Enterprise Software

Firing a bad hire: A real-world story

Hiring the best people for the job can sometimes be an exercise in frustration and even the best managers can blow it big time. With a number of successful hires under his belt, Benny Sisko relates an account from the other side of the fence. In this post, he shares with you some of the background to the story and relates what we learned from this failure.

Within the past couple of days, I've had to fire someone.  I've fired people before and will probably have to do it again, but it's unpleasant all around, particularly for the person on the other side of the table.  In my east coast organization, we have a probationary period of three months designed to help us, as the employer, make sure that the person that interviews very well can cut it in the culture.  Conversely, this period also provides new hires with a chance to make sure that they want to work in the organization.

Last fall, we advertised for a relatively difficult-to-fill position.  After a few weeks of searching and coming up empty on finding a person with the right mix of skills and experience, a resume came in out of the blue that was very, very good.  The candidate had exactly what we were looking for, so we called him in for an interview.  He had left his last position due to lack of advancement opportunities and he appeared to be relatively motivated - a must.

As this position is a major resource for a number of departments in the organization, I decided to include these departments in the interview process.  The candidate also interviewed with the full IT team and Human Resources.  At the end of the process, based on the group feedback and my own interaction with the candidate, I decided to continue the process, so I checked his references.

To say that his references were impeccable would be the understatement of the century.  A former supervisor had nothing but praise for the candidate's skills and ability and a colleague from a prior position provided a glowing report about the candidate.  The former supervisor oversaw the candidate's IT work while the former colleague worked with the candidate in a different field altogether.

The offer was made; the candidate accepted and started a couple of weeks later.

I would quickly learn that I made a major error.

It didn't take very long at all before it became evident that the knowledge the candidate claimed on his resume and talked about in his interview was not exactly to the level that it first appeared.  This very well-paid candidate (the second highest salary in the department) was struggling with basic functions and was loathe to ask for help.  As a result, his work queue was growing very quickly ad users were becoming increasingly impatient.  In an act that I knew would create tension but that had become necessary, I reassigned a number of the person's high priority tasks to others in the department.  We were at a point where, regardless of hurt feelings, getting the work done was key.

On top of this, our new hire was missing an inordinate amount of work for a number of reasons.  Between missed work, slow, slow, slow turnaround and what I finally identified as his unwillingness to work on work queue items that didn't interest him, I had a heart to heart conversation where I laid out what needed to change.  I also sent him to a basic training class in the technology he was supporting - the same technology he was supposed to already understand.

Nothing changed.

What did begin to happen, however, was a building of resentment from other members of the department.  In fact, without colluding with one another beforehand, three members of my staff came into my office both expressing serious concern about the individual and asking me if I would consider letting him go.  Now, some people might think that these folks overstepped their bounds.  I don't.  Quite frankly, I have a really, really good team filled with people who are truly motivated and passionate about what they do.  I take their concerns and feedback very seriously.

I also began to receive feedback from users that, while the person's work was adequate (barely, in their words), the turnaround was extremely slow and communication was non-existent, partly resulting in the "barely adequate" work.

I'm not going to get into all of the gory details, but I also obtained a lot of other information and had some interactions with him that made me realize that I had made a terrible mistake in hiring this individual.  Before I continue, I will say this: I haven't included every single nitty gritty detail about the person's performance and attitude in this piece.  Suffice it to say, there was a lot to it and more than is written here.

My organization ended up with the following:

  • A resume and interview that was "less than accurate" about the candidate's capabilities. The result: Spending dwindling budget dollars in an attempt to salvage the employee. I was sending the second highest paid person in my department to classes suited for an entry level employee. I would discover that the candidate, having come from a larger organization, did have some knowledge about a small subset of the supported technology and knew enough about the rest of it to be able to speak intelligently, but was unable to turn those words into action.
  • Reference feedback that was, at the best, really awful. Honestly, I'm mystified about the quality of the reference feedback with what I actually saw. I did learn later on that the person's former supervisor did not have anything to do with his departure from the organization, but the second level manager did, so that may have something to do with it.
  • Attitude problems. An employee that, when faced with an answer to a question he asked that he didn't like, became borderline belligerent and insubordinate with me personally.
  • Team friction. A person that was creating a lot of friction with the group for both personal and professional reasons. He wasn't meshing well at all with the other members of the team. This team is still relatively new and has undergone a lot of change in the past couple of years.

Just before the end of the three month probationary period, I fired the person.  As any reasonable human being would, I struggled with the decision, but it was ultimately the right thing to do for the organization.  After I did so, my entire staff came into my office and indicated their appreciation for my willingness to do what was necessary to keep the team's morale high and free from underperformers that dragged everyone down.  While I still felt terrible about firing someone in this economic climate, my remaining staff's happiness helped frame the decision positively.  My organization is way too small to have any dead weight at all.  It wasn't fair to have a bunch of people working at 110% and let the one working at 60% slide.

I've hand-picked a number of the members of my team and most have been hired within the past three years, so the new hire wasn't coming into a department that had decades behind it.  He was coming in as a new team member, as had a number of the other members in the very recent past.  In this case, however, he was a very bad fit.

