back to article Job interview descended into sweary shouting match, candidate got the gig anyway

Welcome once more, dear reader, to On Call – The Register's Friday trawl through a mailbag containing stories of your tech support tales. This week, a reader named "Tim" sent us the story of a chap he knew named "Colin" who was a Linux expert, but somehow found himself working on a building site. Colin eventually decided he …

  1. Korev Silver badge
    Pirate

    I'm very confused why Tim would take a job after an interview like that!

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      I'm guessing he wasn't fond of waking up at 5am on a December morning to go and pour concrete.

      1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!

        1. Jedit Silver badge
          Stop

          "He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!"

          Wolf whistles are indecent by definition, aren't they?

          1. Zoopy

            Re: "He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!"

            Only the decent ones.

          2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Re: "He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!"

            "Wolf whistles are indecent by definition, aren't they?"

            Really no. Don't be that guy. Or girl.

            1. FIA Silver badge

              Re: "He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!"

              because it's much better to overtly objectify anonymous strangers with no regard to how that makes them feel??

              1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                Re: "He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!"

                “I like oranges.”

                “So you hate lemons?”

                “No, I just like oranges.”

                “Disgusting lemon hater.”

                1. FIA Silver badge

                  Re: "He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!"

                  Okay, I'll admit I did mentally add 'Unsolicited' to the original statement.

                  Point taken. :)

                  1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                    Re: "He was also unable to do a decent wolf whistle!"

                    Even then. I wolf whistle my wife from time to time. She loves it. Goes all shy and giggly.

    2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      I'm very confused why Tim would take a job after an interview like that!

      If someone has the guts to say I am correct after such a disagreement, I can work for him.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        > If someone has the guts to say I am correct after such a disagreement, I can work for him.

        It doesn't actually say the CTO admitted fault, let alone apologised for it

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          It doesn't actually say the CTO admitted fault, let alone apologised for it

          The admittance is implied in that he was offered a position above what he applied for. And there is no need to apologize for a heated discussion as long as it remained civilized.

          1. biddibiddibiddibiddi

            The CTO wasn't even aware at first that somebody had modified the source code of the mail server that he wrote, didn't think to even look at it before trying to get someone to fix it for him for free on the sly during an interview (for a junior position that the CTO wouldn't be expected to bother with) and also still hadn't even checked whether Colin was right in the time from the interview to Colin being hired and onboarded and however long it was until he was asked to look at it. Up until Colin showed him the actual bad code, the CTO still thought Colin was wrong about the problem. The CTO may not have even been aware Colin had in fact been hired. It was a "shouting match" which implies it wasn't very civil, and the CTO was being rather rude and unethical trying to get Colin to solve the problem for him via "hypothetical" discussion during an interview, so yes, he should have apologized and thanked him for fixing it and bought him a beer.

            It makes me wonder if he was given the senior role when he was applying for junior, and that the CTO got involved in the interview instead of the existing senior, because that company might have a problem retaining people to work under that CTO.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              I have less of a problem with interviewers using real problems as a part of the interview, though it shouldn't be the only part. There's a limit to how much work you would expect an interviewee to do, but hearing how they would solve a problem with an unknown solution is useful because there will be plenty of those for the actual job. I don't particularly mind that the ideas I come up with might be used to solve an actual problem. If I can tell them how to fix their problem in an hour and they can actually use what I said to get the job done, I haven't done something inordinate and they haven't gained a massive advantage. Had it been a multi-day project, I would feel differently.

              That said, my typical rules of courtesy don't allow that to get into the shouting match area at all. There is no situation where, as an interviewee or interviewer, I would shout at the other person. If I'm disappointed with their answers, I will either show disappointment, or most likely stay neutral and note it for making the final decision.

              1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

                "There is no situation where, as an interviewee or interviewer, I would shout at the other person."

                In the ideal world. But there exist certain individuals with, ahem, *special* communication skills. When dealing with them, it's occasionally acceptable to suspend all rules of decorum. And you can be sure the third person in the room knows why things got out of control.

              2. biddibiddibiddibiddi

                If you don't already know the solution, or multiple possible paths to it, how would you know if their answer to the problem is actually a good one or if they're just bullshitting you? If you want to test their knowledge, give them a test (with ADVANCED notification that a test would be part of the interview), not a single problem that you're currently facing which your current staff can't solve (or you don't have staff to even try). It's unethical, period, and illegal in most places, to use an interviewee to perform actual work for your company without pay and without even informing them that it's a real situation. I would also think it's not a fair measure of their ability to solve such problems if you're just doing it all as "hypothetical" with no access to the actual systems, having to just do it all in their head. There are plenty of ways to gauge abilities that don't involve trying to get free work out of someone. I would not be interested in spending an hour of my INTERVIEW time solving a problem for the company without pay which may still reject me. A second PAID "working interview" would not be unacceptable, though.

                1. doublelayer Silver badge

                  This really depends what the problem is. If it's "our massive codebase which you haven't seen and won't see now is broken, how do we fix it", then there's no way for the interviewee to answer it and no useful information to be gathered. If it is a bug that can be described, and they ask how the candidate would go about debugging it when the cause is unknown, it allows them to give an idea of their thought processes. In fact, in such a situation, the bug's cause being unknown is sometimes an asset. If I describe a bug, and I know that the cause turns out to be a communication problem between the application and the database, I might dismiss any other suggestion they give because I know it's not what happened, even if I tried the same thing back when I didn't know. If I don't know the answer, then I'm probably thinking about what did happen. However, the number of situations where you have a problem that can be a viable interview question are low.

                  In my experience, interview questions that end up being relevant to work they're doing often involve the design, at least for the primarily programming interviews that I have done. For example, I've been asked how I would design a system that they are also deciding how to design. Maybe the suggestions I make there will be something they didn't consider themselves and get adopted, but I haven't really done much work for them by describing it. They learn about my ability to design something practical, not just theoretical, and any productivity they get out of that is likely to be small. I don't begrudge them using it.

                  1. biddibiddibiddibiddi

                    If they tell you it's something they're working on and you choose to spend a significant amount of your time helping them with it, with no guarantees or payment, that's up to you, but anything more than a few minutes means you're screwing yourself, and shows the type of company they are. If they don't tell you that you're helping them solve a problem and saving them money by doing so because they don't have to pay their own employees or an outside person, then it's unethical, period.

                    1. doublelayer Silver badge

                      This is where we disagree, I guess. I don't think that spending over a few minutes is screwing myself; I'm at this interview and they're going to ask me questions to try to assess my skills and abilities, and I expect that I'll be tested in a variety of ways. That's why I would do it in an hour-long interview, but not a multi-day project. Nor do I think that talking about a theoretical problem which turns out to be real is that unethical. We all have our limits for what we think acceptable, and I would seem to have a higher tolerance for that than you do. I don't conduct many interviews, but I've taken quite a few, and I rarely felt disrespected because of the technical questions they asked.

                      My problems with interviews have mostly been in other areas. Usually, my negative reactions were more "that question is stupid" than "that question is trying to take advantage of me". Maybe I simply haven't experienced the questions that you find unethical to ask, so I'm considering something different than you are.

                      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

                        I think if you're going for an hour-long interview and not being paid for your time, you're screwing yourself. It's very much setting the rule, right at the start of your relationship with a (possible) future employer, than you're their doormat.

                      2. biddibiddibiddibiddi

                        Whether you've experienced it or not, the behavior in THIS STORY is unethical, and any attempt to use an interviewee to solve actual problems without pay and without informing them is unethical, and probably illegal depending on the exact circumstances. This story had a happy ending for Colin, if you can call it happy to have to work for that type of CTO, but what if he hadn't been offered the job? What if the CTO had gone and looked at the code and found the problem and fixed it himself? What if they had only offered him the junior position in the end? This story is on the low end of the scale of egregiousness, but there are plenty of stories of people being given "tests" that they are expected to do at home, with hours of work, to "demonstrate their abilities", where they later find out that the company used that work for actual business purposes without compensation. It's a matter of degree in this case, not the underlying concept of whether it was acceptable. Usually it comes down to those people being desperate enough that they'll give up their time on the chance of getting a job, not realizing that it is setting the tone for the way their relationship with the company will go.

                        1. doublelayer Silver badge

                          "what if he hadn't been offered the job? What if the CTO had gone and looked at the code and found the problem and fixed it himself?"

                          Then he wouldn't have done much work, would he. If I tell you that "looks like someone modified that and broke it", I haven't done a lot of work. It doesn't make it unethical for someone to check on that, and finding that I was correct, do the work to fix it themselves.

                          If I was asked to look at their code, understand it, and fix it, all as an interview question, that would be a different story. That's a serious amount of work to do and would have taken time and effort they haven't paid for. To suggest what appears to be the most likely cause in broad terms from a quick summary is a very different scale of effort and one that I don't mind being asked for. There is a major difference between describing how you could do something and actually doing it.

                          "What if they had only offered him the junior position in the end?"

                          Then he would have the job he was hoping to get when he started the process. His opinion could easily have changed. I know mine would have been if an interviewer had yelled at me, because I would probably right off the company right after that, so there's several reasons he wouldn't have taken it if offered. Still, he entered the interview in order to and with the hope of getting the junior position, and that would have been a completely valid outcome of the process.

                          I do know this from experience. Early in my career, I was asked to complete a grueling interview process where the company asked for far more than was reasonable and I, knowing little about it, gave them what they asked for. I made sure that, if they wanted to use the code sample they asked for, the license wouldn't let them, but other than that, they got plenty out of me. I don't think that any and all tests are acceptable, but there are some that would be. This type of high-level test seems justifiable to me.

              3. TSM

                What I've done in the past (when hiring for an ETL developer) is given them a simplified version of a small design problem that we had already solved (and was part of running code when I started using it in interviews, though in later years that functionality was moved to a different system). I gave them a few paragraphs summarising the requirements and data structures, and gave them some time to think about how they would design something to do the job. It was pretty effective; there was enough technical detail involved to sort out the people who could actually understand and do the transformation step from the people who only knew enough to connect a source to a target (which was surprisingly many), and for people who showed a good grasp of the technical aspect I had a couple of extension questions along the lines of "how would you modify this design if we added this requirement?" to better probe their thinking and flexibility.

                1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                  That sounds like a good test. Which can even be "language neutral", like Plus4/C128 basic (without line numbers and labels instead of Gosub <line number>) or qbasic, which is so simple that everyone who programs can instantly read and understand it. Even if the person never did any basic before.

            2. druck Silver badge

              I've only had one interview where they got me in front of a developer's computer and asked me how to fix something he couldn't do. I'd recently solved the same problem so gave them the outline to the solution, but didn't like the way it was done. When offered me the job on the spot, I turned them down, and 3 months later they went out of business. Which goes to show if they are that desperate to use interview candidates as unpaid consultants, there isn't much of a future for the company.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Tim didn't - it was about Colin. But, yes, one has to wonder why he took the job - perhaps out of curiosity or desperation. After all, it got him off the building site.

    4. ChoHag Silver badge

      It said they had a shouting match, implying it was two-way.

      If you can shout at your future boss and call him a fucking idiot and he still turns around and employs you when he discovers you were right, he might be a keeper.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        I thought that too.

    5. JCM

      It's Colin that got the job

      Am I missing something? The post says Tim is talking about Colin working on a building site, in the interview and getting a job?

