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Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview

34 replies on 3 pages. Most recent reply: Sep 19, 2010 9:03 AM by Sean Landis

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Bill Venners

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Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 26, 2010 1:00 AM
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Sean Landis, author of Agile Hiring, lists ten ways an employer can screw up an on-site interview.

http://www.artima.com/articles/ten_ways_to_screw_up_an_on_site_interview.html

Have you havde any bad interview experiences? Have you ever turned down an offer because the employer screwed up your interview? Did you ever accept a job after a really bad interview, only to regret it later? What are your best (worst?) interview stories?


John Wellbelove

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Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 3:46 AM
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Interviewer: Describe the animal that best describes the way you debug code.

Interviewee: An amoeba.

Interviewer: Why an amoeba?

Interviewee: It's a suitably dumb answer for a dumb question.

Klerisson Paixao

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Nickname: klerisson
Registered: Aug, 2010

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 6:44 AM
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Interviewer: If you have ten millions right now in what would you invest in?

Interviewee: I would move to a Brazilian paradise, put the rest amount in a bank and live by incomes.

Interviewer: Why don't you, at least, start you own business??!

Interviewee: Once I have the idea and the money I wouldn't be here begging for a hell job, in spite of I could be asking you a partnership.

James Watson

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Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 10:12 AM
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When I was interviewing for my first job out of college, I was talking to a company that found out I was going to in the area for an interview with another company. The hiring manager said "great! you can come over after." Being a dumb kid, I agreed and after 4 hours of interviews, I hopped on the road to get to the other employer.

The directions he gave me took me on an HOV road. Luckily I didn't get pulled over ($200 fine.)

I parked in a expensive (for a college student) garage across the street. I had been told my parking would be validated.

I got a tour of all the really unhappy looking people sitting in their cubes.

I was grilled in an number of interviews. In the last (around my 9th hour of interviewing for the day) the interviewer was rapid firing questions, interrupting my answers.

Exhausted, I was escorted down to the lobby. I asked about the parking and was met with a puzzlement. It was worth the money to me at that point to get the hell out of there and I did.

They gave me an offer lower than the other two I received. Even if they offered more, I wouldn't take it.

Matt Doar

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Registered: Feb, 2004

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 11:55 AM
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Employers, the first interview is like a first date. Fail to impress and you'll only be talking to people who are getting desperate. Be cool, be kind, be organized.

Interviewees, cut the guy some slack, he's just not very good at dating ;-)

Mike Fogus

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Registered: Jan, 2010

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 12:31 PM
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It must have happened at some point, but I've never heard of an instance of a interviewee getting up saying, "sorry, but I really do not think this will work" -- and promptly leaving.

Sean Landis

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Registered: Mar, 2002

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 12:40 PM
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That would be very awkward. On the other hand, there are situations where an employer can justify sensitively abbreviating an on-site interview. The goals would be 1) to avoid wasting time on a candidate that you will not hire, and 2) complete the abbreviated interview without the candidate realizing it was shortened.

James Watson

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Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 1:57 PM
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> It must have happened at some point, but I've never heard
> of an instance of a interviewee getting up saying, "sorry,
> but I really do not think this will work" -- and promptly
> leaving.

An acquaintance once told me that he was in an interview and the interviewer said something about "users are losers" and my acquaintance said something to the effect of "I don't believe that at all, I'm out of here" and left. I can't confirm the story but I pressed him because this seemed like a really foolish thing to do, (it was 1998 and people were falling over themselves to give CS grads jobs but still, why limit your options?) He said he knew he wasn't going to accept that job and already had another offer. He seemed pretty proud of himself.

Jerry Dunsmore

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Registered: Aug, 2010

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 2:09 PM
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2009 was a bad year for me. The contract I was in ended at the end of 2008. I was not worried since I had little problem finding a programming position before. 8 months later and passed broke I finally found a job and am starting to rebuild my pride.

There were three interviews that haunt me still. They were all my fault and I can only lay frustration, desperation and ego as reasons. I really do not like interviewing either since I never seem to remember any of my skills. Embarrassing to say the least.

1) The first one was with a major bank and I was feeling pretty desperate after several month. I realized after the interview that I had all but begged for the job. I had not proven that I had any of the skills they wanted. Of course I only really learned what they wanted in the interview. All I knew before was they needed someone that knew ASP.Net and C#.

2) The next one I am not sure if I just answered badly or if it was a bad interview question. The interviewer asked me an SQL question that I did not really understand. I tried to ask him more questions and then give him an answer, but it just didn't feel good enough. Of course I knew what he was talking about later after more thought, but still.

