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Being a person suffering from certain neurocognitive problems, I always struggle with job interviews due to these problems, but have never had any problems doing normal day-to-day work; on the contrary, I'm rather good it. I've been working as a freelancer the last few years.

I'm going to have a job interview with a company that has quite standard interviewing process that involves solving LeetCode-type tasks on a sheet of paper and demonstrating the process of solving, i.e. very different from normal job functions both in terms of tasks solved and working conditions.

Questions:

  1. Would it be a reasonable accommodation to ask HRs to skip this LeetCode part altogether and replace it with a remote-work probationary period, working with real tasks, paying me their standard rate but without any other legal obligations on their side?

  2. Would it be a reasonable accommodation to replace the task solving part with review of my open source contributions or pet projects, and if not, why?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Nov 25 '20 at 13:47
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Question: would it be a reasonable accommodation to ask HRs to skip this LeetCode part altogether and replace it with a remote-work probationary period, working with real tasks, paying me their standard rate but without any other legal obligations on their side?

What you are asking for is to be onboarded, integrated into structures - possibly in a limited way, and for them to go over all those hurdles AND on top of that paying you for your time.

This does not sound reasonable to me at all.

But to the unasked question of "so what could I propose instead", I will take advice from your comment:

They have some open source projects, so no need to give me access to any secrets.

I would suggest that you will resolve some issues on that repo for them, and they can then evaluate how that went. This gives you work on real life problem, and no extreme advantages over other candidates.

Ultimately you have to remember that the accommodations have to be within reason. If you cannot do X, and the company cannot accommodate your way around X and yet it's required for the position then you likely cannot work together. Threatening with discrimination complains is very unlikely to help.

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    @user855286 that's why you ask them if you can substitute the leetcode with a open source issue solving instead, not just do it and expect a job invitation. As for whether leetcode relates to work performance, well, it's up to employer to decide how they screen candidates. And it's not a far fetched claim to make that someone who cannot solve abstract programming problems may not be a good fir for the role. I personally disagree, but that doesn't mean I am right, nor that they are wrong by making such assertion. – Tymoteusz Paul Nov 24 '20 at 17:39
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    @user855286 Ad1: yes, that's a thing you can suggest, they very likely have no obligation to comply. Ad 2: no one else there is getting paid to do a test, why would you? The difference between you and other candidates is the disability, and how does getting paid for doing the test helps you overcome this disadvantage? – Tymoteusz Paul Nov 24 '20 at 18:01
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    @user855286 While I sympathize with what you are saying (I suffer from multiple mental and physical disabilities which did cost me endless amount of gigs) I don't think you are looking for reasonable. Yes, this test will possibly take longer than leetcode would (though it doesn't have to be longer by days), but that's just how it is, and it is a sensible alternative for them to offer as they will also have to put more time than other candidates too. Especially as the test they ask you to do is what many will consider adequate filter, any adjustment is mostly good will, not a must for them. – Tymoteusz Paul Nov 24 '20 at 18:12
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    @user855286 What you have to understand is that the first month of a new employment is by far the most expensive for the employer. You will most likely require some non-trivial amount of help from more senior employees to get up and running. It's a well known rule of thumb that no programmer is really up to speed for at least three months (and can be much longer for complex, older applications) when getting integrated into a new team, codebase and business domain. – Voo Nov 25 '20 at 11:13
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    @user855286 - "paying me their standard rate but without any other legal obligations on their side". It might not even be possible to pay you their standard rate without other legal obligations. If they're not equipped to 1099-MISC you then they'd have to W2 you, at which point, they'd have to offer you the same benefits that they offer everyone else. They'd have to pay unemployment insurance on you and I think they'd have to at least offer you health insurance as well – neubert Nov 25 '20 at 16:07
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Full Disclosure: I have worked with, and been assisted by vocational rehabilitation, and several charities.

What you are asking isn't reasonable, I'm afraid, for a number of reasons which come down to the fact that you are wanting a company to take all the risk, with little to no reward. Go in and do your best, and keep your fingers crossed.

As a continuing strategy:

If you haven't already, contact your state's Department of Labor's Vocational rehab office, and get plugged into the system. Once you are listed in the system, any company hiring you may get an exemption for your payroll tax.

Also, Vocational Rehabilitation can also connect you to placement agencies that specialize in people with disabilities that can in turn send you to companies that are more willing to hire people with disabilities, and even do negotiations on your behalf on making accommodations for your interviews as well as your job placement.

Also, do some looking on your own for support groups and/or charities dealing with your disability and get connected to these groups, as they have great networks.

Since you have a disability that affects your ability to interview, making connections and networking with people is even more important for you than for most. The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there to help.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Nov 25 '20 at 13:48
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The main question any hiring manager is trying to answer is "will this person benefit my company if I hire them?"

