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The other day I called a company about a job they advertised that I was interested in. I spoke to the HR manager there who asked me what kind of relevant industry experience I had. I told him I was very proficient in XYZ. He then proceeded to say something negative and factually incorrect about XYZ, followed by blaming unrelated product problems on it before finally claiming that one should develop their own tool instead of relying on XYZ.

Assuming I was applying for a construction worker job, he said something like: "It's easy to tell if someone used a Stanley brand hammer to build a house because it results in poor construction. You shouldn't use a Stanley brand hammer because it results in poor-quality construction. You should make your own hammer."

I really wanted to correct him and explain how he was wrong, but wasn't sure if it would be the right step to take seeing how he's the one who will decide whether I make it into the company or not and at the same time, if I get hired, I wouldn't be interacting with him very much anyway.

In the end, he sent me a test and if I pass it, I'll be seeing him for an interview. If it comes to that, should I correct him then? Or should I send him a follow-up email before then to explain things better to him?

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    note that 'hiring manager' is usually referred to the person who will be the manager of the new hire , not some HR rando. – AakashM Apr 1 '16 at 9:53
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    nod your head showing you understand his frustration, and ignore, correcting him might look like you're "the smart one", my boss talked about some non-related problem with an API, and I just ignored it, a year later (when I was already working with them for a year) he came to me and talked about the same non-sense thing, so a asked for his secretary to schedule a meeting for me with him, and then I slowly but steadily explained to him how the API worked and how it didn't have anything to do with the issue that happened without making him look like chump – Kyle Apr 1 '16 at 11:37
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    Let it go...the incident or the job opportunity. You pick. – Kent A. Apr 1 '16 at 11:45
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    Listen to everyone, don't listen to me. I would've corrected him, explaining why I thought he was wrong. I'm a big believer in being open and honest with people but I suspect that everyone else just thinks I'm annoying. :) – Dave M Apr 1 '16 at 12:20
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    Someone quoted a poem to me that sums it up: "Here lies the body of William Jay, who died maintaining his right of way. He was right, DEAD right, as he sped along, but he's just as dead as if he were wrong". An interview is not the time to correct someone. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Apr 1 '16 at 13:05

10 Answers 10

7

Don't bring it up now

In your situation now, I wouldn't bring the point up, unless the HR manager does so. If you get the job you can have a coffee with him and chat it over, if you don't get the job you can send him a friendly email thanking him for his time and mentioning where your opinion differs. Bringing it up now seems gauche to me.

If the manager brings the point up again, or you find yourself in a similar situation again, I strongly suggest:

If it happens again, don't correct the HR Manager, but do discuss with him.

Why do I say that? I'll give two examples which might illustrate my way of thinking. In my current position, my Hiring Manager HM1 (the guy who is one level above my current manager) asked a question about foo, which I thought revealed an immature level of thinking of foo. Foo is a very trendy, highly thought of practice in software engineering that which I strongly feel people should have a more skeptical attitude towards. In this example HM1 was expressing an opinion that he genuinely has.

We got into a rather heated (but professional) argument, after which they aggressively pursued me for the job. My interpretation is that by arguing with him I was able to demonstrate a strong knowledge of foo, which he cared about, and was also able to show an ability to discuss an idea on its merits and communicate clearly. On my side, I wouldn't want to work for a company where opinions are so dogmatically held that they wouldn't hire someone with a differing, well grounded, and well expressed opinion. Additionally, when people are saying "This design is awesome because it uses foo", no one is surprised when I say "sorry, that's not proof, justify it on it's merits since foo is neither necessary nor sufficient to prove merit".

In another case, a colleague had an interview where an interviewer said "Bar? Bar is a waste of time and money". In this case the interviewer was testing whether my colleague could successfully advocate in favor of Bar, and/or whether or not said colleague could adroitly navigate differences of opinion, a test the colleague sadly failed. Tricky!

And remember, you're discussing, not correcting. People typically have mechanisms by which they came to an opinion. Unless there are controlled experiments which provide strong evidence for your claims, or logical proofs, you can't invalidate those opinions. What you can do is share your reasons for thinking differently, and hope that those reasons are compelling. Enter any such conversation with the same attitude you hope to receive from your conversation partner. A good way to start is exploring the other persons reasons for their beliefs.

