Tales from the Interview: The 5% Candidate


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There are many kinds of jackasses in this world, from the pretentious prick to the smug cynic. Each has their own flavor of awfulness, their own way of making you hate not only them but the entire world that gave birth to them. This story is about one kind of jackass in particular, perhaps the most classic flavor: the man so sure of his own greatness that he becomes enraged at the world whenever it fails to bow before his massive intellect.

You see these people a lot on Twitter these days. With self-righteous fury, they demand that you get with the program and acknowledge their clear superiority. But as obnoxious as they are online, they’re worse in person … especially if they turn up at your job interview.

Today’s candidate applied for a job at a government IT department. Unlike stories you’ve seen on this site before, this government shop was actually fairly efficient and pleasant to work for. They were hiring Java developers, preferably ones that also had UI and database skills. As such, they had over 100 CVs to skim through for their first 2 positions. After removing those written in crayon, with massive coffee rings obscuring the text, or which had return addresses in prison, they were able to narrow the field to a mere 30, but it was still far more candidates than they wanted to interview in a few short days.

But interview they did. At 10 candidates a day, they barely had time to weed through people; however, it didn’t take long to eliminate most of the candidates. Some lacked a basic understanding of computers, such as how to launch applications when they’re not strewn across the desktop. Others lacked a basic understanding of programming, being entirely unable to tell Java apart from Microsoft Word. Still others—disturbingly many others—lacked a basic understanding of hygiene.

For Round 2, they decided only to work with agencies they’d had firsthand experience with, either from that office or from previous companies. They also put together a quick "sniff test" to filter the wheat from the chaff. This 30-minute test checked for basic logic skills, including some open-ended CS questions and Java code to debug. They were looking more for the explanations behind the answers than the answers themselves, hoping to get some idea of how these people reasoned.

It worked like a charm. Those who scored under 50% were always appalling in the interview, and those who scored highly were always at worst acceptable. They quickly found their candidates. When it came time to fill the next junior opening, the decision was unanimous: they would use the sniff test as a screen, refusing to interview anyone who failed.

Enter The Architect, our aforementioned jackass. This guy seemed pretty good on paper: "10 years experience in infrastructure architecture, design patterns, certifications, and software development practices" according to his cover letter. Applying for a junior role was a bit odd for this veteran, to be sure, but they gave him the test anyway.

And boy, did he fail. His final score was a mere 5%. Every answer included a tirade about how the question was wrong. Every. Single. One.

Some of you may not believe this man exists. But some of you have met him, or one of his many counterparts the world over. This is the man who, when faced with a question like:

Linked List, Binary Tree, Stack and Queue – describe a simple program to read in a million names and output them in reverse order using one of the above structures.

Writes an answer like:

Seriously??? I wouldn’t use any data structures. I’d use a database. Thats what there there for. Man you need a rethink!!!

Or when faced with this simple logic test:

What’s the missing sequence:
2, 4, 8, __, 32
1, 3, 9, 27, __

Replies:

2, 4, 8, 10, 32
You’ve missed out 6, 12, 14, 16, 18 etc. This is unacceptable for a test at this level. Are you sure you want people of my caliber here? Sort it out please!!!

Those who’ve had the misfortune of meeting someone like this know what comes next, but I’ll relate it anyway.

The exam was graded and laughed at. The interviewer went into the room to tell the man he just "wasn’t the right fit."

The man exploded with rage: screaming obscenities, wishing death and destruction upon the interviewer, the business, the whole city. He refused to leave until they offered him the job. It took 3 people plus the security team to escort him out of the building, and even then he wouldn’t go until they threatened to call the police.

Somewhere out there, there is a blog in which this agency is lambasted up and down for its poor hiring practices. It probably goes on a scathing rant, estimating (too highly) how much of "MY TAXES!!!!" this man pays to support these "incompetent" developers who "wasted MY time!" with their "bullsh!t interview". Maybe it even theorizes that taxes themselves are illegal, as the man proudly declares himself a "sovereign citizen".

Thankfully, you are reading The Daily WTF and not this man’s blog. In fact, I’d dare say nobody is visiting this man’s blog. That’s probably why he’s so very angry in the first place.

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