The whole hiring process, interviews, questions, tests, casual lunch meetings, is all just a big rigmarole attempting to answer that question. Different companies have different ways of doing it and some are better than others, but it all comes down to determining if it would be worthwhile to start paying the applicant to do work. It is inherently risky and expensive to bring on a new employee, but even moreso if you have to let them go, so companies have a strong incentive to get it right before they start paying someone to do work. That's why the hiring process often has so many parts.

In your initial proposal, you are basically asking if the company can just skip what they consider an essential part of that process, and start paying you anyway. This is not reasonable, because you are essentially asking to be hired before that central question is answered. It doesn't matter if you offer for it to be probationary, or freelance, or whatever; you are still asking to be hired before you have demonstrated, in the employer's eyes, that you are worthwhile to hire. You're putting the cart before the horse, and an employer isn't going to go for it.

If there is part of their hiring process you really can't do, but you still feel you are qualified for the position, you need to offer some other way to answer the central question to their satisfaction. To that end, your updated (UPD) proposal of letting them evaluate open source code you have written is much more reasonable. There's no guarantee it will be accepted. It will depend on how flexible the company is with their process and their willingness to accept a something outside their standard process. But it at least gives them something to attempt answering the question on whether you are hirable, which is what you need to do.

It is only reasonable to convince a company to hire you before they hire you, not after.

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  • "It will depend on how flexible the company is with their process" - employers have to provide reasonable accommodations, don't they? – user_ok Dec 5 '20 at 6:23
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    @user_ok, if the accommodation does not interfere with the employee's ability to do their job, yes. Building a ramp so a wheelchair-bound accountant can access their work desk is reasonable. Being in a wheelchair does not inhibit someone's ability to do a job where they would be sitting most of the time anyway. Declining a problem solving test for a job that is fundamentally about solving problems - that's a bigger stretch. It would also be impossible to evaluate all applicants equally if some follow the process, and some do not. That may not be reasonable. – Seth R Dec 5 '20 at 18:54
  • there isn't any universal problem solving skill, as there isn't any universal mobility skill. – user_ok Dec 5 '20 at 19:13
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Question: would it be a reasonable accommodation to ask HRs to skip this LeetCode part altogether and replace it with a remote-work probationary period, working with real tasks, paying me their standard rate but without any other legal obligations on their side?

No, it would be unreasonable. The purpose of the interview and any assigned tests/tasks is to help the company determine if you are acceptable for the role. You are essentially asking them to hire you first and then figure out if you are acceptable for the role.

UPD would it be a reasonable accommodation to replace the task solving part with review of my open source contributions or pet projects, and if not - why?

Probably not. The company has a specific reason for the task solving part of the interview. While your open source contributions and pet projects may be incredible, they may not reflect a specific approach or skillset that the company is looking for in its candidates. You can certainly ask, but do not be surprised if your request is denied.

Keep in mind, as an interview is a two way process you are free to stop pursuing employment from any company that asks you to solve such tasks during the interview process. You can thank them for their time and the opportunity and move on to interview with companies that that you are more comfortable with.

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IANAL, but I believe this is an unreasonable accommodation because what you are requesting gives you an advantage over other candidates. I believe the intent of the ADA is to provide equal opportunity and equal work options by the accommodation creating a "fair" environment which takes into account an individual's disability.

Your request would give you a much better opportunity than other applicants. Your accommodation would provide several advantages:

  • compensation for the duration of your "interview" time
  • a chance to work directly with their codebase
  • significantly more time to prove your technical skills
  • an opportunity to build a network of employees to advocate for your hiring

None of these are available for candidates going through their normal interview procedure.

With that being said, you should absolutely pursue some accommodation and they should work with you to identify a mutually satisfactory interview plan. I think your suggestion of review of open-sourced code is a good alternative especially if you get the chance to explain your design and implementation like you would have in the LeetCode scenario.

