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I am a Tech Lead in a recent startup which is in for the long haul, and we are currently in an aggressive hiring spree. As a result I get 2-3 interviews to sit in the panel (mostly of two) per week. Even though I am new to interviewing, with my hybrid background of both in software engineering and academia I am doing okay for a beginner interviewer and most of all I enjoy the thing. Due to the pandemic, we are operating full remote and so are the interviews. This week myself and the other panel member (who is a senior tech lead of a different pod) found ourselves in a bizarre situation with a candidate, whom we were interviewing for a Senior Software Engineer position. Let me outline his profile and what I flagged red during the process.

  • Frequent job hopper: He said his first job as he was laid off during the pandemic (I read this as he was a frontrunner in the line of layoffs, but I may be wrong). In the second job, he was asked to resign due to performance issues. Since then he's been to two positions within less than a year. His current position was not on the CV. It's been only two months since he started with his current position and now he's interviewing with us.
  • He had a funky hairstyle and he had smoker's lips. Amidst of some answers he giggled for no apparent reasons which made me and the other interviewer think if he was high during the interview. But I have no solid proof of this.
  • His answers constantly demoed that he knew stuff about programming and SE. But his answers were all over the place. Looks like he didn't prepare himself for this at all.
  • When he shared the screen, I saw some sticky notes (Windows application) visible on screen. This was another reason for me to think that he was not prepared for a remote interview.
  • I felt like his attitudes are way too casual for a professional in senior level. The reason I felt so was, his approach to answers, almost all answers being incomplete and so forth.

There are some other major issues which I will not go into details. Due to these, we decided not to move forward with him. But, he was from one of the Ivy-League universities in my country, and had solid academic performance. Apart from this, he had a really good exposure to a wide array of technologies in different projects. I felt like he is a brainy fellow who somehow has lost his way. We gave some verbal feedback to him post-interview, said that our HR will reach out to him and we parted ways.

Even though we did not hire him, I would like to let him know of what I observed he is currently doing wrong, and tell him to put himself together and fix the career crisis he is facing at the moment. I have a few ways of doing that.

  1. Keeping my mouth shut and move forward - easiest and personally most convenient for me. But, I feel like it would be a waste of talent if I let this go.
  2. Telling HR the story and asking them to carry my feedback - I don't trust our HR to do this in any reasonably effective manner.
  3. Reach out to one of the referees and tell them - I think this is the most viable option, if I am not going with the first. One of the referees is a visiting faculty member of the masters course that I am currently following. I can anyway reach out to him as if I am doing a referee check and tell him to reach out to the candidate.
  4. Reach out to the candidate himself - This is also okay from the way I see it. But, I am not sure how effective this is going to be, because I will be nothing but a stranger preaching to him.

Am I overthinking this? Should I keep my mouth shut and move on? Or is this question just opinion-based and should be closed? Appreciate if someone can shed some light on what would be the most fruitful and least invasive approach for this.

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    @JoeStrazzere on Teams you can share the screen aka desktop and therefore anything on the desktop is shared (had students do that to me) or you can share a particular window - which is more professional.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 20:33
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    @JoeStrazzere my OS has a program called Stickies for a reason. One can “post” “post its” on the screen in any color and the functionality is very useful. I don’t think the OP was really using post its physically stuck on the screen or tippex to “white out” words either.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 20:37
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    What were the sticky notes about? If they were notes about the company & position, then I'd say the opposite: he was prepared enough to have prepared notes.
    – zmike
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 21:17
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    What do you mean by “his answers were all over the place”? You prefaced that with “he knew his stuff” so I am guessing his answers weren’t wrong so what was the issue?
    – BSMP
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 6:29
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    "Even when we asked repeatedly to elaborate, he did not try to expand on what he mentioned." No reason to assume that he new anything beyond what he said, especially if you went back to the same question multiple times.
    – njzk2
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 19:51

2 Answers 2

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Am I overthinking this?

Yes.

Should I keep my mouth shut and move on?

Yes.

Or is this question just opinion-based and should be closed?

Yes, you shouldn't share opinions.

Even though we did not hire him, I would like to let him know of what I observed he is currently doing wrong, and tell him to put himself together and fix the career crisis he is facing at the moment.

I do agree with the other answer that there may be some legal problems of reaching out. You're also a representative of your company so if he complains to your employer, your employer may terminate or discipline you.

I think you should just move on and not worry about it. While it is understood that you want to help, I think it will backfire for a few reasons:

  1. Person may plead with you for a job. Now he has a method to harass or otherwise beg you for a job (if you reach him by phone or email). That may put you in a worse position because you have to take extra steps to block said person.

  2. It's probably best to assume that if he's interviewing and get turned down that he would figure it out himself.

  3. As I said earlier you may run into issues with your company. At the interview, chances are all he knows about is your face and maybe your name. If you reach out to him, now he has a way to contact you and that isn't a good idea at all.