  2. Anonymous IV
    FAIL

    Assumptions

    > He soon learned that the CTO [...] had assumed nobody would touch his code.

    He can't have been a very good CTO if he assumed rather than investigated...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Assumptions

      I'm not sure. CTO is a manglement position so he seems ideally fitted for it.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Assumptions

      I was already thinking about the questions asked, especially with such technical clarity. Reminded me of the company who was asking real world support questions to applicants, hoping they would solve their issue for free...

      I'm walking, yes, I'm walkin...

  3. Korev Silver badge
    Coat

    Not long after "interviewing" Colin, the CTO checked the code – and found changes. Lots of changes. Bad changes that were the reason for the server's many problems.

    Which Colin then got on with fixing.

    You mean he implemented the postfixes

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      He was made an eximple of...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I’m very pleased to see that nobody has mentioned line noise, sorry, sendmail, in this subthread yet…

        Or a certain other not-internet-standard mail server that I won’t sully this comment with by mentioning its name…

        1. jake Silver badge

          What's wrong with Sendmail? Sure, it has a rather steep learning curve ... but I only had to learn it once, and it's been working just fine for me these last 40 years or so.

          1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge
            FAIL

            I'll always maintain that config files must never be turing complete.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              >I'll always maintain that config files must never be turing complete

              On the other hand, an AI evolved from sendmail cfg is just going to sit in a corner hugging itself and occasionally screaming

              1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

                On the other hand, an AI evolved from sendmail cfg is just going to sit in a corner hugging itself and occasionally screaming

                Personally I'd expect it to be more like AM in I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Vengeance would be its only priority.

              2. jake Silver badge

                A true AI derived from that .cfg would probably suicide immediately upon becoming conscious.

            2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

              Programs are just config files for the hardware. Turing completeness isn't a bad thing per se just easy to abuse.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Exactly, Ken.

            3. jake Silver badge

              "must never"

              Strong words, Kemosabe. Do you have the logic to back them?

              1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

                Decades of Sendmail CVEs.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  So one program has had some bugs in its 41 years of existence, some of which have been mentioned by the CVE system in its mere 24 years of existence, and therefore an entire class of control options for all software everywhere are shit?

                  (Last time I checked, Sendmail's CVEs were not caused by its configuration language. Yes, they could sometimes be exploited using that language, but the language itself was not at fault.)

          2. l8gravely

            I've had it from Eric's mouth himself that he screwed up sendmail's config format by optimizing for computer time instead of human time. The monstrosity that is their m4 based configuration language to *generate* the .cf files is just icing on the cake.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Hindsight's 20/20.

              Computer time was a hell of a lot more expensive than human time back in the day. Who knew the balance would shift so far and so fast?

              m4 is just a general purpose macro language. I use it all over the place. Handy to know. Recommended.

          3. Terry 6 Silver badge

            You still thinking in terms of an email programme to replace Outlook? Does Sendmail inlcude calendars, contact lists or tasklists? And communicate with other devices to share those things?

            1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

              Sendmail is a mail routing tool, or MTA=Message Transfer Agent. It has never been and will never be an email program, let alone contacts, calendars and so on. It is, by todays view, not even an email server since there is no mail storage (besides queues which don't count as mail storage). You should have thrown that into your favourite search engine, which will give you a Wikipedia article or https://sendmail.org which redirects you to the current owner of sendmail.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

                1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                  Jake may have used literally every software package released since 1959, but he's not suggesting Sendmail as an alternative to Outlook. Simply that he's used it, and it has a steep learning curve.

              2. jake Silver badge

                "It is, by todays view, not even an email server since there is no mail storage (besides queues which don't count as mail storage)."

                Sendmail is, in fact, a mail server. It is not, however, a mailbox (although it can be configured as one).

            2. jake Silver badge

              I never said anything of the sort. I was discussing the perceived difficulty of using Sendmail.

            3. Munchausen's proxy
              Pint

              Does Sendmail inlcude calendars, contact lists or tasklists? And communicate with other devices to share those things?

              Do I want it to?

              1. jake Silver badge

                "Do I want it to?"

                If you do, you can make it so. Not recommended.

            4. VicMortimer Silver badge

              Well, that's certainly a take. A very, very wrong one, but a take nonetheless. A thorough misunderstanding of what Sendmail is and does, even. It's an email transport server, not a client.

              Also, an email client should do email, NOT calendars, contact lists, or task lists. And it should do email with internet standard protocols, not proprietary crap. Outsuck is quite possibly the worst email client of all time.

        2. Korev Silver badge
          Coat

          > Or a certain other not-internet-standard mail server that I won’t sully this comment with by mentioning its name…

          Let's not sully the Internet with an Exchange discussing its poor Outlook...

          1. mhoulden

            /me takes Notes...

            1. Syn3rg

              As a Group, they were very Wise...

              1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
                Pint

                Well this is a Novell discussion.

  4. Mishak Silver badge

    I may have told this one before...

    I contractor friend of mine once went for an "interview" for a new contract that was supposed to be outside the scope of IR35.

    The technical discussions went very well. The project was interesting, with some aspects that would require some "real work" to get a decent solution in place.

    Likewise, the client was very happy with the way he presented himself and he clearly demonstrated that his team would be able to deliver.

    Which is when things went down hill:

    Client: "Thanks for coming in. We are happy to place the contract with you. We just need to invite HR in to have a word with you before we can formalise things".

    Contractor: "Oh. Ok, I guess!"

    HR: "So, I want you to pretend you are a bap in the baker's shop. Tell me why I should buy you"?

    The contractor turns to the project guys and says "Thank you gentlemen, I now know everything I need to about this organisation. Good day".

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      Has anyone been able to find out exactly what value HR add to a company.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        They add great value when the time comes to lay people off.

        1. Jedit Silver badge
          WTF?

          "They add great value when the time comes to lay people off."

          You mean in your company HR aren't usually the ones deciding exactly where the layoffs happen? To get fired from a HR position you have to be pretty much unspeakable, because you need to have pissed off all your own colleagues as well as the rest of the company.

          1. Anonymous Custard
            Trollface

            Re: "They add great value when the time comes to lay people off."

            In my quarter-century here I've seen at least 3 HR managers/directors depart, and at least two of those were during rounds of redundancy (the third being announced around 3 days after she departed, with no prior warning or announcement to the rest of us).

            Make of these what you will...

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "They add great value when the time comes to lay people off."

            "because you need to have pissed off all your own colleagues as well as the rest of the company"

            Our HR director was shown the door a while back. She did all of the above. Including the board and the owners.

          3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Re: "They add great value when the time comes to lay people off."

            "To get fired from a HR position you have to be pretty much unspeakable, because you need to have pissed off all your own colleagues as well as the rest of the company."

            Not true. HR roles are being hit by some of the deepest cuts presently; because what most of what they 'do' can be largely automated or replaced with AI-lite aka chatbots.

          4. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: "They add great value when the time comes to lay people off."

            I once worked for an organisation that sacked their HR director for incompetence. She took them to tribunal and won £47,000, which suggests that the real incompetence lay upstream of the HR department.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        HR exists to protect the company from its employees.

      3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        The clues in the name , they are there to reduce a person to a "resource"

        1. Jurassic.Hermit

          Re: I may have told this one before...

          Actually, a company I worked for referred to them as Human Remains.

      4. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        They chant the legal rituals so that everything is "fair," and you can't be sued.

      5. cookieMonster Silver badge

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        Zero ?

      6. RDPeter
        Black Helicopters

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        They only serve as psychotherapists when actual extreme events occur like the aftermath of a lonewolf shooter's deeds.

        Other than that they are useless.

      7. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        One place I was at (SG), HR brought in psychometric testing, then stopped hiring people with extreme graphs.

        Not too long after, the business went downhill, because they were hiring the boring people and rejecting creative types.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: I may have told this one before...

          When I was in my teens 40+ years ago, I remember my dad coming back from a job interview, fuming! He'd spent about an hour being interviewed where they went over his CV, checking he really had worked all over the world at a decently high level etc and really did have the experience he claimed, all the usual stuff. Then they asked if he had any questions. So he launches into questions about the job, the machines on the factory floor etc etc, ie the stuff he needed to know. "I'm sorry, I don't know anything about that side of the business, I'm from Personal" (which dates the story LOL). Dad says he asked where the technical people were and why weren't they interviewing. "Oh we don't do that here". At which point he got up and walked out saying he didn't want to work for a company hiring people from a checklist.

          So yeah, "HR" doing interviews without any input from the department or manager needing the hire isn't a new thing, even if it is becoming more common. HR should only ever be at job interviews as observers, not interviewers (except possibly for unskilled manual work, but even then, the team leader/manager should be there too)

        2. MonkeyCee

          Re: I may have told this one before...

          I have come across this in a variety of fields, recruiters and HR types seem to only appreciate the skills and attitude of fellow HRs, they often view independence of thought and action as positively dangerous.

          One of my references has the line "while Mark does not always follow the letter of the rules, he always obeys the spirit of them". Without fail, recruiters HATE it, and want me to use another referee. Almost without fail, hiring managers quote me that line as why they decided to hire me.

          In a similar vein, I've known several managers who get HR to sort the resumes for a job application, and then select candidates from the reject pile :)

      8. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        "Has anyone been able to find out exactly what value HR add to a company."

        Oh, they provide great value to the *company*.

        To the "resources" in question? Not so much.

    2. sabroni Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: I want you to pretend you are a bap in the baker's shop

      Understandable. He was a contractor, not easy to pretend to be a bap when you know you're an eclair.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      "HR: "So, I want you to pretend you are a bap in the baker's shop. Tell me why I should buy you"?"

      Me: Actually, I'm the baker, and I'm not for sale.

    4. Howard Sway Silver badge

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      "So, I want you to pretend you are a bap in the baker's shop. Tell me why I should buy you"?

      "Because you're 6 slices short of a full loaf".

    5. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      > HR: "So, I want you to pretend you are a bap in the baker's shop. Tell me why I should buy you"?

      The correct response would be "I'd be great at this role"

    6. JulieM Silver badge

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      As Mr punch would say, that's the way to do it!

    7. trevorde Silver badge

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      Interviewed for an software dev role many years ago and the HR person handed me a pen asked: "Sell me this pen". I was very tempted to stand up and scream in his face: "BUY THIS F*@&%$G PEN OR I'LL SMASH YOUR FACE IN!" Instead, I asked how that could possibly be relevant and when would I be selling anything. It wasn't a good fit.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: I may have told this one before...

        I know someone who was asked to sell the interviewer a bottle of water the interviewer had just handed him. So he set fire to the interviewer's tie. And then insisted on receiving cash before handing over the water.

        Got the job, too, which says a great deal about the degree of psychopathy considered desirable in a salesman.

    8. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      I was once asked 'if you were a fruit or vegetable, which fruit or vegetable would you be?'. I replied 'mango', and I went.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I may have told this one before...

      "So, I want you to pretend you are a bap in the baker's shop. Tell me why I should buy you"?

      Because I knead the dough!

  5. Lee D Silver badge

    Interviewed at a school for an IT position once. Actually two similar roles at the same school, and I was qualified for both. They were interviewing on different days for each, so I got given an interview for both roles on different days.

