Interviewing for a developer position is stressful at best, with candidates trying to make a lasting impression with their soft skills and personality while also nailing whiteboard tests and technical portions. In an ideal world, you can put your best foot forward and show off the full breadth of your skills, but sometimes, things go off the rails.
Here are five developer interview stories that went incredibly wrong, from either the perspective of the interviewee or the hiring manager. This article is also available as a download, 5 developer interview horror stories (free PDF).
SEE: Interview tips: How to land your next tech job (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
1. Illegal substances
“We hire 30+ engineers every year for various software startups we are constantly launching out of our venture studio, and I have had the opportunity to hire and interview hundreds of engineers over the course of my career. My favorite interview ‘horror story’ was during an interview with an engineering candidate. We were discussing how he would handle the pace and workload of an early-stage startup. His response was simply that he’d been experimenting with micro-dosing.'”
—Amanda Poole, senior recruiter at High Alpha
2. Stretching the truth
“A guy came in for the interview with an impressive CV: Seven years’ experience in QA, Ph.D. and all. As he learned more about [our company], he told me he would love to start a new phase in his career and work in our machine learning team. With his Ph.D. degree, he said, this could be a great start. And we were like, why not, let’s give him a chance, this guy sounds like he can rock.
First, we had to test his knowledge of deep learning. With his degree, he just had to surprise us. In a good way. But he knew nothing. Questions about calculus and linear algebra followed. Something very basic. Again, nothing.Then we decided to test his logic skills with a math puzzle: ‘Three flies fly off from the center of a room. What’s the probability of them ending up on the same plane in 10 minutes?’ There’s only one answer: 1 (100%). It’s basic maths, an axiom. The guy answered 76.245% with a complex math solution that made no sense.
At the end of the interview, we were a little confused. So what was your Ph.D. in, we asked?
Agricultural science, it turned out. Agricultural. Science.
And we realized his entire CV was fake. Obviously.
Altogether, we ended up spending two hours convinced that it was us that got something wrong. So to be fair, this guy did impress us. Probably, he’s now rocking somewhere in PR or marketing with these skills of his.”
—Arto Minasyan, co-founder of 10Web
3. Failing at the basics
“My freshman year of college, I was really excited for my Microsoft internship interview. I went into it with only three months under my belt of actual computer science classes. Right off the bat my interviewer asked me a basic question on hash tables. I didn’t even know what a hash table was. I knew they existed but had no clue how to respond….which to be totally honest is really a basic interview question that any developer would know how to answer. But for me (at the time) I only knew really basic code and that was it.
The whole interview ended up being the interviewer walking me through how to do everything, instead of me showcasing my skills. This was by far the most embarrassing interview of my life.”
—Sam Gavis-Hughson, founder of Byte by Byte
4. Where’s the bathroom?
“In university, I was invited to do a final round onsite with one of the usual suspect large tech companies at their headquarters. There was no recruiter on site, so each interviewer passed me off directly to the next, each of whom was very flustered and unsure about the flow of the day.
I needed to use the restroom and asked my pre-lunch interviewer, who told me to ask my lunch chaperone, who told me to ask my next interviewer and so on until by my sixth interview I had asked five separate people if I could please have a moment to use the restroom when the final interviewer responded “is that really a priority right now?” I had to insist, ‘Yes, after waiting 5 hours to pee I’m not at liberty to make answering a question a higher priority.’
So I left the interview room and walked to the lobby to find a bathroom. The interviewer did not follow me and I decided to just leave. I never heard from the recruiter again.”
—Kasey Champion, software engineer at Karat
5. The acronym test
“I once went on an interview early in my career where the ‘technical’ portion of the interview was an acronym test. What does TCP/IP stand for? What does PDC stand for? What does XML stand for?
This is not a really great way to test technical know-how, to begin with. It’s just a memory test. The worst part was I actually explained what a PDC did, though I couldn’t remember on the spot what one of the letters stood for. And they said that my response didn’t count because I believe I said the ‘C’ stood for ‘computer’ instead of ‘controller’ even though I told them what the PDC did.”
—Jonathan Fries, vice president of engineering and digital transformation at Exadel
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