Avoid Stump-the-Candidate Interviews

You know that I use auditions as a way to see how people work. I find that auditions, along with behavior-description questions are a great way to see how people will work at work. However, there are some questions and auditions that just allow the interviewer to play a bad interview game: Stump the Candidate.

When an interviewer plays stump-the-candidate, the interviewer shows his or her “superiority.” Here’s an example. Say you’re talking to a manual black box tester, and you ask, “Can you describe a linked list?” Now, I used that question when I was interviewing testers who needed to write code. Since they needed to interrogate linked lists in their tests, asking if they knew about linked lists was a reasonable first question. However, if I’d asked that question of a non-coding tester, that’s a stump-the-candidate question. All that question does is make me look superior (in my eyes only) and make the candidate feel inferior (in my eyes only). In reality, it’s a good tip-off that I’m a jerk. Not a good way to develop a collegial conversation.

You can have stump-the-candidate auditions too. If you give the candidate a task that takes an already-successful employee a few hours to perform, that audition is too long and probably too hard. If you give the candidate a task that no one in your group can perform, you’re either looking for a much more senior person or you’ve got a stump-the-candidate audition.Not all hard questions are intentionally stump-the-candidate questions. If you ever are stumped in an interview, see Roy Osherove’s thoughts: Bad interviews are your best friend.

Stump-the-candidate questions are rude. Candidates make time to come to your office and interview with you. Treat them with respect.

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