Musings of an Eon...

Story: Interviewing Is Hard

Published 2021 Aug 02 @ 17:49

Some people may think interviewing is simple or that the current resources available to interviewers can help ease the process, but ultimately that’s just not true. Typically, smaller companies will either use an existing interviewing process or copy the process of larger companies. But how does one create an interview process? Mostly by trial and error. One of the most famous (I would argue) examples of “designing interviews is hard” is how Google admitted, back in 2013, that their infamous brain teasers are a complete waste of time. The Senior VP of People at the time, Laszlo Bock, even went so far as to admit that they only succeed in making the interviewer feel smart.

I personally developed a general feel for two broad categories that candidates should be judged against: behavioral and practical. The first deals with how a candidate behaves and how they interact with others. The second was basically just “can the candidate do their job or learn how to do their job given a reasonable amount of time?” And that’s it. All questions asked about practical skills should help answer that one overall query. Because at the end of the day, you want someone that can do their job, yes, but is ultimately capable of learning new skills to help them continue doing their job successfully in the future. That last part I emphasized because it’s the most important thing. Now we get two stories for the price of one!

The first story actually comes from my dad. As a business consultant with decades of experience, he’s seen a lot of crazy stuff that happens within businesses, but one that relates to this theme particularly comes from the employee with 20 years of 1 year of experience. That’s a confusing sentence to read so let me break it down.

As my dad tells it, there was this one employee that had been with Company X for a considerably long time, like 20 years or something absurd like that. They kept getting raises, recognition, bonuses, awards, and so on. Even when other people would quit, this employee would stick around. When people were let go, this employee was kept because of their loyalty.

But when my dad and his fellow consultants were interviewing all the employees to learn where processes could be improved, they found out that this employee didn’t know how to do anything that couldn’t be learned by a new hire within their first year on the job. Essentially, they just kept repeating that first year of work experience without any improvements or adjustments for the 20 years they were at that company. This demonstrates why looking at the number of years someone has been in the workforce, and even things like titles, typically lead to false assumptions.

In this case, almost anyone would be a comparable hire to this person regardless of their past experience since this employee had not learned any new skills or created any optimizations to their work process in decades. In fact, they were objectively a poor hire because others might have proactively made the job easier or more effective and learned new skills to optimize the processes they were part of. This employee might have actually been costing the company more money than the bonuses the company was giving them.

The second story is how I got my first full-time software engineering job, as a Platform Support Engineer at Sony Online Entertainment, back in 2009 when I only had about a year of part-time experience and an abandoned college degree. Although I had help getting into the interview pipeline, which is usually one of the hardest parts when applying for jobs, the actual interview process was all on me to succeed. I did one phone screen with an internal recruiter, one phone interview with my potential boss, another phone interview with my two potential teammates, then one in-person interview with everyone: my potential boss and both of my potential teammates. I got the job despite thinking that my in-person interview had gone very meh.

Then about a year later my teammates and I went out to celebrate my first year on the job. They both told me that they were actually against my hiring initially; they thought I did terrible at my in-person interview and that I didn’t have the skills to be useful on the team. It was our manager that apparently overrode their final judgement and hired me, saying that based on the cumulative input, and my response to certain questions he asked, that I would become extremely useful given the right environment. And then they both told me they were wrong and that I was actually a great addition, that they were happy to have me, and that ultimately our manager was correct in making the decision to bring me aboard.

So that’s another reason I like to look for the potential in people. I was given such a wonderful opportunity despite not having the skills coming into the job, and yet I was able to succeed and thrive when given the chance, and now I’d like to extend that same kindness to others when I can.