The Mandatory Three (from Jim)
After the dot com bust, I spent a lot of time interviewing. It was mostly dead ends or companies that were only willing to hire one person to do the job of four (specifically, the four that they had just laid off). A friend of mine who worked at a school, told me about an IT position there. Being out of work for so long, I was very eager to get in for an interview, and figured I might have an "in" since he was working there already.

When I arrived at the interview, there were two other candidates waiting. I was to go in first, and I was informed that all three of the interviews would be done in "rapid fire" succession, and each would take just 30 minutes. I went into their conference room, and was a bit startled by the fifteen people sitting around the table. This was known as "The Gauntlet." This group of people only asked a few, fairly non-technical questions. Most seemed bored, and some occasionally looked at their watches and yawned! Now, I am not the most exciting person in the world, but I am certainly not that boring. I finished the interview and left feeling quite confused. What the hell just happened?

I got a call from my mom later in the day, and I told her about the interview. Being a teacher, she was familiar with what I had gone through and she explained it to me. It turns out that in education, every job offered requires at least three interviews to be done, even if the job has already been filled (most are filled internally). Basically, I was just "filler." It now made sense why everybody was bored and just waiting for the interview to be over. It also made sense why there were two other candidates, and why the interviews were done so quickly and carelessly. My friend checked it all out for me and confirmed that I was indeed filler. When I asked why so many people for a "filler" interview, I was told that it was the law. What a complete waste of everybody's time!

The lesson here is: If you go on an interview for an educational institution, and your interview is way too quick and simple, chances are you are just "filler". Do yourself a favor and run from the interview if you see yawning!

Ironically, I now work for a university, where I see many "fillers" come in for interviews. The poor bastards!

The Easy Road to Success (from Paul H.)
I was working for a large Swiss bank in a risk analysis department. We were dealing with pretty complex deals which required lots of processing time and had very little time to work, so we had built a grid to handle it. Our systems kept very close watch on the grid, opting for our own job queue instead of what the grid offered. As such, we needed people who knew a few things about programming.

I have no idea where the candidates came from, but we had put the word out that we were looking for senior developers. The candidates would come to us, be interviewed by our dev manager (who had been promoted because his code wasn't worth the disk space it was stored on), then get passed to us. We'd start the talk with background, basic one-liner questions, then jump to one of our open-ended questions.

Our favorite was "how would you build a priority queue?" We'd explain what a priority queue is, what someone would use it for, tell them it didn't need to be persistable, and let them know it was a real-world exercise, since we had to build one for our project.

Nine times out of ten the answer involved XML. And people would try to convince us that XML was the best, fastest, and easiest way to go. My favorite candidate stammered for a few seconds then pulled out a SecurID key fob, acted like it was a Blackberry, and claimed there was a production issue at his job and he had to go.

So after a month of horrible candidates we had a day with three interviews in a row. Each candidate gave a perfect, clear, correct answer. So we followed up with a similar, but easier question and all three bombed miserably.

We sat around discussing it at the end of the day and it didn't take long for the dev manager to admit he had given all of them the answer because he was tired of us rejecting candidates.

Relevant Inexperience (from Adam)
The company I am contracting at are having a recruitment drive ahead of a big government contract. Since I know a bit about coding I have been asked to scan through the résumés and select the ones that have the relevant experience. Why the agencies don't do this is beyond me. Anyway, I received a résumé recently, and I started to skim through it. The header of "relevant experience" looked fine until the last entry:

Technology Experience Competency
The Italian language 10 years Awful

OK, quite amusing, and on I went to work experience, which had some fairly standard bullet points about AJAX, C#, SQL and so forth. So far so good. Then I got to the last bullet point:

  • I do not understand .NET interfaces as I have never used them. I've survived just fine without them so far thank you very much, so if this is a big problem, let's not waste eachothers' time, please. Oh, and you may as well stop reading.

At that point, I stopped reading (since we use interfaces all over our n-tier apps) and fired a quick email off to the agent to suggest he reads through the résumés before he passes them along.

Out of curiosity, however, I skimmed through the rest of the résumé. Here are a few more gems:

  • Overhauled a dynamic intranet site, using "classic" ASP, for use by a distributed team, to teach myself "web stuff"
  • (beneath a previous job) It was here that I taught myself how to program, whilst recuperating from a nasty accident involving a taxi.
  • The system ran like a dog, but it was good for a first attempt.

Needless to say, we all had a good laugh, but he didn't get as far as a technical interview over the phone.

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