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Interview from a different perspective

Contrary to the hiring freeze, my department is hiring new people, both new graduate and engineer position. I have been spending lots of my time doing interview in the past two weeks. I haven’t went to any interview for many years. This time, I am sitting on the other side of the interview table and that gives me lots of insights about interview.

My manager wants to hire potential super stars, but unfortunately none of the candidates I had interviewed so far even come close. My goal is more moderate: don’t hire the wrong people. Once someone is hired as a full time, it is really hard to get rid of him, especially if he is a talker than a doer. I found many interviewee don’t really get the idea about interview. Interview is not a quiz nor a speech, you don’t get any points for merely answering the questions right or talking a lot about yourself. Interview is more like a marketing presentation of selling yourself with an interactive Q&A session. The interviewer wants to find out whether you are the right fit for the job, asking question is just the mean. I haven’t met any candidate who can look beyond the words of questions, able to answer not just the answer but also the intention of the question.

The more people I interview, the more I believe in Malcolm Gladwell’s blink theory. An average interview is an hour long, I can almost make a call for the candidate after the first few questions. Then I just have to spend the rest of the time to confirm my judgment. Having an impressive resume usually means nothing, but having a not impressive resume fails right away. Sometimes I can smell something fishy just by looking at the resume. In one resume, someone actually put down he had wrote 200000+ lines of code form his 8 years of work experience. I wonder what kind of person would bother to keep track of how many lines of he wrote. It turns out my suspicious is right, this guy claims he know a lot more than he actually knows. I guess most people bluff in his resume, but it looks really bad if you get caught bluffing. One candidate claims he has UNIX experience and he boosted that he installs Linux at home for fun. Then I ask him what Linux distribution he used and he couldn’t even answer this simple question.

Another problem I found is many candidates answer the question with the word “we”. When I asked about his previous work experience, he always response with “we” did this, “we” did that. I am not hiring the whole project team, I am not interested what your team did, I am only interested in knowing your contribution to the team. I often have to waste lots of time to grill the candidate to find the exact information I need. It usually turn out he had only work on some very small portion in the project. You can always tell whether someone is describing someone else work or his own work. If he gain the experience first hand, he will usually answer with some insights. When a candidate talks about his most challenging debugging experience, the bugs seems very complicate but it turns out what he did was only passing the log file to the designer. One candidate really annoys me that he seems practice his interview very well and remember the model answers by heart. Whenever I ask a question deviate from his resume, he will simply ignore my question and return to reading out from his scripts.

I found quality of the new graduate is worse than the time when I graduated. Most of the new grads could not answer simple digital design questions, like how to make an OR gate from a 2 to 1 MUX, how to draw the state diagram of a simple door bell circuit. None of them write program as hobbies and they can’t tell the difference between C and C++ other than reciting the textbook definition. When I was in school, most of my friends are computer geeks. I wonder is it because we start our hiring process too late, so all the good students are already hired or is it true that the brightest kids no longer enroll in engineering after the dot.com bubble.

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