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Summary: I've told job candidate "I love you as a candidate, but we can't offer job right away". The candidate expressed reservation about working with me, because I had used the word 'love' with him. Was it unprofessional of me?


I'm highly experienced Software Development Manager, I've conducted well in excess of 100 candidate interviews over the years, as either lead interviewer, co interviewer or panelist. To be honest I lost count a long time ago, so we'll use 100 as a rough guide.

We're currently recruiting for a mid to senior software developer. During my most recent interview I was very tired, highly stressed and being pressed by my colleague to interview the candidate as soon as possible, as my colleague, who has no development experience, had worked with the candidate in the past and thought he was exceptional.

I follow a set interview structure for all candidates and at about 10 minutes I give them a short coding challenge and drop off the call. When we returned to review the coding challenge, I noticed that the candidate hadn't followed the instructions and had failed the challenge. I was quite harsh on him, to the point of being a little rude. I gave him 5 minutes to fix the mistakes and dropped off the call again.

In the meantime, my colleague and I discussed my responses and I knew I had gone too far. When we returned to the call I immediately apologized and explained that I was tired and a little stressed and that I was wrong to take it out on the candidate.

The interview was winding down and by this time I had internally agreed with my colleague that this person was a good fit for the role. I said the following.

Mate we love you and would love to have you on board, unfortunately I can't offer the position to you right away as we're having some trouble with the approval process. As soon as we can we'll get back to you to make an offer.

My positions were and are still awaiting final approval, some 2 months after creating the job requisitions.

I got feedback from my colleague the next day that the candidate expressed reservation about working with me, because I had used the word 'love' with him.

Was it as inappropriate as the candidate and my colleague made out?

We work in a diverse organization and now I'm concerned that he may be a little homophobic and not suitable based on cultural fit.

I follow a fairly standard format, personal introductions, introduction to company, benefits of working for company, current remote work arrangements, then ask the candidate to introduce themselves. The call is over zoom and at about 10 minutes we ask the candidate to do a quick coding challenge.

I give them the FizzBuzz test. Over the years this has served a reliable way to identify software developers who aren't very good computer programmers. Any mid to senior level developer should be able to solve this problem in 10 minutes. 99% do without too much trouble, often they make a mistake first time around, that's ok because we always give them another 5 minutes to fix it.

This developer failed it first time round not a serious mistake but I walked him through the error he made and asked him to fix it.

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    All this talk about "love", and then I thought you were asking if it was as inappropriate as the candidate and your colleague making out.
    – user20925
    Jun 16 at 2:58
  • Welcome to Walmart
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jun 17 at 0:07
44

I love Microsoft Excel. I love stamp collecting. Love doesn't literally mean I want to have sex with it.

There's also phrases like "love it!".

"Mate, we loved you" is a little unprofessional and more slang, but it's not the same thing as telling the candidate you have already chosen out a ring.

The candidate sounds like a weirdo. Bullet dodged.

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    Classic answer I want to accept it straight away, I laughed so much when I read it. Mate I loved it (oops the L word again), but let's see what the rest of the community has to say about expressions of love ;)
    – user122949
    Jun 12 at 20:57
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    A "weirdo" for potentially having a bit of a different conception on some terms. And "Bullet dodged". Accepted by someone who works in a "diverse" company? Doesn't sound too open minded to me.... Diversity doesn't end with skin colour... Jun 14 at 21:36
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    Classic case of an accepted answer being a bad answer. Jun 14 at 23:30
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    This is not an answer. It is an assumption (that is clearly wrong) and opinion over how the candidate interpreted a particular word. ---- There are some other good answers here, but the OP has chosen the answer that fits their own narcissistic narrative of this being "someone else's fault"
    – flexi
    Jun 15 at 12:26
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    "I love Microsoft Excel" who hurt you
    – Mike G
    Jun 15 at 13:13
103

Gotta tell you, if you interviewed me like that I'd be dropping out of consideration too. And not because of the word love- the recruiter I picked in my most recent set of interviews said they loved me, I took it like everyone else did. But let's walk through what you did:

First you call in, give them a challenge, and drop off the call. I'll assume you did introductions and all that too (if not, wow). You've already lost me there- you don't respect me enough as a candidate to even stay on the call. What if I had a clarifying question to ask? What if my answer is wrong because I make an incorrect assumption, but is generally good code? You don't look at his work while he's doing it, so you judge only by the end result? You lose all the important information that way. Oh, and the drop the call thing makes you look really, really bad.

