Self-complacency v.s. confidence

Recently, I've interviewed a candidate who applied for Sr. software engineer job and he did demonstrate an unusual character of Taiwanese engineer: self-complacency. 

The interview started from a quick technical review to know his skill set base on his resume.

At first, we quickly ask "How do you identify your Linux skills" and he said "I am very good at Linux". Then we ask a few basic Linux commands, for example: "How to know your current disk usage?". "How to know current Linux kernel version". He actually cannot answer much.

Then, we asked "How do you identify your level of SQL?" and again he said "I am very good at SQL". But he actually don't know any basic concept of "outer join" and "normalization". He explained SQL is what he is working on not the scope of his research area. Then we asked "how to avoid SQL injection in application" but he still can't say anything.

Since his resume said that he is "excellent" in English, we asked if we can continue interview in English. He took a deep breathe and then said "no".

Finally, he explained that he can quickly learn "anything" in one month but then forget that in next month. But he still emphasized that "I think I do have the talent of software development, give me a mission and I can commit the code". This might be true that he can learn "anything" quick and "commit code" for the job. But it is definitely also true that no one will hire such risky engineer.

To me, at first, I think it is extremely unusual to see an engineer with 7 years experience has such self-complacency and with such low actual skill set. But then his resume shows that he worked for 6 different companies in past 7 years. Change job doesn't means that the candidate is bad. But it is still a sign for Taiwanese programmer. Another sign is that he did have very good education background and also good delivery in first 2 jobs. But then, he seems stay in there. 

How to distinguish  self-complacency from self-confidence?

We do want engineers have confidence to take challenges. But how can we tell a candidate has confidence or just too complacency? 

During interview, our suggestions are

(1) Check skills by fact

Ask simple, un-ambiguous technical questions. Do not rely on his words on resume. For example, if his resume shows he has 10 years experience in Linux Operation, make sure you will ask at least 3 most simple questions and 5 middle level questions. If his resume says that he has 10 years in Java, make sure ask the last moment of his java coding. Sometime, the answer will surprise you.

(2) Check experience by real actions

Some candidates described experience like this "design XXXX system". This could be very important task but also could be a self-complacency thing in candidate's mind.

If this candidate lead design meeting, come out a design document - even a hand writing document or drawing picture from whiteboard. That means we can check the design and know how many of "special" things inside the design. 

However, if candidate couldn't say any concrete delivery (we don't need to ask him to provide right away, just want to know if there is), then it is very possible that he "believe" that he did the design job but actually the design was inside his mind. 

You need to heck the actual actions and delivery of it. You can ask "please let me know the exactly things you did on design XXXX system and also the delivery at that time"

(3) Find critical point by the actions candidates did

Always looking for fact of candidates did in previous jobs. It is very similar to (2). We will need to understand his behavior via his previous actions when face a critical situation.

However, I am sure everybody will prepare a pretty nice answer of "why you leave your current company". So just save your time, ask other question.

Check candidate's resume and you will always find some critical moment in his career. For example, a project which requires a new skill set, then you can ask how candidate learn new skills. Or, senior engineer might play leaders role in certain situation, then, you can ask what is the worst thing happened during his leading. 

Always Consider Facts

In short, always consider to gather fact during interview and identify if candidate fit your organization through fact, not to guess.