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I'm not an HR person at all, but today I interviewed one candidate who applied for the role of senior embedded software engineer. Indeed, I'm an embedded software engineer, and for 50% of my time I work as R&D Manager of one of our products (I got promoted last month). "Manager" is an excessive word (everybody knows it), as it doesn't mean that I'm part of the management team, but it just means that I'm responsible for R&D of that product (translate requirements from sales, estimate the time needed for development [not doing any planning!], etc.). I worked in the company for almost 1.5 years, and I have in total more than 2 years of work experience (yes, I'm a "junior" guy). I mention these details because they might be useful later in this post.

Anyway, the director asked me to interview the candidate and talk to him about technical stuff, what he knows, if he can be a good fit, etc. It wasn't a really technical interview, but just one to get the first impression.

I think that the candidate is very good technically (we still have to verify it), with a lot of experience, but I'm not sure that his "behavior" matches ours. I think that our work environment is pretty funny and relaxed, while he seems to be the opposite (serious, individual worker, etc.). I'm not going into details about this, but one thing that annoyed me is that I asked him a question, he replied, then I wanted to talk about something else (enough time passed between his answer and me speaking again), but he basically talked over me. This happened 2 or 3 times in the same interview. He never apologized for it, while I was expecting something like: "oh sorry, I interrupted you".

I didn't say anything to him, but I reported it to the director and to another colleague. I asked to the director if the same thing happened to him while interviewing the same candidate, and he said it didn't.

So my other colleague brought up that this candidate's behavior might be a result from me not being in a leadership position in the company, which is actually true.

While I understand that it's weird that a junior guy interviews a senior one, I also think that this explains a lot about the behavior of the senior guy. I don't want to go into details about "lack of respect" or similar things, but I think that this might create problems if he is going to work here. Especially because, as I already said, I'm managing a product and that I will have to decide what has to be done, how the work should be done, and stuff like that (I'm not managing people!). I will not supervise anyone.

I must say that a previous employee had a similar behavior. I guess he didn't respect me, so when I told him what to do and HOW to do it, he did it in the opposite way. The director noticed it, and he got fired after not even 3 months. So I'm afraid of a similar situation.

EDIT: I asked the director to have another interview with him (if the other interviews with other colleagues go well, I will have it on technical matters anyway), so I will probably talk to him again. What I want to be sure of is that he is a right fit for the company, both technically and "behaviorally". About the latter, I'm looking for questions that I can ask him to assess his attitude, because all of I stated above might be because of his nervousness, stress, or other things. Also, I'm an inexperienced guy in the HR field.

Do you have any suggestions about questions I can ask, or do you think I gave too much weight to this particular behavior?

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    Junior and Senior have no real meaning between organizations or groups. His interruptions were pretty uncalled for; an interview is an interview, and should be given that level of respect, regardless of who is conducting the interview. – Kaizerwolf Apr 26 '17 at 15:02
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    You can learn a lot watching how people treat those they deem to be "junior" to them. – Dan Pichelman Apr 26 '17 at 15:10
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Apr 27 '17 at 11:01
  • When this happens to me as an interviewer, I realize that being easily talked over says more about me than the candidate. – pmf Dec 11 '17 at 13:16
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I've always been a believer in following your "gut" and your gut is telling you that this guy won't be a good fit. You'll probably turn out to be right. If it were me, I'd follow that feeling and tell the guy "we're going in a different direction" and just leave it that.

If you have to bring him back in, interview him as you normally would but when he interrupts twice, call him on it. That's right, call him on it. You probably don't want to hire him anyway and this will at least give him the opportunity to see his behavior and perhaps explain it.

"Let's stop a second, let's stop right there. Twice you've interrupted me. Why is that?"

See what his response is. He'll probably deny it. You can then even take it a little further with some leading questions along the lines...

"How are you at taking direction from someone with more company seniority, or "domain experience" than you but with less industry experience?"

I suspect that the individual is holding back and just one little irritation away from being overtly disrespectful, hoping he can get through the interview. You need to make sure that if that's what he's doing, his true colors show.

On the other hand, he may actually apologize or see that he's walking on thin ice.

Lastly, you could even put him in a little direct pressure:

"How would you feel taking direction from me?" and then follow up with "What if I have you change something based on on what I've learned in my experience but you don't see it the same way. How would you handle that?"