I learned a lot during this ordeal.  I need to make changes to the way I hire people.  Although I've made a number of very good hires, there were things I could have done to prevent this bad hire from slipping through the cracks:

  • Perform a two-part interview. Make sure that the person is really a fit and not just a fluke. Sure, this is far from perfect as an interview is barely enough time to get to know someone's name, but it's better than a single session.
  • Test the candidate. If possible, find a way to assess the candidate's real skill level during the interview process. If the results don't match the resume, skip the person! I've learned that hard way that a bad hire is worse than no hire.
  • Get more references and then get more references. A couple of references simply wasn't enough. Although I had attempted to contact other references for this candidate, I did not get a response from a number of them so I took at face value what I received. In the future, I intend to ask each reference if they know someone else I may be able to talk to about a candidate. After all, almost anyone can find a few hand-picked people to say nice things about him. To get the real deal, go to the next level, if possible and legal. If an inadequate number of references get back in touch with me, I'll go to the candidate and ask for more.
  • If he does slip by, coach, coach, coach. I realize that I probably did not do enough along the way with this particular person. Although I did provide him with some feedback, I was not consistent enough. In fact, this very experience with this person has made me realize that I need to provide more direct, regular feedback to every one of my reports. I've already begun to do so. Even members of a high-performing team need regular, honest feedback, not just when a situation - either positive or negative - calls for praise or otherwise.
  • Listen to the team. While some will feel that I treated this person unfairly by letting him go (after all, hiring him was my mistake, not his), the feedback from the rest of the team was a powerful motivator for me. It's my job to lead the team, but also my job to clear obstacles from the path to success. This person had become an obstacle for many and no amount of coaching was going to change that fact.
  • Take the probationary period seriously and make it known that I intend to do so. This is one area that I did do right. I'm always very upfront with new hires that the probationary period is a critical time and will make or break the person. Many other members of my team have been through this process with me and know that I'm serious about it. I was very clear with the new hire that he would not be an exception and that he should also take it seriously to make sure that the organization he was joining was a fit for him as well.

At best, hiring people is an inexact process.  You win some; you lose some.  In this case, I lost, but upon reflection, realize that I played a major part in the failure this time around.  I've made a number of extremely successful hires in the past couple of years and simply got complacent on this one, creating angst and frustration for me, my department and the person that got caught in the middle.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

88 comments
benny.sisko
benny.sisko

I'v read all of your comments... thank you very much for your feedback. Many of you have commented as to why it took so long to fire this individual when it was clear early on that it wasn't going to work out. Thanksgiving and Christmas - those are my answers and the sole reasons that this person lasted as long as he did. While I'm all about getting the job done and making sure my staff isn't weighed down with dead weight, I actually made the decision to fire this person the day before Thanksgiving. I simply didn't have the heart to throw another human being out on the street during the holidays. Sure... the guy was a bad hire, but he's still a person. I waited until we came back from a long Christmas break (my company shuts down for 2 weeks at Christmas) and then did the deed. Yes - the person could have used that time to find a job, but Christmas isn't exactly known as a great time to go job hunting anyway. Yep - he got a free pass for a month and before I gave him this pass, I ran it by HR and my CEO to make sure that they were in agreement with my thinking. Benny

pbohanna
pbohanna

It is surprising that the new recruit got as far as he did and lasted so long. If he was so bad why did'nt you fire him at the beginning of the trial period? Were you waiting for him to quit? The initial panel interview with yourself and the other departments should have uncovered anything wrong with the resume and abilities, based on probing questions, case scenarios and examples of experience. Some ideas that could help when recruiting:- Allow at least an hour and a half for the interview, longer if you include tests. If you want to include tests, tell the candidate a test is included and what kind of test it is, so that they are ready for it. If you are trying to find dirt on someone don't depend on references, someone giving a negative reference,if it is not their immediate manager, likely has an axe to grind. A better indicator of the persons abilities is their latest performance review or appraisal. References can only prove that the candidate was liked or worked well with that person or in that team.

Datacommguy
Datacommguy

Years ago, I was working for a company which had a large number of small support offices scattered around the country. As lead tech for a region, I didn't have hire/fire authority, but participated in hiring a guy who looked great on paper but turned out to have an interesting theory about job interviews. His theory (relayed to me later) was to present himself as knowing 30% more than he really knew, figuring that others in the group would carry the load while he ramped up to the place he'd already claimed to be. We all try to present ourselves in the best possible light during interviews, and his was probably a workable theory in an environment where he worked in a large office with a group of other techs. But it was a disaster when he was assigned to an office in a small town where he was the only support tech. After three months of 200 mile trips, numerous complaints from customers, and increasing conversations with my manager, we finally dumped the guy and ultimately replaced him with someone who could actually do the needed work.

buddyfarr
buddyfarr

I definitely know how your employees felt when they realized that he was a bad fit. I worked at a large hospital and was a field tech. We had a help desk system that tracked all our work. We were hiring a new field tech and I, along with others, were involved with the hiring of the new person. We had a person come in that looked good on paper but could not drive due to being legally blind, (could see but only with a magnifying glass). I ran reports from our help desk system showing that the position that the person was applying for currently required 81.9% travel to other locations. Now I do not care if the person was legally blind or not. The only thing that I cared about was could whomever received the position fulfill the duties of that position. That person could be a torso with no arms or legs as long as he or she can do the work. There was another position on our help desk that the person could have filled perfectly and should have been considered for that position. Unfortunately since this person's previous employer was friends with our CIO that person got the position but ended up staying in the office doing only over the phone support which is EXACTLY what the help desk position does. So not only was the field tech position not being utilized they also did not fill the help desk position because this person was doing that work. This put a large burr in the butts of the persons that were doing the work that this person was supposed to be doing and ended up stressing everyone out. It was brought to management several times via an anonymous suggestion box that was purported to be a helping avenue for employees with no repurcussions. But in the end we were threatened with our jobs if we brought it up again. So I found another position in another company and moved on. So did several other highly qualified persons. I am glad to see that this was handled positively and you did what was necessary to help the company and the employees involved.

