Tag Archives | anecdotes

Interviewing pro-tip: the Candidate is not the enemy

Or, how to get your Candidates to give you their very best voluntarily

Anyone who has ever interviewed anyone for an open req. has experienced a Candidate bombing the interview for one reason or another1, and we’ve certainly all bombed an interview. Now, I don’t know shit about hiring outside of technical fields, specifically for web administrators and UNIX admins. But in that realm, I’ve been on both sides of the process for a little while, and these are the things that I think tend to be the most common reasons for Candidates to do anything less than shine (… or at least these are the things I’m most guilty of):

  • Fixating on the negative aspects of past experiences:

    Where I am now? We have this fucking guy, you know? He eats rice from a plate with a spoon, and it’s disgusting, he’s disgusting, and I can’t stand things that are disgusting!

  • Fixating on the positive aspects of where you’re currently working; put another way, apologizing for having the gall to consider leaving where you are now:

    No, no, it’s really great at ConGloMo! The air rifles only sting a little! I’m really very lucky to have a job at all! The dogs aren’t usually hungry so they don’t maul us when they chase us or anything!

  • It’s also come to my attention that sometimes this manifests in the form of comparing your current employer to your prospective employer too much:

    This place is just like where I am now, except it’s different. I mean, I hate where I am now but I’d love it here, even though it’s the same. But also different.

If you talk down to Candidates, you're gonna have a bad time.

But I also think that these are often a side-effect of a small handful of conditions: being overly familiar or comfortable with the Interviewer (that’s not a bad thing), outright desperation (yellow flag) or excitement (which you should be selecting for), or just plain being damaged (dare I say shell shocked?) by whatever circumstances caused a Candidate to start working the market (and that can be bad, right now, for you; they might get better if the pressure is eased off them). Or if they’re a non-local Candidate, maybe the travel took more out of them then expected and they are still adjusting to being anywhere except home. I am guilty of every single one of those myself, and that’s led me to think that any one of those missteps could have probably been turned into a positive pivot if Interviewers just tried talking to Candidates as if they already had the job.

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Interviewing pro-tip: your time has value

Here’s something I’ve learned from having been on both sides of an interview:

Don’t waste the time you’re spending on the interview

Take every interview seriously, even if it’s just the sort of interview you periodicially undertake just so that you don’t forget how to interview. Even if you don’t get the job (assuming it was ultimately one you actually wanted), you can still gain something from the process. Try to have a conversation with the people interviewing you — ask about the work they’d want you to do, the problems that they want you to solve, and the struggles that they’re currently coping with. Maybe they’ve already solved a problem you’ve personally encountered, but they did so differently. Maybe they’re going to turn you on to a whole new tool, technology, or perspective that you didn’t already have. There’s almost always some nugget of experience or a new trick that you’ll pick up out of even the most informal interview if you engage the interviewer as an industry peer.

That’s how I found htop. During an interview for a job that I didn’t want, at a company that I don’t want to work for, the interviewer began asking me really bizarre 101-level questions like:

Have you used ps?
Have you ever used top?
Do you know what htop is?
Are you familiar with ‘vee’?1

In another interview, I was sent a list of questions by the interviewer that were simultaneously thoughtful, relevant, and difficult. They may not all be applicable to the work I do every day, but I’m stealing at least one of them for the next round of interviews I have to give at The Day Job:

Automating mounts

You’re mounting a new volume at /some/path and need to move a large amount
of data from the existing /some/path directory on the root volume to
this new volume. How would you approach moving the data? Keep in mind that symlinks
need to be preserved. Also note that this will be run by an automated process
— not manually by a human being.

So is every interview going to be a slam dunk? Obviously not. But it stands to reason that you’re interviewing with companies who are doing work that you find interesting and engaging, and they’re probably proud of it. When people are proud of their work, they want to talk about it. And some of the most interesting things come from listening to people when they talk about something that they’re proud of.


  1. He totally meant vi, but he pronounced it silly; we had a little talk about the differences between vi and vim and how virtually nothing actually uses vi anymore. I also pointed out that yes, I can use it but that I’m not a modal-editor guy. I’ll work in vim when I have to, but it’s not my bread and butter.