  • I voted this as best answer because I felt it was the most relevant answer to my situation. – user48683 Apr 29 '16 at 11:29
57

As always, show don't tell. Say how in your experience using XYZ worked well. For instance:

I've been working on a new house recently with Stanley brand hammers and found they worked well. We did try using CheapKnockOff brand hammers for a while, but my team found they gave blisters due to the cheap covering on the handles.

(As you can probably tell, I know virtually nothing about hammers). The point here is that everybody's circumstances are different: in some circumstances (the one's you've been in), XYZ was the right choice. In other circumstances, it's not, so it's not about correcting somebody else, it's about understanding what's different. Don't assume that the same things apply in this new role as applied in your old role.

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    "I know virtually nothing about hammers" - It's a good metaphor, though: in some workplaces, people will claim that the (metaphorical) blisters on their hands are because everyone's working so hard, when it's really because their tools are hard to handle. – recognizer Apr 1 '16 at 15:39
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    I thjink you're overestimating the amount of thought I put into that analogy :-) – Philip Kendall Apr 1 '16 at 15:48
  • Just shows even complete BS can be intelligent. It doesn't have to insult others, is perfectly coherent, leads to further intelligent discussion, and is generally a positive contribution. You also can tell people right after that you really don't know anything and any feedback are welcomed. – Nelson Apr 5 '16 at 5:46
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An interview is a two-way street. Simply put, he failed. I'd move on.

Do you have any reason to believe his opinions will change once you're hired? Or that they're limited to this one tool? It also sounds like he is only marginally competent at diagnosing problems. Everyone working on projects has to have a good way of dealing with failures--not every project is a success. Successful places learn--correctly--from their mistakes. This increases the odds of success next time. Blaming the wrong tool? Doesn't sound like that will help.

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    I'd move on if this was coming from the hiring manager, but it was someone in HR. HR's technical opinions don't say anything about the competence of the team the OP would join. – Lilienthal Apr 1 '16 at 15:13
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    @Lilienthal I would disagree. If a clueless HR person is filtering the candidates then the team is likely to be formed from a sub-par selection of them. I've rarely found companies with poor hiring processes to have great hires. – Matthew Read Apr 2 '16 at 21:18
  • @MatthewRead Yes, but that's if HR is actually filtering out candidates instead of just organising logistics. From what the OP describes it seems more like this was the HR manager pushing his ignorant opinions on him while being powerless to act on them. It's obviously not a great sign but not something I'd always self-select out for. – Lilienthal Apr 2 '16 at 21:28
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    @Lilienthal Definitely true, but others will self-select themselves out when the first reaction they get it is effectively "The tools you use suck". – Matthew Read Apr 2 '16 at 21:32
  • I think this will depend substantially on the size of the company. I've been in a 100K+ firm, and HR relied entirely on hiring managers for all work-related information. I've dealt with many places under 100, and HR knew intimate details. I thing we're much closer to that end of the spectrum, if HR even recognizes the name of the tech (the big exceptions being SAP and Microsoft Office). – jimm101 Apr 2 '16 at 22:54
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No, you should let it go. You're very unlikely to convince him to change his mind, and getting into a pointless argument is going to harm your odds of landing the job, not improve them. Even if you manage to show that he's demonstrably, factually wrong about something (and it sounds like this is more a matter of opinion), it would be human nature to resent this and blame the messenger.

Of course, it's possible that the difference in opinion between you two is so great that you decide not to take job over it, but that's another matter. But if this person is just the HR manager, as opposed to your future manager or the person who will conduct your interview, even this would be hasty.

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    Given the OP is very proficient in XYZ and the Hirer "hates" XYZ is the Hirer going to ignore the OP due to only having XYZ experience? Given this facet it would seem wise to say something like "That's fascinating, I have some thoughts on that can we discuss some of them?" to thus re-position himself in that Hirer's mind. Away from a worthless-XYZ-engineer – Paul Apr 1 '16 at 9:54
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There's a lot of variables to take into account here. It seems likely that critical thought will be less appreciated when applying for a construction worker job than when applying for a software development job. Likewise, a software company that has its own product and cares a lot about the quality will likely appreciate it more than a software company that does outsourcing work. I don't doubt there are cultural differences as well.