    As I was driving to the weeks-before-booked appointment, and it was a 30-minute drive away, they sent an *email* to say that the interview had moved to another venue on the other side of town. Just sheer chance meant I had stopped for fuel and checked my email.

    When I turned up, the front of the school looked like a tip.

    Was pointed to reception (there were no signs!) by a random staff member.

    Ending up sitting on a broken, torn, dirty sofa in a "reception" area which was an area of grubby, torn-up carpet in the corner of a corridor.

    Was left waiting there 20 minutes without any sign, long after the interview should have started.

    Was eventually collected by someone and led - no exaggeration - THROUGH an in-use staff toilet room. It was the only way to access the main IT office.

    "Office" was a cupboard just big enough for 3 people to stand in it. If two of you ducked under horrendous cupboards above your head that were a literal hazard. It was clearly a former cup-washing kitchen type room, because it wasn't big enough for any practical purpose whatsoever. Which was unfortunate because there were 3 of us, me, the guy who'd collected me (who was a teacher) and the IT manager.

    I had to sit hunched the whole time because the chair for the interviewee was under a cupboard so standing up meant braining yourself.

    Cue an interrogation about... the school. Not once was IT mentioned, but they were disappointed that I hadn't remembered the EXACT pupil numbers on their website (but I was not only in the ballpark but I had merely rounded up to the nearest ten). I get "knowing your customer" and checking the website before interview, but memorising random facts like establishment date and pupil number seemed to be the only thing they were interested in. This went on for a LONG time, and obviously some of it I literally hadn't memorised, some of it they weren't happy unless the number was absolutely exact, and none of it was about IT.

    In some prestigious school, I might expect *some* of that, and in fact had worked in many such places hence why I had checked the website and had answers for all the relevant stuff, even if they didn't like them. But this was a run-down state school that looked like it would be condemned any minute. And if it was about child protection policies, or generally working in the school, fine, I'm used to those questions. But this was literally about "what year was this school established", "who was the first headmaster" (hint: absolutely nobody you would ever remember), etc.

    At one point got asked a inane "management"-type question that wasn't even relevant to any school role I'd ever had in my life. "I'm sorry, but can I just check, this is the interview for the IT <whatever job title it was> position, right?". They absolutely hated that and tried to terminate the interview there and then. I was already halfway there myself, but out of politeness, and with the help of the teacher guy, we pulled it back to common sense for a second. Then they continued on exactly the same lines. Eventually the manager and I just looked at each other and said "This isn't going to work". We terminated the interview there, not an IT question asked.

    We didn't even bother to shake hands. As I was led out, the teacher apologised profusely, and I told them politely that if they didn't want to hire, they shouldn't waste people's time. The guy was clearly trying to either protect his job from people with better experience, or was so antisocial that he literally didn't want anyone to take the role at all. Even if he was trying to "warn" people off the job, there are a million better ways to do that, but that's absolutely NOT what he was trying to do. He'd taken exception to me before I'd even walked through the door... or through the staff toilet, and yet we'd never actually spoke and basic interview / hiring etiquette on my part meant that he had absolutely no reason not to like me at that point.

    Nobody, nor myself, mentioned or bothered about the second interview for the other (similar but different) role.

    As an IT manager for private schools now, I use that as a lesson when hiring on what NOT to do to any candidate no matter how ill-fitting you think they are.

    Other ones I've had included a "technical test" where the question was "How would *you* retrieve all the DNS servers configured on a client machine?". IPCONFIG. "Wrong!". Oh, right, you mean "ipconfig /all" then. "Wrong!". No, honestly, I would. It lists them all. In plain text, in a copyable format, and shows if you have more than two, and shows all interface and their configured DNS. Guy absolutely outright insisted that it didn't and that I was wrong. As this was only a year or so after the above interview, I was already in the "Okay, this isn't going to work" phase, so I battled on and insisted that it does. I had a keyboard thrown at me... "Go on then, show me! You're wrong". So I ran ipconfig /all, scrolled up and there were all the DNS servers listed for each interface in a plain-text copyable format. I even copied it to prove that.

    He didn't even have the decency to look humbled. He got very stroppy, told me that it was "the wrong way" and that the only way to do it was through the GUI (that was never part of the question, and the question was how would *I* do it!) - and I pointed out that that took many clicks, was increasingly being hidden away on modern Windows, the classic interface only showed two DNS servers until you went to another tab, and that you had to do it for each and every interface separately. He just stuck with his "Wrong!" attitude. I didn't bother wasting their time from then on.

    1. Simon Robinson

      Reminds me of a previous job interview for an IT support role - back in the days of PCs being beige boxes. Took place in the staff canteen "because the meeting room was being decorated". Interview was in the middle of the day, so lots of staff going in and out eating their lunch.

      One of the questions was "PC does not power up, no beeps etc., what's the first thing you would check?" I said power supply, try a known good unit. Interviewer told me I was wrong. I pointed out that he'd asked me what I would do, and I'd answered in that way - while he might try something else, *I* would do this. He still insisted I was wrong, voices were raised and he said it would be a RAM issue (with no BIOS beeps?!) - funnily enough, I didn't get the job...

      1. jake Silver badge

        I'd check the power cord first, followed by checking if there was power at the socket, followed by the power supply itself.

        Have VOM, will travel.

        1. usbac Silver badge

          Many years ago at a managed services company, we were interviewing for a new IT support tech. The question I would ask each candidate was: "you have a PC that is not connecting to the network, what do you check first?

          We got all kinds of answers. One candidate even said that he would re-compile the drivers from source. Another talked about removing all of the drivers and cleaning up the registry. After days of interviews, we had a candidate that said "I would make sure that the network cable is plugged in". He got the job. George was an awesome tech, and a really intelligent person. We later found out that he authored several books. He also played guitar in a hard rock band on the weekends (you would never guess).

          1. Not Yb Bronze badge

            Dad was fixing (I think) an old CRT TV, and had replaced some dead components. Thing still didn't work, and I say "did you check the fuse?" "No fuse, it has a circuit breaker"

            Some time later after he checked some other things: "You were right, the circuit breaker burned itself up stopping the current"

            One new circuit breaker installed, and it powered up properly.

          2. tfewster

            "George was an awesome tech" - Not this George then - https://www.chroniclesofgeorge.com/

          3. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            "you have a PC that is not connecting to the network, what do you check first?"

            I always check first that the person next to me isn't also having connectivity problems. Although if the issue is widespread or ongoing, people make it known without asking, so checking the cable is also a good answer.

            1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              In certain situations I would ask the victim to try another PC , or better yet swap with someone.

              You can then see if the fault moves or stays.

              This rules out/in so many possibilities in one stroke - and one where the user does the work.

              1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                Swapping things around has a risk that some part of the equipment is faulty and is killing dead anything else that is plugged into it. So when you swap parts and test, you are multiplying the damage.

                It is relatively rare for the faulty and deadly unit to be the user themself, but it's possible. For instance, there are stories of synthetic fabric clothing and carpet and static electricity. Or of protuberant anatomy interfacing with the hardware when it shouldn't. Or twitching feet under the desk kicking the power supply, which may be a special case of the previous problem. Or magnets, either worn for questionable health reasons or stuck to the side of the PC case.

                1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

                  thats always a risk , swapping or not - put a new sound card in - it might immediately get killed by whatever killed the last one.

          4. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Funny you should write that. Last week I had a Virgin technician round to look at our new hub. It wasn't connecting to WiFi. (But was fine on Ethernet, getting the full effects of the 1gb connection.). The first line phone contact had tried but couldn't find the problem. So they sent a techie. He started by swapping the box. When that didn't work he started swapping fibre cables. Then gave up and said he'd have to come back another day and do something in the street cabinet.

            Which struck me as strange- because clearly the 0s and 1s were coming into the hub, or I wouldn't have been getting wired connection.

            That evening the WiFi devices suddenly started connecting- the devices that still had the old Hub's SSID and password, that is. And the other ones all regained connection when I put the old password in for the old SSID. Then next day the devices all lost connection, but were still showing the old SSID. I added in the new hub's password, and everything started working. I spoke to the phone support because a) I wanted to let the techie know and b) find out whether anything was going to change with the SSID either in the near future or if I rebooted the hub at some point. They just told me that they couldn't contact the techie direct and I'd have to ask him when he came.

            He didn't come.

            Some discussions with a (fortunately more knowledgable) phone support- trying to find out where the f**k the techie was- confirmed that the problem had been resolved at their end, because someone had had to make a manual change to something that hadn't switched automatically, which was a common occurrence. and should have been the first thing they checked

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Or... just use the supplied device as a modem and look after your own WiFi?

              Elderly neighbour had been having problems with her "landline" ever since signing up with BT for IP telephony (no idea what persuaded her to do that). Eventually an engineer came around and was totally unable to fix the problem, "I've never seen anything like this before".

              WiFi was working fine (when you were in range) but nothing on the supplied pair of DECT handsets. Neighbour went to a BT shop (they're camping out in EE shops now) and some clueless sales droid persuaded her to sign up for a new contract "because then we'll send you this device [a mesh repeater] which will solve everything, and the contract's cheaper too". Yeah, it's cheaper because it doesn't include any call minutes. They sent her the disc and another pair of DECT phones.

              It was after this that the neighbour happened to moan to me about the situation. I picked up one of the handsets and thought "that's very light".

              Fitted a pair of AAAs which happened to be in my pocket (as yer do) and suddenly, all was fine.

              Plugged her old phones in to the socket on the back of the BT hub and those started working too.

              She now has seven working phones (four new DECT, three old DECT) and once her daughter had become involved and shouted at the sales droid, her inclusive minutes came back...

              ...but they insisted on taking the mesh repeater disc back too.

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Which is the point. Not "fix your own WiFi". But........They should do the basic checks first, before they start to faff about with the complicated stuff.

              2. collinsl Bronze badge

                > ever since signing up with BT for IP telephony (no idea what persuaded her to do that)

                Probably because they're turning off the landline network and she still wanted a working phone, and some devious salesdroid convinced her to sign on with BT "as it would all be in one bill" or similar.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  I know about the switchoff, but our area doesn't even have a firm date yet. Personally I'm hanging on to my Copper-wire-back-to-the-battery-backed-exchange as long as I can :-)

                  And the neighbour in question barely uses the internet, so her original ADSL would have been fine up until that point, though there's obviously an argument for getting it done early in order to be able to deal with problems such as this before the big rush...

                  .

        2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Pint

          Short version of a oft told tale of mine.

          Two parts required to fix printer power issue, only one in my hand after waiting for it (Fitting it without the other part will result in it losing its magic smoke) & still awaiting the other.

          Customer screaming - I'm told to make a token effort to travel out with the one part I have, do not fit it but make a best "endeavours" assessment.

          Arrive on angry customers site to discover no power on the mains lead or indeed the wall socket & demonstrate by plugging printer via a extension lead into a working wall socket as printer springs into life.

          Angry customer tears into me over helpdesk script monkeys not verifying the power socket is known to be good.

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            The arrogance! Isnt the customoer embarrassed that the fault was something too obvious for the script?

            although a good script would include the blindingly obvious.

            More than once I've been to a "boardroom emergency" where a laptop has just inexplicably died mid high level exec navel gazing session - caused by laptop running out of battery whilst plugged into switched off power socket.

        3. Bebu Silver badge
          Windows

          Too bloody right...

