How to be a bad interviewer


In the monthly SQL blogging party that is T-SQL Tuesday (brainchild of Adam Machanic), Kendra Little has invited us this month to talk about interview patterns/anti-patterns.

Before my current role which I’ve been in for just over 5 years, I spent most of my career as a contractor, performing shorter roles that lasted from 2 weeks to 2 years. As such I was frequently interviewing several times a year and I’ve often sat on the other side if the table as well.

In my experience it’s been far more often to find bad, arrogant or disrespectful interviewers than the other way round. My biggest advice to candidates is to know your worth, realise that the interview process is as much for you to find out whether this is going to be a decent place to work as the other way round.

You’re not obligated to accept a job once it’s offered, and if you’ve had to put up with a lot of rubbish during the application process then seriously consider if it’s just going to get worse once you’re in the role.

As an employer, you want the best people, particularly in IT where people are the company’s biggest asset. You need to make sure that your recruitment process is not just about assessing the candidates, but also showing them that your company is going to be a great place to work.

If you do want to put people off then here’s some of the interviewer “anti-patterns” I’ve experienced over my career that made me ask the question “Would I really want to work at this place?”

Maybe hitting one or two is okay, but beyond that you need to consider your self respect.

Expecting a candidate to fill in a lengthy application form

What’s wrong with a CV? Why is your company so special that I need to sit there for hours with some awful form in Word? You know what? I don’t think I’m that bothered.

Not responding to my application

I sent you my CV and you didn’t even acknowledge it. Or you did and said I’d hear whether I’d been selected by next week, a month and a half passes and then suddenly you decide you want to interview me. You know what, I’ve probably already found something else and even if I haven’t you’re not coming across as massively competent.

Turning up late for the interview

I’ve taken time out of my busy schedule to come see you guys. I arrive at the interview on time – actually I make sure I’m early – but you keep me waiting half an hour. Obviously your time is more important than mine. Okay there may have been a crisis you had to deal with, or is it just chaos all the time? Not sure I’m getting inspired to work here. Oh, and how would you have reacted if I was that late?

Prove how much better than the candidate you are by asking overly specific questions that few people know the answer to

You get your technical boffin in to review my technical skills, but rather than trying to find out what I know they ask me the most specific esoteric technical questions possible – “What sampling algorithm does SQL use when updating statistics?” Clearly their main interest is in trying to prove they know more than me. Is the rest of the team like this? Not sure I want to work with them. You know what, we all know different things and no-one knows everything. How about discussing some technical scenarios and seeing what I come up with.

Asking standard/stupid questions

“What’s my biggest weakness?” No-one is going to tell you they’re a lazy alcoholic. Of course we’re all perfectionist workaholics. All you learn from asking this sort of question is whether someone has learnt the standard answers. It’s just wasting everyone’s time.

Requiring visit after visit for subsequent interviews and tests

You got me in for technical test, then you asked me to come back for an interview. Then come back again for an interview with HR, then yet again to meet a member of the senior management team. Why couldn’t you at least do it all on one day? Apart from the fact that my time is precious too, by the time we get to the end of this long drawn out process I’ve already found a better job.

Expecting candidate to provide free work

Before the interview you’d like me to prove my technical skills by creating some functionality for you. I’ll just need to give up my weekend to do this free work for you. I’m not even got the job yet and you want me to do unpaid overtime. Goodbye!

Not giving a response or feedback when you said you would

We had the interview on Monday and you said I’d hear either way by the end of Wednesday. It’s Friday now and I’ve had no response. Once again you’re not inspiring me to believe this is going to be a great place to work when you don’t honour your basic promises.

This last one is a bit specific, but it did happen to me…

Give someone a C# test when they come for a SQL job, and then when challenged on it insist that they attempt it anyway as you think “it will still have some value.”

I’m ashamed to this day that I didn’t just walk out at that point!


9 thoughts on “How to be a bad interviewer

  1. Oh man I’ve had most of these happen to me. The late thing drives me crazy. I also wonder what kind of crazy shop it must be. Coupled with the boiler-plate interview questions makes one wonder what caliber of person they are really looking for.

  2. Went through visit after visit for one job. Seemed promising, then hit the one right after that – no followup. All contact was just dropped. Still a bit annoyed by that. I’d have been content with a “we’ve decided to go with a different candidate” or “thanks for your time” or … anything. Looking at glassdoor reviews for interviewees, it seems that I’m not the only one who experienced that.

    I agree with much of what you wrote, though I’ll still ask people the basics just to get them out of the way and then will often drill through to see how much/little they know of different topics. I worked with a pretty sharp guy who could do that for a wide range of technologies and it worked well to figure out the scope of a candidate’s knowledge.

    1. Sound like like that job was a good one to miss out on! Agreed – a good technical interviewer willl find out what a candidate knows as well as try identify gaps in knowledge – I was just taking a shot at those who seem to be more interested in showing off how great they are 😉

  3. What is your ideal job?
    Playing center field for the New York Yankees or
    Starting lefty for the Los Angeles Dodgers or
    Oscar winning Best Supporting Actor
    Given my skills, I make my ideal job out of the cards I’m dealt; I never know what I’ll be dealt.

    I didn’t get that job.

  4. Here’s one: talk derogatorily about the interviewee in front of the interviewee.
    “We’re going to bury you [SQL] guys.” Yeah, like HELL I want to work around such arrogance !
    “I don’t think he can keep up with us.” blurted out in the middle of the interview. The interview went on for another 15 painful minutes. I ran away and didn’t look back and “that has made all the difference”. |-D

  5. I may have to send a link to this blog every time I run into a company that makes several of these mistakes. Thank you!

  6. I had these interview questions thrown at me.

    Where do you want to be in 20 years?
    — Retired and living in Florida.

    Tell me a story?
    — Once upon a time there were 3 bears ..

    What will you do if two of your team players do not get a long?
    — Isn’t that a management/supervisor issue?
    — Stay out of it, not my job.
    — Have them go out to the parking lot, collect bets, and have them duke it out. (That was my reply but did not get the job.)

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