The worst interview question ever

I left Red Hat for my current job at Socialware last month.  I had been thinking about leaving for some time, but the whole process happened quite quickly.  It pretty much happened entirely over a week of forced vacation at the end of December.  (something I still consider to be corporate theft of vacation time, but we'll leave that for another post)  I knew pretty quickly that that company was a good fit. It was an early stage startup with good people and some good technical challenges.  T

I've talked about this before, but one thing I haven't told many people is that earlier that month I had talked with another company.  I won't name names, but it's a large company that I discovered was starting to offer cloud services.  I've been very eager to start working with amazon-style cloud services, and this company was a provider of those services.  That would be a perfect fit for my JBoss background, so I tried to make contact with this company.  I was very worried about the size of the company, especially since one of my complaints about Red Hat was how big the company is.  

I made contact with a technical person in the cloud services group, and I was excited about talking to him about what they were doing to see if they might be a good fit for me.  Before the we were scheduled to talk, I got a call from an HR guy at the company.  I was hoping to avoid HR, and any company that would have a hiring process that involved an HR guy as first contact was probably bigger than I really wanted to deal with. However, their technology is interesting enough that I decided to give it a go anyway.  

When he calls, I explain a bit about my background, what I'm looking for and why I specifically contacting the group in question.  Everything was going well, and I thought he should be able to tell that I was a serious candidate who really should be talking to the technical person that I was already scheduled to talk to.  So I was surprised that out of the blue he asked: 

So, tell me.  Have you ever worked with any design patterns?

Uh, yeah....  I think I may have heard of design patterns before.  In fact, I'm sure that I had mentioned at least a few in talking about some of the things I was working on.  I answered politely in the affirmative, barely able to contain my surprise at the question.  The next question was perhaps the worst interview question I've ever been asked before.

Can you name a few of the design patterns you've used?

Seriously?  You want me to read you the table of contents of GoF to you? Really? I was speechless. I was literally unable to find the words to respond, a real "There's no emoticon for what I'm feeling" moment. I'm pretty sure I set my phone on the table and just stared blankly for a minute.  

I try not to be a prima donna about these things, but it's kind of insulting to ask.  Maybe you could ask a regurgitation question like that to an intern candidate who really might have no practical experience just to see where they are, but beyond that it's really a waste of everyone's time.  Any company who would put up that kind of nonsense as a front line HR screen is just not the kind of company I'm interested in working with.  

If you really feel the need to screen for the basics, at least have the courtesy to ask it in the context of actual work and experience.  There are plenty of ways to ask a basic design patterns question in the context of an interviewee's experience if you are actually paying attention.  And if the HR guy isn't technical enough to carry on a low-level screen then perhaps you should assign a technical person to do the job?  

I have no problem explaining what I've done or demonstrating that I'm not just full of hot air.  For example, at Socialware we did some white board coding and softball Java problems that required only a modest amount of non-book experience.  But those were more jumping off points for discussion and a test of communication skills than a textbook screen to see if I could recite a list of things or get the specific answer. I had fun talking to the guys, and I felt they were people that I could work productively with.

Maybe I'm making too much of the thoughtless question, but I really think companies should think a bit about how the questions they ask represent their company.  If you can't be bothered to engage a candidate in a meaningful discussion, then why will that candidate want to work for you?  My perspective is that at a job interview, the candidate should be carefully interviewing the company at the same time.  In the case of the un-named large company, they failed my screen.