RNR1995
RNR1995

I think you did more than you should. If someone puts on their resume they know X, and then cannot work with it...86 them because they are a liar. Do not waste your time with liars...

cynic 53
cynic 53

"To say that his references were impeccable would be the understatement of the century. A former supervisor had nothing but praise for the candidate???s skills and ability and a colleague from a prior position provided a glowing report about the candidate. The former supervisor oversaw the candidate???s IT work while the former colleague worked with the candidate in a different field altogether." My warning klaxons would have been screaming at this point! I have little faith in references, these days with scanners, photoshop and other programs is it easy peasy to "fabricate" one's own references. Which of us have not received a company letter from a manager or director on letter-headed paper and possibly signed by a person of authority in that business. Simply scan (if hard copy) then erase the original text leaving the Company Logo and the signature and job title of the writer. Add your own text as a glowing reference and print on quality paper on a good colour laser printer. The practical test is a good idea , it would have caught out the person in this example before they were hired. Also the "Meet the Team" session should not be a just a social event. Let them ask the applicant relevant questions and size up how they will fit in. Afterwards can come the snacks and drinks in the canteen or a local bar

fidlrjiffy
fidlrjiffy

A couple of things jumped out at me. The first is that you weren't finding the right or maybe perfect person and then picked the next person who had, or seemed to have, the perfect qualifications. Was that wishful thinking on your part, perhaps? Did this person make up a resume based on your requirements? Were you primarily looking for functional points rather than company fit? The second thing that was noticeable was that it took you the entire three months. It was clear that the person wasn't cutting it. Did you think the person would get better? It seems like more wishful thinking. Certainly there are bad hires and everyone has a story. These days, though, companies primarily are looking for the perfect person when usually the perfect person is the one who left the job last week. Consider the old adage that the perfect is the enemy of the good enough. The effort and angst that went into this experience might have gotten a much better result with one of the people you had earlier passed on. Just remember that perfect can also be perfectly bad.

RepTechlic
RepTechlic

In my case, we had 3 candidates for hire from the many resumes and interviews. We lost choice 1 and 2, then had to decide if we should hire #3 or spend the time to keep looking. I wasn't as confident with #3, but we had already spent a lot of time and effort going through the process. I needed someone to get into the position and start getting things done. I decided to hire #3. Even though #3 brought many good things to the position I didn't have with the last person, we also had "issues" at a level which caused me to consider termination. By chance we discovered the person did not include all requested information on their application, resulting in immediate termination. I will promote internal staff this time especially since we are under a hiring freeze. The lessons learned are 1.) When in doubt, keep looking and 2.) do a full background check to avoid surprises down the road. We may start using an outside service for background checks if we get to a point where we can hire again.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

My own experience with hiring someone did not involve me firing them although if I had known what was going on I would have. The company I work for had expanded to the point where they could afford to hire a dedicated draftsman to allow me to focus on IT. (We went from 25 to 80 employees in 1 year!) I had zero training in hiring and had never supervised another person (in a business situation) in my life. So his references checked out, he had the appropriate experience so I hired him and checked on him from time to time during the first month. Everything seemed to be going well. Then we lost our two largest customers (over 80% of our business) and we shrunk down to 7 people. AFTER he was laid off I was told about the problems other staff was having with him. If the request didn't come from me or the boss he wouldn't do it. He wouldn't refuse-it would just sit in his in box forever. Also after I stopped watching him his work got sloppy and we are in an industry where things have to be accurate to 5 thousandths of an inch. So both training for people doing the hiring and the feedback from the rest of the staff are critical. The company I work for had expanded to the point where thay could afford to hire a dedicated draftsman to allow me to focus on IT. (We went from 25 to 80 employees in 1 year!) I had zero training in hiring and had never supervised another person (in a business situation) in my life. So his references checked out, he had the approprate experience so I hired him and checked on him from time to time during the first month. Everything seemed to be going well. Then we lost our two largest customers (over 80% of our business) and we shrunk down to 7 people. After he was laid off I was told about the problems other staff was having with him. If the requst didn't come from me or the boss he wouldn't do it. He wouldn't refuse-it would just sit in his in box forever. Also after I stopped watching him his work got sloppy and we are in an industry where things have to be accurate to 5 thousandths of an inch. So both training for people doing the hiring and the feedback from the rest of the staff are critical.

MarcW
MarcW

What I like in your story is that, at least, you have learnt the lessons: - Use the probation as a real probation, take a sound decision (fire if required) at the end of this period. Too often there is no real assessment and appraisal made at the end of the probationary period, and the opportunity is missed. - For high calibre technical staff, test technical qualifications, there are numerous ways of doing it (written test, presentation, etc...) - During interviews, re-assess technical qualifications, but particularly assess profesionalism and soft competencies, such as team spirit and cultural orientation (which needs to fit in the organisation's culture). The individual soft competencies are difficult to change.... - Interviews cannot be improvised, and must be carefully prepared. Competency based interview techniques help to find out gaps. Interview Panels in which your stakeholders and clients are invited to participate is key to find out weaknesses. By doing so, you limit the risk factor of hiring wrongly. - Listen what other people say about your staff. - Provide feedback and coach... etc. - Finally do not count too much on references, they should only be used to assess the personality of the candidate. To conclude, you had the courage to fire at the end of the 3 months probationary, therefore the damages were still limited, and this is the way it should be done. Congratulations.

TPiekema
TPiekema

I've read a few articles like this now and no one has mentioned anything about 'behavioural interviewing'. My previous company used this technique exclusively and I found it very helpful in weeding out the embelishment and out-right lies.

