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I have recently conducted a technical interview for a junior developer position with a candidate who is switching projects within our company. The candidate proved to be quite competent on technical aspects, however the manager who took part in the interview, has expressed concerns that the candidate seemed quite indifferent and unenthusiastic during the interview.

I am fairly new to conducting interviews so I didn't pay as much attention to the candidate's attitude as to theirs technical knowledge. However when the manager expressed his concerns to me I realized that I noticed that too.

During the interview the manager asked the candidate almost point blank regarding their lack of enthusiasm noting that the interview is a two way street and they should decide whether our project seems right for them. The candidate replied that they were disappointed by their previous project were they had their internship (payed).

The trouble is that we can't tell for sure whether this is a problem with the previous project or candidate's attitude. I've also remembered that I've worked with people that seemed constantly demotivated and it wasn't very pleasant or useful to the team.

So here is the question: Is such an attitude a red flag and how much it should be taken into account while making hiring decision?


Q: Can you be more clear about what "indifferent and unenthusiastic" means?

A: I would describe their attitude as "cold" and not expressing much emotions. I try to be more friendly and welcoming to reduce the tension during the interview by being more verbose and passionate about the subject and joking occasionally (even though I'm an introvert myself). Sure, I don't expect everyone to laugh at my jokes but the candidate didn't really return any emotions. The manager also tried to get them talking about whether our project would interest them and how they would like to grow professionally, but the candidate gave very short and reserved answers which left us kind of clueless regarding their priorities. After the interview when the manager expressed his concerns I realized that it might indeed be uncomfortable for me to work with this person if they would behave like this on a daily basis.


Another important piece of information is that I happen to have a friend working on candidate's previous project who confirmed that the candidate's behavior seemed a bit "weird" to them when they interacted on the project but it wasn't always like that.

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    In this case, sounds like that candidate just wants to get out from their current situation to something better (did you probe about why they were disappointed with the internship?) Do you see enough potential in them that you want to take them out from that situation? (Could be yes!) ... I'm inferring that you are a "senior developer" asked to sit in on the interview but wouldn't be their boss. Can you clarify your role and the manager's role relative to the position being hired for, in the Q? – seventyeightist Jan 17 at 22:16
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    As an introvert, I find that I am frequently perceived as angry or disengaged when I am not. – shoover Jan 18 at 1:37
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    Introverts express warmth, enthusiasm, empathy and authenticity as well as anyone else. About half of all people are introverts. Introversion, by itself, is not an excuse for presenting a cold-fish personality during an interview. – teego1967 Jan 18 at 5:20
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    @teego1967 Things are not black and white – dan-klasson Jan 18 at 5:59
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    Do you want the candidate to do anything else than coding? – PagMax Jan 18 at 13:22
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Maybe.

That's why some interviewers ask questions like:

  • What made you really feel enthusiastic at your old work?
  • What are you feeling enthusiastic about?
  • Why do you work in IT?
  • What do you like about IT?

Some people just want enough money to not starve. Or care about their family. Or have a hobby that is more important than anything else in live. I have found that a two edged sword in the past.

Pro: They don't mind "boring" tasks or which technologies they work with. As long as general conditions like working hours are good and they can care about their real interest, they are happy enough about work.

Con: Don't expect the extra mile. Don't expect going to meetups in their spare time. Don't expect reading technical books or watching technical videos (like conference talks) in their spare time. Don't expect initiative to change technology/methodologies or something like that. Most importantly: Don't expect them to question decisions/requirements.

So, what do you need/want? Or what can you handle? In a one-man show, this is a no-go. In a team of 5? This guy could be a nice addition. Depending upon a lot of circumstances, so you should judge that.

And lack of enthusiasm and demotivation aren't exactly the same thing. If somebody just shows up for work and does his job, that's one thing. He is likely in it for the money, nothing else. If somebody shows up and complains all the time and just doesn't want to do anything, that's a different thing.

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    'Passion' is overrated in software roles. Some of the best devs I know are 'come in, do the work, go home' people. They don't code or do anything software-related in their spare time. The 'Dont expect them to question decisions/requirements.' doesn't fit though. They are professional and care about doing the job well. – jcm Jan 18 at 0:28
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    Passion is actually overrated in many roles. I don't know of many people passionate about their jobs. – Laurent S. Jan 20 at 9:16
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It's problematic.