His answer should be illuminating or he's a good liar.

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Bring another person with you

Bring another person with you to your follow up talk so that they may observe behavior as you ask questions.

Also, during this talk, use targeted selection questions - these are questions that focus on behavior but still get you what you need technically when you ask your follow-up questions. For example:

"Give me an example of when you had to correct a junior engineer on a technical issue and tell me how they reacted" "What was the technical issue and describe what was wrong."

"Describe for me a time when a junior engineer had to correct you - what was their approach and what was your reaction?"

"Give me an example of when you had to correct a manager on a technical matter"

You can take a deeper dive into the technical aspects of the situation after he has answered via follow-up questions to get a feel for his knowledge of the technology behind the issue.

The questions themselves should clarify his past behavior and surface any behavior issues he may have. And, as you ask your follow up questions, observe if he still interrupts you and talks over you.

If he is truly a problem, this technique will flesh it out and you will have a witness.

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If the candidate is lacking a basic level of respect for somebody he will likely have to work with on a day-to-day or bi-daily basis on a point of senority in the company (and honestly, this sounds age-based more than anything), then it stands to reason that he's going to be a total ass once he's in there and heaven forbid once he passes his probation (if indeed it does progress that far).

Better to cut off the problem at the root now. Stick with your gut and push this with the director and the other colleague as a serious concern, especially if this happened before with a previous employee. You'll have the weight of past experience backing you here. There's no excuse for any interviee to be an ass in any way whatsoever.

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If you are interviewing, you should have the right to reject a candidate. In most interviewing panels, it only takes one objection to cross the person off the list. It is not generally in the company's best interest to hire someone who is making a current employee uncomfortable. If they don't trust your judgement, you should not be interviewing. I make this point because I want you to feel you can legitimately object to this person even if no one else does.

I certainly would reject such a candidate based on fit to the organization if I felt that I did not personally want to work with the person based on their behavior in the interview.

Whether you are junior or not, it is rude for someone to interrupt you without an apology (they could have done it by accident as most of us have done). It is especially rude of the interruptions only happened when the junior person was interviewing and they happened more than once. That would be a big red flag to me.

I would expect that the person would be a pain to work with from this description and if I had a candidate who could also technically do the job (not necessarily the most skilled but capable of doing the work) and was not behaving like a jerk, I would pass over the potential problem. Fit to the organization is critical and you do the company no favors by agreeing to someone who made you uncomfortable in the interview because everyone else liked him or he is technically competent.

If the person was the only person interviewed who could do the job, it gets more difficult and you and the rest of the interviewers would have to discuss seriously if you want to hire someone who may not fit in because you need a rare skill set.

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While I understand that it's weird that a junior guy interviews a senior one

It's not weird. It's good. You can see how he interacts. It's a company, not the military.

If the candidate is annoying/disrespectful/talks over you during the interview, you can expect him to be much more annoying once he is hired. This should be a warning.

Even if he is good technically, that is only one part of the job. Another big part is working with other people and collaborating. It sounds like he is not a good culture fit.

If I were you I would recommend that he not be hired.

Recently, we had a similar experience. We interviewed someone who was very annoying to me during the interview. I recommended that they not be hired, but other people thought he was OK and he was hired. He was so annoying that he drove everybody crazy and nobody wanted to work with him. Besides that, his code was terrible.

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I want to try to answer this part of the question: "Do you have any suggestions about questions I can ask?" for this situation.

I always heavily tested interaction skills during the technical interview, as it more directly matches what you might expect from the candidate in "real life".

My tactic was to introduce a reasonably difficult but real life dev problem that has no quick or simple answer. I made it clear they were not expected to provide a solution. I told them I wanted to understand their approach to problem solving and to see how we might work together, making it clear the process was more important than the "answer". I behaved very much as I would in a real life problem solving session, personality traits very much included. Eg a person who kept interrupting would get instant feedback about that (as they would in real life working with me) if it went too far.

I also kicked this up a notch by including a twist of some kind in the problem - eg, a code sample that was a starting point for the exercise included a fatal yet subtle bug, or some other non-trivial but also non-obvious issue.

