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Person "X" and "Y" are software engineers. They are "equal" -- in terms of qualifications / experience / skills -- whatever.

Person "X" goes to an interview...

  • "X" answers all questions spontaneously
  • "X" is really a quick thinker -- and spends little or no time "thinking" in front of the interviewer
  • in X's interview there are no quiet moments of "thinking" -- X is always ready with the answer
  • "X" pretends to be quick and smart

Person "Y" goes to an interview...

  • "Y" takes time to answer questions
  • "Y" tries to "phrase" the answer in the best possible way -- which takes some cognitive processing
  • in Y's interview there are some occasions when there is NO eye contact, both "Y" and the interviewer are quiet and the interviewer is looking right at Y's face awaiting an answer
  • "Y" pretends to be patient and thoughtful

Remember... "X" and "Y" have similar technical skills and experience -- it's just the difference in "expressing" these in an interview that i am talking about.

My questions...

  1. as an interviewer -- what would you prefer
  2. as an interviewee -- how would you like to portray yourself -- "fast and smart" -- or -- "patient and wise"
  3. do "quickies" get more interviews nailed
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closed as off topic by Jon Hopkins, FrustratedWithFormsDesigner, Karl Bielefeldt, Anna Lear Jul 29 '11 at 17:21

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"Y" takes between 10-40 seconds -- but person "X" tries to be quick (not more than 8-10) seconds –  good_computer Jul 29 '11 at 14:38
@Roger Attrill -- NOT ALL employees participate -- just 2-3 who have spend good time in the company. The interviewee DOES NOT know it -- that's why i can't tell you the company name :) –  good_computer Jul 29 '11 at 14:39
i say "pretends to be" because we think the apparent quickness (or slowness) doesn't give us a good idea about the candidate -- and is just because of the "nerves" –  good_computer Jul 29 '11 at 14:47
Replace the "software engineer" in this question with another profession and the question and the answers don't seem to change at all. This appears to be safely off-topic for Programmers. Far as the argument in the comments is going, I think our chat would be a better venue to discuss pros, cons, and the overall legality of recording and/or broadcasting an interview. –  Anna Lear Jul 29 '11 at 17:23
Er, "pretends to be" or "comes across as"? –  user16764 Mar 17 '13 at 0:40

12 Answers 12

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Any interviewee that "pretends" to be anything where I see through it is going to get called out on it. It depends on what you are interviewing for, but if it is for a position of responsibility I want you to demonstrate how you would answer questions from your colleagues and people you will be mentoring.

On the whole I am obviously more interested in how you answer the question than in when you answer the question, as long as the when isn't next week.

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greengit seems to think "pretends to" is synonymous with "appears to". In reply to my comment, he claimed to interpret the "pretence" as nerves rather than deception. –  Steve314 Jul 29 '11 at 15:41

I don't think it makes much of a difference. The margin here is so small that you putting effort into it compared to other things is not going to provide a good return.

If I actually was in this situation, I think I would choose the patient and thoughtful interviewee. However, that is because that is the type of person I am and people are drawn to people that have similarities with. There are benefits to having different types of people, but this question is too isolated for that to matter.

When it comes down to it, there are many other personal traits that will make you stand out more. Examples being how you work with people and how you work out problems (the logic process, not the speed at which it happens).

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The best approach is to match the Interviewers style. As that is what he\she will most likely relate to.

Some people say to step up your level on enthusiasm to bit more than that of the interviewer. Or in your case to be a Bit "Quicker"\"Slower" than the interviewer.

Minor edit\Note: On phone interview I tend talk quicker, because of time limitations. I want to hit all the of "My Planned point List".

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Matching style is perhaps the best approach to get the job from the point of view of the interviewee, but IMHO the best approach to keep the job is to be yourself, and this should start in the interview (speaking as the interviewer). –  Joris Timmermans Jul 29 '11 at 14:50

Just combine the two: Start with a quick and smart answer, then elaborate wisely on possible edge cases.

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I don't believe type 1 really exists. If I interview a person and ask him a question I need the right answer phrased well - otherwise I might misunderstand the answer and would have to ask additional questions just to clarify what the interviewee is meaning. So IMO it is safe to assume that good right answers need time to be formulated.

In real life you can't give another person a "quick" answer - you have to explain the grounds so that the other person can assess whether the answer is useful. This is why "quick" answers are often useless and type 1 fast interviewees are often just as useless.

Of course this doesn't mean the interviewee has to think 15 minutes before answering whether O(n) algorithm is better than O(n2) algorithm and why. He should think a while, phrase his answer so that the interviewer gets him right.