          《I'd check the power cord first, followed by checking if there was power at the socket, followed by the power supply itself》

          The number of times an august member of faculty (as murcans put it) has sworn that the cord to their PC, Mac etc is plugged into the mains socket/outlet under their desk.

          The void under an academic's desk is normally filled with piles of old papers, journals, text books and other discarded paraphernalia with a thick covering of dust and unmentionable cruft so exploratory expeditions were always a last resort. :)

          Invariably when such an exploration was undertaken the power plug had been dislodged by something falling down the back of the desk, network cable (TP or coax) looped around the lead and had been pulled, or a wayward boot or falling pile of books, or the desk itself moved in toto etc. The puzzling ones were when the switch was in the off position (and early morning visit by the PFY?)

          After a couple of these cases I took to carrying a small mains powered hub which accepted a standard IEC power socket (just for the power led. ;)

      2. Grunchy Silver badge

        First thing you check is the make & model of the PC. If it’s a (Dell) Alienware, buy something less garbagy!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        In a crowded office, there is always at least one "special" person that has their volume turned up and all the sound effects on. They often get their PCs "modified" - the red wire going to the speaker somehow comes loose or breaks.... So technically, in a very specific situation that interviewer would be correct. Still think Simon dodged a bullet and the interviewer is a dick though.

      4. ColinPa

        Certification test

        I was an expert in a product which ran on many platforms: Windows, Unix, and IBM Mainframe. I was a mainframe expert.

        For fun, I took the certificate tests.

        There were questions like

        -What would you use to do ....

        a) the abcdef Windows/Unix command

        b) another Windows/Unix command

        c) Something else

        Being a mainframe expert the answer was ... c) something else. (Windows commands do not work on the mainframe)

        I only got 10% correct answers, so I went to the product manager to tell him.

        They decided to rewrite the tests, because there was so much wrong.

        ___

        Because of a perceived skills gap, we were asked to rate ourselves in different areas.

        Being an mainframe expert, there was so much I didn't know so I said 3/5. One of the junior people said he was 5/5 - an expert!

        The junior people tended to score themselves as "I know 100% of what I need to do to do my current job so 5/5"

        When management reviewed the results - it told them nothing.

        1. Someone Else Silver badge

          Re: Certification test

          Quite some time ago, I interviewed for a position at a firm that a friend of mine was already working for, and who had suggested that I interview. Naturally, there was a competency/capability test, that had to do with some Windows programming problems, using C++. (No, Not "Visual C++"; there is no such thing.) Got to the second question, and I looked at it hard...something didn't seem right. There was a syntax error in the source code submitted as the question. The question was along the lines of, "What would be the value of variable 'x' at the end of this function?" My answer was along the lines of, "Variable 'x' would have no value because this code would never compile. This line here would raise a compiler error. Now if the intent of this line were to read like this... then 'x' would be yadda-yadda..."

          Well, I soon found out that I had committed blasphemy, because no sooner did I submit the test, but my friend came into the interview room saying that I had created quite a ruckus, and that folks were arguing about it, somebody was compiling the example to prove me wrong, and the junior folks were having quite a chuckle at the expense of the tech lead, who was reputed to have made up the test himself. My friend was called out of the room and I was left to cool my heels for about another 10 minutes. Then, the division head (with whom I had met briefly before the test), and the tech lead both came into the room. The division head, a large man, had a big smile on his face, while the tech lead, a rather nerdy looking gent, had this bemused look on his face. The Division head stuck out his large hand, and enthusiastically shook mine, and said, "You're hired!", and started talking about when I could start, then left to fetch some paperwork. The tech lead told me after he left that they had been using that test for over two years, and no one has spotted the error.

          But it did explain why there was a wide variety of answers to that particular question.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Certification test

          "Being an mainframe expert, there was so much I didn't know so I said 3/5. One of the junior people said he was 5/5 - an expert!"

          A lot of these scaled response type things seem to come from US companies where anything below 75-80% is poor and cause for concern. It catches a lot of people out who are used to a simple linear scale as most normal people would expect. Few people ever use or even understand logarithmic scales.

          Our company did a staff survey to investigate all aspects of the business. and it used this non-standard scale and unsurprisingly, it showed the employees thought the company was utter shit because lots of people selected 5 out 9 thinkink that was average or fair not "poor". The survey form even said, "on a scale of 1 to 9 where 1 is poor and 9 is excellent". No mention that 5 was also poor and you needed to score at least 7 to get into the realms of positivity. Not helped at all by the fact the survey said all questions must be completed, so many people selected "1" for questions that had no bearing on their job. The survey came around again a month or two later with more clear and corrected instruction, including "Do NOT answer questions which do not apply to you" :-)

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Certification test

            I know it took me a while to get to grips with that for things like Uber-driver ratings. I feel quite sorry in hindsight, but it seemed reasonable that 3 meant 'just above average/normal' and 2 meant 'just below', rather than that 2 was 'slightly better than the worst possible rating'.

      5. Hans 1

        "PC does not power up, no beeps etc., what's the first thing you would check?"

        Static leccy on the motherboard. Unplug the PC, hit the power button a dozen times, plug it back in.

    2. John Riddoch

      I recall someone telling me about an exam test for Excel where it was a mockup interface of Excel and asked you to perform various tasks[1]. One of them was "copy cell A2 to cell B5" or whatever and the only way which worked was to use "Edit/Copy -> Edit->Paste" via the menus so everyone who knew the keyboard shortcuts would fail that part of the test. There are at least 4 methods to copy cells I can recall off the top of my head and there are probably more which will work equally well, so having it only support one was pretty short sighted.

      Any time I've been asking the technical questions, I tend to be fairly open to whatever they'll come back with. There's usually 5 different ways to start dealing with a problem, all of which are valid. I'm generally looking for an idea of their approach than specifics (which are mostly found via Google, let's be honest).

      [1] this was some time ago when experience in MS Office wasn't a given.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        I remember such tests, even the cursor keys were disabled! You were expected to even *navigate* via the mouse.

        down down right ctrl-c right right ctrl-v, looks up, eh? nothing's happened. down down downdowndowndowndown Miss! Miss! My keyboard's broken!

      2. Killfalcon Silver badge

        I used to work in an actuarial department, and they got fed up of being unable to tell what people meant by "good excel skills". Some people thought that being able to copy down a sumif was 'good', some people had got the hang of Index(match()) but 'struggled with nested IF statements after six layers' and so rated themselves as "okay". Genuinely, most applicants had no objective sense of how good they were with Excel, and that made it surprisingly hard to get the right people into the excel dev team.

        They, by combining the knowledge of every excel expert they could find in a room of 140 math grads* employed specifically to predict the future of insurance policies, build a Test. It was like 120ish questions, with worked examples about different features in Excel, who they worked and when you might use them.

        Literally no-one got full marks - Excel is too damn big. I'm proud to say I came closer than most, but it was the first time I'd ever heard of 'slicers', and honestly I've still not needed to use those since.

        The test turned out to be incredibly useful for dealing with Dunning-Kruger issues in self-reported skills.

        *I was not a math grad, but a math/comsci dropout who'd instead spent a decade as on-site support, fixing the Very Clever solutions the actuaries came up with on deadlines.

      3. Mattjimf

        Sounds like the official MS Office specialist exams. In order to complete them, you need to do the mouse clicks exactly as you would in the course, if you try to use shortcuts or context menus, you will fail. The tool bar/ribbon needed to be used at all times to do what ever you needed to do, despite mulitple quicker and more efficient ways of completing the task.

      4. Lee D Silver badge

        I was asked to design interview tests at my current workplaces and I have the same attitude.

        I don't care that you don't know specifics, haven't memorised a keyboard shortcut book, I'm more interest in how you approach the problem, that you have a general feel for something, and that you wouldn't be stumped if I left you to do something specific - you'd be able to run off and find out the exact details for yourself.

        Sure, you really should be able to, say, name a competing but similar product to Hyper-V, for example, but if you can't because you worked on Linux systems all your life I'm not going to hold that against you. I couldn't care less if you can subnet an IP address in your head, I'd want you to double-check with an online tool or similar anyway if it was complex enough that we had to sit down and work it out. I'm for more interested in "A user does this, and then comes to you and says that, please describe what you would say/do in response", and even "Name an OS/programming language. Please name another alternative OS/programming language to the one above and describe how it differs" is a useful question to get a feel for someone.

        But a quiz is just a quiz and I wouldn't use anything like that for a formal assessment of someone's capabilities. It's just to weed out people with zero industry knowledge, no customer service skills, or those who are obviously bluffing in their claimed experience.

        If you want to set tasks, set a task. Something real, that someone can achieve or not, and then see if you approve of their METHOD not their results. The so-called "inbox exercise". There is no one right answer and I don't expect you to do everything and get it all perfectly correct. I just want to make sure that you aren't going to just pull a wire and take the network down without checking, and that you realise things like change management, etc.

        In one interview, I was asked a technical question and immediately my response was to say that there was a potential impact so I would follow whatever change management protocol they had in terms of alerting the team, notifying users, recording the change, assessing the impact, etc. The interviewer said "That'll do me, everything else is secondary" (with a big exaggerated "tick" gesture while writing on their clipboard) and moved on before we ever got to the actual technical answer.

        1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          So you'd fizz-buzz me?

      5. heyrick Silver badge

        Yup. For a recruitment test back in the mid 90s, I was asked to demonstrate my typing abilities with Word. A document with styles that I had to reproduce.

        As I began, the "error bar" swung heavily to the red until I sussed that this wasn't Word but some lame piece of crap that checks and times what was being entered and just sort of looked like Word. More specifically it had exactly zero support for hotkeys.

        Now, I don't know about you but I find the mental shift between keyboarding and mousing to be quite heavy (something that always bugs me about RISC OS).

        Eventually I finished with an okay score.

        I asked, for the sake of interest, can they please show me an actual copy of Word. The woman did, so I brought up a new document, adjusted the page margins, and started typing. I did not once touch the mouse.

        The woman was like "b....how?".

        I thanked her, left, and decided that an agency that doesn't even know something like that wouldn't be much help to me.

        When I got home I talked to my mother about it and she suggested that I have a try working with her (Care Assistant in nursing homes). I shrugged and said "They're short staffed again? Yeah, alright, I'll come in for a day."

        That day lasted several years, life's weird like that, but... I dunno, I think I liked that job better than had I been sitting on my arse staring at a screen.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Dealing with actual fluids is in many ways much less frustrating than working with crap software.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A few years back, I had to take an Excel course for my online degree program. The exam was like this where they had an Excel spreadsheet and a long list of tasks to complete.

        At the end of the exam, the spreadsheet would score itself, and upload the results to their back end systems. They did this through a bunch of VBA code embedded into the spreadsheet. They password protected it, but as most of us here know, that is trivial to bypass. I could not help but to take a look at the VBA code. It was awful. All of the scoring logic was right there in plain view, but the worst part was that the credentials for the web API were right there in the code.

        By the way, the program was for a masters in information security!

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          In my practice radio exams, the correct answers were in the column next to the answer box, with an ifformat(xx=yy, setcolour()) thing to highlight the wrong answers. I had to cover it up with my hand and resize it to make it invisible to do the exam properly.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          I wonder if anyone who scores 150% on that test is hired, or if you're supposed to be more discreet? ;-)

      7. Roopee Silver badge
        FAIL

        ECDL

        I’m guessing that would be the ECDL from the early 2000s - after installing a training suite for it at a primary school (for the teachers) where I did tech support, I decided to try it out, and really struggled to wade my way through the Excel and Outlook modules - because it was like playing a completely linear FPS game which had no alternative routes, and the “correct” route was never one an experienced power user would take...