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    Being able to explain your design and implementation is part of the job as a software developer. Not sure I understand why that is impossible here but wouldn't be impossible to explain your design and implementation as an employee later? – cdkMoose Nov 24 '20 at 23:11
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    What advantages do they have that wouldn't be offset by the accommodation? And what value do their advantages provide vs the advantages listed above? – cdkMoose Nov 24 '20 at 23:13
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    The other job candidates don't have those advantages. I believe there is a difference between offsetting the disadvantages and creating additional advantages. The question to me is not whether an accommodation is appropriate, but what should the level of accommodation be – cdkMoose Nov 24 '20 at 23:18
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    To assuage some of your issues: "Known working environment" -> It's an interview room. Everyone knows the interview room the same way, and the only way to know the interview room more is to take more interviews and get used to it. That's the same for everyone. Everyone gets nervous in interviews, it's not just you. "Known codebase" -> The interview is a known codebase, to you and to everyone else. In fact, it is the null-or-empty codebase, with nothing in it. This is arguably easier than a codebase that the company has built over years or decades, because there's nothing to worry about. – Ertai87 Nov 25 '20 at 21:46
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    "People that I know" -> If it helps, when you're interviewing, simply talk to the wall. If facing your interviewers makes you feel intimidated, then talk facing the board or the wall and not facing the interviewers. Explain to them that this is a personal issue (you can explain to your recruiter beforehand so it doesn't come off as rude in the interview) and it should be ok. "No stress" -> Stress is a part of interviewing. Always has been, always will be. If you're any less stressed that they will not like the code you produce on the spot than code you pre-wrote, you're fooling yourself. – Ertai87 Nov 25 '20 at 21:48
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would it be a reasonable accommodation to replace the task solving part with review of my open source contributions or pet projects, and if not - why?

No it would not, for one simple reason: it's not the same. They want to test the candidates ability to do something while you suggest presenting results that they have no way of verifying you actually achieved them. Anybody could have written that piece of open source code, the pet project could in reality be your friends work.

What would be reasonable is to be able to do those tasks on a real computer with no "interview" atmosphere to disturb you, given you have a doctors note saying that your disability hinders you to function well in those artificial interview conditions. So for example solve them on a laptop with only the technical expert in the room while HR and others go grab a coffee. This is more reasonable because it solves the same problem: the company can see whether you actually can do what you claim you can do and having a real computer present can hardly be described as unreasonable when hiring for an IT position.

Another good way in "normal" non-Covid times would be to offer to just go by the office and work there for a day. For free. As an interview replacement. Seeing you do actual work is much better than any theoretical interview. I have no idea whether that meets the "reasonable" criteria of any laws, but it's the common sense answer. If they want to know if you can do the job, skip the artificial tests and go do it. Without any strings attached, without contracts, without pay.

For some reason the same people that find it perfectly normal to have 3+ rounds of full-day interviews without pay will cry out and say you should not work for free for a single day. I don't see that as free work. It's an interview. Just in a form that actually finds whether you could do the job and fit in the team, instead of wasting multiple days on artificial situations and tests to guess whether you could do the job.

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  • It is not clear to me if "working a day for free" is legal. Otherwise, great answer as always! – guest Nov 25 '20 at 11:48
  • Assuming the output of that day is not used for anything but judging whether to hire the candidate, I see nothing that would make it illegal. I never had problems with it. – nvoigt Nov 25 '20 at 12:26
  • I somehow doubt that a company would give (and disclose) any real task to a candidate, and that they have a task that can be given to a person not yet introduced to company specifics. If they agree, I would expect the task to be as synthetic as the mentioned LeetCode tests... – Igor G Nov 25 '20 at 15:03
  • "they have no way of verifying you actually achieved them" - the same applies to any other form of the interview. Many people just cram the standard tasks. – user855286 Nov 26 '20 at 16:52
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It's not reasonable at all to assume that you can dictate this to the HR department or your employer.

The reasonable thing to do would be to communicate with the HR department and explain your needs. They either already have a policy in place with alternatives or will work with you to meet both your needs and theirs.

It is also possible that they cannot accommodate you at all. If that is the case you'll have to determine how you want to proceed.

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    That's not how it works. You are capable of doing the questions, so they don't need to do anything to accommodate you. Also they aren't required to lower the bar for you. They will just claim it's required for the job and therefore if you can't pass it, it's within reason that they can't hire you. – flexi Nov 24 '20 at 18:00
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    @user855286 I'm not sure that's comparable to your situation. If a person can't do the job, not matter what disability they have, the company isn't discriminating by not hiring them... I guess your point is LeetCode questions aren't required for the job, so you're being excluded? - But how do you know that and how would you prove it? – flexi Nov 24 '20 at 18:14
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    @guest I mention physical disabilities because they are more understandable for most people. However, mental disabilities aren't any less crippling. And yes, most companies only want perfectly fit and healthy workers and that's why we have the law that protects people with health problems - including mental disabilities, but most people simply don't understand that. They think that "it would cost us a few extra bucks and some extra effort, let's just ditch this guy" is a perfectly valid excuse. However, it's not. – user855286 Nov 24 '20 at 20:23
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    @user855286 I don't think it would. I guess you'd have to prove the specific company has a requirement that isn't required.... But I don't know. I'm not a lawyer. Ultimately I'm on your side. I dislike LeetCode style questions because I believe most of the time they don't reflect the job, and if you have Experience, References and Examples of your work, that should be enough to make a decision on. – flexi Nov 24 '20 at 21:30
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    @user855286 There are surely issues with the law and its implementation, but what you're asking for is just fundamentally outside of the bounds of what it can do. It's not reasonable to request that the company replace a process where other candidates demonstrate their competence by completing unpaid exercises with a process where you get paid to do real work during a probationary period. That's a fundamentally different thing than asking for, say, the use of a sign language interpreter or a computer instead of handwriting or longer breaks or other accommodations in the interview process. – Zach Lipton Nov 25 '20 at 2:20
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As others have said, what you are asking for is not reasonable. You are asking them to employ you for the duration of your interview period, which you may or may not perform as well as anyone else they could have hired for that period of time (you may think you are good at your job; there is no guarantee the company agrees with you). If you are not as good as your "replacement value" (the value of someone else who would have been doing the same job as you, all else being equal) then the company has wasted money on you, and that's not what the company is interested in doing. So no, they absolutely won't hire you on a provisional basis, at least not as a paid gig (they may hire you for free, if it's legal and easy to do so, which it probably isn't).