Evisscerator
Evisscerator

Let me offer a prospective from the other side of the table. This is not a counter story but one that supports the proposition that all things are indeed equal. A couple of years ago I found myself without work for a month. I had been working in the IT industry since early 1981 and own no certifications from Microsoft. My education into IT started when certifications didn't exist. I am not an advocate of using certifications as a means of judging one's IT credibility or abilities. They are a piece of paper that is literally worthless in my opinion. Too many people get the paper and don't know what the job is about or how to do it beyond the scope of a class or a book or a test, and are being paid ridiculously large sums of money for it. In recent time lived in a small town and owned/operated a computer store. There were several folks in the small town who worked for the Federal Government agencies or private prison systems that moonlighted out of their homes, paid no state sales taxes, no payroll or self employment taxes and had no overhead to speak of. These folks took to many pieces of the pie that I had and put me and my business at an unfair disadvantage. I closed down my business within a couple of years of taking these folks to task with the State Comptrollers office because of beating my head against a brick wall. So, I was sitting at home and sending out resume's. I had received in invitation to interview with a company some 40 miles away from where I lived. I made it to the interview and the process was straight forward. I signed a non-disclosure agreement and was hired 3 days later when then terminated the guy I was to replace. I worked at that job for 1-1/2 yrs when it was decided that they would replace me because I lacked programming skills that they were needing to move the company forward and they could not keep 2 people in the IT department. I got an excellent letter of reference from that employer. I stayed on a full month to transition my replacement in (a female with a BA of Science degree) who had been working in the computer field for only 7 yrs. While the woman was capable, she was not confident nor did she have the necessary skills to do the job I had been doing. I estimated she would last in the position for 3 months. I was right. The company made the following mistakes that I believe are too often made with IT people. 1. Never assign your network administrator to handle cell phones for the company. 2. Never assign the network administrator to handle the doors and locks for the company. 3. Offer your IT staff paid training to continue their education and skills progression. The focus of any IT person is the IT environment only. Giving them other duties not clearly associated with the IT task only causes disorganization and friction. In my case, they overloaded the IT department with non-essential work that could have been handled by someone else. A lesson to the CEO's and HR people out there hiring. A seasoned IT pro is worth their weight in gold, where a IT person with certificates or even a BA degree is only wet behind the ears without an ounce of real world experience behind them.

jfabian105
jfabian105

Not your fault entirely. After all, the employee was not truthful about his qualifications. So, while hiring him may have been your mistake, his mistake was applying for the position. The applicant/employee was not an innocent led to slaughter.

cgoodyer
cgoodyer

I'm reminded of a person I hired once. The references were pretty good, but I didn't take note of some key trigger phrases (eg "can be very direct"). This person was a real disaster - liked to do their own thing and fell out with most colleagues - and, as we didn't have a probationary period, was only removed when they (thankfully) resigned anyway. I have since been very careful to take note of any feelings of doubt or unease, and not to hire if those feelings cannot be resolved satisfactorily.

jitime
jitime

So when his next potential employer comes a knocking for references, what will you tell them? The truth? That doesn't seem to happen too often.

WasabiMac
WasabiMac

A group of us recommended a long time entry support position (delivery, initial setup) person for an end user support position (trouble shooting, light training, etc) thinking she'd be a great pick. We all knew she was a bit cynical, but figured it was because she had been held back in the basic position and overlooked for a number of years. Once she moved up, his attitude didn't improve and we had a crass and cynical end user support person. While it has worked out, she has remained pretty toxic. Luckily there is a group of users we support who are a good fit for that, but I gained a great deal of respect for hiring managers. They don't get it right 100% of the time, but for the most part, in our org anyway, they do a pretty decent job. I'll be chipping in an extra buck or two on Boss' day this year.

todd.rorie
todd.rorie

Unfortunately in this world today there are too many people that can talk the talk but can't walk the walk. The organization I am in is full of them which leaves those that can get it done almost overwhelmed.

srmcevoy
srmcevoy

This is an excellent article. I have had to work with people like that or for people like that and the manager never did anything. I eventually moved on rather than deal with the situation.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Always ask the basic stuff. I applied for senior developer at our place with a specific requirement to have five plus years in SQL and Delphi. They asked me how to do a basic two table inner join, and to write a simple function to calulate a factorial. White board and pen in front of them. I've subsequently interviewed people who claimed either academically or experientially that they could do the same, and failed miserably. All I can say is you were slack, and should get a must improve on your next review. If you are not in a position you validate that sort of thing, get someone who can. From the sound of it anyone of your team with a bit of guidance, could have blown this guy out of the water.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Test for everything you can afford to and have a deep think about what you can afford to let go. The guy who interviewed me, and taught me to interview, looks for BS. Doesn't even matter to him if it's irrelevant to the role. In his opinion, and I have to agree, where there's one piece of BS, there's another.... You can't trust references, you can't trust the resume , you can't trust academia, you can't trust certs. All you can do is use your knowledge of what they are claiming, and validate. If you don't have that knowledge and it's relevant, find someone you do trust who does. It would be interesting to work out how much this sort of mistake costs, I'd suggest it's a good deal. If you use 'cheap' tests at the start to winnow down the list of candidates, then the expensive ones to decide from there, it's goung to be way cheaper than guessing wrong.

ginno04
ginno04

These days in aa bid to be more efficient, company are becoming a lot demanding in terms of skills. You find ToRs including a mixture of too many skills and experiences. And they wonder why there are not gettinbg the perfect person! Ginno

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

because you found the wrong person, would indeed have been more apt..

