Am I way off-base in my reaction to this job interview?
April 22, 2018 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Had a job interview that went really well with 4 of the interviewers - I could feel a strong connection and got a sense communication was going well. Then the 5th interviewer asked me some really odd questions and I'm not sure if my reaction is way off base. Snowflake details inside.

I'm a front end web developer interviewing for seinor-level positions. As background, I'd already decided to end any interview process in which I was asked trick Javascript questions or pointless word-problem questions that amounted to testing whether I have a certain sort algorithm memorized, just because I know I won't fit in culturally at an employer who thinks asking such questions will reveal a great front-end developer (also I find big data boooooooring.)
So: I interviewed at this employer who make useful stuff and are doing interesting work that could make certain aspects of routine healthcare easier and more affordable, which aligns with my values. I went in for one of those mega-interview sessions in which I talked to 5 people for 45 minutes each back to back. The first 4 went great and this company went from a maybe to a strong possibility for me based on those conversations. Then the 5th came. At first it was fine but when the interviewer brought out his Javascript questions they were... weird.
First question: what is a Javascript factorial? Now, I've been writing JS for 20 years and have never heard of a method/object/property/keyword, etc in JS called "factorial." I know what a factorial is mathematically, and I could probably write a little function that takes an integer and returns its factorial; it'd be something that called itself starting with the number passed in and subtracting til it got to 1, but that's not what was asked, so I answered honestly, "I've never even heard of a Javascript factorial."
Second question: what is cutty/cuddy/kutty/kuddy - I asked for it to be spelled and the interviewer just said "let's move on."
Third question: if I wanted to fake an ES6 class using ES5 how would I do that? The real answer is: I wouldn't because why would I want to? What I said was, "I'd use Babel. Are you asking how transpilers like Babel accomplish this?" Again, we just moved on.
All of the JS questions were like this. Reader, it got to the point where it felt like I was being gaslit into thinking I was stupid and knew nothing about a language I've been writing in for 20 years.
When it came time for me to ask my questions, I asked, jokingly "what IS a Javascript factorial?"

And. He replied "you'll have to look that up."

So then I said "well you've asked a lot of questions that lie outside my 20 years' experience; I'm curious to know what kind of work is being done in this role; I'd been led to believe this was a web-based front-end role. Is that understanding not correct."
His reply: "we consider this part of front-end."

He seemed like a nice guy but I left the interview with a really bad taste in my mouth. It got worse when I started Googling at home. MDN has no mention of a "Javascript factorial." Nor can I find any clue as to what cutty/cuddy/kutty/kudde/kuddie/qutty (or any other phonetic approximation of that) is.
The factorial thing could be a trick question, or it could have been a poorly phrased request to write a function that returns a factorial (there was no whiteboard though). Either way, learning that there was nothing to look up in the first place made me wonder what the hell was going on in that interview, and also, what should I say to the in-house recruiter? I'm definitely wary of the company now that I've had that experience - a communication breakdown of that level is alarming.

But am I overreacting? Should I just let it go? I imagine even if the company makes an offer, the fact that I had no answers for a fifth of the interview questions is going to affect compensation, which I would consider unfair to say the least. What say ye, MeFites?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I’d say go with your impression of the first 4 interviewers and let it slide. There’s a high statistical probability that in any group of developers 1 of them is going to either be an asshole or have atypical social skills. Feel free to ask any follow-up questions if you have an offer on the table, such as, “I found Doug’s questions to be a bit different than the rest of the people in the loop. Would I be dealing with those sort of discussions regularly as part of the job?”
posted by matildaben at 10:01 AM on April 22, 2018 [27 favorites]

Well... if Interviewer Five was asking questions about things that don't actually exist, I can't imagine that anyone else who interviewed with them had better answers than you did, so I wouldn't worry about the fact that you had no answers for them and how that would affect compensation.

I'd want to know whether you'd be working with this person or not, though. If you wouldn't be working with them regularly then I'd just shrug and move on... if they're, say, on the same team you'd be on or (heaven forbid) a manager then I would definitely want to talk to the recruiter about your concerns.

Disclaimer: this is not my field so I may have a very different take on it than someone who does this work.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:02 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

or can I find any clue as to what cutty/cuddy/kutty/kudde/kuddie/qutty (or any other phonetic approximation of that) is.

