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The title pretty much says it all, but the longer story is:

I went to a job interview last year for a junior tester position.

The first interview was with a person from HR. This is weird, in my opinion the technical interview should come first.

We started talking HR specific stuff and some details about the company/job/etc. Then, out of the blue, she just started asking me very general and easy questions about object-oriented programming. Things like what is a class, what is inheritance, what's the difference between overriding and overloading blabla.

Now, maybe it makes business sense to make the people in HR memorize some programming questions and answers in order to screen out completely idiot applicants. However, there are a few important setbacks about this:

  • most of the time, the HR person will have absolutely no idea what he/she or the applicant are talking about at that moment. So if the applicant's correct answer differs from the one he/she memorized (which it probably will), then he/she will wrongfully consider (with very high probability) that the applicant has no idea about OOP.
  • why not just have a senior developer do phone screening instead ? Seems much more effective (and also cheaper).
  • my CV was pretty complete, it contained all my relevant skills and projects. Did he/she even bother read it ? Or, if he/she did read it, does he/she just assume that every applicant is lying on their CV ? In that case, why should I ever bother putting one together and sending it to them ?

All this definitely raised some red flags in my mind for the reasons mentioned in the list above. We did not move forward for second and/or 3rd interview (the reason for this is irrelevant), but is it reasonable to consider this a deal-breaker ?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by ratchet freak, Simon, Mike Partridge, James McLeod, gnat Jan 28 '14 at 13:41

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

"(and also cheaper)" - you think it would be cheaper to use a senior developer's time than the time of someone from HR? –  AakashM Jan 28 '14 at 12:52
Just because she's in HR doesn't mean she doesn't have a basic understanding of technology. Not everyone is as cut-and-dried as you are. Initial screening for liars and exaggerators is best done by HR. BTW, How is this a "deal-breaker?" –  BobDalgleish Jan 28 '14 at 13:01
Never, ever assume the person on the other side of the table doesn't know the material. One of these days, you're going to run into some who's changed careers and knows the material cold, perhaps better than you. The result will be an incredibly embarrassing moment for you and an excellent chance of not being offered a job. (And, if you want my opinion, anyone applying for a position whose title begins with "Junior" isn't entitled to that level of swagger.) –  Blrfl Jan 28 '14 at 13:02
@RaduMurzea Why do you believe that the HR person isn't qualified to ask technical questions? –  Philipp Jan 28 '14 at 13:22
Downvoted & Flagged: This isn't a question, it's a rant disguised as a question. With the attitude from the comments it appears clear that the poster is not interested in responses which disagree with their narrow viewpoint and limited experience. –  James Snell Jan 28 '14 at 13:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

This is not in any way a dealbreaker. It is fashionable in some circles to consider everyone in HR to be a "functional drone" with no knowledge outside their specific field, but this is as unfair a stereotype as suggesting that all programmers are Dungeons-and-Dragons-playing nerds with poor social skills and no interests outside of technology and gaming.

In my experience, junior programmers are often arrogant about their knowledge, and to consider even programming trivia like the difference between a class and an interface, or between overloading and over-riding, to be obscure topics, but honestly, they aren't. These are really pretty easy questions - really just specialized vocabulary/jargon rather than deep concepts, and even a non-technical person of average intelligence should have no trouble separating someone who is faking it from someone who knows their stuff.

And, as has been stated before, it is entirely possible that the person you are dealing with started off in computer science, math, or electrical engineering, and just found HR to be more to their taste.

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This was helpful. Thank you. –  Radu Murzea Jan 28 '14 at 13:39

If fail to see why would it be a deal breaker. Maybe the HR in question has some technical culture, and so he is able to perform some additional screening this way. Even if the questions are 100% bullshit, I fail to see how relevant it is for the job. I would just move that in the "off topic" section of the interview.

I would consider much more dangerous a place where there is not enough screening, or a place where the technical interview is unconvincing.


I think it can be reasonable to consider it a deal breaker because it could be considered incompetence on the part of the company to have the HR person ask such questions.

This is an overbroad generalization. As stated by many people, you cannot assume that the HR is being incompetent. It is even more far-fetched to assume that the whole company is also incompetent.

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The general demeanour of the poster (in comments like the one highlighted) demonstrate very well why they wouldn't have got to a 2nd interview... –  James Snell Jan 28 '14 at 13:27
+1 If the business in question were a software house, HR staff would almost certainly possess above average technical knowledge compared to HR staff in other industries. –  Robbie Dee Jan 28 '14 at 14:07

No. Why do you expect a HR person not to have any knowledge of the business's area of practise? Seems to me that having a HR person have a deeper understanding of what technical staff do is a good thing.

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Yes but, based on what I know about how companies operate, there's a very high chance that they did what I said in the first bullet point of my question: they just had the HR person memorize some questions+answers without understanding them. Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying HR people are incapable of understanding something like this. But it's totally outside their confort zone, so it's not the same thing. Just like I would have a very hard time understanding details about how a Formula 1 engine works... –  Radu Murzea Jan 28 '14 at 13:18
@RaduMurzea do you realize that you accuse them of something, then judge them as if it were true, and finally ask if your attitude can be generalized? –  Simon Jan 28 '14 at 13:29
Not enough detail here to suggest it is anything more than a comment. Could you please expand on this... –  Robbie Dee Jan 28 '14 at 14:03
@Simon I think you're right about this. Apparently it's not one of my best features... –  Radu Murzea Jan 28 '14 at 14:11

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