Interviewer or Inquisitor?

This post is by way of apology to everyone I’ve interviewed over the years who might have witnessed me learning on the job.

If I played one of these characters when we met, I’m sorry.

The Alpha Geek

To the Alpha Geek, the interview is nothing more than a violent competition to be won at all costs. Anything you can do, the Alpha Geek has done better. Anything you say will be shouted down in a torrent of acronyms and geek speak.

“Last night I recoded Dijkstra’s graph-search algorithm using OCaml and a toothpick.


The Invigilator

This character secretly doesn’t want to have anything to do with interviewing, nor do they wish to get into any complicated discussions about, well, anything.

Instead of asking questions about your experience and building some kind of rapport the Invigilator will set you an exam and leave you to it.

You will sit and work under exam conditions, possibly for many hours.

When you’ve handed in your assignment, that’s it. The invigilator will tell you a week later whether you passed or failed, but no correspondence will be entered into.

The Quiz Master

The Quiz Master will turn up with a suit and a stack of cards. The interview will consist of three rounds of general knowledge and trivia. Ten points for a correct answer but you will lose ten points for every incorrect answer.

“For ten points, write down the actual number represented by Int32.MaxValue”

Grand Inquisitor

You’d better be sure that the dates of your past employment match up, because nothing will escape the Grand Inquisitor’s notice.

“There are 14 days missing between these two jobs. Please explain.”


Dorothy wishes she was somewhere else, like Kansas. The interview will be short.

“Uh, hi! Sorry, can’t stay long. So, uh, tell me something about yourself. Oh really… OK, got any questions for me?”

The Flower Child

The Flower Child relates to everything you say on a profound level, and will probably hug you when the interview is finished.

“That’s really, really great. Can we hug now?”

Water Torturer

After ten hours of interviews, you’ve met the whole department, sat through hundreds of questions, coded up a complete replacement for their internal workflow system, and now you get the Water Torturer’s feedback, which will be non-committal, vage, probably metaphorical (“uh, you’re a great pilot, we just need to fly a different model plane”). You will be invited back for a second round of interviews. And a third, etc. You may perish before the interviewing ends.


Posted in Hiring, Interviewing

Ed Guiness

I am the author of Ace the Programming Interview, published 2013 by John Wiley and Sons. In 2012 I founded, a volunteering organisation for programmers. I have been a professional programmer for more than 20 years, and a hiring manager since 2004.

Ask me anything.