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I don't have any for the hirer either. Schoolboy error in my opinion. If you are the sort of person who goes around trusting people, I have this bridge, one careful owner... :p

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It doesn't necessarily mean doesn't get on with people, of course it may mean some don't get on with you. Don't talk out of your arse. and I'm afraid in this instance I do not agree with you. Both direct.... Some can't take either.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

I would have failed miserably at such a test. I am one of those people who have to have the keyboard in front of me or I get a total mind block. Not to mention that, in spite of consistently scoring high on tests, I have a very high test anxiety response that makes it hard to focus, especially if the tester is watching me. (I can't even type well when I'm being watched!)

fidlrjiffy
fidlrjiffy

The point I was trying to make aside from what took you so long to fire the guy, was how many potential good enough people did they pass up before, with stars in their eyes, Mr. Too-Good-To-Be-True was hired. There are more than a few posts out there nowadays about letting people go mostly with the theme of how bad the firing managers feel. This new twist, "I really tried to make the new guy work out when he really was the wrong guy" leaves me cold. Every hiring manager makes a bad hire. Not every hiring takes 3 months to figure it out. I get the feeling if the guy were just a little less awful he'd still be there. More importantly and apparently the point I made badly, is that companies strongly are looking for the perfect candidate. What are the chances that one of the previous less than perfect candidates would have been as bad? Would it not make sense, considering the time, effort, and money spent to salvage this "perfect" candidate, to lavish just a fraction on a less than perfect candidate. And what lesson has this hiring manager learned? To be more discerning, to be more skeptical, to check more references, to hire private detectives, to find the REAL perfect candidate? He should have learned the lesson that there's no perfect candidate except the person who just left. Good enough is good enough.

cgoodyer
cgoodyer

...flamed for trying to add something sensible to the discussion - why should this offend you? I was careful with my words so that the person in question could not be easily identified. However, I can assure you that "direct" was mild compared with the actual behaviour displayed.

BrettFusion
BrettFusion

I am a well-seasoned, highly experienced senior-level developer in multiple languages, databases, etc. I have recently been in several interviews for excellent jobs with great companies, and I cannot get past the whiteboard/oral tests... I'm exactly the same way as Cerebral*Origami, and when I'm asked a programming question, not related to overall methodology or theory, but an actual 'technical' question, I freeze up... It's weird, because I can train people, explain my programming, even communicate detailed programming project plans... but under the pressure of an interview, I can't do the same things, and the stress and pressure makes me have a complete mind-block. I don't know why interviewers cannot get this through their minds, and when I have attempted to explain it, they haven't believed me or listened... and have proceeded to make me look like a complete idiot, all because I don't *work* that way... If you ask me to program some code, and place me in front of a computer with just a TEXT EDITOR, I can do it with no problem. Ask me to do it in my mind, and I can barely recall the four basic SQL calls... (which was literally one of the technical questions that I was unable to answer in a recent interview, after a previous question froze me up). PLEASE, interviewers, if you want to test the SKILL of a candidate, put them in front of a computer with a real, live programming problem... whether they need to program something, or troubleshoot... Asking even the most highly skilled programmers will result in mixed results (both, with having you lose some of the best candidates, and letting through some who know the 'answers' but don't have the background or skill to put the 'answers' to use in a real-life problem). So, please folks, please start to consider the personality types and mental processes involved with programming, and STOP asking us to write it on white boards, or verbally recite what we would do... or anything else... Sit us in front of a computer and give us a task.. or hire on a contingency basis... or take us on a temp-to-perm basis.. whatever.. at least you'll see the REAL skills that way, instead of hiring only those who know how to verbalize the 'right' answers under the stress of an interview (the same people who often don't have the skill, knowledge, or perspective/wisdom to solve real-life coding issues). And, for that matter, ask for us to demonstrate our previous salaries with providing you with our W-2's to PROVE that we made a certain salary... There may be a reason why my 'book-smart' competition was making half my salary in their first job, a few weeks ago, when they graduated from college... and are now seeking a new job... Booksmarts vs. real-life experience. It seems so obvious! UGH! I'm still unemployed, and all because I cannot spew out my knowledge on command... Pretty darn frustrating. And yes, I'm available for consulting with your HR department to teach them how to make a good hire... :) BrettFusion

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I can even leave the room. What I can't do is take your word that you know how to do it. Is it only tests. What about if you were asked to present an explanation, to top level mangement on why we screwed up this time, with no preparation time. Our place is a bit brutal, locking up would be bad.

erh7771
erh7771

...there has to be a more real world way of testing employees than white boarding. Also, who doesn't use Google? It seems redundant not to

Shellbot
Shellbot

I'm not alone!! Ask me to whiteboardand i freeze up.. Stand behind me watching me work and I freeze up.. Leave me alone and let me get on with the job..i work away just fine.. I kid you not, once I completely blanked when asked to write a simple inner join statement in an interview..I felt like such a complete idiot..how does one recover from that ????

