Interviewing Tips: The Interview Anti-Loop and the Warren Harding Error
A couple non-traditional considerations when preparing for a software development interview.
Prepare for the Warren Harding Error, Thin Slicing, Snap Judgements, and rapid cognition.
The Warring Harding Error as described by Malcom Gladwell:
Many people who looked at Warren Harding saw how extraordinarily handsome and distinguished-looking he was and jumped to the immediate – and entirely unwarranted – conclusion that he was a man of courage and intelligence and integrity. They didn’t dig below the surface. The way he looked carried so many powerful connotations that it stopped the normal process of thinking dead in its tracks. The Warren Harding error is the dark side of rapid cognition. It is at the root of a good deal of prejudice and discrimination. It’s why picking the right candidate for a job is so difficult and why, on more occasions than we may care to admit, utter mediocrities sometimes end up in positions of enormous responsibility. – Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
As Developers (and Generation X / Yers) we tend to buy into the ideal that “on the internet no one knows your a dog”, an ideal that’s been seared into our minds by Sesame Street and the like. An ideal where sunny days, chase the clouds away, where knowledge, technical skill, and communication should outweigh appearance – a place where being a dog, human, or giant harry elephant should be irrelevant. Unfortunately that’s not reality. Clean up for your interviews, put away those circa Cobain sneakers, and pack in the facial jewelery. Warren Harding (considered one of the worst US presidents) may have been elected based on his appearance. First impressions matter.
Beware of the Interview Anti-Loop
The Interview Anti-Loop as described by Steve Yegge:
when I was at Amazon … We eventually concluded that every single employee E at Amazon has at least one “Interview Anti-Loop”: a set of other employees S who would not hire E. The root cause is important for you to understand when you’re going into interviews, so I’ll tell you a little about what I’ve found over the years.
First, you can’t tell interviewers what’s important … they believe they are a “good interviewer” and they don’t need to change their questions, their question styles, their interviewing style, or their feedback style, ever again. …
Second problem: every “experienced” interviewer has a set of pet subjects and possibly specific questions that he or she feels is an accurate gauge of a candidate’s abilities. The question sets for any two interviewers can be widely different and even entirely non-overlapping. …
The bottom line is, if you go to an interview at any software company, you should plan for the contingency that you might get genuinely unlucky, and wind up with one or more people from your Interview Anti-Loop on your interview loop. If this happens, you will struggle, then be told that you were not a fit at this time, and then you will feel bad. …
And then you should wait 6-12 months and re-apply. That’s pretty much the best solution we (or anyone else I know of) could come up with for the false-negative problem. – Get that job at Google
Don’t Trash Former Employers and Employees
One final bit of advice that’s often overlooked. Avoid talking badly about past employers and coworkers. If you had an unfortunate string of bad career experiences, consider hiring a therapist, or telling your Mom about it. The job interview is not the place to retrace or reflect on past personal struggles, and it’s not the place for trashing former coworkers and employers.