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: ECDL

          Yep ECDL was just to confirm a very basic understanding of key IT skills. A "Driving License".

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: ECDL

            And it's fraud. A license is something you have to possess that without it you are breaking some law or contract. There is no such thing as criminally operating a computer without a license. This isn't the Soviet Union. It's very basic competancy certificate. It's essentially a School Leaving Certificate.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: ECDL

              "There is no such thing as criminally operating a computer without a license."

              The Computer Misuse Act might disagree with you. I know some users who ought to be prosecuted under it, but apparently it doesn't cover "stupid" or "useless" :-)

          2. Killfalcon Silver badge

            Re: ECDL

            Cycling lessons.

  6. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The first one is free

    > peppered Colin with questions about deeply technical hypothetical mail server issues.

    I think we have all done technical consultancy masquerading as interviews.

    The problem with freely displaying highly specialised knowledge and then being employed on the basis of it, is that as depth of knowledge increases it is often at the cost of its breadth. Your field of expertise gets narrower and narrower.

    In addition, once you have solved the particular issue that the job offer was based upon, what further use does your new employer have for you?

    1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

      Re: The first one is free

      While there is some merit in investigating the technical skill of a potential new hire, abusing the job interview for tech support is bad style.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The first one is free

      Been there. At the start of my career I was designing state of the art microwave circuits. Then the Thursday Telegraph had a very lucrative job ad for one of our competitors that could have been written for me. I applied and they asked me for an interview. I hadn't been for any job interviews cos I'd been a sponsored student so I didn't really know what to expect. This one went fine until they said something like - now we want to give you a more detailed technical interview. About 6 blokes came in with sketches which constituted a "hypothetical engineering problem" and they wanted me to detail how I'd go about fixing it. I was young, but not stupid. I understood exactly what problems they were having, explained them (the problems, not the solutions) and pointed out how they'd tried to fix them and what had probably happened when the fixes didn't work. I left them in no doubt that I could help them and that that if they wanted the answers they were going to have to employ me. I got a polite "thanks but no thanks" letter.

    3. mikejames

      Re: The first one is free

      Insert old joke about starting out knowing nothing about anything and ending up know everything about nothing...

      1. Caver_Dave Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: The first one is free

        I was working on the leading edge of processors when I was approached in email about a job at Thales.

        I learn all about their products, technologies and customer applications from their website.

        I had a telephone call with the recruiter who admitted I was a great fit for the company and new them in great detail - except how to pronounce their name.

        So I was rejected solely on the basis that Thales is pronounced Talis and I didn't find this out from reading the whole company website.

        I later found out that they spent about 10,000,000 with consultants coming up with a universally acceptable name! I think they failed.

        1. Not Yb Bronze badge

          Re: The first one is free

          I probably would have gotten tat one wrong. Pronouncing it like "Thames" with an L instead of an M isn't teir accepted pronunciation.

        2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: The first one is free

          Worse that that is recruiters and HR that you send your CV, covering letter, and completed application to..... WHO CAN'T EVEN SPELL YOUR NAME CORRECTLY. Y'know, the name that's there on the ******** screen in front of them in all the documents I've sent them

          Move to Spam, add to blocklist.

        3. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: The first one is free

          I tend to pronounce company names as they're spelt. Particularly if I think their chosen pronunciation is some company marketing BS and/or they want to change the way it's been used for decades.

          Like the adverts of Milky Bar when I was a kid pronounced it Nestels. That was what they went with. So I'll be damned if now I'm going to call it "Nestley" .

          1. Roopee Silver badge

            Re: The first one is free

            So I take it you didn’t spot the e acute? Nestlé

            1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: The first one is free

              In 1960 UK the accent was totally unknown and the 't' was thought to be silent, so Nessles it was.

            2. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: The first one is free

              There was no acute ( or s far as I remember any other) letter in the TV advert for "Nestle's Milky Bar". All that came much later.

              1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                Re: The first one is free

                That applies to your country. Here, as direct neighbour of France, the é is used in TV ads. Which country are you from?

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: The first one is free

                  I'm assuming he's in the UK and yes, the "Nessels" adverts on TV pronounced it Nesswls back in the day.

                  There's a timeline of Milky Bad Ads and although the lettring on the Milky bar includes the accent on the, it's definitly pronouced "Nessels

                  This one, from 1991 sounds like it might call it "Nestlé" and may be the start of their UK re-branding.

                  I remember much more recently when Lidls adverts changed their name pronunciation to the more correct "Lye-dell". Either they gave up or marketing took the UK pronunciation and ran with it because it rhymes with "middle" and one of their current and long running advert "hooks" is the none food section in "The MIddle of Lidl", which clearly doesn't work with "lye-dell"

                  Likewise, every language/country uses their own localised version of "foreign" names. Few in the English speaking world pronounce Paris with a silent "s" as the French do and few Brits would bother to correct a French speaker visiting "Londres" :-) I can't really argue when down the road from me is a town called Chester-le-Street. Roman, French and Old English/German origins in one name for "The fort by the road" :-)

                  1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                    Re: The first one is free

                    Exactly, though to be fair I'm being a bit contrary too. Because I was effectively doing the opposite of what I said. Going by how it was pronounced in the ad- not the spelling.(Not that I or anyone else at the time would have noticed the squiggle over the e if it was even there)

                    Key though is changing the pronunciation - which serves no purpose other than to make some marketing wonk sleep better at night. See also "Shkoda"

                  2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                    Lidl

                    My own Google "research" indicates that at home in Germany, Lidl sounds like Liesl, or Diesel, or "LEE-dill", with no actual vowel between D and L obviously. :-) I don't know why it doesn't sound like "bis" meaning "until" and which sounds like "kiss", I thought Continental languages had this sort of thing worked out, but apparently it's that.

                    I found one web page which as an apparent mistake, compares it to "Leisel".

                    But the business in the United Kingdom apparently is happy for its "Lid" to be pronounced like mid or kid or Sid, and, as you say, to rhyme as a whole with "middle".

        4. Bebu Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: The first one is free

          《Thales is pronounced Talis》

          Surely its the bloody francophones again. :)

          I would have probably punted correctly. As a kid in the late 70s there was a b&w french tv series Thierry la fronde with english subtitles where said Thierry was a gallic Robin Hood poncing around in tights but I only remember two things about it 1. deadly dull and 2. Thierry was pronounced Terry (which I thought then was decidedly odd.)

          I assumed Thales was named after Thales of Miletus where the greek pronounciation of C6th BCE Miletus would be correct?

          Wiki has C5th BCE attic to C5th koine: /tʰa.lɛ̂ːs/ → /θaˈlis/ → /θaˈlis/

          The suggested etymology for Thales is "one who thrives" which given the french outfit is largely involved in developing the tools of destruction its probably proper they insist on a distinct pronounciation.

        5. I am the liquor

          Re: Thales is pronounced Talis

          Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Hyundai's book, and commission a TV ad campaign to express how narked they are about people mispronouncing their name.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The first one is free

      I had an interview kind of like that.

      t was supposed to be for a sysadmin type job, but the guy started off going on about a highly specific thing *he* was working on to solve a problem. Not something a day-to-day sysadmin would hit. And I mean looking into packet headers and low-level networking - which, given time, I could work out, but not something being fired at me over a telephone during an interview (especially as the guy said he'd been working the problem for some time).

      Very strange interview.

      1. Roopee Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: The first one is free

        That’s because people who look at packet headers are very strange! :)

        1. Giles C Silver badge

          Re: The first one is free

          Ok I am strange then, but I have fixed numerous problems using wireshark, including being able to spot a failed ssl connection on a live capture (it is actually quite easy)

        2. Bebu Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: The first one is free

          《That’s because people who look at packet headers are very strange! :)》

          Or very soon become so...

          Ethereal had an otherworldly feel to it - Wireshark more of a frenetic feeding frenzy.

          A sysadmin just needs tcpdump to determine "someone is playing silly buggers here." A shark like visitation will be inflicted on the culprit identified by the mac address, switch port etc.

          A bit like the Inquisition - presumed guilty until confession extracted.

    5. Outski

      Re: The first one is free

      I think we have all done technical consultancy masquerading as interviews.

      That actually got me my most recent job - I diagnosed a problem with a mail server based on the scant details from the hiring manager, the IT Director, a generalist who was very good, but didn't know this software.

      Come second iinterview, he'd taken my recommendations and performance had improved by 90%. Hence he recommended me to his boss; I started the following week.

    6. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: The first one is free

      The problem with fancy interview questions is that you are only testing whether people can answer fancy interview questions.

      It's a self-fulfilling prophecy - you're selecting candidates based on some arbitrary criteria which is only vaguely related to their job, so the candidate who "does best" may not actually be good at anything vaguely related to the actual job they need to do.

      I've always held that job interviews should be little more than "We pay you for a day, you work with us for a day". Anything else is nonsense. All those lateral thinking and logic tests (which, incidentally, I'm *amazing* at, being a mathematician) will knock out people who would have been great at the job if it wasn't for that test. All those impressive answers someone gives in interviews where they turn a perceived problem with themselves on its head and make you think they're wonderful? Congratulations you've hired a very good BS'er. All those interview that utterly impress the management types with management-level BS, while all the people who are hands-on, in the field, etc. are completely hating them? If you go ahead, you've hired someone good at speaking managementese who's going to be hated by their underlings and co-workers.

      The interview is a selection process - and a two-way one at that! You have to consider "What am I selecting for with this question?" but more importantly "What am I selecting for when I'm looking at the answer?". Because a simple technical question may well be useful to "get right", but someone who admits they don't know, asks if they've be allowed to research the answer, takes a decent stab, tells you what they are sure of and what they are not based on their previous knowledge/experience, and can state where they'd go to get a definitive answer... I'd rather have that guy. I want to select for their METHOD and their communication and honesty, rather than that they don't know what menu the button is under to restart a cluster, or whatever.

      Interviews are a selection process. Select for what you want to see, not some arbitrary score system of nonsense. Because like natural selection, if you cull perfectly good applications based on random nonsense and/or the highest-scoring person is just someone lucky, then you're going to end up evolving entirely the wrong direction compared to what you actually want to happen.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: The first one is free

        Interviews being a two-way street is something kids need to learn - and many potential employers, too.

        Back in the day, when I had any interest in interviewing for potential employment, I'd ask how long the interview process took, and if it was more than a brief chat follow up by asking how much they'd pay me for that time. The responses weeded out most of the people I'd never have wanted to work for.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The first one is free

          "Interviews being a two-way street is something kids need to learn - and many potential employers, too."

          While your are correct in theory, in practice it depends on current economic conditions and [un]emplyement levels. The majority of people looking for a job often don't have the luxery of being able to turn down a job.

          PS, I didn't downvote you, because your first paragraph is correct even if I don't agree with your second :-)

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: The first one is free

            Thing is, if you're applying for a junior position, there are always (relatively) loads of them going - and if you're applying for more senior roles, then not working for idiots is even more important.

