Nietzsche Interviews... WTF?



  • The first phase of our interview process is a Gallup-style assessment that our HR director administers to all candidates.  I listen to the interviews because I'm very interested in seeing how a candidate processes a series of open ended questions.  Based on the results of the assessment, we move on to the next phase, the technical phone interview, where I weed out all the CS majors who can spend hours discussing cardinality but can't actually design a decent normalized schema.  

    Apopos of this story, I have my HR director remove educational background from the applications that I see; I have a heavy bias regarding education and I want to be as objective as possible.  Oh, and the test is not a personality test of any type.

    Anyway, this candidate, we'll call him Friedrich, failed the Gallup test resoundingly due to his desire to turn every question into a philosophical quagmire.  He seemed far more interested in intellectual wanking than anything else, and I don't have time for that shit.  So my HR director sent him the standard, "thank you for your time, we've decided to continue our search blah blah blah."

    I get into the office this morning to find the following diatribe:

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

    If you really believe that the test you gave me is in any way valid, you are not hiring well.  Though I am rather disappointed in you for even considering it an important tool, I only say that to point out that it cannot give objective data. 


      "The problem is that Myers and her mother [who devised the test in the 1930's] did not really understand Jung at all.  [Jung wrote on personality type frameworks as as grounding  for functioning]  Jung didn't believe that types were easily identifiable," says Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker <http://www.gladwell.com/pdf/personality.pdf>.  That quote is a nice statement.  But the real criticisms of Myers-Briggs Type Indicators
    (MBTI) and other MBTI-style tests are more difficult to undrestand. 

      MBTI tests make four dichotomies, or personality preferences (EI, SN, TF, JP).  These distinctions are bifurcated - you are either in one aspect of the type distinctions or the other (e.g., Extraversion or Introversion).  What tests like MBTI try to show is the combination of categories that a person elects for themselves.  Then MBTI names those results as if they were the real-world types.

      That is, MBTI tries to make *real* or objective claims.  However - despite the pragmatic intent of Myers-Briggs' original research - she and her mother actually came up with a system of logic.  A system of logic cannot actually *say* anything about reality.  (Similarly, in statistics, a group *cannot* say anything about any specific member of a group.)  Logic systems can only say, "IF condition(s) 'P' actually exists in reality, and all our axioms are correct, then we can reasonably predict that conditions 'Q' will follow."  Though this may
    *seem* like it is predicting reality, it is not - it is only applying a set of rules onto a set of data; the set of rules *arbitrarily* define the meaning of the terms (the terms are "empty" linguistically).  It's a difficult concept to grasp - I know this from seeing most people getting the idea wrong - but it is critical to understanding what use logic systems actually do play in reality.

      Before any logic system can be used at all, the system must be sound (technically, it needs to be uniquely readable, expressively adequate, etc.).  MBTI is not.  For instance, it requires yes-no answers for the ability to generate a preferred type profile.  If *any* question is unanswered, the results will be wrong.  If any question is not understood, the result will be wrong.  If the question is answered in two ways, the question cannot be answered, negating one of the results, and the results will be wrong.  If a person scoring the exam doesn't understand the answer given and marks the wrong answer, the results are wrong.  And so on. 

      What you are guaranteed with MBTI-style exams is one of two things:
    1) Certainty, if you don't understand that MBTI cannot have certainty.
    2) No useful information, if you understand what MBTI can and cannot show.

      Now, I don't have any idea of what answer you put down for the questions where I answered in two ways, nor where I did not answer, but I can guarantee that your test results do not contain the fact that I am a good programmer; nor does it indicate the idea that I would greatly benefit <your company>.

      You may think an ability to control the results indicates an essential dishonesty in the testee.  This is not true.  The MBTI-style exams are meant to show what a person *prefers* as a personality. 

      For this exam, I preferred to answer in a way that would exhibit creativity, an interest in learning, careful thinking, careful planning, and dedication to a job.  These are traits I saw as necessary from the job description.  If the tests results don't show that, it only means that I answered some of the questions incorrectly, but not dishonestly.  You have to remember what I mentioned above - that the MBTI test questions are empty linguistically.