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I did read the article. Did you not state that your team members said the guy was iffy on the basics AFTER he got the job. Not validating the assumption that someone can do the job because they can chuck out a load of abstract high level waffle is an obvious error in my opinion. Both sides of the story is not more of yours is it? All the good decisions, you claim you've made in the past might weigh against this screw up. Fixing your system so it doesn't happen again, should weigh against it. If I was reviewing your performance, it would definitely get a mention. You made a hiring mistake for whatever reason, and the solution you are patting yourself on the back for, is to give him the boot! That suggests to me you have learned naff all, because any real solution, would be not to hire them in the first place. There are many issues that aren't going to turn up until probation, someone not having the basic tech skills you need, even though by their claims they should, is not one of them. If that is not apparent then I will indeed and rightly question your judgement and professionalism. Cease with the hyberbolic straw men. The key to not screwing up again, is to learn where you screwed up, not sort the resulting mess out.

benny.sisko
benny.sisko

Actually, there was one other guy now that I think about it (I had forgotten about him when I wrote my reply). He had been tried and convicted of a financial crime in the local community where my organization is located. He bilked a bunch of people (including one related to one of my staff) out of a whole lot of money. Although he had served his time and paid his debt to society, our VERY small town environment (partially why we had so few applicants and partially due to the nature of the job), would have made his hiring a lightning rod and overshadowed everything else. HR didn't want to touch him... As for a filter, we ended up with about 8 applicants overall. Two were good - 1) we hired (he ended up being not good); 2) the convicted felon. The others were simply too far below the line for qualifications. I'm not stuck on the whole degree thing. Sure, I WANT someone with a degree, but if they have 20 years of experience and can do the job, great! However, if I'm looking, for example, for a senior DBA to manage a SQL cluster, "Built an Access database to store my recipes" isn't quite enough experience. And, I'm not exaggerating... we actually had one that was similar to that (not exact, but similar). The story turned out very nicely, though. The guy that left the position originally ended up not liking his new job... and now he's back. He didn't burn his bridges at all; in fact, we paid him as a consultant for a couple of months.

fidlrjiffy
fidlrjiffy

I agree that everybody makes a bad hire and if this was the only person who appeared close then of course you would interview him or her. It leads me to think, though, that whoever or however resumes get reviewed before you get them, from a recruiter or HR, they're doing a less than stellar job. It may be that you get them direct which, of course, means you see them all. And, yes, people will send a resume having not finished high school when the job description requires a Ph.D. So it sounds to me based on what you've said here that you didn't have much to choose from and you got a person that cribbed up a resume to match your description and figured that he'd somehow squeak by. Although you did say in an earlier post that the resume was "impressive" which is something else entirely. Still, still, I find it hard to believe that none of the other resumes was even close enough to interview. If nothing else you never just interview one person. How distant could #2 have been? I get it that in this economy articles on firing and layoffs sell. I get it that managers want to hear about other experiences in firing someone. What I don't get, and I realize that it was not the point of your article, but it is also common in this economy, is the supposed lack of qualified people. So when I hear about the people who were passed up and then to top it off we made a real bad hire I pull out the soapbox. You may also note that I said earlier that I think you learned the wrong lessons. You're taking being burned to heart and will only find it harder to get good people. Maybe you need to figure out why you're getting such bad resumes or maybe they're actually not so bad. In any case better luck next time.

benny.sisko
benny.sisko

Marches right past my own obvious failures... did you even bother to read the full article or did you just make an assumption based on the title? You might have missed the "what I learned" section or the part where my full team and I interviewed the guy. Believe it or not, we all liked him. He interviewed very well and had an impressive resume. In some of your other comments, you imply that I should basically quit or be fired for this single error. If organizations fired people every time they made a single mistake, we'd have major turnover. I've made a whole lot of good hires... yep, I blew this one, fixed it, fessed up and shared my experiences with others. You indicate that you see just one side of the story. Perhaps if I were to share my entire work history with you, then you would be qualified to make some kind of assessment of my experience, judgment and professionalism.

benny.sisko
benny.sisko

The guy that we ended up hiring was the only candidate that was reasonable for the position, based on the resumes. Of course, some of the others might have been more honest on their resumes, which was why they weren't selected for an interview. Nope... no perfect candidate out there so we simply do the best that we possibly can. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and most times it does.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The hires have got to be perfect, otherwise it detracts from the perfection of the manager. :D Guy said his own people realised that the candidate had a serious shortfall on the basic practical side. That could have been identified during the hiring process, and given good will on all sides perhaps addressed after hiring. No way we can say with only one side of the story particaularly from someone who marches right past his own obvious failures. Is the candidate responsible for the hirer's unverified assumptions? Did he rely on or encourage them? As far as I'm concerned they are both screw ups. If I get the impression, that I'm being asked to be something I'm not , or do something I can't (at all , or now). I always point it out. Wrong hire = bad hire, is something that nearly always sticks. To the hire.....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

do not hold your breath while waiting for that to happen. :p

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Now that deserves a flame about an alleged flame, surely!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I'm direct, but I do work with people and I do get on with the ones that aren't complete arses. I have even learnt to tolerate the ones that are. I just disagreed, with Direct = bad hire that's all. No big deal

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

by barking mad socialists. US work place 'regulations', make right wingers over here shudder. You don't get sued over here, you get prosecuted. When all's said and done, it's a five line function for a simple numerical computation, that doesn't even have to work, never mind compile. And you are told that before you start. 15 minutes, we'll even give you more time, and we don't really care what you write it on, as long as it's not something where you could reach in do a 'Here's one I made earlier'. Sheesh you'd think we were asking for the working version of SkyNet's AI core or something.

jsbell
jsbell

Whiteboard performance in a job interview is largely irrelevant to programming skill. Good whiteboardists (and I happen to be one) have skills beyond the math-logic-analytical skills of most decent programmers. I am also an attorney who can perform under pressure in a courtroom, even though I do have the social phobia anxiety problem. However, my effectiveness is reduced in that context due to the disorder, so I prefer transactional law (contracts, wills, etc., non-courtroom stuff). Therefore, as I said before, if you need programmers sans phobias because that's what it takes to do your job, then fine, discrimination (in the legal sense) will not apply. But here in the States you had better document well just how relevant that skill is, because in an American court, a judge may well find that the limitations imposed by a special context phobia like test anxiety are completely irrelevant to the requirements of your IT positions. Sink or swim works well when you have no one looking over your shoulder, i.e., when pure survival of the fittest involves no predators higher in the food chain than yourself. However, it is important for U.S. firms to accommodate the social conscience imposed on us by that lofty predator we know as federal law, and failure to account for the legal risks in mishandling a disability in hiring is simply lack of due diligence. As one with the power to hire and fire, it is your job to factor in that risk, even if the whole we-are-our-brother's-keeper shtick does not appeal to you.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