It is possible that your candidate was given bad advice about how to behave in an interview. "Don't show emotions, they won't like that. Don't seem overly enthusiastic". That could be the reason. Ask about that.

It could be how the person was raised. If you ever watched Kimi Räikkönen in an interview, it was hard work getting anything other than "yes" and "no" out of him, and he was as enthusiastic in his job as everyone else. And better than most. Not that you would know it watching him. So: Candidate from Finland -> this behaviour is absolutely normal.

In my experience enthusiasm helps you an awful lot to get a job. So whether you are naturally enthusiastic or not, you should be so in your interview. So this person is not very good at interviewing. But you don't want someone who is good at interviewing, you want someone who is good at a job. So think very carefully about how you think this person will do in the actual job.

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    oh yeah, I obviously forgot the huge cultural component. Also, people from different cultures may show enthusiasm differently – Benjamin Jan 20 at 20:58
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If you feel that candidate doesn't care, you can try to find what they do care about. Perhaps their personality is phlegmatic and they not going to show enthusiasm in front of strangers toward anything. Maybe they only care about Dungeons&Dragons and use job to pay for it (which is OK). Another source of information is recommendation letters, which should not be too hard to get within company.

That being said...

The candidate proved to be quite competent on technical aspects, however the manager who took part in the interview, has expressed concerns that the candidate seemed quite indifferent and unenthusiastic during the interview

The goal of the interview is to determine two things (broadly):

  1. How capable is the candidate to perform tasks (skill fit)
  2. How well will they communicate with others when necessary (culture fit)

These things are connected, as highly skilled employee can bring work to a halt through bad interpersonal relationships.

You need to decide (and we can't decide for you from your post) whether the candidate is skillful and socially apt enough for the job.

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Is such an attitude a red flag and how much it should be taken into account while making hiring decision?

Of course, it's a red flag. Your candidate was selling his skills to you in the interview. You were the customer, and your candidate was the salesman. Your candidate was expected to do marketing on himself as best as he could in the interview, but the candidate made no attempt.

Would you like to buy from a shop if the sales couldn't convince you why you'd pay for a product?

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    "Would you like to buy from a shop if the sales couldn't convince you why you'd pay for a product?" I do it all the time. I don't expect the grocery store to give a me a sales pitch why I should buy bread, and I would be rather put off if they did. – Acccumulation Jan 20 at 22:10
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I see a bit of a red flag regarding you. You haven't expressed any concern about this candidate's ability to perform the task, only about your ability to be comfortable around them. Yes, social aspects are part of a team, but this requirement that all candidates engage in a performance during the interview is disturbing. Autism is just one possible explanation for this person's behavior, and your attitude is rather discriminatory. If you're not capable of performing your duties if it involves interacting with an autistic person, who really has the disability?

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  • It is hard to describe someone's behavior accurately and I might have focused on the wrong aspects in my clarification, but I think you are getting the wrong impression. The main concern is whether the candidate would be motivated enough to do the job, which is what their behavior made us doubt. So it's not even so much about the social aspects of the job, but the willingness to do it, especially if it happens to be not very interesting to them on occasion. – user83608 Jan 20 at 22:54
  • You haven't expressed any concern about this candidate's ability to perform the task - Because there are none. As I mentioned the candidate is technically fit for the position, hence the dilemma. However, I've had an experience with a technically competent colleague who just didn't see the point to their job and were constantly demotivated, therefore their skill didn't really matter as they were unwilling to apply it to the project. – user83608 Jan 20 at 23:00
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You need more information about this candidate's personal approach to work before you proceed.

I suggest your manager invite the candidate back for another, shorter, round of interviews. Ask them directly about the enthusiasm question.

"You didn't seem very engaged with me the last time you spoke. That was puzzling. I'm concerned that you might have a hard time engaging with our team and our products here. Can you tell me a bit about your personal process of digging in to new work and getting to know new co-workers?"

You can ask for specifics, like starting an internship or joining a sports team or whatever.

Your manager can also raise the question of enthusiasm when doing reference checks.

It seems a shame to reject a good candidate because they had a bad day. But it's a worse problem to hire somebody who won't fit in your team.

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    Maybe instead of (or in addition to) another round of interviews, you could invite the candidate to lunch/coffee with his potential team members to find out if they would like to work with him. – Llewellyn Jan 19 at 18:23

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