Then you dial back in, are harsh, rude, criticizing, and tell him to fix the mistakes in 5 minutes? Yeah, I'd be leaving the call right there.

So this guy who made a ton of mistakes, by the time you came back 5 minutes later was good enough to fill the role? Then the mistakes weren't that big were they?

Oh, and you're interviewing for roles you can't hire for? Not just that you want to wait for other candidates, but that you literally can't give? So you're wasting everyone's time including your own?

He's not saying no because you used the word "love". Most likely if he said anything about "love" at all he's asking why you treated him like shit when you "love" him as a candidate. He's doing it because you were acting like an asshole.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 14 at 22:28
  • When communicating, in all scenarios, it is important to have actions align with words. People hear the actions louder than the words, and will react negatively to words that lie in comparison to the actions. If this interviewer really was having a bad day and conducting a sub-par interview, the best response would have been "I'm sorry, I've basically been having a horrible day, and I've botched your interview, would you care to reschedule, so you can get the interview you deserve?" And if the position is gone, don't interview in the first place.
    – Edwin Buck
    Jun 17 at 13:58
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I would not assume homophobia here.

Editing your post down to pick out what the candidate would have experienced:

I noticed that the candidate hadn't followed the instructions and had failed the challenge. I was quite harsh on him, to the point of being a little rude.

When we returned to the call I immediately apologized and explained that I was tired and a little stressed and that I was wrong to take it out on the candidate.

I said the following. "Mate we love you and would love to have you on board, unfortunately I can't offer the position to you right away as we're having some trouble with the approval process. As soon as we can we'll get back to you to make an offer."

As a candidate, ordinarily I would be delighted to hear "we love you and we're going to make you an offer". But what you're describing here is quite erratic behaviour on your part.

Obviously nobody wants to work with somebody who is rude or over-critical. But in some ways, working with somebody who swings between "harsh and rude" and effusive praise in a few minutes can be worse. If the behaviour is consistent, one can at least calibrate ("yeah, he's always grouchy, don't take it too hard") but swings leave one constantly trying to readjust those expectations. That can be exhausting.

It's easy to misunderstand a conversation at second or third hand. Is it possible that the candidate's issue was not so much with the "we love you" as with the rapid swing between that and "harsh/rude"?

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    This! If my interviewer started snapping at me, I'd be looking elsewhere, too (and making up a convenient excuse why I was backing out.) Let alone if the interviewer came across a bit bipolar-ish.
    – Kevin
    Jun 13 at 3:37
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    @kevin FYI bipolar disorder has mood swings on the order of days to months. Rapid changes in mood, in response to environmental triggers, is characteristic of borderline personality disorder. Of course, perpetuating mental health stigma by offhandedly dropping such terms is insensitive.
    – obscurans
    Jun 13 at 8:03
  • I agree, I've walked on interviewers and rejected job offers because I thought the interviewer was a dick, that's why I apologized to him, and yes I've under a lot of strain at work and at home, so I am having some mental health issues. In this case I don't think I had a rapid mood swing, the candidate recovered from his coding challenge failure and given his expertise in the domain, and our urgent need to get someone on board, we thought he was the best person we'd interviewed so far.
    – user122949
    Jun 13 at 20:03
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    @JonathanArcher Apologising was definitely the right thing to do, but it doesn't erase what came before. I am not saying you had a mood swing; I'm saying that from the candidate's perspective, there is a rapid and disconcerting swing here, and that can sometimes be even more off-putting than straight negativity. Jun 14 at 1:03
  • This is a great answer and doesn't even mention the numerous other red flags being energetically waved in the Question.
    – Alex M
    Jun 15 at 5:34
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It was inappropriate, because you led the interviewee through an emotional roller-coaster, in the end praising the person, only to not hire them or be able to hire them.

My positions were and are still awaiting final approval, some 2 months after creating the job requisitions

After being on both sides of interviews where similar things have happened, I can say that uncontextualized/general praise during the early rounds of interviews on the part of a future higher-up, without their ability to make a decision on the matter is a red-flag for me.

