I've a candidate with about 1 year of rather mediocre experience in web development, but he overestimates himself and considers himself to be almost a tech lead, because he is naive and hasn't seen really experienced guys.

I'd like to hire him for a middle developer position, because I see potential in him, but how should I deal with his heightened self-esteem?

What tactics should be used in the final interview and initial working period to deal with such candidates so they can work effectively?

I.e. what would be a safe way to remove 'rose-coloured glasses'?

  • 33
    Remember when hiring someone, cultural fit is also important. If you feel this person may be technically capable but likely to rub other team members up the wrong way then you may need to reconsider employing him.
    – Jane S
    Jul 7, 2015 at 11:56
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    As a side point, I think you mean "rose tinted glasses" not "pink glasses". Whilst rose-tinted glasses would indeed be pink (although roses come in many colours) the idiom is "rose tinted" or "rose coloured".
    – Marv Mills
    Jul 7, 2015 at 12:16
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    Actually, I have just learnt in this link that "pink glasses" IS an idiom in the Czech and German languages, so a direct translation would be technically correct, although the British English idiom would be "rose-tinted": english.stackexchange.com/questions/257566/…
    – Marv Mills
    Jul 7, 2015 at 12:40
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    If your assessment of him being "naive" is accurate, then it should be no problem to have the more experienced developers present him with problems that only "experience" would be able to adequately solve. In software development, analytic prowess; problem solving ability; and interpersonal communication skills are the aspects that are valued. "Experience" and "education" are merely proxy values for those skills. Who knows...he may be rightfully confident in his abilities. Jul 7, 2015 at 20:04
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    (Someone with no work experience here) It's worth pointing out that he might be faking it. We are told to alway be confident in interviews, and to present any kind of experience as a great accomplishment (apparently HR loves this, I don't know). This results in bloated curricula (which is something I hate) and it entails the possibility of coming off as arrogant. There is a fine line between being confident and being arrogant, after all! :)
    – Ant
    Jul 7, 2015 at 21:35

7 Answers 7


I'd like to hire him for middle developer position, because I see potential in him, but how should I deal with his heightened self-esteem?

You don't need to deal with his heightened self-esteem if you choose not to. If you suspect his evaluation of his own abilities differs so much from yours such that it would get in the way of his success as a middle developer, then you should pass on him.

But if you believe he might do well in the role and might be amenable to the position, then you just need to be honest. Something like "We think you would fit well in the role of a middle developer here." should suffice. You could point out the job ladder at your company, and show where someone with 1 year of his experience would fit, and where it could lead to eventually.

Some candidates will outright reject such an offer. If that's the case with this individual, then you need to move on to the next candidate.

It's not your role to "remove rose colored glasses" from candidates - it's your job to find someone who will fit and wants the position you are offering.

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    I love this: "If you suspect [some quality] would get in the way of his success as [position being hired for], then you should pass on him." A thousand times this. There are things you can remove from a car and still have it run, but there are some things you just can't. As a hobby you might buy cars without those parts and install them or fix them yourself, but in the workplace, you only buy smooth running cars.
    – corsiKa
    Jul 7, 2015 at 16:17
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    @corsiKa As a hobby you might buy cars without those parts and install them or fix them yourself, but in the workplace, you only buy smooth running cars. ... you only buy is a bit of a wide brush. Some dealers only want something they can sell as new used... some dealers want anything they can make a profit on. It's all about getting the right price for the resell. The issue comes when a Buick drives in demanding Ferrari prices... then it's time to pass on the deal. Otherwise, a company might be okay with a fixer upper.
    – WernerCD
    Jul 7, 2015 at 18:53
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    @JoeStrazzere There are two sides two that coin... Safe bets, safe rewards. Big Bets, Big Rewards. Can't find the diamond in the rough if you don't spend some time in the dirt. You won't lose as much in the nickle slots... But it comes down to price and willingness to bring a possible candidate up to speed. It's up to the "Company" to take the bet - and some companies are willing... I just think that "you only buy smooth cars" ignores the fact that some companies still take bets.
    – WernerCD
    Jul 7, 2015 at 19:30
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    Sometimes you got to hire people that are a little cray-cray if you don't have the coinage. Jul 7, 2015 at 22:02
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    @MarkRogers or if you need specialists with PHDs.
    – Gusdor
    Jul 8, 2015 at 7:15

In your case, a safe way to remove the rose-colored glasses would be to bring him in at the intended mid-developer position you want him in, but do it in a way that presents the position and initial workflow he is tasked with as an introduction to the company workflow and culture. Then let his performance on those tasks shed light to him on how he is not up to par for team leader or senior developer.

