The Universe of Discourse

Sat, 28 Aug 2021

How to fix hiring?

On Twitter, Mike Coutermarsh suggested:

Job interview: “algorithms”

Reality: “Turn a 127 message deep slack thread between 5 engineers into a decision”

I suppose this was meant facetiously but I think it might contain the germ of a good idea.

Applicants are usually given timed a programming quiz. What if instead, the candidate was supplied with the 127-message Slack thread and given 24 hours to write up a proposal document? I honestly think this might produce good results.

Such a submission would be extremely probative of the candidate's talents and abilities, including:

  • reading and understanding technical arguments
  • balancing engineering tradeoffs
  • foreseeing potential issues
  • writing clear English
  • planning
  • seriousness
  • writing coherent, well-organized, and persuasive documents

It is much more difficult to cheat on this task than on a typical programming exercise. The candidate certainly can't submit a prewritten essay that they found somewhere; that would be easy to detect. A candidate who can take someone else's prewritten essay and quickly rewrite it to plausibly appear original is probably quite well-qualified on many of the important metrics! (Plus an additional important one: the ability to do research. They had to locate, recognize, and read the essay they rewrote.)

It shouldn't be hard to change up the essay topic periodically, since the engineers will be producing several of those 127-message Slack threads every month. This also tends to impede cheating.

When a good candidate comes for an in-person interview, you have a ready-made topic of conversation. Instead of coding at the whiteboard, you can ask them to discuss their proposal.

Complaints that this would discriminate against candidates with poor command of English do not hold water. Good command of English is one of the job requirements, and the whole point of a job interview is to discriminate against unqualified candidates. Besides, if the hiring process encourages candidates to improve their English writing abilities, rather than cramming a bunch of red-black-tree algorithms, language trivia, or irrelevant brainteasters, so much the better for everyone.

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