I recently did an in-office interview with a candidate for a programming position. The preliminary phone screen went OK. That person allegedly had several years of experience, so we asked them to come in the office for an extended interview, including a coding test.

The test is very simple and is only there to make sure that the candidate can build a very basic program. I'd expect any programmer to pass in less than 30 minutes.

The candidate bombed it. I left them alone for about 30 minutes in front of the computer, just checking from time to time if they needed anything, and they ended up not producing a single line of code, because they could not even set up a minimal application. It seems that they were having trouble with the IDE.

At that point, my mind was already made-up that there was no way I would hire that person, but I started feeling bad about ending things abruptly.

I let them sit in our daily meeting, so they could meet the team and get an idea of the work we did, and then I quickly set up a console application, so they could try the test again while only focusing on the code.

The second attempt yielded the same result. They gave up after 20 minutes.

At that point, the candidate apologized and said they were ready to leave. After they left, I checked their screen and there was only one line. I think they could not even figure out how to run the program.

I wish I had known how to send them home early without making them feel too bad, and even when they finally gave up, I was a bit speechless and I feel like I could have handled it more gracefully than "Thanks for coming. Have a good day".

Is there a diplomatic way to let a candidate know that they bombed the interview?

Edit: To clarify, We do not impose an IDE, nor a language. They are free to pick one of several popular editors installed on that test machine.

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    It seems that they were having trouble with the IDE <-- for what it's worth, I've actually been in this situation before, where someone basically said, "here use this IDE that you've never used before and write some code on the spot." It didn't end well (for me). Almost everyone is nervous in an interview and figuring out an IDE, many of which are complicated, only adds to the stress.
    – enderland
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 2:26
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    I agree. That's why we installed several popular editors on the test machine, and let the candidate know that they can solve the problem any way they want, as long as they can run the solution.
    – LeBash
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 2:36
  • Were there several programming languages available? Someone who's a whiz with Ada is bound to have trouble with C (the most error-prone "popular" language around).
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 3:27
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    @WGroleau Yes. Off the top of my head, the machine was set up for .NET (C#, VB.NET, F#), SQL, C/C++, Python, JavaScript, Powershell and Java (even though we're a .NET shop). The candidate is free to use any of these languages. I also tell them that they are allowed to use other languages via online IDEs or REPLs. The candidate picked JavaScript (with which they had plenty of experience, according to their resume). Again, we're not trying to put candidates in a difficult position. We just want to see if they can write a very simple program.
    – LeBash
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 4:06
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    @Brandin Yes. But we want to see how the candidate works with a computer, so they have to write down an actual program, in an actual programming environment. I've had the case where the program would not actually run, but the candidate had written something concrete and was able to explain what they were trying to achieve. That would be OK for a candidate with very little programming experience though, such as a college graduate. I expect a professional programmer to be able to write a simple JavaScript program with just a browser an any text editor.
    – LeBash
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 13:08

2 Answers 2


If you're looking at avoiding awkwardness, I'm not sure it's possible at that point. The awkward situation was created by the person coming in and spending nearly an hour on a test, only to fail it. All you can really do at that point is say "I'm sorry, I think we're going to look elsewhere" and leave it at that.

I do wonder which IDE you're using because that can make some difference. If you're a .NET shop hiring a backend guy and you're using Visual Studio, yeah, it's pretty open and shut. If you're a PHP shop and you're using... whichever IDE people who use PHP use, that might be a tougher situation. I mean, hell, I work in a .NET shop but really only use VS proper for source control (I do front-end web development and the reality of our development environment is that it's just plain easier to deploy directly to a test server and debug using Chrome or IE's web developer tools). I have enough experience doing server-side coding in VS that I'm sure I'd do OK, but I can't very well speak for all experienced developers.

Maybe to avoid the possibility of that "I know the language but not your IDE" situation in the future, maybe give the developer a heads-up that there may be a test component to the in-person interview and then state what the IDE you're planning on using is? That in turn means you probably can't copy a test from the Internet anymore but, well, that's kind of always an issue (and you definitely sound like a person versed in technical stuff but if you're not, I'd probably advise against tests like that, period, but that's another topic altogether).

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    .NET dev here, haven't touched Visual Studio about a year, haven't touched VS without ReSharper for 5 years. Hell, I haven't even done any dev work on Windows for the past 6 months. It's not clearcut for any language.
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 20:55

Say "We are sorry but we think that there is no point to going further with the interviews process. XXX will see you on your way out. We thank you for your time and we are sorry that things did not work out."

Having said that, if I had never used your IDE before and I were interviewing with you, I'd be in a predicament.

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