The "interview from hell" that set me off on my career
When I first graduated from uni, I was finding it a bit hard to find work. I originally wanted to go into web development as a PHP back end developer, but was always losing out to candidates "with more experience". After a few months I got a call from a recruiter about a job as a junior consultant for an IT firm that provided Billing Solutions for Telco/TV companies.
I figured it couldn't hurt to apply, and the incentive of travelling the world was appealing for a recent graduate. Got through to the interview stage fairly easily.
The interview was one of the worst I have ever been through, where I was asked a wide range of technical questions which I wouldn't have reasonably known. I had made it clear to the interviewer (the person was very soon became the head of consulting for the EMEA region for consulting) that outside of web development, I was not a strong C or Java developer. He proceded to grill me specifically on C and Java, and throw in other questions that even a person with a few years working experience would find difficult to answer. What was worse was he was "marking" me against the sheet he was asking me questions from, so would very deliberately get out a red pen to mark little X's when I got a question wrong. For the first 15-20 minutes that red pen was getting a lot of mileage, and I was starting to get a little flustered.
"Let's move on to Databases shall we, which you claim to know" he said. Started off with a few SQL questions which I was getting right, so he decided to write up a fairly complex SQL query on the board, and asked me what I thought the result would be. He was pretty shocked when I got it right. After that things started to ease up.
When the interview finished, as I was leaving I remember thanking them for the opportunity and making it clear I didn't expect to hear back after all my little red X's. Got outside to see I had quite a few missed calls and texts from the recruiter so I called him back, conversation was pretty much this:
Recruiter: How did the interview go?
Me: That was terrible, probably my worst interview ever. He kept asking me tough developer questions, nothing to do with the role.
Recruiter: Sorry to hear that, so how late did the interview start?
Me: It didn't, it started early as soon as I got there
Recruiter: Ah right, so you waited til you got home to call me?
Me: Nope, just walked out now
Recruiter: Wait, how long were you there?
Me: An hour and a half of torture? why?
Recruiter: That's fantastic news!
Turns out most candidates don't last more than 15 minutes before they are rejected by this guy, and I was the only one out of the current crop of graduates who had actually made it to the end of the interview. The second round was 2 separate interviews with HR and the person who would be my line manager. They both said that if I had made it this far, I would have to come across as an axe murderer to lose out (why to axe murderers get such a bad rap anyway?)
So I got the job, and set me up for the rest of my career so far, which I've been very good at and enjoyed so far.
A while into my job I asked my boss why he interviewed me the way he did. He said working out whether I would be competent for the role from a skills perspective would have been too easy, so he wanted instead to try and push me out of my comfort zone, and see how I would react.
At my current employer I was a line manager for a while, and have also been asked for a while to help out with interviews for various roles (testers, developers, BA's) to help get a feel for a candidate. While I've never gone to the level he did to grill someone outside of their comfort zone, I have learnt a few ways to weed out candidates.
Note these are my own learnings from my own experience. I'm not suggesting anyone else has to use them or even like them.
I'll let other people judge what sort of interviewer this makes me!
- When a candidate finishes answering a question, leave a few deliberate seconds before moving on or responding. Maybe spend it writing some notes and then just wait a few seconds. A good candidate will be confident in their answer and not say anything further, or will at least ask if you are happy with the answer, or if they need to explain further. A BS merchant will get worried at the silence and will try and fill it. That is usually where they can be caught out
- In the days of face to face interviews, I would either draw a basic API integration diagram, and ask the candidate to explain it, or get them to draw out their own diagram for a requirement. Very basic, and not expecting them to get it 100% correct. It's more to see how their mind works when working through a scenario, but it can be very telling. We had a candidate we hired once where we didn't do this, and it quickly became clear that while they could talk a good talk, they couldn't achieve something like this even if you gave them the diagram to memorise. that person did not last long with us (there were other issues with them too)
- If the candidate decides to draw anything on the board as an answer when not asked explicitly to, be wary as it may be a rehearsed answer, and not something they actually understand. We had one candidate who wowed the people in the first round as a tester because they drew an integration diagram, albeit it to an audience of non-techies. They tried the same trick in the second round with me. I simply picked up the pen after them and drew two new boxes to represent some new supplier systems, and asked them how they would test and verify integration into their diagram. They simply could not answer it, even though it was their own practiced scenario
- I haven't done this for a while, but I used to set small tasks for potential BA candidates where they would be tested to make a small Use Case/spec update ahead of an interview, or have to prepare a small presentation for a new requirement. Again, this can give you a much better insight into how they operate, than asking some of the standard questions