That said, I would definitely mention it. However, the key is to relativize his comment rather than calling him out.

For example, I might say something like "Well... in my experience [x] and thus found that [y] {isn't so much a problem when you do [z] / doesn't really apply to [z] / can easily be avoided when using [z]}"

The "Well..." gives the manager a clear heads-up on the fact that you're not agreeing with him entirely, and might even give you a quick moment to assess how he is responding to that. The "in my experience" clearly indicates that you are really just talking about your personal view on the matter (and it can easily be replaced with a similar phrase). The final part explicitly does not state that what the manager said is wrong, but rather that is not a problem in your perception.

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    "That's interesting. I found it was pretty good for tasks X and Y. If we have time after the interview I'd like to discuss what issues you ran into; we might both learn something." – keshlam Apr 3 '16 at 16:14
  • @keshlam That's definitely a good alternative. I couldn't see myself saying that, but that's because of me not because of the sentence. The takeaway should probably be that the sentence I gave is just an example that works for me and one should look for his own alternative which works for him or her. – Jasper Apr 3 '16 at 19:29
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You heard the saying "the customer is always right". What it really means: If you have the choice between winning an argument with the customer, and making a sale, then the customer is always right.

Same here: The hiring manager is always right. Your choice is between starting and winning an argument with the hiring manager, and having a chance to get the job. If you want the job, then the hiring manager is always right.

(Within reason obviously. If what the hiring manager says is so bad that you decide you don't want to work at a company where a hiring manager says that kind of thing then do what you like. If the hiring manager says that you are no good for the advertised position, then obviously you will contradict if he is wrong, because without contradicting you are not getting the job anyway).

Remember that proving the hiring manager wrong doesn't pay your rent and doesn't put food on your table.

Regarding comments: 1. "The HR manager is always right" obviously doesn't mean that the HR manager is right, it means that correctly telling him that he is wrong is not going to benefit you in any way. 2. The poster explicitely told us that the person complaining is the HR manager. So unless the poster was applying for a job in HR, the HR manager in question is not going to be the poster's manager.

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    Can't agree with this. As someone who hires people, I would prefer not to hire people who think I am always right. Showing that you have your own opinion (within reason) in an interview is not necessarily a bad thing. – user45590 Apr 1 '16 at 12:46
  • @dan1111: I wouldn't want to be hired by someone with that low skills in understanding what I say. The hiring manager is not someone whose technical opinion I care about, the only thing I care about is whether he gets in my way. – gnasher729 Apr 1 '16 at 17:34
  • @gnasher729 In my experience, the hiring manager has always then been my direct supervisor, so their technical opinion matters a lot to me. Now in this case it is possible that the hiring manager is an HR person that they don't have to work with after the interview, but that seems unlikely to me – Kevin Wells Apr 1 '16 at 21:52
  • Unlikely, but what the poster states. – gnasher729 Apr 3 '16 at 1:02
2

HR is rarely the decision maker in the hiring process. Nor does their opinion of a technical aspect bear much weight in that process.

There are two cases where that would be different: 1. If the job you are after is in the HR department. 2. In very rare cases HR has more of a say in the hiring process.

Having said that, for at least key positions, I will generally include HR and as much other relevant management as is available in the interview process to get more opinions of character and culture fit, but not for technical substance.

If HR management had any opinion about a technical aspect, it would be unlikely to have much bearing on my decision.

So, to your questions: Should you correct the HR Manager? No. It has no upside at best, and at worst can make you look argumentative. You made the right choice.

Should you pass on the job? No. The HR Manager's opinion differing from your own is meaningless.

All this changes a bit if the job you are going after is CIO, CTO, etc. where the HR Manager will be a key internal customer. However, even in that case, it would just mean you have to do some legwork to build consensus across all effected areas of management if that tool is a good fit for the organization.

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You're not going to win this one. The HR Hiring Manager is not a technician. To use a metaphor as well: He's the gate keeper to the worksite, not the guy who builds the houses.

Gatekeepers protect gates and only let people pass when they present the right credentials -- knowing the right words to say (password), wearing the right uniform, etc. He only knows what the technicians have told him ("Stanley hammers sux!").

