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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Programming Employment Screening Tests

I'm looking for a new job again. Most employers want you to do a 4+ hour "employment programming screening test".

That is insulting and degrading. I'm a professional! I have 10 years of experience. I went to a good university. Can't you afford to have someone talk to me for a few minutes, to see if I have a clue or not? Why did I spend 4 years getting a degree, if employers are giving me a basic skills screening on an interview? Most of the "employment screening tests" are simpler and stupider than the homework and tests when I was a CS student. Is their stupid test going to measure more than "FSK has a CS degree with honors from a good university."?

However, it does act as a filter on another level. If someone isn't willing to jump through stupid hoops for a job, then they're not desperate enough to be a willing slave.

I'm also using it as a filter. I notice a severe negative correlation between "places that offer a stupid employment screening test" and "places I want to work". By refusing to take the test, I'm filtering out the most clueless employers. (However, my last job offered a screening test. Initially, I was extremely hostile to doing it, but the headhunter talked me into it. On the other hand, it wasn't such a great job.)

It's also a waste of time. Very frequently, I do their stupid test, and don't get an onsite interview anyway. I know I did well on the test. Why am I wasting my time?

On the other hand, I'm unemployed with nothing better to do. I might as well waste 4+ hours taking a stupid test for someone that probably isn't going to give me an onsite interview anyway.

However, it is possible that there are a lot of clueless unqualified liars out there. From my point of view, it's a stupid waste of time. The stupid test may screen out the truly unqualified. However, if you can't figure that out yourself after talking to someone for a few minutes, then you're hopeless.

I can evaluate someone's technical ability by talking to them for a few minutes. If you aren't willing to spend a few minutes interviewing each candidate, then you aren't serious about hiring someone good.

For what other jobs, do you ask basic skill tests before hiring someone?

  1. Do you ask a lawyer to define some basic legal terms, before hiring him?
  2. Do you ask a doctor to name some parts of your anatomy, before hiring him?
  3. Do you ask your dentist if he can name all your teeth, before hiring him?
  4. Do you ask your accountant if he knows the difference between a debit and a credit, before hiring him?
  5. Do you ask your plumber to name the parts of a toilet, before hiring him?
However, most of those jobs are backed by a State licensing cartel. A State licensing cartel isn't the answer for software jobs. First, the most skilled software engineers would never back a licensing cartel. Second, large tech corporations like exploiting cheap labor, and won't lobby for a State licensing cartel. Third, a programmer licensing cartel might make it illegal for me to bootstrap my own software business. Finally, some of the best programmers have degrees in other areas, like Math or Physics or other areas of Science; a licensing cartel would shut them out.

The correct solution is a free market. Ideally, in a really free market, the people making hiring decisions should be those with the most skills. In a corrupt collapsing State economy, it's the most clueless people making hiring decisions.

At this point, a pro-State troll may say "They are smarter than you, FSK. They have a job and you don't. They're in a position of authority and FSK isn't." No, that doesn't disprove my point, "The system is totally broken." In a dying corrupt system, the most clueless people, the parasites and the psychopaths, are the leaders. Being very skilled works against me rather than in my favor. Most middle managers would rather hire someone mediocre, rather than someone brilliant who could potentially replace them. Most people say "I want to hire the best!", but they really mean "I'm concerned about my own job security. I don't want to hire someone *TOO* smart."

In a really free market, it would be possible for skilled workers to get together and steal market share from inefficient competitors. In the present, that isn't possible, due to State restriction of the market.

It's a symptom of an unequal power relationship, between employers and workers/slaves. It's a symptom of a corrupt system. It isn't the underlying problem, but a severe symptom. In a freer market, if employers were rude to employees, they would work elsewhere or start their own business.

It is insulting and degrading, that employers demand a stupid screening test for a job. That's another sign that programmers aren't treated like serious professionals.


Jason Beam said...

I agree with everything you said in the post.
Judging from your posts, you are a very critical/gifted free thinker.

Few companies are looking for that and even fewer managers could handle that.

My guess is your best chance is become independent - wage slavery is not your thing.

Why not offer your programming services as a consultant / freelancer. I know people in IT who are quite happy doing that...

Great blog!

FSK said...

Even if you're a consultant/freelancer, you need clients and contacts. I don't have any. My most recent job was a 2 year contract.

I'd like to have my own business, but bootstrapping a business is very hard.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything in your post.

I have gone for interviews at Microsoft and they waste even more time. For one Microsoft interview I had to:

1) Complete 3 programming solutions before the interview and submit them by email. This took me at least 3 hours.

2) Spend over 1 hour on the telephone with someone and complete a programming test via an Internet whiteboard in real time while speaking to the interviewer.

3) Wake up at about 5am one morning in order to travel to a nearby city and spend a whole day solving programming problems. I had about 6 interviewers and each one gave me 2 problems to solve.

By the end of the day I was getting tired and was finally given a programming problem to solve that was more like a small software project.

I was just getting too tired and gave up.

