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Are You Special Enough to Skip the Interview?

In Management, Programming, Technology by Pete

Let’s talk about this1.

The essential thesis of the thread is that @getify is so obviously talented (did you know he wrote a book on recursion?) that it is foolish to ask him to do technical interviews and proof that companies will replace devs with AI.

There’s a lot more that can be said about this thread specifically2, but let’s address the general question: should we as hiring managers expect an obvious expert to demonstrate their technical ability in an interview?

The answer, in almost all circumstances, is: yes.

Right-Sizing an Interview

Just because everyone needs to go through a technical screen does not mean that every kind of technical screen is worth your time. First and foremost, you don’t need to have programming technical screens in the first place.

If you’re hiring for a staff software engineer, you should not waste their time with FizzBuzz. Have enough confidence in your earlier screening that basic programming tasks are not in question for someone at this level.

But once you’ve decided on the interview schedule, every candidate for the role needs to participate.

The Evil of “Tailored” Interviews

Tailoring your interview to the candidate sounds nice. It sounds inclusive. It sounds like a great way to allow individual skills to shine through.

It’s not.

Assuming that a candidate would ace a particular interview causes two problems. First, you get a low-resolution signal. Your technical screens are hopefully testing for more than just raw technical ability, but you get none of that nuance.

The problem expands from there. Not making them perform the way everyone else is expected to means that nobody else can possibly do better; you’ve removed any chance your favored candidate has to stumble3.

Not only are you hindering your own decision-making ability but you’re putting every other candidate at a disadvantage. If your favored candidate is actually as advertised, do they really need the leg up?

This is, coincidentally, one of the ways that extremely white and extremely male tech companies stay that way.

Who we assume is talented basically dredges up and highlights every bit of bias we have and gives it a tremendous amount of power in the hiring process.

Who Gets a Pass?

In a perfect world, absolutely nobody. In the real world, there will very occasionally be times when you’re hiring a specialist and the person you’re interviewing has no competition. They are at the very top of their specialty and you have literally no other candidates qualified to do the work.

Asking people to participate in an interview is not just to determine if they’re qualified to do the job, it’s also to determine if anyone else is more qualified. If you have multiple candidates, that is now in question and you need to either decide that the interview session isn’t necessary for any of them or it’s important for all of them.

So, if the interview is inappropriate for the role, you’ll find a lot of support on social media for your gripes. But do resist the urge to whine about the preferential treatment you think you deserve — that’s more of a tell than you probably realize.

  1. We’ll ignore, at least for now, the idea that someone who has written a handful of programming books is equivalent to Stephen Hawking. 

  2. For example: he suggests that the first technical screen they gave him was trivial and well below his capacity, but then suggests that doing well on it should have been proof that he’s more than qualified for the role. 

  3. And we can all stumble, even over things we know backwards and forwards