      I have no idea how you could think I am not the "right" candidate, but I hope you reconsider. [emphasis mine]

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    It was no surprise to learn that Friedrich has been working to finish his undergraduate degree in philosophy since 1993.



  • Pah. Students.



  •  I'm a bit wary of those Meyer-Briggs tests also.  But normally I'd be willing to play along without stirring up that kind of nonsense.

     Although, one thing that worries me:

    @Veritas said:

    Oh, and the test is not a personality test of any type.

     Uhhh, so what the hell was he on about then?

     



  •  So, the essential thing missing in your post is are you going to reconsider?;-)



  • @shadowman said:

    I'm a bit wary of those Meyer-Briggs tests also.  But normally I'd
    be willing to play along without stirring up that kind of nonsense.

     Although, one thing that worries me:

    @Veritas said:

    Oh, and the test is not a personality test of any type.

     Uhhh, so what the hell was he on about then?

     

    Yeah, that's part of the WTF.  A) It wasn't a personality test and B) it definitely wasn't Meyers-Briggs.  It was just a series of open ended questions like "How do you feel about the phrase, 'It's not my job.'" or "Do you feel it's ok to bend the truth?"

    It's really a simple assessment, easy to game if you're smart.  Which I could care less if somebody does...if they're smart enough to successfully game the assessment, they're worth at least a phone interview.  If you've one foot in reality and a bit of work experience you'll know how to answer the jump through the hoop. 



  • @shadowman said:

     I'm a bit wary of those Meyer-Briggs tests also.  But normally I'd be willing to play along without stirring up that kind of nonsense.

     Although, one thing that worries me:

    @Veritas said:

    Oh, and the test is not a personality test of any type.

     Uhhh, so what the hell was he on about then?

     

     

     

    Yeah I'm not sure why he says Myers-Briggs is not a personality test.  It absolutely IS a personality test. I've taken it twice for 2 different companies for team building exercises to help our group work better with each other.  The first time I had to take it was for AT&T for our group that got along great - it was just an excuse to go to Disney world and use the Epcot office LOL. The second was for a crappy company where IT and Development didn't get along at all. Both times it didn't alter how the group dynamics worked, but I got paid to listen to bullshit so I was up for it.



  • @Lysis said:

    Yeah I'm not sure why he says Myers-Briggs is not a personality test.  It absolutely IS a personality test. I've taken it twice for 2 different companies for team building exercises to help our group work better with each other.  The first time I had to take it was for AT&T for our group that got along great - it was just an excuse to go to Disney world and use the Epcot office LOL. The second was for a crappy company where IT and Development didn't get along at all. Both times it didn't alter how the group dynamics worked, but I got paid to listen to bullshit so I was up for it.

     

    That's what I'm saying...it wasn't Myers-Briggs (which, yeah, like the most well known personality test).  INTP here, IIRC.



  • @Veritas said:

    @Lysis said:

    Yeah I'm not sure why he says Myers-Briggs is not a personality test.  It absolutely IS a personality test. I've taken it twice for 2 different companies for team building exercises to help our group work better with each other.  The first time I had to take it was for AT&T for our group that got along great - it was just an excuse to go to Disney world and use the Epcot office LOL. The second was for a crappy company where IT and Development didn't get along at all. Both times it didn't alter how the group dynamics worked, but I got paid to listen to bullshit so I was up for it.

     

    That's what I'm saying...it wasn't Myers-Briggs (which, yeah, like the most well known personality test).  INTP here, IIRC.

     

     

    Sounds like you want someone with good bullshit abilities.  I agree with you that school doesn't matter. Not in this industry. You can either go learn theories on how robots will take over the world, or you can watch your co-worker run a SQL Update statement without a where clause.  Which one is the better real-world experience lesson?



  • @Lysis said:

    Sounds like you want someone with good bullshit abilities. 

     

    LOL. I've never thought about it that way.  Maybe I am...

    I'm really looking for two things (or at least I'd like to think I am): a great programmer, and a decent employee.  I've learned the hard way that the two don't always go hand in hand.  This candidate actually appeared to be a very good programmer, but there's far more to it than just pure programming ability.  Work ethic, ability to communicate, attitude towards learning, attitude in general are just as important.