You jump in the deepend, and I observe with interest. If you don't make it to the side you are not suitable. If you make the argument that test anxiety obviates failure on a whiteboard, then it also does on a PC, possibly both. I'm not a hostile interviewer, I'll cajole and coax, and work round the issue. I'll do my best to find out if 'you' do have what i need. But if you can't show me that you have it, I feel absolutely no onus to cut you some slack. I expect nothing more of anyone than I expect from myself. There are some jobs some people can't do, myself included. Big deal, go for one you can while if you want that sort of role amassing the ability to do it. Discrimination is identifying differences and deciding if they are relevant. If you pick out irrelvant ones you are not discriminating in the logical sense.

jsbell
jsbell

Tony, Greetings once again. I respectfully submit there is much more to this problem of mental blocking during interviews than your sink or swim mentality allows. Test Anxiety is a quantifiable psychiatric disorder according to the criteria set forth for anxiety disorders by the America Psychiatric Association (see DSM-III). It is a potentially serious mental impairment brought on by a social phobia which cannot be eliminated by wishing or willing it away. This implies a legally cognizable disability that can, under the right circumstances, qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Acts, up to and including a requirement of reasonable accommodation during the interviewing process. Where such reasonable accommodation is unreasonably denied, a claim of discrimination in hiring practices is possible, at least in American courts. If you've never experienced it, you don't know how debilitating it is. Picture this: You get full, Alzheimer's-level forgetfulness, right on cue, every single time you're placed in a condition where the critical life asset of employment hinges on your public performance of a memory-related task. Recognizing what it is, is critical to recovery, as it can release a person from the sense guilt and inferiority that amplifies the problem during an "event." Finding others who understand the condition and its implications is much more difficult, because people tend to inappropriately project their own mental health context into the mental operations of others. Which is precisely what leads to inappropriate interviewing tactics. One size does not fit all. For example, if a job has a good faith requirement of high-quality memory performance under extreme social pressure, that would probably not go down as discrimination. But, psychologically, a presentation among peers where there is already a level of acceptance in play is not the same as the extremely high stakes game of interviewing, where the object is to gain that initial acceptance. Furthermore, most IT jobs do not in fact require that degree of public performance skill, and imposing that as a condition of employment would not generally be construed as a "good faith requirement" in American courts. It would be like requiring all airline pilots to speak like Sean Connery, simply because they may on occasion be required to communicate with passengers in flight. Nice to have, but you'd lose out on a lot of talent using that as a criteria. What really matters is whether the new hire can land the plane safely.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If it's high pressure environment, the fact that someone can't do something simple under pressure... In support being able to 'see' what the user could be doing at the other end of the telephone, is an extremely valuable skill. If they are getting stroppy because YOU are 'not listening' and you can still cope is another. In the job I do now, standing up in front of a 'hostile' audience, and explaining something often highly technical to non-techs, is a requirement. So in my interview, they put me through the wringer. Two of them, I described it as being spit roasted. :p

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I've got twenty + years in. From a hard skills point of view, doing it on a whiteboard in public, or on a pc in private is irrelevant. You explain that will be fine, you'd better be damn good though if the rest of the team has to carry you, when verbalising is required..... We have to do a lot, very high pressure environment and a lot of non technical or not technically directed people involved. I don't care if you miss a semi-colon out, I'm not bothered if you illustrate the join with a Venn diagram or some example data, you've got to be able to explain the concept to me in a way that I understand though, and now, and here, for something that simple. It's a real requirement of the role I'm interviewing you for....

nico.verschueren
nico.verschueren

There are more ways of doing that test? OK, I did not have anything to do with development. My field is the support side, but if you fail my test, you fail to get the position. If you are in support, you are being watched when you are doing things, so you have to be able to deal with it. I did the technical part of the 1st liners and I was responsible for the 2nd and 3rd liners. I also do those tests differently. If you completely pass my 1st line test (it was a standard test for all candidates), you are also not going to be hired for the job. You will be too skilled. And if you fail to really give the ?correct? answer to any of the questions, you can still be my best candidate. Its all about how you go to find the answer. And I do know that you can be nervous as hell in an interview, so I do take that into account. For the 2nd and 3rd liners, I had a standard test with question from difficult to hard on several subjects. And after that you would get some questions on the field you note in your resume. And for me it is also important you feel as relaxed as possible before each question. So before the first question there is a little chat to try and relax the candidate. And after each question you get the answer. And a time to catch your breath, if I see you are panicking. I also make sure you know it is not bad to miss a question. No one knows everything. But if you say you are excellent in something, don?t miss the basics when it is on paper (I don?t use a whiteboard, because standing up makes people usually more nervous, I use a blank paper to make it as informal as possible), you won?t get the job. In Belgium, there is another trick to check the resume but for most of the world it is a bit hard, languages: We have 3 national languages and English is not one of them. A lot of people are only excellent in their mother tongue and know the other ones to a certain extent. So I get colleagues in that have the other as a mother tongue if the resume says they have good or better knowledge. This way I can test what you put on your resume without being technical and make sure my lack of excellence in the other language does not end up in misjudgement. But I know? for most of the world that is not a real option.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

why did you apply. :p I wouldn't sanity check a network admin with a whiteboard. Lab exercise for that. Create something fairly simple, or diagnose and fix. It's not one we did, but some places I've had the same approach coding wise. get this working, there are three bugs sort of thing. I don't have this test vs do split. To me everyday is a test. It's a useful approach but it's not the only one.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

