Catching the liars

Subject: Catching the liars
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Mon, 21 Sep 1998 11:33:06 -0600

One really valuable trick that I learned by observing the interview
committee while I was interviewing for one job was that the easiest
way to catch the liars and cheats--which they were prepared to
consider me until I proved myself innocent--is to prepare a few
judicious questions in advance. In my case, I got caught by one
question that arose from a misunderstanding of something I'd written
in my resume; that statement prompted a question I couldn't answer,
and I was only able to talk my way out of the corner by recognizing
the problem, explaining it, and proposing how I'd go about trying to
solve the problem anyway. That worked because I was honest enough to
admit my ignorance and confident enough to show them I'm not
stopped by my ignorance.* (Yes, I fixed the resume immediately so the
question would never again arise.)

* Of course, if you've been following this list for any length of
time, you already know that. <g>

The basic notion is that you (a) accept no claims at face value
and (b) test the claims by identifying one or two crucial problems
you regularly face with your software and forcing candidates to
explain how they would solve the problems. In your questions, include
one or two real stinkers (the sort that only a true ace will be able
to solve) and a batch of more common stuff that anyone should be
able to answer. "Fail" anyone who doesn't get a certain number right;
award extra points to anyone who can answer the stinkers, but don't
penalize anyone who can't answer them. Penalize anyone who's not
honest enough to tell you they don't know an answer or who's not
confident enough to propose a way to find an answer they don't know.

One other point: Sometimes "knowing" the answer and being able to do
something with that knowledge are two very different things. It can
be really helpful to have a computer standing by with the appropriate
software preinstalled to confirm that the candidate can put the
knowledge to use.
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

When an idea is wanting, a word can always be found to take its place.--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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