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Interview Jeopardy

I’ll take obscure references for 500, Alex.

I’m of the age where I remember when an interview was actually that: what you had done, how you solve the problems, why you chose that solution over others.

Today, interviews have turned into the equivalent of gameshows with the interviewer attempting to pick unusual or even obscure questions to ask the candidate.

For example, I was interviewing for a iOS position and was asked about a particular class (it was designed to allow you to change the look of objects globally). I confessed I had never heard or used it, to which the interviewer said, “Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it until last year.”

So what exactly did he learn? Nothing. My non-usage of a class that even he hadn’t heard of merely pointed out that I had no need to make gross changes to the look-and-feel of iOS. Yes, we call that maintaining the User Experience, something that is very important.

The problem with iOS and OS X is that they have a lot of classes. Many of those classes have a lot of methods. There are many you will use a lot. There are some you may never use. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have the skills, what it means is that you might be one of those rare people who actually reads and uses documentation!

Interviewed By Those Ignorant on the Subject

On one interview I was asked the steps on creating a driver for Windows CE. I explained in detail omitting, by accident, allocating the buffer for the driver. Sadly, the person who was interviewing me only knew Windows and jumped on this with an “Aha!” and asked, “What would happen if you didn’t allocate the buffer?”

“Nothing,” I said, “you would get a black screen.”

“No,” he said obviously full of himself, “it would blue-screen.”

The problem is he was wrong. CE doesn’t always blue-screen. More often it black screens (i.e. nothing) and you end up playing 20 questions trying to figure out why. The problem is that the interviewer had no familiarity with Windows CE (a pretty spiffy RTOS that they slowed to a crawl by slapping much of the junk of Windows on top of it), didn’t know that it wasn’t Windows .

No surprise I didn’t get the job. Sadly, the person that was supposed to interview me was out the day. Also, sadly, this company boasted they hired, “The best of the best,” which means to say they didn’t hire people who knew more than they did.

Don’t get me wrong, hiring is very difficult. However, if someone has a degree and verifiable sources of employment then what is important, to me, is can they get along with the group.

I have had to take everything from timed internet tests where one had to solve puzzles (I loathe puzzles – software design is not puzzle solving), to answer obscure questions.

Rather than try to determine if I know something sans documentation (why memorize it if I can pull it up on the computer? Seems kind of dumb to me), ask me how I solved the decades of problems in C++. That seems far more realistic than silly questions. I not only have a degree, but more decades doing this than you have. Insulting me is not making you look good.

And that is what this really boils down to – it insults the people they are interviewing. Whether they believe it or not, what it says is “I do not trust what you put down on your resume, so prove to me, in 60 seconds, that you are as good as you are.”

So I asked the person who asked the first question, “Tell me what you are to learn from this answer?” He was taken aback. I was just supposed to do as he asked, not question the fact that there is no methodology here, merely random questions people made up in order to somehow judge the candidate.

This is, of course, where asking these random questions fail. They were asked to come up with something to quiz me with, with no guidelines as to what it meant. The candidate could have fifty patents, twenty books on C++ and fail all the questions. Does he get a pass because people know his name compared to the one that gets only 75% of them correct?

Failure Is An Option

Of the multiple interviews, I’ve only had a few that were truly interviews. The others were the Interview Jeopardy or in some cases, Interview Trivial Pursuits. They weren’t fun and all they told me was that this person was less qualified to conduct an interview than Alex Trebec.

Apparently not only is failure an option, these companies are willing to let valuable employees slip through their hands.

The question people should be asking, which they do not, is “Can this person learn our way of doing things?” Even more important, “Can this person continue to learn?” Knowledge is not a one-way street and because you have patterns that you have relied upon for five years doesn’t mean there are other, perhaps more important ones, that you ignored because the “Gang of Four” didn’t write them down.

This assumption of ignorance is currently killing our market. Everyone knows this. I have talked to recruiter after recruiter who has said it is embarrassing, has put off potential candidates and insulted others.

There is no shortcut in the interview process. And yet people keep trying.

When I am asked by friends who are looking, I do tell them about Interview Jeopardy and which companies I feel are the worst about it. Interview Jeopardy does a lot to harm the company brand and, worse, the company doesn’t seem to be aware of this. Why would I want to work for a company that is that self-unaware?

If the point of my interview is not about my skill set, then what is the point? (See? I phrased it as a question!)

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