My Worst Interview

A few years ago, I was interviewing for a software position at a large web startup and had the following conversation with a someone in HR during a phone screen:

Recruiter: We have a few preliminary questions we always ask to determine if a candidate will proceed.

Me: Sure.

Recruiter: Do you have J2SE?

Me: Yes, I've worked extensively with Java, Spring, and Hibernate making web applications for...

Recruiter: Yes, yes, but do you have J2SE?

Me: (realizing we were playing poor-grammar-buzzword-bingo) Yes.

Recruiter: Great. Next question.

Me: Ok.

Recruiter: We're looking for real rock stars here. How good are you at programming on a scale from 1 to 10? Just give me a number.

Me: If you just want a number, probably about a 6 or 7. (I had recently seen this Programmer Competency Matrix and fell squarely in "Level 2")

Recruiter: Well, we were really only looking for only 9's and 10's.

Me: Oh (stunned... waiting for the recruiter to make the next move)

Recruiter: Do you have any friends that are 10's that I could reach out to?

Me: You're asking me if I have friends who would rate themselves a 10 as a developer?

Recruiter: Yes, we're really looking for a star-hero developer. (You read right. A star-hero... like Mario)

Me: I wouldn't be comfortable doing that. Sorry. Good bye.

Needless to say, I was not asked back for an in-person interview. This is pretty much as classic as the Dunning Kruger effect gets in an interview. 

Both experiened hiring managers and experienced job seekers have worked with people who think they are much better than they are. Effective hiring managers don't expect candidates to evaluate their own skills on an arbitrary scale. They rely on the interview process, references, code samples, etc. Experienced job seekers are wary of interview processes asking you to self-evaluate your skills because they assume the current team has been evaluated similarly.

There's little (if not an inverse) corellation between people who think of themselves as the absolute best and those who actually are talented. The most effective people know that there's always plenty of room to grow.

9 responses
Oh don't get me started ;) .......... ever dealt with the games industry! Good point about - Dunning–Kruger effect.
@Jeremy - Does the games industry ask questions like this too?
The point of dunning kruger effect is not that there's no correlation- it's just not linear. Studies show there is a tier of most competent people who tend to rate themselves lower than the secondmost tier of competence, who rate themselves higher due to a combination of signaling effects and dunning-kruger ("too dumb to know how dumb you are").
wow man, if I want to ask someone about their opinion about themselves, I would use it as a trap question, if they give me less than 5 then I'd say they don't have what it takes, if they go above 8 I'd say they're cocky ... only a 6 or 7 would satisfy me, it leaves room for improvement, and has a sense of self-esteem!
@JohnF - thanks explaining, I'll try to make it more clear in an update. Do you know what studies? The effect is fascinating, especially how it effects people when they know about it.

@wa3l - hah! I don't do well with trick questions, but interesting approach.

I avoid companies that want "rock stars." I once interviewed with google and they said "getting in here is like getting in a new hot club.". Total turn off. Why would I want to work for a company like that? Recruiters, in general, dont know $hit. Seriously, I develop applicant tracking system software and 99% of recruiters don't know about the industry they are hiring for. They work on commission and it's disturbing that they actually have a job. Don't take it personally.
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