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That Is One Powerful Candidate

, , , , , , , , | Working | August 7, 2020

We’re interviewing a job candidate by phone. As part of the interview process, the candidates log in to a mockup of our database system to demonstrate their technical skills. The current candidate has been doing well but is struggling with a particular task. When she gets an error, we see her circling a part of the error message with her cursor on the shared screen.

Interviewer #1: “Hey, we see you indicating part of the error message. Can you tell us what you make of that?”

Interviewer #2: *On mute* “It would be nice if she could because I don’t have a clue what that means…”

Candidate: “I’ve seen that before in [our kind of system]. Pretty sure someone didn’t set it up correctly, so it’s kind of a security vulnerability.”

Me: “I know we’re not interviewing you for a security role, but can you tell us a little more about what you see here?”

Candidate: *Typing* “Sure. If I were an unscrupulous user, I’d see this error, and… actually, I don’t want to break anything.”

Interviewer #1: “You’re in a test environment. If you break it, we’ll just reset. I’m curious now. Do your worst!”

Candidate: “Okay!”

We wait a few minutes while she types a very long command on the screen.

Interview #1: *On mute* “Who the heck flagged her as ‘less experienced’? I’ve never seen half these words in my life.”

Interviewer #2: “She only has three years of experience with [System]. The rest of the candidates had at least six.”

Candidate: “Aaaaaand… there we go. Okay, I think this is gonna work. Let’s see what happens when I do th—”

As all three of us lean forward to watch what’s about to happen, the computer running the test environment — and the phone call — shuts off. We jump back in surprise.

Interviewer #1: “She was in a virtual machine! How’d she do that?”

I start frantically hitting the ON button on the PC tower.

Me: “The machine won’t even start!”

Interviewer #2: “[Interviewer #1], why’d you have to use the phrase ‘do your worst’ here?”

I get the candidate on the phone, and she says something must have gone wrong and overwhelmed the test environment. When she hears the computer won’t even start, I can hear her start to panic.

Me: “Don’t worry; it’s an old desktop that we needed to replace anyway. If there’s an exploit that can actually break a computer, we needed to know.”

Candidate: “This is a longshot, but… when you were leaning in to look at the code, no one hit anything on the computer, did you?”

I look down. [Interviewer #1]’s elbow is firmly planted on the on/off switch of the powerstrip that the computer is plugged into. We all have a good laugh and everyone calms down, and we restart the computer and resume the call.

Interviewer #2: “By the way, we see you only have three years of experience with [System]. How’d you recognize an obscure error like that?”

Candidate: “Oh, those were three years at [Company that makes the system].”


This story is part of our Best Of August 2020 roundup!

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