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Fine candidates

sroehrl profile image neoan ・3 min read

Some background

Recruiting is a lengthy process, and we are now in the fourth month of trying to find a good fit.

Since I know people who are looking for a job are reading this, let me fill you in on a couple of "fails" some candidates make during interviews. (But frankly, this is mainly for amusement)

To give you a little context: we are in need of a full-stack developer. We have several projects requiring PHP, NET/ASP and Node on the back-end.
However, none of these projects justify dedicated positions. This leaves us with the problem of ideally finding someone who can either do it all or at least come with a solid understanding of at least two of those requirements and an eagerness to learn. Now, there are requirements for the front-end as well, but that is not relevant for this post. Here is a little "best of"

The boot-camp keyboard warrior

Candidate: "I don't write PHP"

Us: "We can see that from your resume. But since you have experience with high level languages, I was wondering how fast you would be able to pick it up."

Candidate: "PHP is not a high level language."

Us: "How would you categorize it?"

Candidate: "It is an inconsistent dinosaur that's why everybody hates it."

Us: "So you looked at it and disliked it?"

Candidate: "No, I haven't"

Us: "Is this the reason it is not a high level language?"

Candidate: "Yes, I think so"

Us: "OK. Let's skip that for now. I really like the design of your portfolio site. What did you use to build that?"

Candidate: "I designed it with tailwind and the animations are all done by hand with vanilla JS."

Us: "Very nice! But this is dynamic content, isn't it? Is that node?"

Candidate: "No. For the blog I used wordpress."

The artisan web ninja

Candidate: "Is this a trick question?" (pointing at a sheet for HR)

Us: "Which one?"

Candidate: "The one about professional recommendations."

Us: "No. This is in case HR wants to reach out to former employers or peers who have worked with you. This normally doesn't happen, though."

Candidate: "But. OK."

Us: "Don't worry, we will not call your current employer."

Candidate: "So it is a trick question."

Us: "I am not sure how you mean that. But we will not call anybody at [listed company in resume] as you still work there."

Candidate: "No"

Us: "You don't work at [listed company in resume]?"

Candidate: "Yes. I mean no, I did."

Us: "Ok. When did that change?"

Candidate: "In March."

Us: "It says here you are still working there. What have you done in the last six months?"

Candidate: "I knew I would fall for the first trick question."

The web guru

( this one has made it to a technical part )

Us: "You seem to be stuck here."

Candidate: "I don't understand this code base."

Us: "To be honest, this is how this part is designed. The target is to see how you go about understanding legacy code."

Candidate: "But it doesn't make any sense."

Us: "Where are you stuck?"

Candidate: "This variable is never declared, why does this work."

Us: "You mean this method?"

Candidate: "No, this function here."

Us: "Hm. Could this be a magic method?" (yes, it could)

Candidate (laughs): "Right. And I need a wand not a keyboard."

Us: "Are you familiar with magic methods?"

Candidate: "Are you serious?"

Us: "Yes. But it's okay if you haven't. It's not very common. How would you solve for such a case?"

Candidate (still grins): "Am I also allowed to use magic? Or am I only allowed to code?"

Us: "Seriously, there is such a thing as magic functions in PHP. And it's actually rather simple."

Candidate: "You really believe that?"

Us: "Yes. What? No, I know that."

Candidate (looking at my superior): "Is he for real?"

Discussion

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ssimontis profile image
Scott Simontis

Have you considered using contractors? It seems like it would be way easier to find three competent contractors versus one all-star polygot programmer. PHP, .NET and Node are all so very different that I imagine it would be near-impossible to find a candidate who feels neutral about all three languages and their different approaches.

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sroehrl profile image
neoan Author

Uff. There would be so much to be said about that. So in general, contractors aren't an option as what I referred to as projects are all long time engagements. I would have to go down a rabbit hole to explain how we are structured and how this led to us being in a position where we should recruit 3 people but only have the budget for one.

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ssimontis profile image
Scott Simontis

Oh yes, nothing is worse than the hellish codebase produced by a long line of contractors (dealing with one of those myself right now).

Are any of the systems small enough that a rewrite would be possible. It might be motivating for some candidates. "Oh, you despise PHP? Well, if you think you can rewrite it in Node/ASP.NET, I'm all ears!"

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sroehrl profile image
neoan Author

The easy answer is no. But of course, reality is a bit more facetted. Especially the PHP codebase is gigantic while the node / .net projects could theoretically be rewritten.

But here is the actual catch: while further developing what is in production, we plan a complete rewrite of the front-end (mainly because we need an exit strategy for the end of life of AngularJS), a process this person would oversee and lead.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. So yes, I am fully aware that we are searching for a unicorn.