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  • I'm frustrated at my companies lack of progress in approving the roles as well, it's been going on for 2 months, where I keep getting promised they'll be approved 'next week'
    – user122949
    Jun 13 at 20:05
  • @GeoffreyBrent The way I read it, I don't think the candidate has been waiting for two months... It seems like the OP tried to get approval to hire (anyone) starting two months ago, but interviewed the candidate recently... Basically told the candidate, "we posted a job and scheduled an interview and did the interview...but we don't actually have a job opening yet, so you can't have the job". Jun 17 at 12:39
  • @user3067860 actually, now I re-read, you might be right there. Jun 18 at 0:38
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This can easily be a cultural thing and be the result of your "borderline" behaviour. For the first part: I totally get the saying in English - now that I'm a bit experienced in the American ways. But if you said that to me in my native tongue in my home country, I would feel very weird. The equivalent to "I/we love you" in native tongue of quite a few countries is way less frequently used than in the American culture. It's typically reserved for romantic relationships. If one does not know the comparatively relaxed American usage patterns, one might feel indeed that someone is weird. They don't need to have a foreign background, even some Americans feel more reserved about that than others, but it would be an indicator for their different perception.

Take that together with the way you acted. First you were overly harsh, then apologized, then told them you love them, but cannot (currently hire them). For a sensitive/socially inexperienced person that was an emotional roller-coaster ride with you at the helm. (An exercise, alright let's rock this. Wait, what, I got it wrong? Darn! I'm not gonna make it, screwed that one up. Oh there is still a chance. Oi, love me? Is he choosing people by emotion and not qualification? But, I will get the job? Oh wait, sharp left turn, I won't?! Back to uncertainty?). Especially since your colleague introduced them as exceptional, it is well possible that they are very work-focused and a bit socially awkward. Not saying that is an automatic causation, but those people tend to stand out - and in my experience also be more likely perceived as exceptional than equally qualified people with better social skills.

All in all, it was most likely a combination of different things that made them simply feel a bit rocked by the interview and that was just one detail that stuck with them.

I also don't get where the assumption of homophobia comes from. If a straight female considers (correctly or not) a sentence of a male interviewer a bit too flirty to feel fine working with him, that doesn't turn her into a man hater or a lesbian. (Neither the other way around a male interviewee into a woman hater or a gay guy etc.). Seems like a projection to me.

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You were rude and harsh on him for failing a coding challenge, next you're telling him you're stressed and tired, and then saying your systems have problems.

Those are some major red flags to a candidate.

Then you're calling him "mate" and saying how great he is... No offence, but he probably thought you were a crazy person.

I very much doubt he misinterpreted the word "love". In the context you said it, it was very clear that you didn't mean it romantically. It was a little unprofessional, along with the word "mate".

If the candidate really did say he took issue with the word "love" being used, then I can only assume it was an excuse, instead of saying what he really thought about you.

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A lot of fluff in this question.

I told a candidate that 'we loved him', was it so wrong

Depending on culture, it may be inappropriate to tell someone you love them, even if there is an implied "as a candidate".

Rather that trying to seek some sort of universal standard for appropriateness, you should be looking to determine how you can salvage the situation.

We work in a diverse organization and now I'm concerned that he may be a little homophobic and not suitable based on cultural fit.

They found your conduct inappropriate. Any perceived profession of romantic admiration would be considered the same. It's got nothing to do with your gender.

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Yes you fluffed that interview, but as you said you've done well in excess of 100 interviews and your bound to make a mess of one sooner or later.

My suggestions is to never conduct a interview when you're tired, stressed or in a bad mood. Unless you're very good at controlling your emotions, you're likely to give the candidate the wrong impression of yourself and the company you represent.

These days with virtual interviews over zoom, rescheduling an interview, whilst inconvenient, is not as bad as it was when a candidate would generally take a day off work to attend.

I would also suggest that you stick to your interview structure and deviate as little as possible. No matter how good you think the candidate is, never make and emotive decision and offer the person the position.

Thank them for their time, say you're still shortlisting candidates, and that you'll be back in touch shortly.

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