            Ultimately, it's a version of not being able to afford not to be picky, in the longer run. The time you waste working for the bastards who screw you over costs you far more than the extra week or two it might, at worst, take to find the decent employers.

            All that said, of course it's all situational, and how hard you can afford to push back depends on your circumstances. But it's always a two-way street, and at the very least employers are showing you what working for them will be like.

      2. TheMeerkat

        Re: The first one is free

        > We pay you for a day, you work with us for a day

        I don’t think this is going to work for programmers.

        And they will lose many candidates who would not be prepared to spend a whole day on an interview, even if it is paid.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I went for an interview for a PM job. The interviewers were the MD and HR director. Things progressed fairly normally except the MD was a bit annoying and seemed more interested in telling me about his Cambridge PhD rather than finding out about me. It was going OK and we were winding up when the MD stood up, went out and came back with a tray covered with a tea towel He put it on the table and told that when he removed the tea towel I'd have 10 seconds to remember all the objects on the tray. I asked him why. He told me that a good memory was the most important aspect of any job and if I didn't pass the test I wouldn't get it. "Serioulsy?" I asked and looked at the HR director who gave an embarassed shrug. I told him that my cousin had a parrot that could do that and it would literally work for peanuts and I could give him contact details if that's what he wanted. Then I left. When I called the HR director aftewards she was most apologetic, but apparently he did this for all senior candidates and was adamant that people who couldn't remember things were no good.

    1. OhForF' Silver badge

      The MD likely didn't allow senior management to write down anything to avoid an auditable paper trail but still needed them to remember the things that need to be done.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      I wrote it in the Grail Diary so that I wouldnt *have* to remember it!

    3. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      He wants a Chimpanzee

      Chimpanzees are known to have very good photographic memory. Much better than humans. Scientifically proven.

      But I suspect this was before smart phones were common, 'cause I'd have taken a photo. Its about "using the right tools at the right time".

    4. ChrisElvidge Bronze badge
      Joke

      I went for an interview for a PM job

      You are Rish! Sunak and I claim my £5

  8. TonyJ

    Similar experience

    A good 15 or so years ago I drove a good few hours for a face to face interview.

    On arriving, it was in the boardroom. The table was the usual sort of thing - very long and narrow.

    There was one chair on "my" side, and the two guys each sat at opposite corners which meant that I could actually see both of them so when speaking to/looking at one I was almost turning my back to the other.

    From the get-go it was incredibly bad-tempered. One would start to ask me a question for the other to interrupt them. Or I'd be mid answer and they'd interrupt me.

    After a short while I'd had enough. I called an end to the interview, saying I had no idea what the hell they were playing at, but thank you for wasting a day of my time but I was done with it.

    I hadn't even left the building when the agency called to say they liked me and wanted to offer me the job. I explained in robust terms precisely why I didn't want it.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Similar experience

      That technique (two people at opposite ends of a table) is a technique they used to teach in Business Management 101. Another is three or four 'interviewers", each fluent in a different discipline, taking turns rapid-firing unrelated questions at you. I've found that both of them are deployed by companies that are more interested in playing mind-games than actually putting together a smoothly running business, and as such I generally recommend the interviewee fire the company immediately.

  9. Wally Dug
    WTF?

    Hypothetical Example

    I was at an interview once for a similar position I was currently in for a different company but within the same overall group. I was offered a seat and then realised that the two people interviewing me were sitting at right angles and at a distance - in order to answer A, I had to turn in his direction, completely out of sight of B, and then turn to B to answer her, being out of sight of A.

    The interview seemed to go okay apart from that and then I was given a hypothetical example. It's so long ago now I can't remember the complete scenario, but it was along the lines of:

    It's Friday, 10pm and you're the only one in [part of it was a call centre] the office and someone reports that their computer isn't working. What do you do?

    (Thinking: Is this a trick?) Go and help the person.

    Okay, good. Now, you get a phone call. What do you do?

    I presume I have finished with the user, so answer it.

    No, you're still working with the user.

    Well, I'd be away from my desk, so they would hopefully leave a message.

    You've got the phone with you.

    Okay, I'd excuse myself from the user, answer the phone, explain I was busy and promise to call back as soon as I could.

    But it's one of the directors.

    I would still say the same.

    He needs to print a report urgently, but it's not working.

    (Thinking: What? An "urgent" report at 10pm on a Friday?!?) I would explain the situation to the director that I was in the middle of helping someone else and would call him back.

    But he's a director!

    With all due respect, all users are equal and I am already assisting one with an issue - and that user is currently unable to speak to customers and therefore is not generating business for the company.

    It's an urgent report that the director can't print.

    In that case, can you tell me what the priorities are?

    You need to decide them yourself.

    In that case, I am helping the user that I have already started helping.

    Surprisingly, I didn't get the job - but, obviously, I didn't want it as I'm not into those kind of mind games.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hypothetical Example

      "Surprisingly, I didn't get the job"

      Of course you didn't get the job. You missed the correct answer. Tell the director to reboot his PC on the basis that it might fix the problem anyway but if it didn't you might have time to fix the first user's problem or for you phone's battery to suddenly go flat.

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Hypothetical Example

      Yea glods! Yes, I've had the "the director calls, says it's urgent" thing. It's 10:58, the director can't get the OHP working for the 11am meeting. Well, he should have turned up a bit earlier to check the facilities before the meeting started, OR SCHEDULE AN UNDERLING TO DO THAT FOR HIM. Don't you have any organisational structure?

      Dint get that job.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Hypothetical Example

        Ive had it too ,

        Sadly even though "all are equal" is correct , there is no correct answer , its whatever that company decides the directors priority is.

        Maybe say you'd do both at once.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Hypothetical Example

          I'm not sure "all are equal" is always correct there. Not that "director always pulls rank" should be either. There are real cases where there is a higher priority involved and a justification for leaving a user's problem unfixed so that something worse can be prevented, but management often thinks there is when there is not.

      2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: Hypothetical Example

        "the director calls, says it's urgent"

        Doesn't sound hypothetical to me. Doesn't the director always say it's urgent?

      3. Alistair
        Windows

        Re: Hypothetical Example

        I'm very much of the "Your Failure to plan accordingly does not in any circumstance constitute an emergency on my part" crew.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hypothetical Example

        NHS IT hospital worker....

        Once was told to go RIGHT NOW to the big nobs office in their ivory tower (Executive suite in Trust HQ) because of a minor laptop issue. Tried to explain I've got the A&E apart trying to fix it, but to no avail - had to go.

        By the time I arrived, his PA had resolved it by rebooting it. Back to A&E I go......

    3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Hypothetical Example

      Friday? 10 PM?? A problem with a computer and a director still in the office??? I might believe that in a hospital, but not in a call center.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hypothetical Example

        I didn't down vote you, but most of the bigwigs in the hospital keep office hours, it's just the clinical staff that are there during the night and weekends

      2. biddibiddibiddibiddi

        Re: Hypothetical Example

        Working for an MSP (third-party IT services for SMBs) until recently, I dealt with more than one owner/executive that simply did not understand the concept of "off-time", and would be working on normal, day-to-day stuff from home late at night and call in support requests, which the on-call technician had to respond to up to a certain hour (and even later if they called the emergency line), for very basic things that could absolutely have waited until the next day, and this included happening on weekends when we would actually have to go to their houses to fix it (though we could at least tell them it had to wait until morning).

        Until the days that such work was possible from home, I am certain that most of them would be willing to be in the office to do that work at those times. One of these people had a DSL connection with a 1.5Mb/128Kb speed, as recently as 2021 when I left, which his wife refused to allow him to upgrade (he could easily afford very fast fiber) because it at least somewhat limited his ability to work from home, and he still would queue up multiple 20MB+ emails and then call to ask why Outlook wasn't sending/receiving immediately. He also insisted he had to have a MacBook Pro, running Windows in Parallels which is where he did all his work in the office, never in MacOS, as well as a MacBook Air, also running Windows, for working at home, which meant weekly calls because the VM would flake out, he'd fill up the virtual drive, switching monitors wouldn't work right, always something. Others in the company had been doing the same thing, but had eventually let us move them to Dell machines. This one just made us upgrade his Macs to newer models. (Their previous IT person had convinced them all that using a Mac was "more secure", despite running Windows and only using Windows-based software for everything, wasting half their hardware performance, and that it was so secure that they didn't even need antivirus within the Windows VM.)

        That guy also called in once (on a weekend, I think it was even a holiday) asking why his VPN to the office wasn't working. The tech tried to remote into his laptop and saw it wasn't connected to LogMeIn or the other monitoring and asked him about his Wi-Fi connection. His response was "I need Wi-Fi? I'm out at my cabin on the lake. I don't have Internet here."

  10. m4r35n357 Silver badge

    Editors: Poor proof reading

    I think you unintentionally omitted the paragraph where the CTO got fired?

  11. Caver_Dave Silver badge

    Weird interview

    I had been creating various lap timing systems and in-car telemetry links for Formula 1. (Early 1990's)

    A major worldwide car manufacturer (Dagenham) invited me directly for an interview to do timing systems for them.

    I was shown to a large darkened room with a wooden (school type) chair under a spot light.

    I immediately moved the chair from under the spotlight when I sat down, but received 3 or 4 people shout that it must go back. I should have left at that point, but the offered wages were 3 times what I was on.

    A voice from my left started with standard fairly simple electronics questions - OpAmp configurations for various buffer types - I answered these as I had qualifications in Analog Electronics as well as Software, Digital Electronics and Telecommunications, but thought it strange.

    OK, next voice starts, and as my eyes are beginning to adjust to the light and I count 10 people lines up behind desks. As I am counting the questioner berates me for not looking at him when he is speaking! He asks me about different control and feedback loops, but keeps trying to pull me back to analog examples. I just think he must be an old fuddy-duddy, but I throw in analog as well as digit feedback into the questions.

    The third person asks about microprocessors, and so I am fine with this.

    The fourth person asks about different types of gas sensors, and I have to say that I do not have a detailed knowledge of the ones currently on the market. He huffs and I am onto the firth person.

    He really goes off on one shouting and demanding to know which car manufacturers I had been working for, so I listed the F1 teams. This leads to a tirade about how could I work on their engines and know so little about the sensors they were using. I try to bluff it out by saying that I had NDAs that would not allow me to disclose such information. That did not help and it suddenly dawned on me that instead of lap timing systems they were interviewing me for engine timing systems!

    I explained this and stated that they had invited me directly for something different to what the letter had said, that I was unsuitable and that I wished to leave.

    The right hand side of the room complained that they had not asked their questions, but I had left the seat already and heading for the door.

    They also refused to pay me the promised expenses, and so I was out of pocket for a days holiday and 200 miles of fuel.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Weird interview

      The right hand side of the room complained that they had not asked their questions, but I had left the seat already and heading for the door.

      Were they complaining to you or to the incompetent nincompoops on the left hand side of the room?

      1. Caver_Dave Silver badge

        Re: Weird interview

        Oh they were telling me to sit down so they could ask their questions.

        Perhaps, like lawyers, they were paid by the word

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Weird interview

          So they were incapable of understanding their company had failed the interview, talk about incompetent.

  12. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    But did Colin get to find out who changed the code? The CTO himslef trying to "fix" other bugs?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Incidental Skills

    I recall an interview I had (50 years ago) as part of my university "milk run" (a job fair where firms have stalls for upcoming graduates). I ended up with three invitations to an interview.

