Saturday, May 8, 2010

Can interviewers see through our personality weaknesses?

Now I feel even experienced interviewers (I had chitchat with some recently) can only judge a candidate's non-technical qualities to a very limited extent.
Experienced interviewers try to focus on "thought process" and "problem solving skill" (soft skills) rather than practical experience and textbook knowledge. White boarding, expanding a given problem's scope -- "what if we need ...", "What if we can't ..." ... By the way, my Google interviews are all of this type. Heavy on algorithm and almost language-agnostic algorithms. Some of my most in-depth interviews with good companies seem to follow similar patterns. These are not designed to be traditional technical screening as they test analysis and problem solving, under pressure.

In addition, Many interviewers ask about java's fundamental design principles, though we developers seldom need to know those. Examples include those wildly crazy questions on hash table implementations, wait/notify, equals() and hashCode(), generics implementation in Java 1.5, beauty of dependency injection, reentrant locks .. These questions are less about "productivity/competency" or design skill and more about "depth of understanding". Perhaps they want to know how deep the candidate thinks. I consider these non-technical qualities.

Obviously interviewers watch out for personality issues like arguing, strong opinion, arrogance, refusal to admit defeat, insufficient give and take, lack of confidence... Luckily none of my serious weaknesses are visible to them -- such as my weakness in office politics.

Taking a step back, if we analyze why a person A fails on a job, obviously a lot of responsibilities are on other people. But if we focus on the weaknesses in A herself and try to classify the common weaknesses in workers, very loosely i see 2 types
1) a range of technical weaknesses
2) a range of non-technical weaknesses

I feel the art and science of candidate screening has advanced more on the first front then the 2nd front. Sharp interviewers can now find out technical weaknesses more than they can non-technical weaknesses. I'm talking about things like real (not fake) honesty, ownership and initiative, efficiency, follow-up, prioritizing, sense of urgency, can-do attitude, client-service attitude, dedication, knowledge sharing, helping out, give and take, push-back, persistence and determination, respect for cultural differences, bias, fairness, attention to detail, code testing attitude, ethical standard on code quality, professionalism, self-starter, motivation, hard working, personal sacrifice ... ( ... some of my strongest and weakest parts!)

I think these are important to a hiring manager and can break or delay a project, but these personal qualities are invisible to even the smartest interviewers I can imagine. However, I was told some interviewers can be unbelievably smart, beyond my imagination. I tend to feel a perceptive person can be very sensitive but she can't be sure about personalities based on a brief conversation.

My conclusion -- once you pass the technical screening, then interviewers can't easily find out your relative weaknesses in communication, personality, attitude .. provided you don't make an obvious mistake.

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New York (Time Square), NY, United States