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We (a group of developers and managers) were discussing whether we should hire a certain candidate. There were several interviewers from different nations (American, Britain, and the Middle East).

During the technical interviews the candidate showed very poor technical skills and a lack of knowledge of basic programming concepts. The technical interviews were mostly done by Middle Eastern interviewers.

In addition he was acting really arrogant and sarcastic during the whole interview. He bragged about himself and his knowledge a lot although he failed to answer most of our technical questions.

On the other hand, he did well on the non-technical interviews that were done mostly by Western interviewers.

What surprised me was that all the Western interviewers neglected his arrogance and our comments about his attitude. He was rejected only for his technical skills. One American interviewer even said "Arrogance is not a blocker for me! I only care if he can write code."

Is there much difference between Western and Middle Eastern cultures when it comes to a person's attitude during work? Shouldn't a candidate be picked so that he can fit in a team instead of becoming the source of troubles? Most importantly, how do you counter that argument with a western manager?

PS: The candidate was from the Middle East and will be working in the Middle East with mostly Middle Eastern colleagues. For them arrogance IS a blocker.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Joe Strazzere, Michael Grubey, enderland, Jim G., jmac Jul 18 at 0:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
@Songo, can you describe in more detail "how" he was arrogant? The perception of arrogance, whether it is an "opinion" or not is real. I think for Westerners it is very important to discern the target of the arrogance and/or sarcasm. –  teego1967 Jul 17 at 16:57
    
There's a fine book with a blunt title about sorting out how people fit into a workplace. worldcat.org/title/… –  Ollie Jones Jul 17 at 18:09
    
Id also comment that detecting nuances in languages that are not your mother tongue is hard. Though anyone going to work in the middleast needs to understand the culture a bit more. –  Pepone Jul 17 at 18:34
    
Arrogance is the attitude about skills actually possessed. The situation you describe is not arrogance; it is lying (bluffing). –  Ben Voigt Jul 17 at 21:19
    
IME what to a US person is just normal assertiveness comes across to a lot of other cultures as arrogance, especially when it's not backed by ability (as in this case). So it may well be that the candidate came across as confident and good at presenting themselves in an interview to the western interviewers, but when he tried the same on middle eastern types he seemed overbearing. –  Mσᶎ Jul 17 at 22:37

9 Answers 9

What is considered "arrogant" does hugely depend on your culture. Do you consider it arrogant to tell a senior person, or a peer, or a subordinate, who is wrong about something that they are wrong? Some cultures consider it arrogant, others don't. So it may be that the group in one country consider the same person arrogant, while a different group in another country doesn't think so at all. Another question: Is the person a native speaker of your language? If not, their language skills might be good enough to properly convey what they mean, but not good enough for the finer details of the language needed to say things in a polite or demure vs. an arrogant way.

All that said, if you are saying that the interviewee is from the same cultural background as you are, and therefore his behaviour and your view of his behaviour are matching, and you have to work with him, then it is your decision. If there is a difference in culture, you could accept him as he is, knowing that he will behave differently than you would, which just makes life more varied and interesting. And maybe use him when someone has to talk to a really obnoxious customer :-)

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As a Westerner, it depends on the arrogance. People (in most environments) can be confident, and even cocky if they can back it up. I would rather hire someone who is good and assertive than someone who is good but very passive. Technically exceptional people are best when they spread that excellence to the team and when they drive technical vision for the company. I worry about passive people being able to do that effectively.

On the other hand, people can't be assholes. Nobody likes an asshole, and pretty much all technical people need to work with teams to be successful today. And people can't be arrogant when they can't back it up. This is a sign that they don't know how much they don't know; a tell-tale sign of inexperience.

Personally, "fit into a team" is absurdly overrated. In practice, people will usually get along better than you fear. Also in practice, it's difficult to predict with anything approximating certainty how a person will get along with a handful of others day in and day out, potentially under stress.

That said, counter the manager's argument by focusing on team dynamics. "It doesn't matter if is an awesome coder if they drive insane."

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My answer would be that this candidate did not only demonstrate arrogance, but also a lack of understanding of the difference between the things that he knows and the things that he does not know.

Such a lack of understanding is crippling when trying to solve difficult technical problems.

