job screening question

Owen DeLong owen at
Sat Jul 7 04:20:03 UTC 2012

On Jul 6, 2012, at 9:06 PM, Matthew Palmer wrote:

> On Sat, Jul 07, 2012 at 12:51:55PM +1200, Ben Aitchison wrote:
>> On Fri, Jul 06, 2012 at 04:18:21PM +1000, Matthew Palmer wrote:
>>> On Thu, Jul 05, 2012 at 05:01:39PM -0700, Scott Weeks wrote:
>>>> --- jason at wrote:
>>>> From: Jason Baugher <jason at>
>>>> Geez, I'd be happy to find someone with a good attitude, a solid work 
>>>> ethic, and the desire and aptitude to learn. :)
>>>> ---------------------------------------
>>>> Yeah, that.  But how do you get those folks through the HR 
>>>> process to you, so you can decipher their skill/work ethic 
>>>> level?  What can the HR person ask to find out if someone 
>>>> has these qualities?  OSPF LSA type questions will not help.
>>> Don't get HR to do that sort of screening.  They suck mightily at it.  I
>>> lack any sort of HR department to get in the way, and I'm glad of it -- I
>>> don't see the value in having someone who doesn't know anything about the
>>> job get in the way of finding the right person for it.  Sure, get 'em to do
>>> the scutwork of posting job ads, collating resumes, scheduling things and
>>> sending the "lolz no!" responses, but actually filtering?  Nah, I'll do that
>>> bit thanks.  If you have to have HR do a filter call, make it *really*
>>> simple, like "What does TCP stand for?" -- sadly, you'll still probably
>>> filter out half the applicants for a senior position...
>> I've noticed a strong correlation between people who don't know what acronyms
>> stand for, and competence.  People who don't know anything try and figure out
>> what the acronym stands for - people who want to understand things see it as
>> just a place holder.
> [...]
>> Maybe it's more significant to ask what the difference between TCP and UDP is.
> Yes, the difference between TCP and UDP is a much better question to ask,
> but having HR assess and act on the answer to the question is a whole hell
> of a lot harder.  In many ways, *that's* the tough bit of finding a good
> screening question.  Finding good interview questions *in general* isn't all
> that hard.  With a good senior candidate my interview questions could just
> be bringing up problems I've recently solved or am currently wrestling with,
> and having a 30 minute conversation on the problem.  I'll get a very good
> idea of someone's domain knowledge and problem-solving skills by doing that. 
> But there's no way I can ask HR to do that, because they don't know how to
> assess the answer, and as previously demonstrated ("fragmented disks",
> indeed), you can't have HR act as scribe and relay the answer to you,
> because they'll get it wrong, and the interesting bit is the *conversation*,
> not the canned single-shot answer.

Not so much, if you ask it in a slightly different way....

"If it isn't important that you get absolutely every packet, but it is vital that your
packets be delivered without delay, would you prefer to use TCP or UDP?"

HR  can ask that. HR can easily evaluate the answer... TCP: Wrong, UDP: Right.
Other interesting selections: Please choose either TCP or UDP (with a note
to the potential interviewer that this person may be very creative, very smart
or may simply have difficulty following directions)

Spending a little time crafting the questions can pay tremendous dividends.

> That's my motivation for asking a question as inane as "What does TCP stand
> for?" -- it has an overwhelmingly obvious answer that can be verified in a
> second or two by someone who really doesn't know anything about what they're
> asking.  Give a candidate 10 of those sorts of questions over the phone from
> an HR drone, if they score 8-or-better (for instance) they pass and you get
> to see their resume.  That is, of course, assuming your organisation is so
> screwed up that they won't let you at candidates directly (which is still my
> preferred option -- leave HR to do the paperwork).

I think there are better questions and ways to ask them that work even for HR
than acronym memorization. I say this as one who could both correctly
configure a router _AND_ probably score nearly 100% on the acronym test.


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