    With apologies to Joel Spolsky, I don't just need smart, I need gets things done as well.



  • Sounds like whatever test this was it did produce the rightresult because I'm assuming that, like me, you would never, ever, want to work with that guy!



  • @Veritas said:

    Gallup-style assessment

    I'm going to assume that you don't mean telephoning people randomly, so that leaves us with showing them a mirror and seeing if they recognise their own reflection. Original, but I don't see what it will accomplish.

    @Veritas said:

    get into the office this morning to find the following diatribe:

    <snip> 

    Impressive how somebody can talk at such length without saying anything that's really wrong, and still be a complete prat. It seems that he knows more or less what he's talking about but has absolutely no idea what you were saying - some kind of solipsism fetish?

    Definitely belongs in a university's philosophy department. 



  • Why would you ever ask a company to reconsider?

    Either (A) the company is correct and the guy's whole rant is pointless, or (B) the company is wrong, and he therefore wants to work in a company full of the wrong people for the wrong jobs.



  • @RayS said:

    Why would you ever ask a company to reconsider?

    Either (A) the company is correct and the guy's whole rant is pointless, or (B) the company is wrong, and he therefore wants to work in a company full of the wrong people for the wrong jobs.

    An exceedingly good point!



  • @asuffield said:

    @Veritas said:

    Gallup-style assessment

    I'm going to assume that you don't mean telephoning people randomly, so that leaves us with showing them a mirror and seeing if they recognise their own reflection. Original, but I don't see what it will accomplish.

     

    Yeah, I chose a poor comparison there...they're famous for the "Gallup polls" where they call a thousand people and ask them questions.  They also have a strong revenue stream from HR and related personnel assessment products...that's what I meant.  

     



  • I guess the test served its purpose in this case, since it provoked that rant.  But it strikes me as a little odd that that's the first step in your interviewing process.  I guess I wouldn't walk out on a short questionnaire like that during a full day of interviews -- though I still think it's unnecessary, and even reflects a bit negatively on your company that you apparently can't screen someone's personality/work habits without relying on scripted questions.  Surely you can glean the same kind of information from personal interaction?

    Also, WTF is a philosophy student doing applying for a programming job? 

     

     

     



  • @cconroy said:

    Also, WTF is a philosophy student doing applying for a programming job?

    I know a lot of people who have programming jobs but are not CS students - for example, the company I work for writes water modeling software for civil engineers, and all but two employees are civil engineers.  The other two (which include myself) are CS majors.  The civil engineers are good programmers.... most of them, anyway.

    My point is, it is not necessary to major in CS to be a programmer.  Maybe the guy studying philosophy has been programming as a hobby for years, enough so to be a competent programmer (but still a jerk).



  • @cconroy said:

    But it strikes me as a little odd that that's the first step in your interviewing process.  I guess I wouldn't walk out on a short questionnaire like that during a full day of interviews -- though I still think it's unnecessary, and even reflects a bit negatively on your company that you apparently can't screen someone's personality/work habits without relying on scripted questions.  Surely you can glean the same kind of information from personal interaction?
     

    I realize that people hate scripted interviews.  I hated them when I was interviewing for jobs.  I thought that they reduced me to a non-person, evaluated solely on a series of asinine questions.  

    Then I started interviewing people, and I realized that half the time the interviewer doesn't care that much about the answer.  The real interest is in how the candidate's brain works.  Can they take a question, break it into pieces, and answer it concisely? Are they direct and confident in their responses?  Are they arrogant and condescending?

    If I get 50 candidates that are worth accepting into the hiring process, I can't afford to spend a half a day interviewing each candidate.   I don't want to ask people to take a day off of work if I'm going to know pretty quickly whether or not they're viable.  I don't want to spend the money bringing them in if I leverage my HR department to weed out the slackers, the crazies, and the intellectually underpowered.

    Personal interaction IS the ultimate factor that goes into a hiring decision but time and financial constraints dictate that it's not possible to invest that much time into every applicant.  Furthermore, we have a legal responsiblity to evaluates candidates without prejudice; scripted interviews with measurable outcomes go a long way toward reducing legal liability by establishing process.

    All that said, feel free to lambast my logic; I'm always seeking to improve our process as there is definite room for improvement.