The Microsoft HR woman phoned me two weeks later to tell me I was so stupid I didn't even realize I didn't answer the last programming problem of the day! In fact I did, but I think thought at the time the number of problems I had to solve had reached the silly level. Asking me more questions wasn't going to prove anything more.

I found this very offensive.

Also one of the very first questions I was asked in my first interview was how old I am. I can guess this is because I look very young for my age and the interviewer was clueless. Nonetheless to ask someone's age as pretty much the first question is rude.

FSK said...

Actually, in the USA, it might be illegal to ask someone their age. Of course, it's not worth the hassle of suing someone over it.

Anonymous said...

Actually it is illegal in my country to ask someone's age.

At the time my immediate reply was to the effect of "you can't ask those questions anymore".

I suspect this is why the Human Resources women spent at least 10 minutes telling me how stupid I was two weeks later. She was obviously worried I might sue and was preparing a defense ahead of time. I should have just hung up the phone. It was a mistake on my part, because I was effected by all the abuse I got from the Microsoft woman.

I didn't sue the company and I wouldn't go the bother to sue someone over this.

The huge amount of time wasted in interviews is partly why I now work for myself.

Why waste days on interviews tests when I can write real software and sell it?

Anonymous said...

There is some poetic justice in the world.

At one Microsoft interview, I got a question absolutely correct but the interview walked out on me just as a I was going to re-phrase my correct answer.

Two interviews later I was told I didn't get the job, because I got this question wrong, when in fact I gave the correct answer. At the best the interview may have been looking for an exact word answer and was too dumb (or purposely obtuse) to realize my answer was equivalent. As I had to travel from a foreign country to lose a job offer because of this was insulting.

Anyway on my journey back to the airport I checked my email and found that my personal software project had sold to around 9 new companies and in the space of less than one day!

Microsoft were too dumb (or only wanted to hire their favourites) to realize what they had under their nose.

If they rejected me for a truthful reason I would have brushed it off.

But the interview was corrupt.

Anonymous said...

I accept that with written tests, oral tests, pre-interview tests, interviews spread across 2 different days and traveling time that an interview today can very easily occupy 3 - 4 days of your time.

I accept that you may not get offered a job.

But Microsoft went one step further and insulted me. In summary:

1) They asked my age as practically the very first question.

2) The Microsoft HR woman spent at least 10 minutes telling me over the telephone how stupid I was. I should have hung up. This was on the basis I did not answer the very last question of the day (which was rather long), because I had just got tired. I had woken up at 5am that day.

3) One interviewer walked out of the interview just after I had said the correct answer and either was dumb or purposely obtuse and said I got one question wrong which I had correctly answered.

4) In another interview experience, I was told I would be getting an email with the results, but nothing was forthcoming. In effect they did not even owe me the courtesy of telling me their decision. This was despite the fact that the interview process had taken up over 3 days of my time.

Scott said...

I am not surprised by any of the above commentary. The Microsoft employees I have met are among the most stupid and belligerent people I have ever met. It is no surprise their products are of such poor quality. Recently we had a series of standards meeting, attended by representatives of companies world wide. Most everyone there were professionals that took their work seriously and understood the issues. Except the two Microsoft people, a man and a woman. They didn't understand the problem space and everything they said was bullshit which was obviously designed to derail the standards meetings while Microsoft figured out what to do since they were behind in this field. I am certain they were lawyers or PR people and not really engineers as they claimed to be.

No Gods Required said...

We have a screener test at my job. You might be surprised and horrified to learn that a simple for loop question knocks out 80% of people with BS in CSC.

Anonymous said...

>question knocks out 80% of people
>with BS in CSC.

Computer Science is not the same as computer programming.

Rather universities think that writing software is a technical task and below the "original" research they do.

A computer science course may only be 30% about writing software.

Some computer science courses mark the dissertation about a programming project, rather than the programming project itself.

Most universities don't write much software. They might write 10 lines of code per year and publish 4 scientific papers on those 10 lines of code!

Code screens do have a place. But companies go overboard. Spending 20 minutes on a programming test is OK. Spending 2 whole days on programming tests is silly (Microsoft take note). Microsoft should share test information between separate job interviews. It just gets absurd having to waste so much time in tests.

In effect for Microsoft you have to risk 3 - 4 days of your time in order for the chance to get a job. In practice that means only people with friends on the inside will bother applying.

Just think how much real software you can write in 3 - 4 days.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed for some interviews (Microsoft and one hedge fund in London) require you to read background material before the interview.

The thing is that people have jobs, businesses to run, life, part-time university courses to study for etc. Having to spend 4 hours on pre-interview written tests, 1 hour on a telephone interview, spend a day or two on background reading makes a job interview prohibitively expensive.

For some interviews I've had to make 3 trips on separate days to their office. In the end I was told I got 100% in their written test but didn't fit in with the existing employees. I did ask for a reason but none was given.

So I wasted 3 days of my life on this interview at a bank and no real reason was given.

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