CUDA? I don't know how people usually say it.

if the final interviewer wasn't a technical person, he could easily have been moving on instead of elaborating not to make you feel stupid, but because he had a list of prepared questions but not the ability to explain or rephrase them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2018 [14 favorites]

Unfortunately, a decent number of tech-type people use an interview to demonstrate their superiority over all candidates they receive. I know nothing about Javascript, but those sorts of questions made me think of equivalent questions I've seen - especially the bit about not recognizing a piece of trivia and then moving on. Those sorts of people should be barred from the interview process, but in my experience, they exist at every company. It's just that the better company prohibit them from interviewing, so you don't see them. I have a feeling the company is either uncalibrated about expectations from the fifth interviewer (which probably doesn't indicate much about the company), doesn't have enough interviewers to make a full loop (which is bad if the company is large, neutral if the company is small), or doesn't pay any attention to interviewer quality (which is negative, but seems contradicted by your first four interviewers).

Are you overreacting? No, that sounds like a bad interview experience and it would leave a bad taste in my mouth. That said, every loop is inconsistent, and you just got a hint of the sort of people that work there. Do you have any feeling that the rest of the company is indicative of the loop? If so, 4/5 is not too bad. If you think the fifth interviewer is in a position of authority, then that's a bad sign.

All in all, I'd consider this a fairly neutral signal and move on.
posted by saeculorum at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

CUDA? I don't know how people usually say it.

"Cew-dah" - like the end of barracuda.
posted by saeculorum at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2018

I mean, this is like the second most common type of person in tech environments. The asshole who acts like an idiot because they have no social skills. If the other interviewers/hiring people/your future coworkers are more savvy then put distance between yourself and the moron and treat him with benevolent condescension if god forbid your paths should cross again.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

I’d ignore the fifth interviewer. I hate to stereotype, but in general us dev-types (myself included) are generally terrible at interviewing unless we’ve been coached. For all you know he just sucks, was having a bad day, or heck maybe was just messing with you asking insane questions for fun or to see how you reacted, and then got his ass handed to him from the others the second you were out of the room. As for the compensation worry — it’s not calculated on a percentage of correct answers! If you get an offer, negotiate as usual. The fifths questions are irrelevant for that part of the process. Overall, i’d consider 80% of interviewers not being horrible a decent grade. But if the interviews/discussions continue i would definitely ask which of the interviewers you’d be working with, and adjust expectations accordingly.
posted by cgg at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2018

Your experience reminds me of a question that appeared on Ask A Manager recently (#4 at the link). Basically, back-to-back interviews with multiple people, where one interview seemed "off". The advice was to try to explore why the interviewer was asking strange questions, and it sounds like you did that without much payoff. So, I'd gently do the same with the recruiter; you can always approach it from the "I want to be sure I'm a good fit" angle rather than the "so what's the deal with that guy" angle. There's always the possibility that everybody knows that he's weird/rude/awkward but they can't cut him out of the interview process for whatever reason, and the recruiter may be aware of that fact (and if not, maybe the recruiter can pass that feedback along to the team, because it will cost them good candidates).

Also, this is super long shot, but did the interviewer have an accent that meant he could be saying "curry" instead of "cutty"?
posted by neushoorn at 10:22 AM on April 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

If you got the interview through a recruiter I'd pass all this onto them and tell them that it makes you uneasy about any offer you might get. It's a good 'everybody saves face' option for them to know that this guy is potentially scaring away good people. I had an interview like this once where the headhunter warned me in advance that one of the guys was well known for asking stupid interview questions, and that I was in no way to take them seriously or even feel like I had to respond if I didn't want to.
posted by Caravantea at 10:26 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm in a different field, but had 4 great interviews with a company and a 5th that was horrible. I seriously considered not taking the job after the 5th interviewer. I ended up having a difficult discussion with the recruiter and hiring manager about the 5th person because I didn't want to end up in a toxic environment. The 5th person is an asshole, but I don't have to work with him regularly. My supervisor is a buffer between the 5th person and everyone else on the team. Everyone knows the 5th person is awful. Everyone except for that person at this company has been great though and I have felt very welcome. I'm glad I took the time to talk with the recruiter and hiring manager to get more details. I'd recommend that you do the same. It can't hurt.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2018 [11 favorites]

Definitely tell the in house recruiter this feedback. It's always very helpful to know, I've certainly removed people from future interview panels based off of feedback or made sure they got more training.
posted by Carillon at 10:36 AM on April 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Second question: what is cutty/cuddy/kutty/kuddy - I asked for it to be spelled and the interviewer just said "let's move on."

