A Memorable Phone Screen

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A few days ago, I phone screened a QA Manager candidate that ended up being extremely memorable. It went something like this:

About 10 minutes into the phone screen, I started asking him some (very basic) technical questions. I thought I'd start quizzing him on his database knowledge since 1) It's a requirement for the job (as cleared stated in the job post) and 2) He claims to know a thing or two about relational databases on his resume.

Question 1: I asked him for a simple select statement. No joins, no group by, nothing complicated at all. He fumbled quite a bit on it.

Question 2: I asked him another simple database-related question. I'm not going to say on here what the exact question was, but trust me--it was something really simple. It should've taken him < 5 seconds to answer me. If you've worked with relational databases in the past, you should know the answer to this question. When I asked him the question, his initial reply was "yes". I then asked him to tell me what he knows about it. He then claimed to tell me he knows the answer and that he has a MS degree.

Interesting. I've neve gotten such a response from an interviewee in the past.

I told him that I wanted him to explain. And this is when things started getting really interesting. He told me that this is a "school type" of question and that I shouldn't ask such a question to a senior-level interview candidate.

Wow. I kept my cool and told him that while I understand what he's trying to tell me, I still needed him to give me the answer because I need to know whether or not he can do the job. And sure enough, he got even more upset and went on and on about how I should be conducting my interviews.

No one has ever told me how to conduct interviews during an interview.

Conversation over. We hung up. And to my surprise (I shoudn't have been surprised, though), this guy sent me an angry email. I really wish I could paste the contents of the email here. It was completely unprofessional and written in a very badly broken English to top it off. It was actually pretty funny to read.

After this fiasco took place, I was on my way home from work and thought long and hard about the whole exchange. I asked myself if there was anything I could've done differently. Was any of this my fault?

The conclusion I came to was that nope, none of this is my fault and there's not a thing I should change about how I phone screen people. I'm not saying that my phone screen methods are perfect. I'm just saying that there was no redeeming lesson that I could've taken away from having talked to this candidate. He certainly could've responded to my question in a variety of different (better) ways.

  • He could've told me "No, I don't know the answer."
  • He could've asked for a hint.
  • He could've made up an answer.
  • He could've gotten upset but could've kept it to himself.
  • He could've told me he's got a problem with me asking such a question and bring it up in a professional manner.

But nope, instead, he did some of the absolute worst things he could as an interviwee. He lied (about knowing the answer), he refused to answer a perfectly valid question, he got angry at the interviewer, and told the interviewer how to conduct interviews.

Well, at least I had a good laugh about it.

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