[thelist] Good "tests" for prospective employees?

Jonathan j at firebright.com
Sat Jul 2 03:47:13 CDT 2005

> Some people are simply not good at interviews.  Maybe they get 
> nervous?  Maybe for whatever reason, they are uncomfortable with the 
> interview? These kinds of things greatly affect the performance of an 
> interviewee and *should* be taken into context when judging their 
> interview.
I've been keeping tabs on this thread too.  Personally, I don't care how 
someone programs and gets work done.  I care about results.  Do you want 
to use Google?  Cool.  Did you memorize the entire contents of php.net?  
Very cool.  I sometimes fall apart on tests, so perhaps that's the basis 
of my opinion. 

At a recent interview, the folks had scheduled such a tight timeline I 
literally lost my breath trying to answer 13 complex questions in less 
than an hour with a committee of 5 people asking.  I couldn't think 
straight by the end of the interview.  I can handle being under the all 
seeing eye, but sometimes the formats of interviews absolutely destroy 
me.  Those interviewers never got to see the 37 page presentation I have 
put together and practiced, and to be honest, I'm not sure I would have 
taken the job even if they offered it to me on the spot.  They spent so 
much time interviewing me, they missed my interview.  Even though I'm a 
good developer and write good code, and my bosses have reccomended me 
consistently, I often find myself judging *companies* for tests like the 
one Jay put fourth. 

It isn't always about a paycheck - you have to be a cool employer to 
land real talent *long-term*.  Ask tough questions.  Interview the hell 
out of people.  As soon as an interview becomes unnecessarily 
adversarial, I excuse myself.  I wouldn't want to spend 10 minutes in an 
office with someone who enjoyed toying with me, let alone work for 
them.  All of the questions are completely irrelevant to my ability to 
do the job.  It is a major red flag for me.  I am not a trained monkey.  
Ask me about web development problems, or questions that relate.  That's 
what I know.

Ed's point:
 > When I'm hiring, I'm less interested in how clever an applicant is
 > than how effectively s/he will get the job done.

This is perhaps the best line in this thread.  Here, here Ed!

Jay's approach is too narrow for my taste.  It really is missing the 
other 95% of what matters about employees:
- How will they operate under pressure? 
- Will they show up on time for the job? 
- Will they leave as soon as they find a better one? 
- How does your CSS applicant being able to answer questions from the 
SAT or Mensa entrance exam qualify them to do anything MORE than write 
beautiful code? 
- And is that really what a good manager needs in an employee? 

No.  It's merely a percentage of what is required.  Hypothetically, want 
a programmer that can also design?  Throw these types of tests out the 
window.  Not all good programmers grew up playing mind games.  Many of 
those (like myself) that did actually didn't do it in the prototypical 
manner -- ask me anything about plants or cetaceans.  I have a catalog 
in my head.  I couldn't care less about how a pattern produces 7. 

Microsoft's questions are actually good, in so far as they actually look 
for logic and problem solving skills, not mental game capabilities.  I 
would actually enjoy those questions, as they relate to corporeal 
things.  That's how my programmer mind works.  Everything is an object, 
a thing, something I can visualize.

And for the record, isn't the difference between this and self the 
difference between public and private references to objects?

How would I interview?  What have you done?  Specifically, show me the 
code.  And perhaps write me some code.  Please bring your laptop.  Here 
are some requirements, and ip.  Implement my requirements in the next 
hour shows a lot more about a candidate than any test.  I also put a lot 
of weight on personal reccomendations.  And you should definitely 
include some problem solving skills, but please, try to keep them 
focused on real-world applications.

Also, on the note of mind teasers, I too had a similar white board in 
one of my offices, and we posted a question (at random) that dealt with 
logic or a riddle.  It was tremendous, and I highly reccomend it.  Being 
able to solve interesting problems without the pressure of an interview 
was actually a pleasure for me.

In business, you are interviewing to find one thing: can the candidate 
bring bottom-line value to the business.  And in my mind, a 
one-size-fits-all interview strategy cannot begin to address this question.


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