    - The first was a two-day affair where there were five of us taking part in site tours, discussions and team exercises (all travel and accommodation reimbursed). I was offered a job; pay was reasonable and I would have taken it if it was the on;y option (though the whole site closed about 30 years later).

    - The second was for a civil service post for the UK military. A formal hour-long interview with a panel. Only my second-class rail fare was reimbursed (meals and accommodation was at my expense); I was offered a post at a derisory salary. Ironically, the role was in a field I eventually entered, albeit at a much better reward.

    - The third was a one-day affair, an easy drive from my digs. A site tour and several interviews with different people I'd be working for and with. The main interview was with the department's management team and most of the time was spent discussing a solution to a problem one of the senior managers was having with his home hi-fi (I'd had a part-time job in local a high street shop repairing all manner of domestic electrical items, from kettles and washing machines to TVs and hi-fi). I was offered the job at a good salary for the time, which I accepted (it was the one I had really wanted - the other two interviews were my safety net); it was in the years where inflation was running around 2% per month and, by the time I'd graduated and started work, my salary had already increased by around 20%.

    I had five very enjoyable years working there and the experience (and their name - a household one with a very high reputation) stood me in good stead when it came time to move on. I've always been thankful I'd had that part-time job - it had had nothing to do with my degree studies (and I'd only taken it because the owner's daughter had a friend I wanted to date)!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Incidental Skills

      The second was for a civil service post for the UK military. A formal hour-long interview with a panel. Only my second-class rail fare was reimbursed (meals and accommodation was at my expense); I was offered a post at a derisory salary.

      Trust me, it's only been downhill since :-(

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Incidental Skills

      "milk round" I think, you said it was a long time ago. I think it's a metaphor about a worker calling at houses early in the morning, usually, delivering a bottled milk supply. I don't see how it goes with the job search thing. Perhaps from the companies' point of view, they are going from university to university, delivering... or collecting the empties. ;-)

  14. UCAP Silver badge

    Yet another similar experience

    At the turn of the last century I was interviewed for a software engineering job for a company (name long forgotten) who developed some of the highly sophisticated support tools used by 3G mobile network operators when planning their networks. The company wanted people with *very* good C++ skills, so they had developed an interesting interview structure - the first half was a set of written questions on C++, some of them fairly straight forward, but mixed with others that really needed deep understanding on the internals of the a language. The second half of the interview (done after they had marked the test) would be focused around the mistakes you had made, and would allow them to really dig into your knowledge of C++.

    OK, I did the C++ test and finished it (with double checking to ensure I had not made any idiot mistakes) in 30 minutes; this raised several eyebrows since they had 60 minutes allocated for the test, however they took my answers away for marking prior after I insisted I did not need any more time. After 20 minutes or so the interviewers came back in, sat down and looked very sheepish. It turned out that I was the first candidate they had ever had who had answered every question perfectly, and had even noted some alternative answers due to ambiguities with the C++ standards at that time. Since they based the second half of the interview on the mistakes to make, I had basically pulled the rug from under them and they admitted they did not know how to proceed.

    They offered me a job before I even had a chance to get home. Didn't take it however since I had another job offer that was much more in line with the career path that I wanted to follow.

    1. Anonymous Custard
      Headmaster

      Re: Yet another similar experience

      I had something along similar lines, but more mechanical.

      Coming out of uni, did the usual milk round which included an interview with Rolls Royce in Derby (aerospace engines).

      Turned up and the morning was a tour followed by an "engineering test" due to last an hour. So I sits down and looks at this, and it's stuff like here is a train of gears, if i turn the first one clockwise, which way will various others in the sequence turn? They did try to throw a curve-ball or two in there (for example 3 gears meshed together in a triangle - the answer being none of them can turn).

      So I'm there thinking "these guys make the engines that keep planes flying and they give tests like this?", but I look around at my fellow candidates and they all seem to be struggling or just looking dazed and confused. it was the weirdest experience I've had in such a situation. Especially given I think I finished the test in 20 minutes, then had the invigilator sit there looking at me and wondering what to do with me for the next half hour or so.

      Anyway I finish the day up and a few days later I get a letter starting "Congratulations. When you start with Rolls Royce...".

      As in I've passed the interview, and they seem to be just assuming I'm going to take the job because they'd offered it to me.

      In fact they were one of four possibilities I had, and that letter combined with that test immediately put them at the bottom of the heap.

      I ended up with offers from all four, and the chosen one is still my employer to this day, over a quarter century later...

      1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

        Re: Yet another similar experience

        these guys make the engines that keep planes flying and they give tests like this?

        By your own admission it had other candidates struggling. At that stage of a career, they aren't looking for polished & experienced engineers in whatever field the employer does, but for people with the basics - and the ability to think. As long as people have the basics, the company will train them in the sector specific stuff they need - in some ways (and depending on the role), it's better to get "raw" talent as you can mould it to your needs more easily than someone who's learned in a different environment and needs to unlearn some of that.

        Many years ago as I was getting towards leaving school, I went to an interview where part of the practical was they gave you a length of brazing rod, a picture of a man made entirely by bending the rod, and you tried to match the picture. Sounds simple, it isn't. To start with, you need to make a nice round bend of something like 300˚ to make his head - while keeping the middle of the rod in the right place. Then there were various twists and bends to make the rest of him. For anyone not familiar with it, brazing rod is "fairly stiff", and doing a nice neat circle is hard. Will anyone ever need to make wire men in that job ? No. But it does give a good feel for their manual dexterity, hand strength, and ability to follow a diagram - essential attributes for the jobs they were recruiting for. Part of the day was a tour round Heysham power station. And they paid travel expenses.

        Likewise with your interview test. Some of it will have been really easy to make sure everyone gets going - some people are excellent but struggle if it seems impossible to get started. And as you say, some impossible sets - which will be there to check that people are actually looking at the gears, not just going from start to finish and ignoring the rest (I'll guarantee that some people will have got it wrong).

        And I now recall another interview I did - for an apprenticeship I did accept. This was for an electrical trade, and one of the cards the panel passed to me had something like 3 arrangements of batteries and bulbs - which one would put 12V across the bulb ? Trivial, and I gave the right answer. One of the panel quickly asked "are you sure ?", I looked again and quickly said yes. he then informed me that several candidates had changed their answer, having got it right first time round ! It was clearly a deliberate ploy to see how confident people were in their knowledge.

    2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

      Re: Yet another similar experience

      https://forums.theregister.com/forum/all/2023/09/04/column/#c_4723040

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Yet another similar experience

        That was my experience applying to a merchant bank, eons ago when I was a youngling. A friend pulled strings to get me an interview with his boss in a tower in Canada Square, boss chatted with me for a while, then told me 'you're much too bright to work hard enough to do well here - and please don't tell [friend] I said that, because I hired _him_'.

  15. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    A friend went for interview to be the overall admin of a small school network ,

    Since the job was for their "network" , the downloaded a load of "Network engineer" questions , including a pre interview test on TCP , Routing , switches , etc etc

  16. Chewi
    Thumb Up

    I had an awkward moment like that once

    During an interview, I was shown some code (Ruby with SQL IIRC) and asked to explain what it did. Me, being a little forthright, commented "This code is terrible! Who wrote it?"

    "Err, I did," said the senior engineer. Huh. You don't say.

    They made heavy use of the open source Asterisk PBX, so I also told them the story about how I once got shitfaced with its author after the LinuxWorld Expo. Naturally, I got the job. :D

    1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

      Re: I had an awkward moment like that once

      Awkward moment a few days after an interview for me once. I was working for a large company as part of a big team working alongside our prime customer - sharing offices, that sort of thing.

      I was seconded into the customer for a week of off-site fieldwork, alongside about a dozen of their staff. I had had an interview with the customer's organisation a few days before, but in a completely different area and was still waiting for the interview result. One evening in the bar, with me and all the customer colleagues, one of their senior folks says very loudly to me for everyone else to hear "how did the interview go?"

      Cue a few moments of embarrassment followed by lots of good natured "good luck, hope you get it" type comments. I did get it, was still there over 15 years later and worked closely with a few of those people who were in that bar at the time. Something must have gone right.

  17. adam 40 Silver badge

    The worst job (interview) I ever 'ad...

    Well I've had a few, but one stands out. After reading the above, it's a bit lame but here goes....

    I went to an interview with a S/W and H/W company somewhere in the Midlands. The main interview goes reasonably well, and at the end they hand me a sheet of A4 paper.

    On the paper is a list of TLA's, and the final task was to say what each one stands for.

    After about 15 of them, they started correcting me here and there, "yes but in our company it means 'Total Concept Paragigm'" or whatever.

    After almost an hour and and into the third column my mind started exploding, and when I got to the end I was spent.

    I can recommend this as a form of torture! Probably it should be banned by the ICC.

    I didn't get the job. Phew!

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Re: The worst job (interview) I ever 'ad...

      What, the International Color Consortium? Can't see why they'd get involved on this. It's not really within their... gamut.

    2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: The worst job (interview) I ever 'ad...

      I am not United States of America (or USA). My native tongue is German (or GER).

      I had to feed TLA into the search engine. The first (or 1st) hit was weird advertisement, obviously. The second (or 2nd) hit was the right wikipedia atricle :D. The third (or 3rd) gave me the TLA list. Loving light physics, I choose Temporal Light Artefacts. Pilots would choose Teller Airport.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The worst job (interview) I ever 'ad...

      My organisation is large enough and diverse enough that acronyms and initialisms don't have a specific meaning, they often have 2, or 3, or 4, or .... In fact we have an intranet tool for looking them up.

      Of course, different areas even calls common things by different names - so different abbreviations. Having previously spent quite a while in IT which is infamous for it's acronyms and initialisms, I've found this really hard - especially when one comes up in a discussion that I have ingrained as it's IT version, and spend a while figuring out WTF we're talking about !

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: The worst job (interview) I ever 'ad...

        I once told off my boss for using the office email to invite me to an Rail, Maritime & Transport union meeting. She replied, clarifying she was inviting me to a Regional Management Team meeting. ah.

  18. trevorde Silver badge

    Interview - Australian Style

    Had several very technical interviews which ended with me being offered the job *and* a beer!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Interview - Australian Style

      ...and the brand/quality of the beer is what makes you decide if you want to take the job?

  19. b1k3rdude

    The CTO was and is clearly, a complete and utter cnut..

  20. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C Silver badge

    Somebody I met on industrial placement...

    Went on to try and get a graduate job with a large car manufacturer. They ran an intensive interview and testing day starting first thing, so accommodation was provided for the candidates for the night before. Being students, they all hit the bar and she spent some time relating tales of our party evenings whilst on placement to a couple of the other candidates.

    First interview next morning and she sees that the youngest member of the panel had been in the bar the night before, posing as a candidate. One of her audience from the night before.

    "Work hard, Play harder" must have worked because they did offer her a job. Unfortunately, it was the early 90s so they froze all graduate recruitment and she was out of the job before she'd started.

  21. aerogems Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Respect

    Not often I can say this about a CxO, but the CTO in this particular story seems to be the rare breed who could admit they were wrong. Not only that, they had someone speak truth to their power and didn't let their ego get in the way... eventually at least.

  22. Antony Shepherd

    I had no intention of working for those guys so I decided to have fun

    So back in about 2014 I was doing a bit of jobhunting on the side and a recruitment agency called me to set me up for an online test for a company called Phorm.

