Hiring bucketology – abridged

improve your screening by defining and using no-go buckets

It’s important during the screening process, whether phone screen or FTF, to identify early on if there is not a fit, to efficiently use both parties’ time. Note my criteria are weighted toward hiring developers and SDETs for product-oriented start-ups / SMBs, or small high-performing teams within larger organizations – while no list of this kind is perfect, my experience has been that these “bucket” traits are highly correlated with less successful individuals / teams in these types of environments.

This is an abridged version of my Hire screening bucketology post from several years ago, focused only on the bucket categories, with a few additions / updates to the “buckets”:

  • Corporate Cog: Has worked primarily for larger companies / on larger teams, it’s often a difficult adjustment to be effective on a smaller team. Assess whether the person is going to need lots of hand-holding, wants to do only one thing, is not comfortable with perceived risk, doesn’t want to leave their comfort zone of what / how they are accustomed to working – in general, needs a lot of structure. Example red flags: “I thought the company was bigger than this”, asking “do you offer tuition reimbursement or sabbaticals” early in the interview process, or if their past work was mostly driven from an assigned task list vs. working more collaboratively and independently.
  • Lone Ranger: Has worked alone much more than collaboratively with a team.  Example: Someone who has done only narrow contract engagements which didn’t require much interaction or collaboration, or has worked in an isolated manner on teams not following agile principles of frequent review and feedback.
  • New New Thing Groupie: Emphasizes interest-in / experience-with latest / bleeding edge technologies or buzzwords to the exclusion of describing in-depth experience delivering projects of any depth. Example: Someone who repeatedly says they have most liked learning new things / are interested in your job because you’re using cool technology, to the exclusion of talking about what they’ve delivered or interest in what your product does.
  • Culture Coveter: Someone who leads with saying they are interested in your company because the “culture” is so much better / modern than where they are, the Glassdoor rating is so rosy, etc., while saying relatively little about what interests them about the company or how they would contribute. Note the latter point is in common with the New New Thing Groupie. Sometimes seen in a candidate afflicted with “Corporate Cog” who thinks they want the improved “culture” of a startup / SMB but may not be ready for the everyday chaos, pressure and often greater accountability that comes with it.
  • Tire Kicker: S/he is just not that into you. They are often seeking the highest-paying / cushiest-benefits job they can get, to the exclusion of being interested in your product, how they could contribute to it or how they could be challenged. Example red flags: “I’ve got 2 other offers and expect to get 2 more within the next week”.
  • Hyperbolator: Exaggeration of experience either on resume or during tech screen, e.g., listing experience with some technology when it was used only by someone else on a project, or so shallow as to be irrelevant. Examples: “I listed InstallShield but never personally used it, it was used on a project I was on”, “I’ve never written a web service, only consumed them”.
  • Blabbergaster: Similar to Hyperbolator, but differing in that this individual might actually have the relevant experience, but has focus issues and / or under-developed listening skills. For example, if they spend more time explaining why they didn’t do certain things on a take-home test than just having attempted them, or if you picture this person leading a meeting where they leave everything open-ended with no ability to drive to closure. Examples: “While working on the take-home test I wasn’t sure what you were looking for, so I stopped”, or “blah blah blah… what was your question again?”
  • Dilletante:: Differs from Hyperbolator in having actually used various tools and technologies, but has not yet demonstrated deep competence in any area, which is critical to assess aptitude. “Mile wide and inch deep”, think of this as a wide but very short breed of a T-shaped person.
  • Disgruntled Knowledge Worker: Someone with a fair amount of work experience who seems to have never been satisfied at any job (vs. making the most of each opportunity), complains of being “misunderstood” or “underutilized”, might be too prone to blame their not having found that perfect job on outside factors like the economic downturn.
  • Egghead: Has very strong theoretical understanding, but not enough balance with real biz apps and / or app delivery. Example: Candidate who had worked for years at NCSA, had very strong math skills, but worked primarily on research projects of 6 months to 2 year duration, no concept of frequent delivery via an SDLC.
  • Syntax Jockey: Understands syntax of a programming language fairly well, but does not demonstrate a solid approach to clean design, or what is really happening “under the covers”. Most often seen with fresh grads but sometimes with experienced candidates who have shown more ability to memorize syntax rules than analysis, design and application of patterns. Another symptom of this can be over-reliance on wizards / generators / decorator-frameworks, without understanding what the generated code is doing (or being able to troubleshoot it). Similar to Dilettante but narrower.
  • No There There: Doesn’t have much depth (at least in the areas of interest to the company / job), despite a lot of experience as measured in years or projects – they were in roles on projects where they didn’t do much technically challenging work. Example: Someone with 5 years .NET experience, who had never used a collection construct; a tester who had years of work experience but solely manual testing, no use of tools or programming to at least partially automate. Similar to Syntax Jockey but narrower.
  • Take me Mold me: Too inexperienced for the position, would either require an inordinate amount of training, and / or does not show enough initiative to come up to speed quickly. When hiring interns or junior level, the latter is the key criterion.


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