Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Job Interviews - Break all the rules

I've been making my way through Peopleware, and as expected, finding lots of juicy tidbits. One section in particular talked about the job interview and hiring process. It recommended some significant changes from what most companies do (ad-hoc, sit around and shmooze).

Then, Seth Godin came along an published an article that more or less said the same things. End the interview, and get to the useful stuff.

Seth explains that there are two parts to the job interview: selling your company and evaluating the skills of the candidate. He suggests two intelligent, but seemingly heretical ideas to deal with these issues.

First, treat the selling of your company like any other marketing message. Get a pro to do it, or at least to script it. You wouldn't think about having a senior developer sit down and sell the company to a prospect - so why do you expect him to do it during an interview?

Second, if you want to judge the skills of a candidate, put them to work. Forget the sitting around and talking, and give them an assignment to work on.

These are sensible ideas, though they violate quite a few of the taboos of hiring.

I read Seth's ideas, and was very proud of myself for connecting them to Peopleware. But, I wasn't the only one. The very next post from Seth was to repeat a story told in Peopleware that sums this whole situation up.

It's cool enough to repeat, so here it is:

Juggler Interview

Circus Manager: How long have you been juggling?
Candidate: Oh, about six years.

Manager: Can you handle three balls, four balls, and five balls?
Candidate: Yes, yes, and yes.

Manager: Do you work with flaming objects?
Candidate: Sure.

Manager: ...knives, axes, open cigar boxes, floppy hats?
Candidate: I can juggle anything.

Manager: Do you have a line of funny patter that goes with your juggling?
Candidate: It's hilarious.

Manager: Well, that sounds fine. I guess you're hired.
Candidate: Umm...Don't you want to see me juggle?

If you are in charge of hiring, do yourself a favor and at least consider Seth's advice. It won't be easy to take, but it sure might make a difference in hiring quality people.

I for one have been having folks submit sample code with their resumes. It has provided some insight into the developer's skills, but not nearly enough.

Now armed with this advice from two trusted sources, I pity the next person I interview.

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