My main goal with the twist was for the candidate to get legitimately stuck somewhere along the lines to observe how they handled it. Did they get defensive or angry? Did they accept or even ask for input from my side? Would they take my advice or observation and actively use it? What happened if I asked them to explain something to me (especially something I should already know) Etc etc.

Note the twist was never fabricated. It was always taken from a real life problem I or a teammate had encountered in the course of real dev. The twist should ideally be a little bit evil! But it should not be so evil that a qualified candidate has no chance to make progress with the problem. Fairness counts.

I also have to echo the sentiment expressed already by other respondents: telling a fellow professional HOW to implement a feature (unless they have explicitly asked for this kind of direction) is really not good. Don't do that. Respect is a two way street.

  • I'm not sure how you behave when solving the problem together, since you have already solved the problem in real life. Also, I clarified the "HOW" to solve a problem. It wasn't a problem, but a feature to be implemented. And the HOW was referred to coding style, structure, and stuff like that. All of these things to be consistent with the rest (otherwise it's a mess if 10 developers follow their own "rules"). – HBv6 Apr 27 '17 at 10:04
  • Ok that was not at all clear - you didn't specify that you just gave the fired dev coding guidelines (that is what you describe here) and that's what he failed to follow. As for how I behaved when solving things together in an interview situation, even though I already found a solution, I simply make most of the same observations or suggestions as I did when solving the original problem. If they are stuck I give an extra hint based on what I found to work. That's the only "cheating" that goes on with that. Also you don't have to use a problem you've solved, maybe it's still outstanding. – user69282 Apr 27 '17 at 10:28
  • If the problem is outstanding, it may be a bit more tricky, but the point really is to observe their style of interaction and how they treat you, as opposed to finding the ultimate solution. You should always be able to convincingly discuss the problem, solved or not, of course, as a candidate who thinks you don't know what you're talking about is more likely to respect you less. – user69282 Apr 27 '17 at 10:43
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If this would have been a phone interview, both problems could be caused by the setup.

I asked him a question, he replied, then I wanted to talk about something else (enough time passed between his answer and me speaking again), but he basically talked over me. This happened 2 or 3 times in the same interview. He never apologized for it, while I was expecting something like: "oh sorry, I interrupted you".

Since I have a VOIP phone, talking over someone happens more often. The delay is minimal, but it's enough for two people to start talking at the same time. Especially if there is a pause in the conversation both persons feel the need to say something at the same time. Because this happens often, I don't always stop talking or apologize, because it would interrupt the conversation even more.

I think that our work environment is pretty funny and relaxed, while he seems to be the opposite (serious, individual worker, etc.).

My workplace is also very relaxed, but in the job interview we weren't joking around. Especially on the phone you cannot interpret gestures, so it's more safe to stay serious. While I had in-person interviews which became relaxed at the end, I never had a phone interview like that. You don't have that introduction phase where you're brought to the meeting room or asked if you want something to drink. Instead you pick up the phone, do the interview and then hang up.

Conclusion

If he's a good fit otherwise, I would have a in-person interview to check the personal impression.

  • The interview was in-person, and we offered him drinks, a walk around the office, etc. As I said, we are pretty friendly, even during interviews. – HBv6 Apr 27 '17 at 7:55
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    @HBv6: Sorry, somehow I got the impression that it was a phone interview. Now I'm not sure if I should delete the answer.. I doesn't help you, but maybe it helps someone else .. – Chris Apr 27 '17 at 10:27
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I think you're overthinking it a bit. One interview is not very long to get to know a person and he could have been nervous. Everyone has their personality quirks and if the worse thing he did was talk over you I wouldn't think too much about it. If it's a technical job, I would focus more on his technical ability to do the job. Now this being said, if there were other things as well - other signs of him being obnoxious - this would be a concern. My personal experience is some people talk over someone who asked them a question because they think they're still listening.

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While I understand that it's weird that a junior guy interviews a senior one

No it's not. I read that it's happening at large companies which hires various aspects of experience all the time. I read an article of an interviewer from Microsoft, he mentions that he comes across with people who are better than him in some specific areas on many occasions.

You already show a good respect to him by stating he is senior than you, and he needs to show it back.

Beside that, nobody have the right to cut someone's word, no matter what their juniority is. He needs to be rejected.

  • This is useful information, but it doesn't really seem to be a full answer to the question. – Erik Dec 11 '17 at 13:34

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