3) The last one was, I feel, my worst. I was feeling pretty good for some reason and did not prepare. I got there early and had the charm on when I realized I knew one of the interviewers! It was a bit of a shock for some reason. Then I totally blanked on SEO and LAMP!!! I could not even remember what they were! I am pretty sure that is when the interview was cut short. I felt an inch tall. Of course I know SEO and LAMP! I have been into programming and web development since the mid 80's!

In the end, I learned many things. One was to not be arrogant. I might have over 13 years of experience, but I need to play to my strengths and not push knowledge I cannot have at my fingertips. Learning in the trenches is not the same as formal learning. I also learned again how important it is to know as much as possible before the interview about the job they are trying to fill. Then, almost the most important step, you must PREPARE. If nothing else get on some tech forums and read some other programmers thoughts on the current technologies.

*shrug* that's my experience anyway!
JD

James Watson

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Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 3:06 PM
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> 2) The next one I am not sure if I just answered badly or
> if it was a bad interview question. The interviewer asked
> me an SQL question that I did not really understand. I
> tried to ask him more questions and then give him an
> answer, but it just didn't feel good enough. Of course I
> knew what he was talking about later after more thought,
> but still.

I've had this happen and I know that it's happened with people I am interviewing. When you are trying to focus on some many other things like what you are doing with your hands and sitting up straight and making a good impression, it's normal to have trouble processing technical questions.

Any technical interviewer worth his or her salt knows this and isn't looking for perfect answers to every question. The main purpose of technical questions should be on determining whether the interviewee the experience in what he or she has claimed to have and see how the interviewee works through a problem. For the former, I tend to ask questions that should be really simple for someone with the experience at hand and for the latter, vocabulary and trivia quizzes are useless.

Krisztian Sinka

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Nickname: skrisz
Registered: Mar, 2009

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 3:19 PM
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My most interesting interview started with an one hour test (programming) then two hours discussion of the test result and various other problems.

For some question we went into far more deeper than the test wanted to be, I guess, and after about one and a half hour they confessed that the test question was based on their previous experiences in the past, i.e. their errors were turned into riddles.

When I told the story to one of my colleagues after the interview he noted: "That means they would never employ themselves as they would fail with these questions."

Sean Landis

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Registered: Mar, 2002

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 3:47 PM
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Krisztian, good story. I've had a similar experience with a few small companies I interviewed with. In those cases, the interviewers presented a problem they were working on to see what I thought. The problems were very difficult and the team hadn't settled on a solution. In one case they warned me of the nature of the problem and said that they were more interested in how I approached the problem, rather than whether I came up with the 'right' answer.

Another time, the interviewers told me afterward that it was an extremely difficult problem they hadn't solved yet.

I think using real and hard problems like this is a great strategy for hiring senior people, if done well. I felt that letting me know the nature of the problem in advance was better than telling me afterward.

Kay Schluehr

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Registered: Jan, 2005

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 27, 2010 4:28 PM
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I wonder if this a matter of country specific business culture, but I can't remember an interview that lasted longer than an hour. It was usually led by the project and by the department leader i.e. people who do not waste hours for playing games with you. I also can't remember that I was ever asked a stupid question, just to check my psychological reactions on them.

BTW I would never attempt to hire at a company, say Google, that forces an interview marathon on me.

Michele Simionato

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Nickname: micheles
Registered: Jun, 2008

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 28, 2010 12:29 AM
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> I wonder if this a matter of country specific business
> culture, but I can't remember an interview that lasted
> longer than an hour. It was usually led by the project and
> by the department leader i.e. people who do not waste
> hours for playing games with you. I also can't remember
> that I was ever asked a stupid question, just to check my
> psychological reactions on them.

Same here. All this talk about interviews looks very much US-centric to me. It also looks a complete waste of time.

At our company we have the policy to only hire people with proven experience (begin involved in open source projects and communities counts) and this worked out very well for us. No need to perform long interviews.

> BTW I would never attempt to hire at a company, say
> Google, that forces an interview marathon on me.

Ditto, unless I was unemployed and forced to look for a work, of course :-(

Sean Landis

Posts: 129
Nickname: seanl
Registered: Mar, 2002

Re: Ten Ways to Screw Up an On-Site Interview Posted: Aug 28, 2010 10:27 AM
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Kay & Michele, a one-hour interview? That is very impressive. How do you determine if the candidate has the technical skills you require? How do you evaluate whether the candidate will fit into your team's culture and development environment? How do you know that behaviorally and personally, the candidate will be able to work well with your team? If you are able to do that in an hour, and hire well, then you are on to something.

I suspect there is more to this story than country-specific culture.

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