Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I just had a developer technical interview last night.

As similar to so many technical interviews, it ask me to solve and implement an algorithms within a period of time (1 hour).

But when interview begin, he start with introducing his life and to long 13 years career life for like 15 min or more (1/6 of my problem solving time gone).

Then I notice I really having troubles understanding his English, thus every question or explanations he said, I have to repeatedly ask him to repeat and explain many times. Turns out he gave up explain one question and ask another one.

At the end it turns out I couldn't have enough time to do the algorithms implementation even I got the concept to implement. I did tried to briefly explain how my concept and implementations should be, but at the same time I really concern is he really understand my explanation(English).

I feel I am pretty much fail this interview, but I don't want to repeat this situation again.

So what will be the best way to get him communicate properly with me, so it won't waste so much time to repeat the same explanation? And not letting him think I have no idea how to implement the algorithms?

A side question, how can I cut his long introduction?

share|improve this question
cut his long introduction Refrain from doing that, but tell him when he finishes his introduction that the time now is 0800 hours so I have till 0900 to complete as a question. –  DumbCoder Mar 3 '12 at 17:23
@DumbCoder Ahhhh I should've done that. But I guess was bad timing too and was not possible for me. Because when I do the interview, is started at 4:30 their time. And he leave early at 5:20 and tell me is time up +1. –  King Chan Mar 3 '12 at 17:30
In a technical interview, you can be upfront to tell that you have trouble understanding english; if the recruiter is good and is genuinely looking for your talent, they will try to accommodate and try to evaluate your core. –  Dipan Mehta Mar 4 '12 at 5:21
@DipanMehta The recruiter is from their company. But I guess I going to fail anyway, I will try tell them I guess upfront I guess +1 lol –  King Chan Mar 4 '12 at 17:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

On the communication issue, I'm going to have to give you a harsh truth: When I'm interviewing someone, I need to know that they can communicate with me. I don't care if they can communicate with every other Englishman in the world and it's just my accent that causes a problem for them. I need a team of people who are able to communicate with me.

There is nothing racial in this. I don't care where you come from. I only care that you can communicate with me. Because when the shit hits the fan and we've run into a problem that we can't fix in time, I need you to be able to communicate the problem, the solution and how long it's going to take to me, so that I can either offer alternative ideas or communicate it to my bosses.

And I know I can find people like that, so that's just fine. I also know that if you're good in every other way but you can't communicate with me, you'll find a job elsewhere, so I don't feel bad about it either. It's the way things should work.

As to the issue with only being given half an hour to solve an hour-long problem, there are three possibilities here:

  • You are completely correct and they didn't give you long enough, or account for that fact. In which case, you do not want to work for them. That's fine.
  • They didn't give you long enough, but they know this and accounted for it, in which case you might be ok. But then, depending on how badly you want a job, you might want to consider this question: If they think they can judge a programmer in half an hour, what level of people are you going to work with?
  • They gave you exactly as long as they intended and it is you who thinks you should have had longer. In this case, you're wrong for that job, so don't worry about it.

On the final point about his long speech at the beginning of the interview: Worry about any company that doesn't do this. I do 15 minutes at the start of a first interview, telling them about the company, the team they'll be working with and myself.

If we're not good enough for them, I want them to walk away, because I don't want to waste time training them and then have them leave anyway. If they're intimidated by the team then I want to know that very early, because (among other things) I don't want to offer them as much money as the rest of the team.

If someone isn't giving you this information right off the bat, worry about what information they're hiding, worry about whether they really know what they're doing, or what they're looking for. Worry about what the company does and how it treats people. Just worry. Don't necessarily discount them, but be ready to ask lots of questions.

share|improve this answer
+1 I think this is really true. Maybe I can only say I should've learn Mandarin so I can talk to him. Or bad luck that I encounter an interviewer that I can't communicate with. Because he is one of the software lead, there is different department I could join in. Doesn't have to be his department... And company overview I pretty much got in first interview, his intro is only about his life.... –  King Chan Mar 3 '12 at 18:40
@KingChan: All that said, I have been known to pass developers on to other teams if I thought they'd fit better there. But all-told, the upshot of my message is, don't worry about it. This won't happen at every job, count it as bad luck and move on. –  pdr Mar 3 '12 at 18:52

To me, it sounds like a communication barrier that you'll have to overcome. If you have any English speaking friends, I'd ask them to help you prepare by doing mock interviews. That way, if you have trouble understanding something they say, you can take the time to fully understand. When ever the interviewer asks a question, try to repeat the question back to them the way you interpreted it. This helps let the interviewer know that you are trying to understand the problem and allows the interviewer to clarify any miscommunication.

As for his long introduction: This seems to be normal from the interviews I've been to. It's usually to break the ice, and let you know about the company. It's usually a time to ask questions and relate your experiences to the interviewer's experiences.

share|improve this answer
Ah, No, is not my English problem, I could able to understand other interviewer properly. And I did have couples of interview before this one. But his pronouce is really diffcult to understand. Like 1 sentense I could bearly catch 2, 3 words. The long introduction is not about the company or department or work. Is just about his life how he become programmer, how he move from one company to another, his interest etc. I did techinical interview with that company before. Normally it will go stright into the question in the Techinical Screening round. –  King Chan Mar 3 '12 at 17:26
Was it his accent? Was he speaking fast? If so, kindly ask him to slow down. And some interviewers like introducing themselves to break the ice. –  Ivan Mar 3 '12 at 20:30
It was his accent, but he speak slow through. Sometime he only speak like couples words and pause a little. It was kind of diffcult to understand that's a sentense. I really don't know how to put in way a to ask him speak cleanly. I was afraid will make him in a bad mood. All I can said was "sorry I don't understand, can you repeat that again?" –  King Chan Mar 3 '12 at 20:43

I wouldn't worry too much about it. Just be patient in these types of situations, try to remain calm, and use the techniques to clarify the question, like repeating it back and asking if you don't understand something.

If you are hired, chances are you'll get used to that person's communication style if you work with that person regularly. You'll learn to pick up on the sounds in the accent and that person will pick up yours. There are a lot of people I've come in contact whom I had trouble understanding and who had trouble understanding me, but after awhile I noticed it became easier for us to communicate.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.