For the final interview, I would present him the job offer and express to him that for a period up to the length of the probationary period he will start at a specific point in the workflow to help him grasp the business before being thrown in to full fledged projects. Approaching the situation in this fashion addresses your issue, maintains honesty and give you time to see how he will mesh with the team without causing unnecessary friction among you core team members.

In the end you can cultivate and craft his great confidence to be an asset to the team, you just have to do so with some temperance to his overconfidence by implementing an approach that will give him a healthy dose of humility.

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    My god, this is exactly what happened to me! Are you the one who hired me?! Thanks for pointing this ... now I understood the tricks used by my manager :D
    – Jack Twain
    Jul 7, 2015 at 13:38

List objective requirements he cannot meet for your lead/senior positions

Talk about "years of experience" required to become a tech lead. This question has tons of answers about why years of experience matter.

There are a lot of things that someone with a year of mediocre experience will not have.

When you are discussing the requirements for your higher level positions such as tech lead, it's easy to describe the types of skills/experiences required even if just "years of experience."

How to point out gaps if he doesn't believe you..

If the candidate protests, there are a few things you might want to consider. First they are pretty confident in their naive background. This is not necessarily something you want in an employee.

Second, you can suggest asking questions from those interviews. Make sure to say something like, "I really don't think you have the right experiences for a tech lead/senior position, but if you want we can go through our interview questions anyways."

Keep in mind that it'd be easy to ask questions which are nearly impossible to answer with a year of mediocre experience:

  • What lessons did you learn from mistakes you made initially but only become obvious after a few years with the product?
  • When starting multi-year projects, what approaches do you take towards gathering requirements?
  • What times have you actively guided other employees and mentored them technically? What were the results?

It'll become really obvious to the candidate that they don't have the experience needed to answer your questions for the position.

Should you have him interview with current leads/seniors?

Just a note, I would avoid interviewing with your current tech leads for a tech lead type of position because they will obviously find this person not qualified. You don't want the new hire to immediately have resentment or negative attitudes from your current seniors/tech leads..

If you want to do this be very careful to not make him feel mocked/etc. Keep in mind he is interviewing for your company, too, and a terrible experience interviewing might not go over so well.

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    Honestly, this entire answer reeks of ageism to me. It's a typical "kids get off my lawn" answer, and would never convince anyone who thinks they have required skills.
    – Davor
    Jul 8, 2015 at 9:05
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    @Davor how so? a lead role requires experience, even the most fantastic candidate in raw skill could not be qualified. There is no ageism in that.
    – JamesRyan
    Jul 8, 2015 at 11:56
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    @JamesRyan - no, a lead role requires skill in leadership. Some people will not obtain it in 20 years of experience, and some will have it from the get go simply due to their personality and charisma. Sure, more experience increases the likelihood of having said skill, but doesn't actually tell you anything on individual level.
    – Davor
    Jul 8, 2015 at 13:38
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    @Davor nobody has leadership skill from the get go. Some may have more potential and pick it up quicker but they still need real world experience to develop it. 1 year is barely enough for the brightest to become good at development, let alone lead in it. I feel you may be suffering a little from the same as the subject of the OP.
    – JamesRyan
    Jul 8, 2015 at 14:38
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    @Davor sorry but you are in a world of make belief. A schoolkid running 50 lemonade stands is not qualified to be a lead developer if they have no development experience, just as you are clearly not qualified to write a sensible comment
    – JamesRyan
    Jul 8, 2015 at 18:10

My first professional developer job had the unfortunate side-effect of convincing me I was an expert. I was sorted out by an interviewer showing me I was using the wrong scale of measurement.

I was interviewed for a junior developer position by a senior developer, who asked me to rate myself from 1 to 10 in various broad technology categories listed on my resume. 1 was "no experience with this technology" and 10 was "know everything there is to know about it". I rated myself something like 6-8 on everything.

Then he asked me a few questions about each of those technologies to see what I knew and what I didn't know, and produced his own ratings: they were more like 1-3. He was quick to point out, however, that this is what he would expect of someone with only a year or two of experience.

An exercise like this truly can shift a candidate's perspective and expectations of themselves. If the candidate in question is unmoved by an obviously more-experienced interviewer's assessment of their capabilities, well, they probably aren't going to grow much as a developer. And that's what you want out of a junior developer: not knowledge, growth.

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    The problem is of course when you act more reasonably and give yourself the 1-3 rating, no one will hire you as they might deem you inept :) Jul 7, 2015 at 19:35
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    If I had little experience and identified myself as such, and was dismissed as "inept", I either applied for a job that legitimately requires a more-experienced candidate, or the interviewer's the one being unreasonable. :)
    – Dan J
    Jul 7, 2015 at 20:10
  • It is worth considering that the candidate may not be interested in that kind of feedback from a perfect stranger. That does not mean that the candidate would not have appreciated it from a trusted colleague instead. Jul 8, 2015 at 8:16

Arguably, hubris is a virtue for a developer (Larry Wall). If you wish to abate it, you have all the tools at your disposal:

...because he is naive and hasn't seen really experienced guys.