     



  • I think yall did a good job looking over him and moving on. If you would have hired him, he would have made every conversation into a philosophy debate. How does that help evaluate a candidate ? I agree that some people without CS degrees can be programmers, but I would still lean towards someone who has a deep understaning of software engineering concepts to begin with.



  • @Veritas said:

    @cconroy said:

    But it strikes me as a little odd that that's the first step in your interviewing process.  I guess I wouldn't walk out on a short questionnaire like that during a full day of interviews -- though I still think it's unnecessary, and even reflects a bit negatively on your company that you apparently can't screen someone's personality/work habits without relying on scripted questions.  Surely you can glean the same kind of information from personal interaction?
     

    I realize that people hate scripted interviews.  I hated them when I was interviewing for jobs.  I thought that they reduced me to a non-person, evaluated solely on a series of asinine questions.  

    Then I started interviewing people, and I realized that half the time the interviewer doesn't care that much about the answer.  The real interest is in how the candidate's brain works.  Can they take a question, break it into pieces, and answer it concisely? Are they direct and confident in their responses?  Are they arrogant and condescending?

    If I get 50 candidates that are worth accepting into the hiring process, I can't afford to spend a half a day interviewing each candidate.   I don't want to ask people to take a day off of work if I'm going to know pretty quickly whether or not they're viable.  I don't want to spend the money bringing them in if I leverage my HR department to weed out the slackers, the crazies, and the intellectually underpowered.

    Personal interaction IS the ultimate factor that goes into a hiring decision but time and financial constraints dictate that it's not possible to invest that much time into every applicant.  Furthermore, we have a legal responsiblity to evaluates candidates without prejudice; scripted interviews with measurable outcomes go a long way toward reducing legal liability by establishing process.

    All that said, feel free to lambast my logic; I'm always seeking to improve our process as there is definite room for improvement.

     

     

     

    I don't think I would walk out like the other dude said, but I'd probably think in the back of my mind "this is dumb."  I don't completely disagree with your logic either though.  From my experience interviewing, I get very nervous and slip up on stupid techie questions that I know but my nerves kill my memory.  However, I interview well and my personality gets me the job.   I don't agree that personality can come from a written test though since you can take time to think of "what answer is he looking for?"  

    Although, clearly, the test weeded out that dude who is proof positive that educated people can spew out a lot of nothing.  I know I read his email and just though "blah blah blah blah."



  • I have always disliked those personality tests. They make me out to be some type of freak. Sure, I may be one in my own strange way, but not as a developer.

    But, yeah, that guy is too "deep". We have a second-level boss whose title is "Analyst". All he does is micromanage. He asks for all sorts of documents and phone calls, but he never accepts the content. He always has something to say about it, so he goes on long diatribes (even though most of it counters common knowledge or convention). We all hate him here (including my supervisor). Luckily, he's over 1,000 miles away (we are in GA, USA and he's in Canada), so we don't have to deal with him in person. We usually ignore his requests.



  •  I think it's funny that he went into long diatribe about your open ended questions.  I'm sure he did that because they were stupid questions which had an obvious answer (like "what do you think of the phrase 'it's not my job'." )  I would probably have writted at least a paragraph to half a page on that one.  Why don't you post the questions you use and then we can decide if he ws a WTF or if you are the WTF.



  •  

    If you really believe that the test you gave me is in any way valid, you are not hiring well.

    Well, I agree with the thesis. 



  • I was an EE myself, so I realize that a CS degree is not necessarily a prerequisite. But you have to admit that even civil engineering is a lot closer to CS on the technical spectrum than philosophy.  Not saying that a philosophy major couldn't also be a good programmer, it's just that on average, you would expect them to turn out... well, like this guy.

     



  • @tster said:

    Why don't you post the questions you use and then we can decide if he ws a WTF or if you are the WTF.
     

     

    I'm convinced that he was a WTF, regardless of what the questions were.  The questions may or may not be a separate WTF.

     



  • @KenW said:

     So, the essential thing missing in your post is are you going to reconsider?;-)

     

    If he replied with anything other than simply "tl;dr", I'll be disappointed. :) 



  • @tster said:

    we can decide if he ws a WTF or if you are the WTF

    False dichtomy. 



