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I am the hiring manager and I have the 2nd round and final interview of a candidate, who is overly polite. For every question I asked he always responded with "thank you" at the beginning and the end of his words, among other things, he strikes me as too polite!

Of course I understand he was a bit nervous so I tried to reassure him that "oh you don't need to thank me every time. Just discuss with me like how you discuss with your colleague or your former boss if you like." He acknowledged that (with a "thank you") but continued doing that. I also try not to let this cloud my judgement. I invited him for the 2nd interview but he still behaves like that.

One of concerns I have if he is really that polite in the real life? If he is then he probably won't be easy to blend in my team. We are a software development team and we value Linus Torvalds's words "Talk is cheap. Show me the code." (this is not to say we don't like discussion or we can't have polite discussions). And if he is not then this is not a good sign. So either way it is somewhat a red flag to me.

The other concern, is as this article "Science Says You Need To Be Wary Of Overly Polite People, Here’s Why" and several articles said, which is inline with my own experience.

The Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Beijing (AMACL) just released their findings that those who are “excessively polite” are considerably more likely to betray peers or comrades than those who are not effusively polite. The researchers at AMACL engaged in an in-depth study of Diplomacy, a strategy-oriented game in which players simulate pre-WWI Europe.

I know this is just one article, not a hard rule. And of course I won't worry about "betray". I am concerned about the candidate is hiding something and shows a quality he/she doesn't really have.

I can't tell whether he is genuinely that way or not. If not, is this a red flag? How will you handle it?

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    I guarantee that science didn't say that you need to be wary of overly polite people, the non-scientist journalist did. Maybe you should be worried if your jobsite included playing board games.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 5:33
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    Are you allowed by your company to reject a candidate because he is too verbose and polite? If yes, has he behaved the same way in the technical interviews? If yes, what do your interviewers feel about it? Don't take such decisions alone
    – androidguy
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 5:46
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    "I invited him for the 2nd interview but he still behaves like that." Well yes, because he's still in an interview and likely still nervous.
    – BSMP
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 7:53
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    Is this their first job? Did their previous job require extreme politeness? Do they come from a region/culture where politeness is very common? Personally, if these were the reasons, I wouldn't worry about them. In Silicon Valley, these kind of things happen all the time with foreign workers and they all adapt very quickly. Just don't expect your candidate to change his habit during the recruitment process itself. It takes time to break a habit. Interviews are stressful. And people are unable to change quickly when they're stressed. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 19:24
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    I didn't see any science in that article. Perhaps there is a correlating article titled: Science Says You Need To Be Wary Of Random Unvetted Articles On The Internet. Sure being overly polite may be a bit cloying or annoying, but that's a "you" problem, not a "them" problem. Concentrate on finding out if they can do the job and if they'll fit into your team. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 19:41

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This is not red flag to me.

I have never heard of a hiring manager rejecting a candidate because the candidate is overly polite. I hope that you would not be the first one.

I would much rather work with an overly polite coworker than an overly rude one.

He may be overly polite due to some reasons such as:

  1. He comes from an overly polite family where his parents teach him to behave this way since he was a kid. Maybe, you are many years his senior, have more experiences, and are in the position of "hiring authority". So, perhaps, he just wants to show respect to you according to his family's teaching.
  2. Some people simply have a habit of saying or doing things in a repeated manner without even recognizing it. They do not mean any harm, but they do not realize that their behaviors may get some unexpected attention or may cause some distractions.
  3. Could this case be either bordering or slightly "on-the-spectrum" ? Some people with a mild form of autistic behaviors are actually very intelligent and usually do a great job at work.
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    This reminds me of southern US children and adults who say “sir” to everyone — I’m just pumping gas and should not be called sir Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 13:20
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    To add to this 4. Nerves. Which are to be expected in an interview. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 16:15
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    5. He's been told by various adults that he really, really, really must be polite in the interview. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 16:48
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Personally, I'd regard it as a verbal tic, not of much consequence, particularly given the artificial environment of an interview. Note that you say "show me the code", but here your are focusing on their style of spoken expression, and you don't even mention the quality of their code. It makes it seem like you are actually treating code quality as a secondary consideration. They've shown you some code haven't they? Was it great? Passable? Not acceptable?

You are also seem to be trying to bolster you pre-existing beliefs with references to a single scientific paper. In fact, you don't even really refer to the paper, just to a popular summary of it. Have your heard of confirmation bias? It's fine to have your own impressions of human behavior, but have you really made an honest study of this, or did the paper just make an impression on you because it seemed to agree with your existing beliefs?

