Can a Candidate Take “Criticism”?

I ran a workshop recently about hiring for an agile team, and one of the people learning to interview said, “I want a candidate who can take criticism.” I replied, “Don't you mean feedback?” He asked, “What's the difference?”

Oh, boy. Plenty. Criticism is when you you're looking at a piece of code and you say, “This seems brain dead.”  But if you say, “I'm confused by this piece of code,” you've provided me some feedback. I guarantee you, you want candidates who can take feedback.

So, if you want to know if a candidate can take feedback, here are some possible interview questions:

  • “Have you recently been in a position where someone reviewed your work?” (wait for a yes answer.) “What happened?”
  • Offer to work with the candidate in an audition (possibly pairing) and review as you go.
  • Ask for feedback on some of you work as part of an audition and see how the candidate provides feedback.
  • “How do you know your work is good?” Wait and see where the question goes. You might be able to follow up with a question such as, “Is there a way you prefer feedback on your work?”

Asking candidates about their ability to take feedback is useful. Asking about criticism is not.

5 thoughts on “Can a Candidate Take “Criticism”?”

  1. Pingback: HR World » Blog Archive » Wednesday Links: PTO, Flying Without ID

  2. “I want a candidate who can take criticism”

    I don’t want to with the person who said that. It sounds too much like a person who like to criticize.

    Thanks for the post and explaining the difference between criticism and feedback.

  3. Geoffrey Wiseman

    Oh, I dunno; there’s constructive and destructive forms of criticism. If you’re looking at a piece of code, and you’re pretty sure that it’s incorrect, and you’re able to point that out in a constructive way, I think you can call that feedback and you can call that criticism,

    Feedback: Should this stringReverse have a null check?
    Constructive Criticism: I think we’d best add a null check to your stringRerverse method — it’s a public API, never know who’s going to call it, and how.
    Destructive Criticism: What kind of bonehead put in this string rerverse without a null check?

    I’d ideally like candidates who can handle both of those easily. I don’t much care if they can handle destructive criticism, which I’d prefer not to see.

  4. You don’t mean “criticism,” you mean “abuse.” Criticism is what critics do: analyze the merits of a work based on its importance and efficacy. Ebert might sometimes heap abuse on terrible cinema, but when he praises a good movie, he is still producing criticism.

  5. Praveen K. Mahto

    I like your article, its really nice.

    But I am not sure how many people are going to take it or apply it in reality.

    Though “Feedback” sounds good and people are open to it. As far as “Criticism” goes the EGO comes in picture. People normally have nose up attitude and with position they carry along….they dont want to be criticised. They think that they are experts and as far as my experience goes, there thinking becomes more narrow. They cant see beyond themselves.

    Praveen Mahto
    PMP, ITIL

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