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Disclaimer: One possible reason you may not want to do any of this is legal. There may be laws in your locale that would put your company at legal risk if you were to do something like this, so be careful. I am not a lawyer. With all that said...

I think this is a noble effort you are proposing. It's certainly worthwhile to know if/why you are constantly failing interviews or having trouble finding a job; if nobody is giving you feedback then you have to hope to "get lucky" somewhere/somehow, and that feeling really sucks. So, I would encourage you to try this approach. Social media is a great tool for this, of which I would suggest LinkedIn to be the best such tool. If you have a copy of this person's resume, shooting them an email directly might not be a bad idea either; make sure you put something in the subject line so the person knows who it is and what it's about or it may get ignored or spam-filtered.

That said, I feel like you may have the wrong priorities in hiring and may want to look introspectively as well:

  • This person is not necessarily a "job hopper". They told you they were terminated from 2 jobs, at least one of those for performance reasons. Did you dig into that? What were the performance issues? Has the person done any introspection to try to resolve those issues? Can you see this person being an asset, or do you believe those issues still exist? Simply blacklisting someone from working at any company because "oh, you had 4 jobs in 2 years, therefore you're a job hopper" is counterproductive and hypocritical. We don't do the same thing for employers. When was the last time you asked a prospective employer about their turnover rate, and when was the last time they gave you an honest answer? But employers do it to applicants all the time, and it's in fact required to volunteer this information.

  • This person has "a funky hairstyle and smoker's lips": Really? Their hairstyle and smoking habits are of concern to you? Yes, smoking is bad for one's health and it's a nasty habit, but it seems not something related to employment. Do you want a staff composed of models, or a staff composed of software engineers? You'll find one of those 2 things is better at writing code than the other, I'm sure.

  • He giggled during the interview, therefore you presumed he was high. First of all, so what? Are you familiar with the Ballmer Peak (which, despite the sarcasm, is actually a real thing and not sarcastic at all)? Aside from this, are you sure this person, for example, doesn't have Tourette's Syndrome and this could be their tick? There are any number of explanations, and jumping to "this person was high during the interview" seems like a really big leap of logic. "This person is unqualified for the job because they were high" is an even bigger one.

  • This person was "too casual" for a "senior level". This depends on your company. Software Engineering, as a discipline, is moving to be more and more casual. If you're a software engineer and you go to work in a suit, you're probably doing it wrong in 2022. If your company mandates you to go to work in a suit, they're doing it even more wrong. That's simply not where the industry is, and it's not where most companies are, and it's not where most candidates are. If "professionalism" is something that can disqualify you from a job at your company, you're going to significantly lower your candidate pool, and even more significantly lower your candidate pool of skilled candidates, because the big companies (who attract the top talent) are moving away from that direction, as are the top talent of candidates.

  • "His answers constantly [sic] demoed that he knew stuff about programming and SE" -> THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW. He knows stuff about the thing you need him to know things about to be productive. That's it. This is the core thing you should be concerned about in an interview: Can this person do the job I need them to do to the degree that I need them to do it at? If yes, great, if no, next. This person is capable, and should have passed the interview.

One thing regarding sticky notes: Companies, in general, don't let candidates do interviews with notes. I see no reason for this. If you're on the job, don't you use Google? Can you honestly say that every line of code you've ever written has been without aid from W3Schools, StackOverflow, Medium, or official framework documentation? Personally speaking, I'd estimate that the majority of my code has been aided by these sources (not copy-pasted directly, but certainly taken with influence), so forcing someone to do an interview without notes or guides is counterproductive; working "independently" in this way is not actually a skill required by any reasonable software engineering firm, and I'd be hard pressed to believe that yours is any different. You should be encouraging this, not using it as a disqualifying factor.

It sounds very much like you turned away a qualified, or at least probably qualified, candidate, because of things unrelated to actual work. You may want to take another look at your own hiring practices.

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    Well, I don't have any concern if he is alcoholic, or having problems with substance abuse or whatever, as long as the work is done. Besides, I thoroughly understand that words like "alcoholic", "substance abuse" are nothing but speculations, which just one interview is most certainly not adequate to conclude about. But knowing very well that there is an interview coming up, if he decides to get high, that is a problem isn't that? Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 6:22
  • @RomeoSierra Perhaps smoking a joint helps him relax so he can think better and be less stressed. If you think about it this way, then getting high is, indeed, a form of interview preparation, rather than the inverse you presume.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 20:20
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    @RomeoSierra That's even assuming he was high during the interview, which he may not have been. Giggling is sometimes triggered by extreme stress, or, as I noted in my answer, Tourette's Syndrome, or maybe he just thought of a funny joke.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 9:22

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