Get a panel of your senior developers to do the interview, with the goal of figuring out exactly how good he his at the stuff he claims to be good at. The advantage of the panel is that you're almost assured to have in the room both someone sharing expertise with the interviewee, and therefore capable of digging deep, calling bullshit and asking the nasty questions - and someone not familiar with whatever technology is being explored, which require the interviewee to explain things clearly and simply, and answer naive (or not so naive) questions.

Emphasis on 'stuff he claims to be good at'. There is no point wasting time exploring technologies the interviewee has no or little experience with.

Best case: the interviewee actually trumps all your experts - and they now want to work with him so they can learn from him.

Good case: the interviewee realizes he doesn't know everything, but now want to works with the guys that interviewed him because he can learn from them (and adjusts his demands accordingly).

Bad case: the interviewers start asking a chain of questions that the interviewee can't answer (either because they didn't keep the 'stuff he claims to be good at' in mind or because he blatantly lied about his expertise in his resume), interviewee starts sweating or freezes, and things go down from there.

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    You risk starting on hostile ground with a new hire and his senior colleagues this way. Sounds dangerous and an expensive exercise if you consider the senior stafs time spent. Also your best case seems ridiculous... And not a best case at all, but a major blow to your confidence in your senior staff.
    – Reaces
    Jul 8, 2015 at 21:23
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    Panel interview doesn't imply hostile. I agree it's harder to make a candidate relax with 4 other people in the room than with just one. And my best case is not ridiculous: remember you'll ask about something he's expert at - not something you are good at. A good software engineer is not one that knows everything in depth - that's impossible - it's someone who learns fast, can explain clearly what they know, and when presented with a new problem can articulate a path to a solution. If your senior staff can't handle learning things in an interview, I'm afraid they've grown comfortable.
    – ptyx
    Jul 8, 2015 at 22:03
  • @Reaces sorry, misread your last sentence: "but a major blow to your confidence in your senior staff." Still a nice problem to have, because the solution is right there: the guy you're about to hire!
    – ptyx
    Jul 8, 2015 at 22:30
  • If your senior staff is stumped by someone with a years worth of experience... That's a problem. And if you really believe the solution is one cocky new guy... Awch.
    – Reaces
    Jul 9, 2015 at 5:59
  • If your senior staff can't find someone they know the new guy doesn't know, it's a problem. If someone with 1 year of experience in a technology they're not overly familiar with is capable of answering all their questions about that technology, then why is it a problem?
    – ptyx
    Jul 9, 2015 at 16:47

I prefer to be brutally frank. The worst that happens is that he is shell shocked that he is not the most beautiful princess on the block and he runs away. But laying the expectations clearly and unequivocally straight from the beginning avoids a lot of miscommunications afterwards and possibly reduces some posting traffic from disgruntled employees on workplace.stackexchange.com :)

Having said that, it's possible that he can be a team lead in some organization where the standards of performance are not so high. Every organization has a more or less clear idea of what it expects in a team lead. Your organization has its own expectations, which are probably distinct than some random organization's expectations.

Blessed be the biggest frog in the pond, because it hasn't met the catfish in the river yet, and doesn't know what it could be in for - I understand that catfish love frog legs :)

  • 2
    No need to be "brutal" to the point of shocking the candidate. Why isn't just being honest enough? (like what @Joestrazzer says).
    – teego1967
    Jul 7, 2015 at 16:45
  • @teego Being brutally frank is how I get my message through with deluded individuals - shreds the fabric of whatever bubble they put around them and strips them naked. And it's not like me to use a bullet on a target when I can take out the target and everything behind it with a cannon. Not surprisingly, very few of the issues that my msnagement assigns to me come back from the dead. I guess you don't want to work with me anymore :) Jul 7, 2015 at 17:00
  • The candidate in question is not "delusional". As the OP describes, he's a desirable choice who appears somewhat overconfident for the position-- the approach you've described would backfire on you as well turn off otherwise good candidates. You can't fix a watch while wearing boxing gloves.
    – teego1967
    Jul 7, 2015 at 17:12
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    How do we deal with question-answerers with heightened self-esteem? ;)
    – Dan J
    Jul 7, 2015 at 17:53
  • @DanJ In my case, upvotes? :) Don't tell me that's the wrong answer :) Jul 7, 2015 at 20:00

Other people with more knowledge and experience have a way of bringing down "high self esteem". Put him to work with some of your brightest minds and he will soon figure out he isn't that great. Humility will come naturally soon after.


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