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> Those are the "smooth talkers" of the engineering world. Those are the people you can't catch just through a verbal interview.

I agree with this. I was a hiring manager, and there are those that can really talk technical, in detail. You really think they know what they are doing, how to solve complex problems, how to come up with solutions. You put a keyboard in front of them (or pencil and paper), and they go "uhh, errr, ummm." and fail miserably.

I think until you have interviewed a LOT of people, it can be hard to quickly spot this. Some people are masters at telling you how someone else solved the problem as if they solved it, but they can not solve it themselves.




and don’t forget the reverse problem mentioned originally: false negatives.

you can have someone who is a whiz at practical and specific solutions, who thinks critically and analytically and just gets an enormous amount done WELL. And empowers those around them to boot!

they have the reverse problem to speaking about other peolle’s work as their own. instead, they speak of their own work as teamwork.

this effects many great people. also women and poc are particularly likely to do this because they have been socialized to not speak too highly of themselves. “model minority” etc.

if you as an interviewer are already skeptical of what someone says, you will increase false negatives with people who you are asking to verbally “prove” their work and yet have cultural memories of being penalized for “bragging”. they’ll describe a solution and downplay it as challenging or hard because women aren’t likes le when they’re the smartest person in the room, etc.

an interview process should seek to understand many skills: practical, implementation, execution, problem solving, design, high level, communication skills.

a varied process that focuses on a few specific skills, one at a time, is likely to convey the most accurate signal.


The problem with hiring is that a false positive is much more damaging than a false negative. Getting the group of people together to vet a candidate is expensive; recruiters are expensive; for the candidates, taking the time off is typically pulling from a very limited bucket of just a few weeks every year; flying people in to interview is expensive; and ultimately, to go through all that and hire someone bad makes you go through the whole process again. If it takes you a few months to figure out it's not going to work, it's unlikely anyone desirable from your original candidate pool is still available.

False negatives are expected, and honestly probably good overall and in aggregate, because it decreases the odds of a false positive. One of my first bosses that involved me in the hiring process told me one day that the point of interviewing is not to find reasons to say yes, it's to find a reason to say no.


The "find a reason to say no" can be very damaging as well if taken to the extreme.

I've seen people that were entirely qualified for the position be rejected at the company I work for because they made some totally understandable mistake - I'm talking about people that took the time off to take a 5-hour on-site coding assignment, and made a mistake but would have had a passing (and possibly good) grade on an academic evaluation.

And now we have 5 open positions and nobody hired for them.


> I think until you have interviewed a LOT of people, it can be hard to quickly spot this.

What is your threshold for "a lot"? I have given a few dozen interviews. I always ask at least a couple background questions. The number who even have a polished delivery for that part at all are a minority, and the couple that tried to bullshit me we're painfully transparent. Maybe I just haven't done enough yet.




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