Did they have an accent? I'm thinking this was about currying.
posted by rhizome at 10:42 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Throwing bizarre questions might have been the fifth interviewer's notion of how to screen out bullshit artists and people with padded resumes; in this case by asking you plausible-sounding but imaginary Javascript components. I've encountered interviewees who are in over their heads and try to bluff their way through questions they can't answer. It's normally possible to sniff these people out without having to dig deep into skills questions (in particular, if they're lying about having worked somewhere, their story will have holes), but sometimes people want to do it in a more obvious way.
posted by at by at 11:16 AM on April 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

Perhaps the first question was about factory functions?

It's sounding like the interviewer had no technical fluency whatsoever, and was just reading prepared questions from a list. Or maybe a very strong accent, but that makes his refusal to spell out a term highly inappropriate.
posted by slagheap at 11:18 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would find myself ambivalent about this company, although everyone above has mentioned how the 5th interviewer might be an anomaly. If that 5th person has someone else in mind for the position, perhaps a friend they referred, they could make it very stressful for you in that job.

At least they didn't set up a telephone interview with person X, then have 5 or 6 people on the phone who all want to grill you with questions about the software like "what screen do you use to do X?" or "what is the menu path to this screen?" I have worked with this software for more than 20 years and the rate of change keeps accelerating. I think it is more important to be able to think about the interaction of the business and the software than to memorize things that will change the next time the software is patched. Note: the menu paths are customizable. These people obviously didn't want to add me to their team and I am grateful.
posted by Altomentis at 12:32 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely give feedback on this if you have an opportunity. Hiring is rife with wild bullshit pseudoscience (sometimes not even pseudoscience but just some asshole's conviction that every idea they have is fantastic) meant to justify all kinds of prejudice, and it needs to stop. It's how people cover for discrimination, and even if you're not a person of color or a woman, it's still not okay and it's excellent allyship for you to say so if you indeed are not.

If you reach offer stage, I would flag it as worrisome behavior and ask some questions about what's considered fair and appropriate in their work environment as far as interactions go.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:33 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Established: interviewer five is an asshole. Other four interviewers were not. They allow the asshole to interview. Strike one.

Their culture seems like it needs work. I wonder about the gender diversity of your interviewers. All dudes? Second strike.

Good to find out what the parking lot looks like after 6pm or if they cater meals at odd hours to keep people late. Check the work/life balance. Strike three?
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:23 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't think I've ever had a private sector programming interview that *wasn't* like this.

IME if anything at all about the interview process seems negative, you can safely assume you will not be hired.

It's really anybody's guess what was going on here, but for better or worse it's behind you.
posted by tel3path at 2:21 PM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nthing pass it on and see what kind of feedback you get. That should help evaluate the type of company it is. So much depends on how the company views it – you're always going to cross this type of person, so in a way it's good to have the chance to check up-front whether it's a company who knows how to manage that sort.
posted by fraula at 4:36 AM on April 23, 2018

My take is like others here that Five is an outlier -- and it seems to me that substantively, only the others are really likely to be key decision-makers.
posted by lathrop at 5:32 PM on April 23, 2018

Don't let this go but use this important information during the rest of your interview/negotiating/onboarding process, whether at this company or a future one. Allowing one employee to engage in such an unproductive and unconstructive manner so early into your encounter with this company is potentially a very a eye-opening experience as to what may be in store for you at this company.

This individual performs poorly at work (work in this instance being to conduct a proper job interview). I would ask myself what kind of company/management would arrange someone to complete a task he is unsuitable for? Is it because he has some kind of political leverage which allows him to take on tasks of his choosing that he is not suited for? If so, what will it be like to work on a project that he has any kind of involvement or interest in?

Is it because the hiring team/management is oblivious that this individual performs poorly at job interviews, and schedules them for him anyway? If you in any way care the least bit about performance-based results, this kind of management is a recipe for daily frustration.

Or perhaps the other employees have warned management that this individual does his work poorly, and the management ignores or dismisses their complaints. Ask yourself if that is the kind of place you'd want to work.

It could be any number of reasons or scenarios that led to this particular individual interviewing you. Regardless of the specific reasons, your experience is a strong indicator that there likely is a dysfunction somewhere in the system that could prove even more problematic. This one interview is just a symptom, not the problem itself.

That is not to say that the company is worse than average or taking this job will be a certain mistake. The key thing is to make any decision with your eyes open to the possibilities. If all other factors make this a great opportunity for you, take it and make sure to have some kind of plan for how to handle any of the less desirable aspects of the job!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2018

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