Since it appears that you role in the interview process was more on the technical side, you should focus on the technical failures. Evidently (and unfortunately) your input on the personal characteristics of the candidate are not being considered.

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Israelis are pretty blunt and they tend to do away with the social niceties but I wouldn't describe them as "arrogant". "Arrogant" means being full of oneself. But being full of oneself is one thing and being full of it is definitely another.

Being full of oneself does not preclude being supremely competent, and US employers are pretty pragmatic - they hire you because they because they need you not because they love you. Once the need is over, all bets are off because now, they are taking a look at the rest of you including whether they want to continue putting up with you. US employers are quick to hire and quick to fire, with some exceptions such as teacher tenure.

As an American, I shrug off someone's arrogance as the way they express themselves. However, arrogance does count when the individual's arrogance has a negative impact on their ability to coordinate with their teams. At which point,something measurable like a drop in performance occurs, at which point managers' attention perks up and they take corrective action. So in a roundabout way, we do have accountability for arrogance.

Don't confuse arrogance with overweening confidence, though. One can have overweening self-confidence without annoying the hell out of others. The same can't be said for arrogance. I'll take an individual with an overweening sense of self-confidence over an arrogant individual any day of the week, as long as the self-confident individual's level of competence is equal or higher than that of the arrogant individual.

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I can't speak for Eastern Cultures, but in most Western cultures being a tad arrogant and sarcastic is viewed negatively, but not to the point of a deal breaker. (Assuming they have the technical skills to back it up)

I think this applies mostly to entry level positions to mid range. (past that arrogance tends to catch up to you) I think is primarily the case because in places like the US the majority of people at the entry level have ZERO real experience working in their technical skills. Then their is a few who get into open source or personal projects as a hobby. Those individuals tend to be leagues past the majority of their peers in their first job or two.

This causes a false sense of expertise and entitlement. By the time they get to a mid range position they tend to find their hard skills are no longer that much past their peers and often their soft skills are lacking.

My guess in Eastern countries where I'm under the impression their are more talented technical experts than jobs to fill this skill gap is very small. Therefore arrogance is seen as essentially just being a jerk since that person isn't significantly better than the rest of the staff.

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+1 I think your answer pretty much describes the candidate we interviewed. –  Songo Jul 17 at 18:16

Speaking directly to this point:

Is there much difference between western and middle eastern cultures when it comes to people attitude during work? Shouldn't a candidate be picked so that he can fit in a team instead of becoming the source of troubles?

I think that in the US and Canada, arrogance can get a pass if the person can really perform (especially in technical jobs), but it's not a dealbreaker. If a person can't perform, THAT'S a dealbreaker. But "arrogance" can sometimes be very obvious, or sometimes within a group there can be disagreement.

If the only reason not to hire someone is their attitude, I think that most US or Canadian companies will try to find an objective reason not to hire them: "another candidate was a better cultural fit" or "another candidate was stronger in X skills." I think that they do this to avoid anything that sounds like personal or subjective bias in the hiring process (which can get companies in lots of legal trouble.) Of course, groups want to add people who will work well with the team. But, for some roles, that should not be the first thing considered. In some extreme cases (ie, if someone has a highly specialized skillset and they're the only fit for a given role) whether a person is a good cultural fit or not, may have to take a backseat to "can this candidate do the job we're hiring for."

In the specific case you outline above, it sounds like this person was not under consideration because of their lack of technical skills. But if it ever comes down to a candidate being hired but not having a personality that's going to mesh well with the rest of the working group, stick with objective reasons to not hire that particular candidate, and stick with reasons that won't trigger nondiscrimination clauses. Don't even try to counter "arrogance doesn't matter" because a) the definition of the term "arrogance" differs from person to person and group to group; and b) if someone is not being considered for hiring for other reasons, then you don't need to counter that particular argument.

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+1 good point mentioning subjective bias. –  Songo Jul 17 at 18:19

In general, people here in the US don't like arrogance and arrogant people are less likely to make allies/friends. This lack of allies means that a typical person might have a lot of difficulty succeeding in a hostile/arrogant way. However, in our culture, I think there is a pattern of forgiveness or even admiration of arrogant people who are genuinely exceptional.

Since this is a culture-oriented question, I'll refer to portrayal in US film and TV.

