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Getting the Job: Developer Interview Types — The Minimalist

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Getting the Job: Developer Interview Types — The Minimalist

Zone Leader Duncan Brown looks at how introverted interview candidates can come across, and how both interviewers and interviewees can adapt to this personality type.

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Welcome back to the next article in my series on recognizing the various types of technical job candidates and what we can learn from them!  

For more background, please have a look at my previous entry in this series.  It never hurts to refresh!  

...unless you're on an unsubmitted webform.

Which we are not.

In this outing, we examine what can be a tough but important nut to crack.

The Minimalist

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Waaaaait a minute...

(Credit: Georges Biard)

Type Summary

It is difficult with this type to determine whether the candidate is the next Linus Torvalds but is just very reserved, or is someone hoping to just eke by the hiring process in hopes of landing a job at your organization.

Either way, to the interviewer, this person is seen as being too quiet, and that can be disconcerting, even if no ill will is meant.

Let's have a look at some of the hallmarks of The Minimalist and take a closer look at each part.

Hallmarks

  • Short, seemingly incomplete responses. Hearing only "yes", "no", and the dates of prior events can seem a lot like "name, rank, and serial number", but often times there is more to it.

  • Silence. The shrugging of shoulders or even the complete lack of responses to questions can put out some very confusing signals.
  • Lack of detail in technical questions.  Does the candidate just put (what looks like) the final answer?  Did the candidate show his/her steps and/or reasoning?

Short Responses

"Brevity is the soul of wit."

The expression seems apt in most cases, but there is such a thing as being too brief!

As the interviewer, it can be frustrating to tease out information about the candidate and his/her skills that you feel should be forthcoming.  Most candidates usually can't wait to talk about their accomplishments, right?

We shouldn't be so quick to assume.

Any one (or more) of the following possibilities exists:

  • The candidate is an introvert.  These candidates can be and often are the hidden gems in the software space.

  • The candidate is intimidated or otherwise nervous.  We all know people who seize up on tests and one-on-one interactions.

  • The candidate is dealing with personal issues.  Not much you can do about that except be patient.

  • The candidate knows he/she is out of his/her depth.  Whether the candidate's intentions are surreptitious or benign, the fear of being "found out" can exist; it just so happens that in one case the issue boils down to confidence.

As the candidate, there can be many reasons why you might be giving short answers, most of which are mentioned above; however, as legitimate and innocuous as most of those reasons are, you might not realize how others perceive your demeanor.  This can be an issue during an interview.

Silence

"Silence is golden."

The person who said that obviously did not attend many interviews.

"...except in an interview."

There — much better!

To an interviewer, complete silence possibly coupled with ambiguous body language (folded arms, staring off into space, etc.) can come across as being "avoidant", not a team player, and even hostile.

The possible reasons for being silent, in the author's opinion, number a lot fewer than the ones for just being overly brief, and none are particularly excusable without bringing it up with the interviewer beforehand.

Lack of Detail in Technical Questions

"Show your work!"

Surely, you have all heard your math teachers say this; in some cases likely repeatedly, say, for the entirety of your academic career.

Well, your teachers/professors said it with good reason.  In fact, they said it with several good reasons.  At the root of it all, though, is the ability to show others how you think, and what information you have at your recall; and although getting the correct answer is usually important, it is not the only important facet of the process.

Even if there is no actual written question, don't be afraid to ask to draw out your answers on a whiteboard or even a piece of paper.  

(Protip: Always bring a notepad and pen with you along to your interview; employers love to see this, especially if you are taking notes.  If I ever see a new hire not attending a meeting without a notepad and paper, I worry.)

At the heart of the matter, the technical interviewer is looking to see if you can go past rote memory to synthesize knowledge, and to make sure you have the fundamentals that he/she expects any member of the team to possess.  Think back to the infamous "Google interview questions" ("round manhole covers", anyone?).  These questions have as much technical merit as do those about linked list runtimes and priority queue implementations.

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If THIS guy asks, then you might have bigger problems at hand.

Strategies

For Interviewers

Some candidates are just naturally introverted or even shy.  There is nothing wrong with trying to engage them and get them to open up gradually, possibly by starting with softball questions pertaining to the last project he/she worked on ("What was your role on the last project you worked on? Which IDEs did you work with?"), and moving on to more pointed, technical questions of increasing complexity ("What is the worst-case runtime of an insert in a linked list?", "I have scenario X; which alogrithms/design patterns are best suited to help resolve this scenario?").

Comfort is a key factor to coming out of a shell, or even just warming up to the interviewer, as is confidence--the two go hand-in-hand!

As the questions build on complexity and technical matter, provided the candidate is showing signs of warming up, it should become readily apparent as to whether the candidate in question is struggling with the conversation, or struggling with the technical subject matter.

Of course, while looking for technical aptitude, it is also worth keeping an eye on the actual human interaction as the candidate will likely be working in a team and his/her interactions with you, the interviewer, will give you good insight into how the integration with the team will likely go.

For Candidates

Generally speaking, the more interviews you attend throughout your career, the more comfortable you are during those interviews; however, for more junior candidates (and this goes equally for both age and skill level), and those who are naturally more introverted or shy, it can be a challenge to ward off the spectre of being viewed as The Minimalist.

Most interviewers will allow time for you to warm up and ease in to the interview; however, there will always be those that demand precision and you at 100% from the get-go.  First ask yourself: "Is this style of interview indicative of the environment in which I'll be working?" and, "How badly do I want this job?"  If you have serious reservations after asking yourself these questions, there is nothing wrong with politely bowing out; however, these "stressful" interviews are also typically a way to weed out those who don't have the commitment, and actually a bit less about technical aptitude.  So keep that in mind as well: If you persevere and stick with it, you just might end up with the job you want!

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A good rule of thumb is respond honestly and as thoroughly as possible to each question.  Be on the lookout for the "awkward pause" but don't feel like you MUST fill them in; feel free to ask your interviewer, "Was there something you'd like me to elaborate on more?"

(Tip: Whatever you do, do not worry about those interviewers who give no feedback about your answer to a question, especially a technical one.  It is a particular type of interviewing style and is not necessarily a reflection on anything you have said!)

And, whenever possible, showing knowledge/interest in related areas (especially in a junior role where you might not have all the answers) can help ease the interviewer's impression that you may be a Minimalist.

Wrap-Up

The bottom line for interviewers: As always, the goal here is to separate those who are just looking to eke by the interview and hopefully get into a job, from those who are truly talented but may have an issue saying more than they feel is necessary.  Prompting the candidate in the early stages of the interview can often help warm up the person sitting across from you.

Don't be afraid to go with your gut, as usual.  You won't always be right, but the more practice you have, the more accurate your gut will become.

Admittedly, this interview type is a bit more difficult to deal with than The Scammer owing to the lack of information/feedback, but it is important, as an interviewer, to hone your Minimalist Detector(TM).

The bottom line for interviewees: Hey, us developers can be a quiet bunch.  The good news is that most companies worth working for understand that; however, those companies also need to understand that you do know what you are talking about, and that you can work with a team.

You may have to keep tabs on yourself during the interview, but a periodic, "Hey, are my answers shorter than the questions being asked?" can go a long way to helping bust out of any misperceptions.

Another great tip is to practice a little before the interview. Sure, reviewing your old study notes from school can help, but it doesn't hurt to speak them aloud to get more comfortable with your phrasing and your speaking ability.

We will explore other Developer Interview Types soon, so watch out for them!

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Topics:
interviews ,advice ,technical interview questions ,developers ,careers ,technical

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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