of their staff so even the incompetant ones survive?  Is employment law so strict that companies prefer to keep poor performers employed than face the issue of dismissal? Or could it be that I have my process wrong?  Am I rejecting perfectly good candidates because they can’t pass my made up criteria?

I don’t have any answers to those questions and in some ways it doesn’t matter too much anyway.  I do manage to find good people using my process, and if I miss a few along the way then never mind, they will do well elsewhere.


About Big_GH

Currently employed as a Software Development Consultant with over 30 years experience with computing. Started writing BASIC programs on the Commodore VIC 20, C64 and Amiga before switching to C and C++. Now spends more time helping others with their software and looking after the "bigger picture".
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5 Responses to Interviews

  1. Joshua Lock says:

    I’ve only been interviewed a hand full of times but my interview with you and Lee is the only one I remember. I’d say your technique is pretty spot on!

    I had to conduct my first interview the other week and prepared by reading Spolsky’s article on the subject ( and thinking by to my interview with you both way back in 2007 (wow, that’s a long time ago!).

    One tid bit of advice, amidst all this annecdote, I think contributing to open source is really a great career boost for programmers – when I go for an interview I can not only write a 10-line loop, but people can see examples of my code and conduct just by performing some simple searches.

    Enjoying the web log GH, keep up the good work!

  2. Big_GH says:

    I had meant to put a link into Joel’s interview advice, so thanks for mentioning it. I’ve also read his book: Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent, Hardback: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent
    Nice to have around in dead tree format and handy pocket size, but the content is little more than a nicely edited collection of the stuff on his website.

  3. Big_GH says:

    Also, good mention about the open source stuff. That is so true, especially if you are new to the business and don’t have a lot of other experience to demonstrate. However, it seems to be so rare in the people I interview that I didn’t even think of it!

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