There are tons of examples in American culture of arrogant heros. Spock from "Star Trek" is arrogant yet is very talented and respected. His arrogance is often framed as a virtue in that it comes out of him placing objectivity and logic over emotions. Dr. House from "House" has severe personality issues that would have gotten him fired. The fact that he is a brilliant doctor presents the re-occuring tradeoff that his unpleasant manner is worth enduring for all of the lives he saves. He is also sometimes celebrated in that he avoids pleasantries to get right to the point and sometimes tell patients things other people wouldn't have the guts to tell them. McCay of "Stargate: Atlantis" is extremely arrogant but that quality is generally shown to make him set more ambitious goals than anybody else and to fulfill those goals. When people are in seemingly impossible situations it is his arrogance that leads to him coming up with those long-shot plans that save the day. Also, almost any action hero in American culture from Iron Man to John McClain in "Die Hard" has a manner and catch phrases centered around arrogance. ... So, there is definitely a pattern in American culture that people who are exceptionally talented can be arrogant and may even be celebrated for it.

However, people who are incompetent and arrogant... are viewed even worse than if they were just incompetent.

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The thing that is really important in any team setting is communication skills.

Many people find communicating with arrogant people frustrating. I'd say the issue isn't that you perceived him as arrogant, it's that he didn't communicate the answers to your questions sufficiently well.

In conclusion it's very easy to hire someone unpleasant if someone else is managing them.

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I don't think you can consider that Western managers in general don't use arrogance as a blocker based on just one incident. We however might have differnt perceptions of what is arrogant.

Yes some people only care about a technical ability, others care for much more than that. In general people who have been forced to work with a jerk tend to care more about personality than those who haven't or who were above the jerk in the organizational chain. So a manager who has never been part of a dev team except as a manager may have more tolerance than those of us who have seen how the dynamic affects everyone. Further, since the American team did a non-technical interview, it is likely that he came across as less arrogant to them.

I have done a lot of interviewing for different types of jobs including developers and in every case, the panel (I have always interviewed as part of a panel) rejected the arrogant person unless there was literally no one else in consideration who could also do the job. In no case was arrogance the documented reason why we rejected the person. Generally it could be a case of these 4 people are qualified and we choose this one for his better fit with the team.

However, your real problem isn't this guy as he didn't pass the technical. Your real problem is convincing your American team that there are cultural differences that you want considered as part of the hiring process and why.

Americans in general are not very aware of how other cultures work as many of them have never left the US. Culturally what you see as arrogance might not even be perceived as such in the US. In general we are much more blunt than many other cultures.

However, the person will have to work with your team in your country. I think this is the point you need to make to the American manager. You will not hire someone technically unqualifed, but you also will not recommend for hire somone who will not fit well into the team culturally as your culture perceives it. For employees who will be physically located in the Middle East, the Middle Eastern team should have the final say.

At the very least, you need to get the American managers to agree that both groups have veto power. Anyone that either group does not want is out. Then of the ones left, the Americans can choose the final candidate. All of you will have to work with the people you hire, all of you should have veto power. Perhaps you could set things up in the future so that they only interview the people your team is willing to work with. If you tell them that this will save their valuable time it should help convince them. Then you simply don't send them any candidates to interview that you think won't fit in culturally.

Addressing the cultural differences is one thing you will need to learn to be able to work well with the Americans. I don't know what specific country you are from, so the cultural differences are hard for me to address in this. However, the book, Speaking of India, (http://www.amazon.com/Speaking-India-Bridging-Communication-Working-ebook/dp/B004AE3R3O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405618146&sr=8-1&keywords=speaking+of+india) has a good discussion of how American managers think which might help you figure out what cultural differnces you need to to discuss with them.

I know I found it very helpful in learning to work with Indian developers and some of what is there might be applicable to your culture as well (As some will almost certainly not be). If you can find an equivalent book on doing business in your part of the world, recommending it to your American colleagues could help. If not, you could use this book as a starting place to figure out the cultural issues you want to address and explain.

One thing I highly recommend when starting to work with people of another culture is to get them physically together for at least a few weeks. I know some of our Indian devs didn't really believe that Americans could possibly think the way they do until they saw it for themselves. I know the ones we have brought to the US for a few weeks of training have been the ones that have most effectively learned to deal with the cultural divide.

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