  • Having been in a similar position with a former employer - team lead, product manager, lead technical interviewer, etc.  (all one role...) I've used similar techniques.  The best process I found for the bozo-meter test was a short questionnaire that the HR director would forward to each candidate; the response was then delivered to me along with the individual's resume.  We had more than 200 candidates to fill two positions, so weeding out the worst ones was crucial.

     The "quiz" consisted of three questions.  These are somewhat abstracted and from memory...

    1.  Explain to me, in plain English, a process by which you would determine if an arbitrary integer is prime.  Code samples will not be accepted.  Ed. - purpose: can describe a technical problem coherently without resorting to code or jargon

    2.  <short C# method> Based on this code sample, if I pass the value <input value> to the method, how many times will <line N> execute?  Ed. - purpose:  has basic understanding of computational complexity and ability to read code

    3.  In at least 25 words but no more than 75, describe your ideal job.  Ed. purpose: to see if they could stay between the specified limits, and because I would ask something like this in the interview anyway...

    I was actually fairly kind - one of my predecessors used a home-brewed interviewing technique that could make grown men cry for mercy.  For example, "Describe the purpose and operation of the Dispose() method of IDisposable and its effect, if any, on object lifetime"...

    We used rather open-ended questions for face-to-face interviews too.  Things like:

    <draw a grid on the whiteboard> <dot in the center>  This is your screen.  Describe how you would draw a circle of diameter <n> from this center point using only the MoveTo() and DrawPixel() methods.

     



  • @Veritas said:

    A) It wasn't a personality test and B) it definitely wasn't Meyers-Briggs.  It was just a series of open ended questions like "How do you feel about the phrase, 'It's not my job.'" or "Do you feel it's ok to bend the truth?"

    I'm a little confused.  You say it wasn't a personality test, but ask that?  I think you either have a problem with the english language or you're spinning it.

    I've hired, trained, and fired a lot of people.  From my experience you are wasting everyone's time asking anything other than a "go / no go" question.

    Asking something that starts with "How do you feel about the phrase..." is going to net you one of 3 results:
    1. BS that you like;
    2. BS that you don't like; (<- which this guy apparently did a lot of)
    3. Stuttering / non-answer regardless of reason.

    Now the question for you is, does it make a difference?  The candidate is going to do everything in their power to answer the question in a way that they think you want to hear, which means people who happen to spout the BS you want to hear will move on to the next step.

    How could that possibly lead to picking the right person for the job? 

     



  • @GalacticCowboy said:

    I was actually fairly kind - one of my predecessors used a home-brewed interviewing technique that could make grown men cry for mercy.  For example, "Describe the purpose and operation of the Dispose() method of IDisposable and its effect, if any, on object lifetime"...

    @GalacticCowboy said:

    <draw a grid on the whiteboard> <dot in the center>  This is your screen.  Describe how you would draw a circle of diameter <n> from this center point using only the MoveTo() and DrawPixel() methods.
    ?

    How did either of those help find qualified applicant's?



  • @cconroy said:

    Also, WTF is a philosophy student doing applying for a programming job?


    Finland's university thinks they are related. When you are studying CS in university, you first graduate as Bachelor of Natural Science and after that as Master of Philosophy. Tho, people that select philosophy as primary subject tend to graduate in Social Sciences :)



  • @clively said:

    @Veritas said:
    A) It wasn't a personality test and B) it definitely wasn't Meyers-Briggs.  It was just a series of open ended questions like "How do you feel about the phrase, 'It's not my job.'" or "Do you feel it's ok to bend the truth?"

    I'm a little confused.  You say it wasn't a personality test, but ask that?  I think you either have a problem with the english language or you're spinning it.

    ...

    How could that possibly lead to picking the right person for the job?


    I suppose there are personality testish questions to the assessment, but that's not the stated intent.  My understanding is that a personality test is that of an SAT style assessment where you fill in circles with a #2 pencil and then the scoring determines what color you are, or what type or blend of types you are, etc.  That's not what this is .

    To the second part...if I relied completely on this test to pick the right person for the job, I'd be screwed.  All this test does is let me hear how people think and how they process questions that are sometimes good and sometimes (admittedly) a little stupid.  The whole purpose is to get people talking.