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As an interviewee I would be myself. If you put on an act it will show sooner or later, either at the interview or at the job. Regarding your question if "quickies nail more interviews" it's hard to answer in general terms, but at least in my case I, being more of a "Y", got the job instead of one that fits your "X" description.

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Person X would appear to know all the answers without thinking and therefore either to know the questions or to have come across the questions before. Which might be the only reason.

Person Y would appear to have heard the question for the first time right there and to therfore show that they can fully consider the question on the fly and provide an answer.

Person Y seems preferable, as something seems a little unknown about Person X.

But Person Y, after a larger number of interviews, gets to know the questions and they turn into person X. So does person Y->X effectively get penalized for having been to more interviews? Should person Y->X fake themselves as person Y?

I think it's the interviewers job to adapt accordingly with some different line of questioning and start interviewing them as Person X->Y

Plus it depends on whether X or Y fits in to the rest of my team. Maybe I'd have both as the sum of two parts might be greater than the whole.

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Depends on the question and the answer. If they ponder a long time on an easy question, that's a negative. If they ponder a long time on a harder question but give an obviously bluffed answer, that's a negative. If they ponder a long time on a hard question and give an excellent answer, that's very positive.

If they give the "obvious" answer right away, then ponder longer to give a better answer, that's even better. It shows the subject is forefront in their mind, but also shows an ability to reevaluate and not settle for a good solution when there's a great one available.

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Unfortunately it will be other traits that are considered and the quick can be seen as impulsive and the contemplative as uncommunicative. Probably depends on whether you like the person or not. Depending on the question, it may be more appropriate to think about it. If you get the basic, 'tell me about yourself' question and you have to think about it, you seem unprepared.

So what does this have to do with being a programmer? Quiet people are still interesting if they share something in common. Sponeteneity can come across as immature and a lack of self control. Agree that you can't fake it. If a recent grad comes to the interview and draws on their pipe and strokes their beard after every questions, it's going to look a little strange (I know the pipe is strange enough, but you get the vibe of the thing.).

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The question seems to be based around the wrong criteria.

Think about this in terms of a marriage - you have two candidates before you, both equally attractive. Which do you pick, the one that makes the tea quickest, or the one that makes it the slowest.

IME, we pick the person we like. I'd go so far as to suggest that I would pick someone of inferior ability if I felt the relationship would be more harmonious.

Sure there are techniques for influencing the interviewer - "matching" as suggested by @Morons for example - basically a subset of flirting - but why bother? I would not attempt to portray myself as anything other than myself - unless I wanted to be booted from the firm during probation for failing to sustain that masquerade.

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It really depends on the nature of your team. If you have a team of analytical thinkers, these people thrive and demand lots of information to make decisions. This is both a strength and weakness. It can be a very good strength if you are developing flight controls, but might be a bit of a weakness in a startup where information and requirements are constantly in motion.

You quick thinker is probably more of an expressive. They are more likely to run into things and jump right in. Again a strength and weakness. They can make quick decisions without a lot of information, a strength in a startup.

Analysts and Expressives don't get along well though. I as an expressive struggled when working for a company that made flight controls and was dominated by strong analysts.

So you really need to look at your staff. If they are intently watching interviews that sounds a bit like they lean towards analysts to me, but you really need to have a sense of your team to make the call on this. Your team vote may help guide you.

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I think you misunderstand the meaning of the "spontaneous". It means "without premeditation", not "fast".

I would evaluate candidate Y as the one with spontaneity. They are answering the question as it arises, rather than having pre-planned their answers.

Candidate X, in spending no time thinking at the interview and answers questions immediately strikes me as having done extensive interview preparation, predicting your questions and memorising "ideal" answers.

Consider the kinds of lateral thinking puzzles that appear in so many blog posts about tech interviews*. Many of them have an answer that is obvious in hindsight, but take a bit of thinking about when you first hear it. A candidate who answers quickly has likely heard it before. A candidate who pauses, asks a few questions, and eventually comes up with the answer, is likely to be actually thinking about the puzzle.

The speed of a response should be considered relative to the speed you expect in real life. If the question is about some nugget of information that you expect an actual employee to have at their fingertips, then you would hope a candidate would answer quickly. If the question is to test whether they can come up with solutions to novel problems, then a quick answer does not tell you that.

All that said - some people have lightning fast minds, so a rapid answer does not necessarily mean they are just conjuring things from memory.

*I know they are hated but it makes the most obvious illustration.

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