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> What would be a polite way to say "I didn't hire you because you have no idea how to program?"

"This position requires knowledge of programming, particularly in (C, Python, insert details here)."

Dancing around that point is not a "politeness".

But this potentially opens an endless debate against a candidate who is absolutely convinced that they know how to program, and that you're wrong.

A debate can only happen if you continue to entertain their followups with responses. If someone is silly enough to claim they know how to program (or some other critical skill) when their interview demonstrated that they could not, you can simply stop answering their email. It's sufficient to have given them one explanation for why they're not getting the job; that's more than most potential employers offer.

Point being: It's not going to be constructive. Telling someone who thinks they know how to program they can't isn't going to help them and will only seem mean. Because those types can't see they have no idea what they are doing.

On the other hand, it's rare to get someone as far as an interview and have to tell them "you don't know how to program". More common answers would be something specific, like "we need someone with more experience doing collaborative Open Source development", or "we need someone with more skill navigating a complex and unfamiliar codebase and making changes without having to have the entire system architecture in their head". Those are useful and constructive bits of feedback.

Well I said in an earlier comment that our HR team tells us who to interview.

> "if you continue entertain their followups with responses"

That was, incidentally, sekasi's point #3, several parent references up:

"3. Always respond to requests for more information"

No. :)

Perhaps that could be easily revised to:

"3. Within reason, always respond to requests for more information."

Many communication "rules" require the ability to moderate one's interpretation of the rule. I don't think this is any different. It's a good thing to give candidates feedback and if they're confused, the feedback did no good so you should be willing to help them understand. But if they're just unwilling to see the world or themselves for what they are, it's out of your hands and you should leave it well enough alone.

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