There are two places you can go from here:

On the one hand, you can simply accept that this is probably not the job for you. They like the craftsmanship and control of building their own hammers, but you like to build houses using easily purchased commodity hammers. Their culture probably reflects the opinions of management. It's never a good idea to accept a non-management, technician job with the expectation that you will bend the existing culture and management to your will. That's an uphill climb at best, you're fighting against sunk-costs (all the money they've spent making their own hammers), and just gets you the reputation of being a malcontent. Management is going to do what it wants.

Or, on the other hand if you really want / need this job, then:

1) Accept that you probably aren't going to get your way on using commodity hammers (I assume we're talking about Angular, or Entity Framewok, or Hibernate, or some communication protocol or something). You're just going to have to use the tools they like. After all, they're paying you for it.

And,

2) Just tell the hiring manager what he wants to hear. Don't lie -- always be truthful. But maybe don't pick this battle. Just tell the HR person, "you know, I have tons of experience in this field. In the past I have used [tool] extensively, and have had good experiences with it on large projects. But I'm not married to that tool, I'm married to my spouse. I'm happy to use whatever tools you prefer, including in-house frameworks."

Then if you accept the job, have an attitude that you will be a team player, and give them what they are paying you to do. Who cares if there's a better way? That's their problem.

The thing about technicians is, we feel strongly about our tools. So if the above sounds too hard, then maybe it's best to move on. This job will be a source of daily aggravation that you don't need.

1

There are a couple of potential mitigators here.

This may have been a test

It is possible that the HR Manager was attempting to provoke you with an argument from ignorance to judge how you were able to respond. This is a big red flag for me anyway though because if there is a need to evaluate that, then there is potentially some issue with the team where such conflicts may be either common, or at least frequent enough to merit a tactic like this.

The reason this is a big red flag for me is because I know that I lack the temperament to tolerate this behavior on a regular basis. If you have the temperament to deal with this behavior in a professional manner, then this could be a great fit for you, especially since if this is the case then you can probably command a higher salary than normal to compensate for the added stress.

The HR person is a failed programmer

There is an old axiom:

Those who can do, those who can't teach, and those who can't teach work in HR.

This certainly sounds like someone I would not want working for my dev team, or training those people on my dev team so that fits. If this is the case, chances are the Dev Manager knows it and you will never have to deal with that idiot once hired. If you are wanting this position bad enough, then I would certainly ask about that in the interview with the hiring team. Something like:

I spoke to someone in HR and they said this. Is that the philosophy of the team?

For me there is too many other potential opportunities out there to pursue this position anyway. But if you are in a less fertile job market, or you have some desire to work for the company anyway, then just try to move on. Do your best to deal with the issues with out getting defensive or argumentative.

0

Take it as an excellent opportunity to engage in discussion about XYZ from a positive angle - what you learnt from working with it, the pro's and con's (probably some big con's in your HR manager's mind), how you would write your own tool if you ever had the chance - that sort of thing.

The HR manager obviously has negative some back feedback about XYZ, whether accurate or not, so I would accept that point and show how you can intelligently talk about it from a different angle.

For example:

From time to time we all have to work with tecnologies that aren't ideal, and I can relate well to what you say in that XYZ has some serious challenges when working with it.

Whilst I wasn't involved with the evaluation process to choose technology XYZ, and our plans to eventually move away from it didn't come to fruition during my previous assignment, I did however learn a lot about XYZ and ABC-related technologies in general.

In particular, aspect A and aspect B were extremely challenging and frustrating, and if I wrote my own ABC tool one day, I would certainly do it differently. For example aspect C that you find in different ABC-related technologies looks promising.

I really look forward to learning other ABC-related technologies and feel I can hit the ground running given my experience with XYZ.

Everyone has that out-dated technology on their CV. For example on mine there is "J.D.Edwards" and "Hibernate". But I don't take them off, since they often create good talking points in interview - take the "negative" and turn it into a "positive"!

If however they constantly create problems in interviewing them I would relabel them as the technology area instead of the particular product, e.g. "ERP systems" an "ORM technology".

  • sorry, just curious :) What do you use instead of Hibernate? (I know this is not stackoverflow here, but nevertheless..) – John Donn Jul 7 '16 at 14:13

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