How Not to Interview for a Job

I had the opportunity to serve as one of the interviewers at a job interview the other day. The result is a case study in how to totally bomb a job interview.

My employer has been looking to hire a programmer type person. To that end, we have been interviewing candidates. I have had the opportunity to be one of the interviewers (although, I’m not sure how much of an opportunity it actually is). Unsurprisingly, we’ve had a variety of results. One, however, is particularly interesting.

The other day, we had a candidate come in for an interview. Let’s call him L. First of all, L was late. He apparently got a detail in our address confused and ended up several blocks away. While he did call and let us know he had gone to the wrong address, it was several minutes after the interview time that he did so.

When he did arrive, he didn’t come in the front door. I actually met him at the back stairwell in the building as he was trying to figure out how to get to us by talking to employees of the other company in the building. This seems odd since everyone else has been able to find the correct door and ring the buzzer to be let in.

L did seem quite personable initially. He asked me which Linux I used and when I answered, there was an undercurrent of disdain in is reaction. I didn’t consciously pick that up at the time.

Once the interview was underway, he asked using gestures whether we were okay with him keeping is sunglasses on. Since there are valid reasons for such a thing, we said it was okay. Still, if you are going to ask about something like that, use your voice and ask. Even better, explain why. We have since figured that he wanted them on so we couldn’t figure out what his eyes were doing.

Now it should be understood that we were interviewing for a PHP programmer with an understanding of HTML and CSS. L’s résumé indicated very little PHP experience but a lot of JSP and Java knowledge. Based on that and the fact that he applied for a PHP position, we felt that he could learn PHP quickly enough and that it would be worth talking to him. Because of the position we were interviewing for, I had a lot of questions related to PHP, HTML, CSS, and related technologies.

While I was asking my questions, it was quickly clear from L’s body language that he felt the questions were not worth his time. He attempted to evade many of the questions rather than answer them. He answered a question about his familiarity with a web-related technology with a question about my familiarity with a Java technology. He then used that to imply that I was an idiot for asking him my question and also an idiot because I didn’t know the answer to his.

One of my questions involved a description of a scenario and then a request to explain the steps he would take to actually implement the site described. After I finished reading the scenario but before I got to the question, he interrupted me. He asked me to repeat what I just said. When I started to, he put his hand on my question page and demanded I repeat it without reading. I think he was shocked when I was able to do so. Exactly why he did that is unclear but one of my co-interviewers thinks he was trying to cover up for not paying attention. I wasn’t watching him while I was reading the scenario to him so I don’t know what his body language was and with his eyes hidden by his sunglasses, it was even harder to assess.

Shortly after this, the president of the company abruptly stated that he felt there was no position we could offer L and left the interview. This is an unusual step for him. You would think that that would have been the end of the interview, but there’s more.

Once the president had left, a bit of a discussion occurred. This quickly devolved into L lecturing us for something like ten minutes on his experience and what he was good at. It was as though he felt we hadn’t given him a fair assessment with our questions. He repeatedly stated that he though we might have a JSP project. When it was explained to him why we chose to interview him, he lectured us about how PHP is only good for simple web things. He further went on about how MySQL is useless as a database engine because it was designed for web sites and not real databases. He went on to imply that we were stupid for choosing both technologies to implement our projects.

Eventually, we convinced him to leave. All of the interviewers agreed that whether L was qualified or not, we would never hire him for any position. I’m sure that most of you reading this have a pretty good idea why but I’ll explain below.

Primarily, L’s attitude stank. He came into the interview with the attitude that he was clearly the best person. It was clear that in his mind his was was the only correct way to do anything. With that kind of an attitude, you will never fit into any kind of a team. Any company that hires such an individual is foolish.

Almost as bad was that he clearly didn’t know what position he had applied for. It was obvious from his lecture that he had done no research about just what we did. He had clearly not even understood the job posting in the first place which clearly indicated that PHP, HTML, and CSS were required. Since L couldn’t be bothered to know what he was applying for and further couldn’t be bothered to know what the company he was applying to did, we would have been fools to hire him for any position.

L’s antics related to the scenario question would have been amusing in any other context. However, in an interview, the interviewer is the one who chooses how to conduct the interview, not the interviewee. Asking the interviewer to phrase a question differently or without reading it or anything else is fine as long as it is done respectfully. Reaching across the table and covering up the question sheet is not respectful. In the interview, the interviewee is in the subordinate position and must understand as much. L was asking us to hire him by applying for the job. It is up to him to impress us. While there is an aspect of the company being interviewed and that is an important factor, it is not the dominant one. L’s actions showed a clear disrespect for authority and in our opinion would mean that he would be insolent and insubordinate as an employee.

By going on to lecture us after he had offended the president of the company showed supreme bad judgement. Lecturing a prospective employer is a very bad idea. It shows a lack of respect. Still, L couldn’t even get the lecture right. Many of his points came down to one simple thing: the technologies we were asking him about were designed for web sites, not real work. Had he bothered to learn what we do, he would never have used that argument. After all, that’s what we do. We build web sites. Why, then, would an argument that the tools we are using were developed for web sites be anything but noise for us? By giving us the lecture, L proved that he could not even argue or debate effectively.

Upon reflection, I don’t think that L even understands that he completely bombed the interview. I don’t think he understands just what he revealed about himself during that hour. I do know that in his eyes we failed the interview, but that is fine. It doesn’t matter what he thinks about the interview because we are not going to even consider hiring him. I don’t know exactly what L’s motivations were for what he did during the interview but I do know what the result was. He convinced several smart people that he is an arrogant, self-centered, socially inept asshole.

So for all you folks who are conducting interviews, be on the lookout for L and his kind. They are exactly the people you should not hire regardless of skills. And for all you people looking for jobs, be certain you are not L or his kind. Most employers are smart enough not to hire such people.

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