Block diagrams are fine. Code techniques are fine. It's when I get an interviewer that asks something along the lines: "What are the acceptable parameters for the XYZ command and what error code will it return if the abc parameter is exceeded." In the interest of full disclosure my job does not involve coding much. I was simply using this example as coding has been mentioned here a number of times. My interview questions would be more along the lines of mixed network configurations, how security protocols are handled between networks and how to configure switches, do I know the proper wiring diagram for an Ethernet and a telephone jack. Some code questions I might be asked would relate to LISP in AutoCAD, custom database and spread sheet apps or basic HTML. (I am pretty much a jack of all trades and currently work for a very small company (25 users). The main thrust of my argument is that I work fine (no one has ever hat to improve or correct my work) when in front of a computer it's when I am hit out of context with technically specific questions when I know that the intent is to test me. When the intent is for honest information I have no problem. Of course I know that in that situation I can always say I don't know I'll look it up and get back to you and know my future isn't hang on me knowing details off the cuff.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

My code is equally crap on screen or off. :p Bit of psychology, maybe Do a simple block diagram first, or psuedo code, top down. Just something to get you going before you hit the code block. Practice as well. It does n't have to be syntactically correct or anything. Might be an advantage of my early start (1976) coupled with my parents not being affluent, but a lot of my early coding was on paper. Machinne time was scarce, so you wanted what you had to do real clear. Lots of dry runs. The simple CRUD stuff I mainly do now I can simply regurgitate onto the screen. Not sure whther that's good or bad.... :p

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

I have no problem explaining why I screwed something up. I know the problem and I know the people I'll be talking to (or at least the company environment). While they may still be looking to tear apart what ever you say you still know what is expected. Unless they want me to write code in front of them. For some reason I can only remember code when I am physically in front of a machine.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

but any piece of code worth discussing, can always be 'improved' in some way or other. I don't see it as something worth worrying about. First you make it work, then you make it work better, if you can justify the resources to do so. Have you done code reviews, or heard vicious mutterings when some poor git has to change your code. :( Practice, build up your confidence, you can do it and it's a big help in selling yourself.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

The part that causes me to freeze is knowing I'm being evaluated that they are looking for something to pick apart. In a group think session I have no problems as everyone is working together and I don't feel like I have a gun sight resting in the middle of my forehead. (I actually enjoy the give and take of a brain storming session.)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If it works, you have to maintain it, build on it. How ever big the lie at the start it will be catastrophically big at the end.

Shellbot
Shellbot

I just need more practice :) I know for most people it doesn't mean jack, but I approach a 100% honesty policy when I'm interviewing. I do believe that if you are honest and say "no, i am not very good at that" that at least the employer can have a bit of faith when you say you can do something. Again, i know most really don't care, but so far I've somehow managed to get 7 jobs from 8 interviews in the past 9 years. I even got offered the job where I messed up royaly and blanked on a friggin select statement!! They offered me the Support Supervisor role at slightly less wages than they were advertising, with wages to reviewed in 6 months.. ( i didn't take it though) So..maybe its my honest charm that gets me jobs??

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is, takes a varied environment over a long time to think out of context. SQL and code I'm fine with. For instance if I'm struggling with say a spelling, I have to be able to write it out, I can't visualise it in my head, don't lock up, but even though, I can see my mistake written, I may mess it up 'out loud'. With locking up, I'm going to have tio find some way of discovering, that it's only in an interview, and that's going to be difficult. Not so much to verify your technical ability, that's easy, but that you can do say training or presentation. For instance could you do a non-tech presentation in an interview? I need some way to assure myself you could do the job, other than your word. I never used to be any good at this sort of thing, it was de-sensitization through practice, that fixed me.

Shellbot
Shellbot

Its just in an interview I can blank sometimes. I guess its nervousness or something. Thing is, it doesn't carry through to the job when I'm hired. I can easily stand up in front of others and do things.. I used to (and occasionally still do) give training sessions to the higher ups.. didn't phase me in the least. I think I second guess myself in an interview, which then ups my nervousness, and then I just blank and once that happens just get me out of there, because I'm so mortified for blanking on something so basic that I just want to die. And written tests..jebus..give me pen and paper and I can't write a SQL statement to save my life..like the other poster further down, set me at a pc and let me use notepad and I'm ok...even better, let me open up query analyser and i can type with my eyes shut..maybe its environment??

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Code reviews? Inter team projects? Which bit does you in? Being in front in of your peers. Strangers? Having to get it right first time? Whiteboard is very real where I work, and those two tests are an absolute minimum in our environment.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

A better test (reserved for those who make it through the first round of interviews) would be to assign a dummy project taht tests the various skills needed. I recently hired a draftsperson and gave her a bunch of assemblies to draw. These remain in-house and are non-critical while allowing me to gauge her knowledge of AutoCAD and attention to details as well as how fast she gets the job done and how much guidance she needs.

Shellbot
Shellbot

At this job, they asked me what I would do if I didn't know how to do soemthing..i said Google it. Its one thing to know nothing and spend hours on google looking up "how to"..its another knowing the basics..you just need to remember that keyword that you use once every 2 years! At the end of the day they need something to gaugue us by..but not everyone performs well while being watched.. or put on the spot! Its so humiliating to blank on a basic thing that you do every day :(