     



  • @GalacticCowboy said:

    1.  Explain to me, in plain English, a process by which you would determine if an arbitrary integer is prime.  Code samples will not be accepted.  Ed. - purpose: can describe a technical problem coherently without resorting to code or jargon

     

    Well that's a stupid question. No definition of 'jargon' has been given, so it will be arbitrarily defined to cover any answer which is considered to be too accurate, so any "right" answer will be a wrong answer. So basically they're asking for an answer that achieves their desired, unspecified degree of wrongness.

    A description of an algorithm is either right or it is wrong. Any attempt to describe an algorithm using only English words familiar to a person not skilled in the art is wrong. We do not have technical language just to make things harder to learn, we have technical language because you can't describe algorithms correctly without it. Measuring somebody's ability to get it wrong is not really useful, no matter how good your measurement is.

    When I'm looking at potential jobs, finding a question like this at the top of the list makes me toss it to one side and move on to the next one. There's plenty of jobs out there with people who can manage to think through at least the first thing they write down.



  • @asuffield said:

    False dichtomy. 
     

    I am sure you mean dichotomy.



  • @AbbydonKrafts said:

    But, yeah, that guy is too "deep".
     

    I assume you're being ironic, he didn't strike me as deep at all - just too verbose, and completely lacking in self-awareness (which is probably why he hasn't finished his philosophy course yet). The good philosophers can philosophise - and help others to philosophise - without using obscure language or using fifty words to say what could be said in fifteen.

    (I'm not claiming I'm a good philosopher, btw. I tend to use too many words - but at least I usually shut up only a little after I should have. :)

    And yes, this candidate strikes me as being a WTF on multiple levels.

     




  • @asuffield said:

    <snip>

    Thank you for your validation.  I wasn't sure I was doing it correctly until you objected.



  • @Veritas said:

    My understanding is that a personality test is that of an SAT style assessment where you fill in circles with a #2 pencil and then the scoring determines what color you are, or what type or blend of types you are, etc.  That's not what this is

    Personality tests come in many different forms.  The usual one is for a manager to see if the candidate can "blend in with the existing team".  In this case the form of the test might simple be visual: how they are groomed, do they have an annoying nervous tick.  Although those are physical traits, those traits are built up due to the candidates personality and still won't tell you anything about whether they can do the job.  Bad grooming?  Considers other things to take a higher priority or possibly disorganized; nervous tick - most likely stressed but could be a physical muscle control problem.  Feels okay to bend the truth? Realizes that the world is not just black and white; or, consumate liar; or, works in politics / media; or, ...

    @Veritas said:

    The whole purpose is to get people talking

    Why? To what end? 

    Programmers are typically (not always) closer to being introverts than anything else.  They tend to not make eye contact while speaking and in a stressful situation may even look down at their shoes.  It doesn't mean they aren't talented or that they wouldn't be highly productive; and, by corollary, does not mean they will be talented or productive.

    I never understand why people think that you can get to know anything about a person during an interview, especially one littered with BS questions.  The only thing you could possibly learn is what the candidate will be like when faced with a highly stressful situation in which not only their future, but possibly their family's (if married and/or has children) is about to change.  <sarcasm>Now let's think about how that could be applicable to doing the job. </sarcasm> 

    It takes about 3 to 4 weeks after hiring someone before they start to become comfortable enough to let their real nature shine.  This, btw, is one of the reasons that the 90 day review period was first brought to play in the HR world a long time ago.  It gives the manager time enough to figure out if the total package represented by the candidate passes muster.

     

     

     



  • @clively said:

    Programmers are typically (not always) closer to being introverts than anything else.  They tend to not make eye contact while speaking and in a stressful situation may even look down at their shoes.  It doesn't mean they aren't talented or that they wouldn't be highly productive; and, by corollary, does not mean they will be talented or productive.

    I've known a lot of very bad programmers who fit that description, and I've known a lot of very good programmers who do not.  I've only known a few good programmers who were introverted to this extreme - most good programmers have enough ego invested to stand up for themselves and their work.  For that matter, most bad programmers also have a bit of ego...


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