Ian Stallings: web log

official chicken™

Bad Hiring Practices

I've been bitching about the stupid hiring practices used by Microsoft (and others) for a while so I'm glad someone recognized it and wrote an article. From the article:

Sorkin, who holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of California, Los Angeles, said he first received an unsolicited invitation to Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters in about 2000, on the recommendation of a senior Microsoft manager.

But rather than attempt to win him over as a prize prospect--Sorkin specializes in operating system design and computer security, among other areas--Microsoft interviewers challenged him with a technical "pop quiz," he recalled. No one tried to sell him on either the company or the job, he said. He withdrew his application.

I've said it before but why not once more for good luck - WTF is this world coming to when a company thinks it can get away with sand-bagging a Doctor of CompSci?

This type of practice might work on wet behind the ears green horns who jump at the chance to prove their IQ and compare penis-length, but to use the same techniques on a PhD who you should be wooing? I didn't spend 10 friggin years in school to be called "Mr. Evil". Trick questions about manhole covers, brain-busters, scribbled math problems on white-boards, "if you are lucky you can work in our boiler room" attitudes.. these things have no place in professional software development.


VP-bofh said:

The pop quiz is demeaning and insulting. It is even worse because in his case these were unsolicited, so it is obvious they came up with some kind of screening process.
# July 8, 2005 8:00 PM

Ray said:

So, if you aren't interested in the job, don't interview. If you feel you're being given a "pop quiz" and you don't believe that should be the interview format - say so. If you can't deal with the interview process - simply do not. Personally, I would much rather work with someone who can see past personal opinions (i.e. that someone with a PhD shouldn't be asked questions in a job interview) and have a view of the big picture - whether that person *agrees* with the larger view or not. As a matter of fact, I would hold in much higher regard somone who told me during the interview proces that he/she disagreed with it than someone who went through it, then ranted about it on their blog/website/whatever.

If you *do* choose to rant about the practices, why don't you go the extra step and actually recommend some solutions/alternative/best practices? Taking pot shots at practices with which you do not agree (and, IMHO, do no understand nor take the time to understand) is petty and destructive, rather than constructive.
# July 9, 2005 11:48 PM

Aarthi said:

I agree with Ray. Why bother with taking up the interviews when you think they're demeaning and insulting?
As for those puzzles and math problems, it's not about coming up with the right solution for all of them, it's more about thinking your way out of the problem and providing multiple options. No one counts the number of problems you've not answered and flags you down on it's basis.
The bottomline is about recruiting people who are apt for the position the company seeks and not "insulting" people from eminent academic backgrounds.
# July 10, 2005 11:03 AM

Jeff said:

Right on, Ian. People who defend this ridiculous practice seem to think it's really about testing knowledge, but in my experience it's almost always chest thumping. Ask me relevant big-picture questions, but don't ask me about specific obscure things I'll use once a year that I could look up in the documentation. That's lame.
# July 10, 2005 12:38 PM

Frank Hileman said:

I don't think trick questions are valuable interview questions -- in fact some people study them just for interviews. A question that tests the candidate's ability to perform a task for that specific job, for example, a programming task that does not require in depth API knowledge, is very valuable.

I have seen master degree holders and doctorate holders fail simple programming tests. Your ability to acquire a degree is often unrelated to your ability to perform on the job. In fact, some candidates failed so badly I could not help but wonder how they got through school -- by cheating?
# July 10, 2005 4:07 PM

Frank Hileman said:

Also, if someone is insulted by a technical or aptitude question -- you have to ask yourself what else they will find insulting. That is, will they be able to work on a team, or will the ego be a problem?
# July 10, 2005 4:08 PM

Bruce said:

How can you train someone to be inovative, spontaneous, inventive? Degrees show you can put in the time and have basic aptitude, but seeing someone solve a problem out of the blue tells you about the person. Most teams involve work under pressure and the one that gives up will be the -5 contributor, not 0, but actually take away from the project. I find pop quizzes usefull to get the person who will put the effort in, not just what we train them for.
# July 12, 2005 2:30 AM

Dwain said:

As someone who has been through the Microsoft interview process in the last couple of months, I can say very emphatically that it was nothing like the article referenced above mentioned - especially since the article is referring to a 5 year old experience. Everyone I dealt with was thoroughly professional before, during and after the process. Everyone was very positive about MS and worked hard to make me believe it was a great company to work for, and each interview was thought provoking and challenging, without a single technical pop quiz or brain teaser in the bunch. I have no problem with rants about hiring practices - I wish the ones at our own particular company were a little stronger - but please don't condemn MS based on the single 5 year old experience of one person. I can say for myself that this isn't the way things are happening now, at least for my interview.
# July 12, 2005 1:35 PM

Dave Donaldson said:

So you think just because the guy has a PhD he should be "wooed"? If he can't solve the problem or make a solid attempt at it, what do you think that tells you? What, the guy thinks that because he's got a PhD his thinking days are over. Come on, dude, Wake up. I'll take a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college grad who wants to work hard and has an appetite for learning over that PhD guy any day.

And BTW, those days of the brain teaser questions are pretty much long gone. I've also been thru MS interviews and not once did I get asked anything like that.
# July 21, 2005 2:24 AM

Jason Clark said:

I disagree with Ian on this one. I don't know how many people that I've worked with over the years, with degrees up the wazoo that couldn't solve simple problems in a reasonable time-frame. There is nothing wrong with a quiz, it seperates the men from the boys. Paper degrees don't mean you are gods gift to software development, it may give some indication of IQ. But, IQ is only a fraction of what it takes to be a good engineer.

# July 28, 2005 10:25 AM

Scott Hanselman said:

Getting a PhD, at least in the states, says more about one's persistance than it does about one's intellect. That said, advanced degree or not doesn't excuse one from a few technical questions - certainly not if the job is technical.
# July 29, 2005 8:22 PM

Dan Sami said:

There are a lot of tutorials out there dealing with how to find and train your workfoce. Having a system in place will help you resolve a lot of issues from the getco.


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# July 26, 2010 7:59 PM