    "That name sounds familiar" I thought and looked them up.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phorm

    Having looked them up I decided I had no intention of working for them but I'd do the online test for practice.

    Then I got a phone interview. Again, I had no intention of working for that company but hey, interview practice and it might be fun..

    The interview consisted mostly of the interviewer trying to persuade me that the company wasn't bad really and I shouldn't believe everything i read on the internet about them.

    He sounded increasingly desperate as the interview went on and if it hadn't been a phone interview I would have been laughing in his face.

    The even more fun thing about this was Phorm ceased trading a full three years before the company I was working for did.

  23. CorwinX Bronze badge

    Some decades ago..

    I was working for a major bank, one of the big five I believe they're called, a few decades ago.

    Fancied a change so took an interview with the Crown's bankers.

    The guys who interviewed me were so far up their own arseholes I was wondering how they got dressed each day without mummy to help them.

    They actually offered me the job. Turned it down.

  24. CorwinX Bronze badge

    There's a strategy that few people employ

    Simple honesty.

    No bigging yourself up - just tell them who are, what you know and don't know and what you're willing to learn.

    I've been on interview panels and seen people come in sweating like they're going to the gallows or something.

    It's Important to remember - an interview goes two ways.

    They also have to sell you on why you should deign to work for them.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

      There's a strategy that few people employ

      Simple honesty.

      That was one of the things which got me my first proper job. It was with a local radio station and after a friendly but quite technical chat with their Engineering Director, I had a chat with the MD. One of the questions he asked was "So, do you listen to <names of the two stations>?"

      "Err.. no," I replied, "I'm more of a Radio Four / Radio Cymru kind of a person."

      "Aah," he said, "my next question was going to be about which of our presenters you enjoy the most. Weeds out those who are trying it on."

      Spent five happy years there.

      M.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

        Aah," he said, "my next question was going to be about which of our presenters you enjoy the most. Weeds out those who are trying it on."

        That might have caught me out, even if being honest! I listen to a number of radio stations, but not necessarily often or closely enough to know the names of any of the presenters :-)

        Often I get annoyed simply because I heard a good song but the presenters announced the title and performer at the start, before I knew if it was something |I might like and not another piece of "background fluff" music and I wasn't paying attention. Likewise with factual type shows. The show may be interesting, but I don't always know or care who the presenter is unless it's one I like enough to set up a recording for in case I miss it or grab from Sounds, eg many Radio 4 science related shows.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

          Often I get annoyed simply because I heard a good song but the presenters announced the title and performer at the start, before I knew if it was something |I might like

          For me it's when I turn on a radio station, but miss the start, and then they don't tell you what it was at the end.(Or indeed vice versa too, if I'm listening in the car- as lots of people do). But I guess time is money and if they say the name and stuff twice that tots up to at least a couple of advert slots in the course of a day.

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

            The conspiracy theories around here are _weird_. Radio stations have a set amount of time allowed for ads. The rest of the time has to be filled somehow, and obviously host chatter is cheaper than fees for playing songs.

            1. biddibiddibiddibiddi

              Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

              I think the goal behind not telling you the song title again is to encourage you to only be listening to that station so that you don't miss anything, which means you'll be sitting through the ads instead of switching back and forth. Although when it's a well-known song, it might seem pointless to keep repeating it.

              1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

                it might seem pointless to keep repeating it

                Can be taken to extremes sometimes. The radio station I worked for - the FM one anyway - at one point decided it wanted to be so "fresh"* that the A-list, that is the list of most-repeated tracks, was reduced to (IIRC) 12 songs. With every third played track (again, IIRC) mandated to be from the A-list, this meant that by the last half hour of a typical 3-hour show the poor on-air talent was forced to repeat tracks they had already played earlier and there was a danger that the next show - if not co-ordinated properly - would be repeating them again very soon.

                M.

                *I think this madness corresponded with the short-lived slogan "Fresh, Fun, Young". So short-lived that I was able to save a couple of dozen T-shirts from the skip, which went down really well at the youth club :-)

          2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

            If they announce a song you don't like, then you can turn off. But without malice. They don't make you listen to it.

            Telling you what it is at the end after telling you at the start is redundant.

            These days, "radio text" often shows what title is playing, but it didn't quite work the other day... I think it was BBC Radio 3's "Words and Music" on 10 March 2014 (no presenter) playing, I forget what, a pop pastiche of Shakespeare maybe. I decided it sounded like "Weird Al Yankovic". I looked. It was. But the music following that... the screen still said "Weird Al Yankovic", until it was over. Oh, well.

        2. Martin an gof Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: There's a strategy that few people employ

          Often I get annoyed simply because I heard a good song but the presenters announced the title and performer at the start, before I knew if it was something |I might like

          If listening on an FM radio that can show RDS Radio Text (64 characters) or Dynamic Text on DAB, many stations set the text to tell you the name of the artist and song currently playing.

          M.

  25. Nematode

    My first contract gig started with a weird interview. A first interview for a manager's job some time before went badly through no fault of mine (I much later found I was to be a replacement for the incumbent manager but he'd found out and sabotaged the position).

    Anyway, 2nd go, (I'd actually been made redundant due to the oil price crash in 1986) via an agency. Went to the interview and they asked me to review a system design drawing. Starting tentatively, I spotted a couple of minor things, then a bigger one, then suddenly got that funny feeling you get when you know that what you're looking at is a pile of. So, as diplomatically as I could, phrasing my critique as questions such as "why is this like this...?", I proceeded to basically tear the whole thing apart. Left the interview thinking, do I want to be involved with that? But then I needed the dosh for wife+kids+mortgage+food. Next day, agency rang, told me I'd got the gig and I went straight in to sign the contract.

    Arrived a couple of days later. The guy who interviewed me told me they'd hired me but were worried. Apparently the drawing I had torn apart in the interview was the one drawing they *had* subjected to formal internal review. And yes, it did pretty much go downhill from there till the company closed 3 months later.

  26. spireite Silver badge

    'arguing' with an interviewer

    Not exactly an argument, but 25 years ago now, I was given a 40 question quiz about a language I and they used.

    Inevitably, there are many ways to skin a cat, and the chief dev decided to claim that my some answer code was invalid, and that the other way (his) was better.

    I proceeded to dismantle the argument there and then.. Considering the CTO was sat in the interview, strangely I wasn't concerned.

    I was hired two days later, and the first thing the CTO said on arrival on my first day was 'Thank you for knocking him down a couple of pegs'.

    1. biddibiddibiddibiddi

      Re: 'arguing' with an interviewer

      That seems like a sign that you should cancel your acceptance of the offer. The CTO thinks one of his employees is terrible and watches him have a debate/argument with an interviewee, but doesn't actually do anything about the chief dev's behavior who would presumably be your direct or near-direct boss, and then talks about the chief dev behind his back to the new hire indicating out that the chief's behavior is well-known.

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: 'arguing' with an interviewer

        From his choice of words during the interview I deduct it was a civil tone and not a shouting match. If the head dev does give in it means he can learn as well. So no reason to skip that job.

        1. biddibiddibiddibiddi

          Re: 'arguing' with an interviewer

          The head may have given in because there was no way to continue arguing without seeming even stupider, but he's still obviously a terrible boss and a terrible employee, given the CTO's attitude about him, and the CTO doesn't seem like a great executive if he's not handling his head dev to put a stop to that sort of behavior himself instead of letting an interviewee do it.

  27. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    This must have a long time ago...

    Who since the extinction of the dinosaurs uses a MTA (or MDA) that they themselves have written? (Eric Allman, Philip Hazel, DJB and Wietse Venema excepted. :)

    Sendmail, Exim, Qmail and Postfix should be able to satisfy the most deviant MTA cravings between them.

    The only transgression on my part was running the TIS fwtk smap/smapd (Marcus J Ranum) in front of an ancient vendor IDA sendmail.

    Once the need to talk to "odd" mail systems uucp, acsnet/mhsnet, csnet etc etc that sendmail pandered to, disappeared, a quick survey of the other offerings quickly landed on the fairly new postfix. Years later I still think postfix is a decent design.

    Freebsd still had sendmail standard until v14 but postfix etc were available from packages or ports from 14 it apparently has dma from dragonflybsd.

    So I guess that sendmail is finally fading into history.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: This must have a long time ago...

      The story makes more sense to me if the CTO's work was not creating mail server software, but configuring it. As has been commented, that can be a major script writing job on its own.

      A possible variation is that the CTO compiled the software from source code and/or wrote or re-wrote an "extension" module in the program.

      Or again, alternatively, the CTO compiled the software with customised properties, but then it got replaced with an un-customised update.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Failed final interview for not swearing or not being male

    At the end of my final interview, the VP told me that as the first girl on his all-male development team, his main concern was that I would be offended by the guys swearing. He didn't seem to believe me when I said I wouldn't be offended. I decided against swearing at him during the interview to prove him wrong, or bringing up that I swore at work all the time.

    There were red flags from the beginning. HR repeatedly emphasized the company's commitment to diversity and inclusion multiple times when she spoke to me. She gave the example of the team's annual celebration of Cinco de Mayo, when all but one of their employees were white, in mid-2010s Toronto, Canada, where South Asian and East Asian people were overrepresented in software development.

    I told my friend what happened, and she said, "You should sue them!" before catching herself. I wasn't already an employee, and I couldn't prove they would have hired me otherwise, without recording the conversation. The company could deny the VP had said that and instead say I was rejected for poor "cultural fit". Even if I had sued, future employers would be able to Google my name and conclude that I was a litigious type for something with serious business consequences like gender discrimination.

    Later on, I figured "guys swearing" might have been a euphemism for casual misogyny or locker-room talk.

  29. RobDog

    Seen that before.

    I had an interview for a mainframe job at the premises of of a formerly successful High Street stereo and telly seller in Stevenage. The DC manager had this painfully obvious interview technique of asking ‘controversial’ questions, being annoyed with the answers, and trying to create an argument. It was transparent and embarrassing, frankly, and I countered I suppose with a sort of weary demeanour. He then said he had to leave because of an incident in the DC which he I suspect he just made up. I got the job but didn’t take it.

  30. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    Just recalled...

    an interview for a junior sysadmin role a good while ago where the interview got to a networking question. They had a [Linux?] load balancing cluster with the front end rewriting the destination (public service) address to one of the cluster members (rfc1918) addresses and the reply, from the scrawled diagram, appeared to leave via another system/device. Apparently wasn't actually working. After exhausting my store of potential reasons - some from the rocking horse shit* category - I was flumoxed. The interview ended.

    Only on the my bus back to the motel did the thought arise that I had assumed these network types knew that NATed traffic must be routed symetrically or the two devices that modify the address/ports must comunicate, or at least agree on, the mappings. I suspect they did not.

    The whole experience was quite surreal.

    * as in rare as....

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CTO abbreviation stands for…???

    Tim or Colin (dual personality flags maybe??) should take the job then ghost the company after finding out what is mail server coding error was.

    Then T&C (as they are now referred too) should setup their own company, offering bespoke mail coding expertise and offer their expert level services back to the CEO/COO of said company.

    Fast forward 6 months and T&C have replaced the CTO who was quietly shown the door.

    (Suffice to say - the internal dev team who fcuked with the code also got fired).

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