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  • I tried not to jump to conclusion too quickly. One of reasons I asked here. But I feel your answer just did that, e.g "you are actually treating code quality as a secondary consideration or bolster your preexisting belief". But the fact that you spending in answering my question made me feel my question needs further discussion? Is this the case? Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 5:21
  • You are asking us to help evaluate whether the candidates over politeness is important, but you’ve given us no information about the candidates coding skills or their references. There is a tension between that and your professed value that coding is what matters. If they can code rings around the other candidates, then I think you’d be foolish to make over politeness in an interview a hire/no hire decision point. If they are an average coder then it might play a role. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 6:46
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    @Qiulang邱朗 I think the issue is you say "show me the code" but your question doesn't mention what the code is like once. It sounds like you have focused entirely on their talk and nothing on their code. I'm sure that's not the case but that's what it sounds like currently Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 6:49
  • I don't mention the code part on purpose because at the end of the day it is me who makes the decision. You guys can't help me do that and it will be foolish ask an answer for that. I just want to know/hear opinion about whether over-politeness can be a factor or not. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 6:53
  • If that’s really all you want from us then I’ll say my opinion is that rejecting a candidate for being overly polite is silly and superficial. I’ve made the final hiring decision for three developers and had input on a couple of dozen if you want to know my background in this sort of decision. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 7:01
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Unless the politeness is causing a communication barrier, I do not see this as a red flag.

TL;DR - Learn to accept cultural differences. Being polite is a positive, not a red flag.

Cultural dexterity plays a big role in becoming a successful leader. Instead of having the mindset "he probably won't be easy to blend in my team", try to think "what we can do that he feels welcome and we can accommodate him in the team."

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  • If he is a super star of course I will then think "what we can do that he feels welcomed and we can accommodate him in the team." Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 7:23
  • @Qiulang邱朗 Most of the so called "super-stars" are not born but trained and groomed to be the "super-stars". Why don't you try to make him one, if he is not one already? Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 7:26
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At the end of the day it is of course up to you, as the hiring manager, whether you want to bring this person into your team. If you feel that, based on the interview, the person is not going to be a good fit for your team, that may be enough of a reason for you to turn them down.

Or it may not - if you are short on viable candidates, you may need to weigh up your options.

On whether a person's politeness is a judge of character (or whether they are 'likely to betray their peers') - that's not really a hard rule or something that can apply in all situations, or to people from all cultures.

A job interview as a setting is very distinct from a social situation. As you said yourself, someone in a job interview is likely feeling nervous, for any number of reasons. Falling back to 'excessive politeness' may be just how they're dealing with their nervousness.

Overly polite speech may be a cultural thing - the person may feel that you, as a potential superior, are deserving of respect beyond what they would apply in a social situation with equals. This may or may not carry over into their workplace behaviour.

I know when I went to my first 'real' job interview I felt somewhat intimidated by the process, and the two formally-dressed people sitting across the table. I felt that they were far more experienced than me and therefore I should be respectful, similar to interacting with a school teacher. After being hired, I felt much more at ease and was able to interact with my manager as a peer rather than a subordinate.

Many people are also less comfortable around strangers and take some time to 'open up', for any number of reasons. They may appear excessively polite or awkward as they work out how best to interact with each person, but will eventually find their place in the team.

Again, it's your call - people on the internet can't get the 'vibe' of your interview, and a lot of what you're talking about is down to feel rather than facts. If you honestly felt that the person was being excessively polite intentionally to be deceptive somehow (rather than just you being worried about that possibility based on online articles), go with your gut - people here are not going to be able to provide any more insight there.

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  • of course it is my call but as I said in my question I don't have much experience in dealing with this so I asked for opinions Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 5:00
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Interviews are very contrived environments, so I would be reluctant to use this aspect of personal interaction as a significant factor. The whole point of the interview is to put your best self forward in order to get the job. If the candidate believes that being this polite is part to his best self, that's not a bad thing.

It appears from the question that you did the original interview and will be doing the second. If you are concerned about team fit, I would suggest having members of your team be part of the interview, to see if he is overly polite to his future peers and see how well your team interacts with him.

The article you referenced seems to be about evaluating the interaction in an individually competitive environment. Unless you believe members of your team are in competition with each other (as opposed to working towards a common goal) then I wouldn't use that analysis as part of your hiring process.

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