The interview process is to make sure that your "replacement value" is negative, that is to say that replacing you with any of the other candidates available to them would be more costly to the company, in other words that you are the best person for the job. In addition to pure programming prowess, you also have to be able to do things like explain your work, engage in code reviews, mesh with the team on a collegial level (be friendly and stuff), and so on. The LeetCode portion of the interview is meant less to test that you can code, and more that you understand what you're doing and have good problem-solving skills. Any video from a FAANG (FAANG = "Facebook Amazon Apple Netflix Google", basically the top tech giants) company about interviewing will tell you the same thing: What you say during the interview is much more important than what you do, and the company isn't going to get that level of detail about you by reading whatever code you previously wrote (or claim to have written, more on that in a moment).

The problem with open-source contributions is that there's no proof that you actually made them. Even if you use your own name on your GitHub profile or what have you (which you might not do; if you use a pseudonym on GitHub then it's even worse), there's no guarantee that your friend didn't change his name to yours, or even if it is actually your account that your friend didn't write the code and just gave it to you to submit. Not that I'm saying that I personally think you would do such a thing, but that is how the company sees it; there is no guarantee that you didn't cheat, and given the nonzero possibility that you did cheat, versus another candidate who they know didn't cheat (because they took the LeetCode test), they're going to choose the one they have more confidence in, and that's not going to be you. This is more or less why a GitHub "portfolio" is more or less a stupid exercise in software engineering; nobody actually looks or cares, because the information there is more or less valueless except for very rare cases of extremely prolific people.

@Old_Lamplighter, who has mentioned in others of his comments/answers elsewhere that he's autistic, and hence has experience in this issue, gave you a good suggestion: look into local charities and organizations that may help you with your issue. As someone who does not relate with your problem, my suggestion would be to mention to this company that you have some disability (tell them what your disability is) and provide them medical evidence to the effect that you have this disability (doctor's notes, diagnoses, etc), and ask them what accommodations they can make. Don't tell, ask. They will tell you their standard practice for making accommodations for people with disabilities, and you can take that accommodation or you can leave it and withdraw from this interview.

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Coding tests are a warning sign and you may wish to reconsider if you want to work at this company. There are much better ways to determine if someone is a competent developer, an online test is both lazy and unlikely to produce good results.

Consider that it causes issues for yourself, and you know yourself to be competent. These kinds of tests tend to favour people who are good at taking tests and reduce diversity among the team. If the company uses them it is quite likely that they are not going to handle your neurodiversity well, or at the very least it will be a steep learning curve for them. Either they don't know about these issues or they don't care enough to address them.

Therefore you must consider what actually working for them will be like, and if they are best avoided for your own sake.

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  • I won't try to argue whether such tests are effective or not, and of course you're free to not interview with companies who assess candidates like this. But these tests are exceedingly common, and they're even used by top tech companies. It's worth noting that avoiding companies that use such tests would quite drastically decrease the number of employers that could potentially hire you. – Bernhard Barker Nov 25 '20 at 13:20
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    Common doesn't mean good, and around here they are pretty uncommon. – user Nov 25 '20 at 13:27
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    Downvoted because coding tests, when used wisely, are not just coding tests, but rather starting points for a discussion of standards, good practices and techniques. Note, the OP said that the test is to be solved on paper, with verbal explanation of the thought process. That doesn't sound like an automated write-code-that-meets-out-test-cases style of interview. – Igor G Nov 25 '20 at 14:51
  • @IgorG written tests are discriminatory against people with disabilities that affect their ability to write, like me. I was given one once, I asked for a keyboard. – user Nov 25 '20 at 16:12
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    @user And that's fine, because what matters is the reasoning behind the code. You can easily ask for a keyboard to be available before you attend the interview, and it's trivial for the interviewer to make it available. That doesn't invalidate the concept of writing code in a room with the interviewer and discussing your design. – Graham Nov 25 '20 at 16:35

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