Preferring employers with hard interviews is a bit silly

There is a thing that I’ve heard from at least 2 of my programmer friends that I find a bit irrational.  Both of them were looking for a new job, and they chose the employer with the hardest interviewing process that made an offer.

On the one hand, I can see why they would feel that those processes were more valuable – they put more energy into it, so it just feels like by investing more, they should get better jobs.

However, I don’t think there is a significant correlation between the difficulty of interviews and the “quality” of people working at that employer.

In my experience, relying on anything told to you in an interview is risky. Interviewers have incentive to misguide you – they are basically promoting their company.

A better way

A better strategy is to go for the larger number of prospective employers and choose the best based on salary and information from less biased sources. Trusted friends that work or used to work there are the best source. Even writing to a random employee on LinkedIn is less likely to be as biased as HR.

I think it’s a better bet to interview three companies with a single-round interviewing process than one company with a 3-round process.

And if you’re a programmer, you are probably more limited by your time than by the number of available interviews, so it makes sense to optimize accordingly.

If you find out that the prospective employer uses a complicated interviewing process, say no, thank you.

Hard interviews have consequences, but maybe different than you expect

Hard interviews are certainly selecting for something. But I doubt it is skills, experience, or even working under stress (working under pressure in actual work is different from a hard interview).

What it is usually selected for is two things:

  1. First impression – how well you match their stereotype of a programmer in how you look and talk.
  2. To what extent is access to your knowledge hampered in an artificial, stressful situation that an interview is.

Both points contribute to a workplace becoming a monoculture and cause missing out on many valuable candidates without actual merit. And the more involved the interview, the more bias it invites.

What to do?

As a candidate, ignore companies with hard interviews.

On the altruistic level, by not working with them, you avoid contributing to the problem of biased interviews.

And in purely pragmatic terms, they are just not worth your time if you have others to choose from.