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I feel like most engineers rarely have to try too hard to get a decent job, but I wonder if it's because of stories like this. I've been on the interview circuit a handful of times so far in my life, and aside from the first time when I was mostly clueless ("So where do you want to be in 5 years?"; "Man, I never think that far ahead."), I feel like interviews have become a very routine process of answering a similar subset of questions over and over again. Am I being hired because they've made a true evaluation of my technical skills, or was I just serendipitously lucky to have heard the answer to how those 5 pirates are going to split those 100 gold pieces?

Probably none of the above. I've heard the interviewer makes up their mind to hire you in the first few seconds of meeting you. Psychology is a strange, strange thing ... but reality is better than fiction.

Never underestimate the influence of narcissism in hiring, manifested as the kind of blink decision you describe. Teams in a large company develop a personality and culture that more often than not extends to attributes that have less to do with skill and competence and more to do with similarity of physical characteristics and outside interests. (The degenerate case is flat out nepotism, but the more typical case is a team of people fitting a core profile--5'10" 30-something males from second tier colleges, or taller-than-average mustachioed conservatives.)

Most large company hiring practices are not so much a selection of specific traits as they are a filter for ensuring a lack of negative traits. When you factor in the bias of narcissism in interviewers, you'll get competent people who are skillful at reflecting the interviewers' traits back at them (such as the author, who didn't demonstrate incompetency with his first answer, but aced the interview by reflecting the cleverness the interviewer must have self-identified with as "Google material".) After a certain point, four or seven or nine layers of interview will certainly guarantee the incompetent ones don't get through, but at the same time it will also select for the kind of highly adaptable social personality that is often found in political operators.

My go to story to describe this involves a guy who was a EMT. He spent his interviews describing his life as an EMT, and rarely dealing with any meaningful technical discussions. He was offered a ton of jobs....

I saw something similar with a badly underqualified sys-admin who had been in marine recon before embarking on a technical career. He had zero issues finding a high paying job.

Yes. I've heard of multiple studies concluding employers hire those candidates that are the most "like" them.

I read a book called "Money Ball" last year. One of the lessons I took away is that a successful baseball team can be created from undervalued stats (i.e. irrational beliefs in value cause inefficiencies). This trend you described forms teams of walkers xor home-runners, for example. I don't know why I believe this (I'm subject to my own criticism), but I strongly believe teams with multiple talents outperform teams with one talent (generalists vs niche).

I've interviewed a fair few people in my time. First impressions count, but they can and do get overturned in the course of the interview. With hindsight, although it was never a conscious choice, if someone made a good first impression I tended to give them an easier ride with the questioning and they were more likely to come out looking like a potential hire as a result.

Seconds? No.

Minutes? Well, yes.

In interviews, my tentative conclusion after two minutes is _usually_ the same as after 60 minutes. (I spend the following 58 minutes trying to disprove my hypothesis, of course.)

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