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Vaguely related:

  1. Verifying a user (mainly at an interview)
  2. What does the “I’m open to employers (not recruiters) contacting me” preference mean?

(I will try to find some better links)

I think most of us agree that, from the point of view of an employer, using SO reputation as a hiring criterion is a mistake, but we know that it does happen.

And most users would probably feel that they would benefit if this practice stopped, as we can all think of users who have higher reputation than us whom we feel do not deserve all of it.

So now I am wondering, is there anything the developers/moderators could do to discourage employers from taking reputation too seriously?

I can't think of a good way, so to kick off the discussion I will suggest a silly one:

Hold a lottery. 1000 lucky users will get free reputation points (prizes ranging from 2K to 10K rep.) Now the employers will think twice, because the person they hire on the basis of rep might just have been awarded it randomly.

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Ha, reputation isn't a 100% test of competence. But it is far from random or arbitrary. – jjnguy Jul 21 '09 at 18:19
+1 for including links. – Brad Gilbert Jul 21 '09 at 18:21
I just can't wait until they start asking for your MetaSO rep. – devinb Jul 21 '09 at 19:11
I don't know about rep, but there are some SO users that I would hire without an interview based on their "lives" on SO. And I do NOT mean high scorers necessarily... – Dan Rosenstark Jul 21 '09 at 19:26
there are many SO users I would decline to hire based on SO – tim Jul 21 '09 at 21:06
I think it could be used the other way around. If the candidate spend it's day on SO it could be a no hire. – OscarRyz Jul 21 '09 at 21:08
Employers use SO as a criteria Really? Can you cite an instance? That is mind boggling. IMO if an employer is that stupid to use SO as a gague, they deserve what they get. – tim Jul 21 '09 at 21:08

15 Answers 15

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Reputation is a combination of a lot of things, but more than anything, isn't it simply a measure of how long you've been actively using SO? Secondarily, I would say more senior programmers will know more and can provide more useful answers more of the time. This is certainly useful for employers with deep pockets who are looking for a senior programmer, but what about an employer who needs to hire a bunch of more junior-level programmers? For that, they'd be better off looking at the content of the posts, not the reputation. My final point is that SO can be abused. People with high rep's might have high reps because they spend all day answering questions and not actually getting their own work done. I certainly wouldn't want that employee on my payroll.

So, to answer the actual question: perhaps an item could be added to the FAQ page that contains a disclaimer as to why it's not a good idea for an employer to use rep scores to make hiring decisions.

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If an employer is so short-sighted as to look at someone's reputation but not their content, then:

  • would you want to work there?
  • would you care if anyone else got a job there based on a possibly fake rep score?

There are all kinds of dumb things employers sometimes use for hiring decisions. There are also all kinds of dumb things potential employees do to try to puff themselves up. Let the bad employers be fooled by the bad employees - they're made for each other.

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Do people look at your resume and say "are you the REAL Jon Skeet? or just another guy putting that on there to impress us." – devinb Jul 21 '09 at 18:26
Sadly that's never come up. In the interview for my past job but one, they were a bit concerned that my recent experience had been Java though - they weren't sure whether I really knew much C#. – Jon Skeet Jul 21 '09 at 18:41
Tell them that you know "C# in Depth" word for word. And you've met the author. Or, you've at least met the author's wife. – devinb Jul 21 '09 at 19:07
That's when they'll come back and say, "That's impossible, because we know the Jon Skeet who wrote the book, and he doesn't have a wife!" – Kevin Jul 21 '09 at 19:20
That would just prove they haven't read the book ;) (I mention Holly and the boys...) – Jon Skeet Jul 21 '09 at 20:07
Know him? he's sat working at the desk over there... (point at random Jim with invented credentials...). btw; seen – Marc Gravell Jul 21 '09 at 21:16
@Jon: Does it ever cross your mind to take your books into interviews? I'd totally do that. You could then proceed to look up the answer to every question. Then leave them with the book at the end of the interview. – BenAlabaster Jul 21 '09 at 21:42
@balabaster: This was just before I got the contract to write C# in Depth. But yes, that would be fun :) – Jon Skeet Jul 21 '09 at 21:44
@Jon: It's cocky, but it's a great little private joke that anyone with some brains would pick up on if not in the interview, shortly afterwards. Sometimes I wonder if my sense of humour's not a touch misguided :P – BenAlabaster Jul 21 '09 at 22:20

I sincerely hope this is a non-problem. I doubt any employer would look only at a user's reputation score alone, and not look at the content of that user's questions and answers.

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I think you have way too much faith in employers. – Kevin Jul 21 '09 at 18:25
I doubt many employers even know about SO. – Sampson Jul 21 '09 at 18:25
@Kevin: If they're stupid enough to base hiring decisions on a number on a web page, they won't be in business long. I certainly wouldn't accept a job from someone who did this, so this problem sort of solves itself in two ways. – Bill the Lizard Jul 21 '09 at 18:33
Most companies won't look at a number and hire someone, but I think it will become a factor. When you get an offer, you will rarely know the quality of people you were interviewing against to get the job. Maybe they were all geniuses and you barely beat them out, or maybe they just learned to stop dragging their knuckles on the floor. You say you won't work at a place like that, but how do you really know? That's the problem, you really don't. Asking if they have an SO id doesn't seem out of the question in hiring. You don't know what the criteria for hiring people is when you interview. – Kevin Jul 21 '09 at 19:16
@Bill the Lizard: Ah, the naivete of youth. Take a look at some of the companies that have been in business for a long time. – David Thornley Jul 21 '09 at 20:46

Wait, somebody might notice I'm in the top 70 users and offer me a sweet job?

Where do I sign up?

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on the "prefs" tab... in theory, at least. – Marc Gravell Jul 21 '09 at 21:18

I completely fail to see why we think it is an issue for employers to look at reputation. If they look at it and actually put value behind it, that is on them. Users on the site know that it is a measure of system trust and not necessarily quality of user/programmer.

So if it helps you score a job, great... If you don't use the site very often, I would be hard pressed to see an employer trying to use the rep in a hiring decision...

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Yes I can imagine it. It's a number, which they can quote to their boss as an excuse if the hiring decision turns out to be a bad one. Like MCSE, or N years experience of Visual Studio version X. – Perpetual Motion Goat Jul 21 '09 at 18:24

Is it a catastrophic problem? It is probably not, but it will become a headache in some instances. Eventually, employers will use the rep as a way of validating people's abilities. Now will the good companies do so, like Google, MS, Apple? They will not, but only the top .01 percent of developers work at those places. It doesn't matter whether or not an employer has heard of SO, because when the candidate brings it up, most will use it as a way to validate they are making the right hiring decision. They will because there is a fundamental problem with hiring people: You can only tell if someone is as smart/knowledgeable as you.

Once someone passes your abilities, you have to take it on faith what they are saying is correct. (I remember one story where a consultant mentioned some absurd comment about the stack and the heap to a tech manager about Java to show is technical prowess. Sounding good, the manager bought it, and he became the architect, of the C# applications.) I guarantee that most hiring people aren't going to take the time to look through posts and determine if the person is really as smart as they appear (they might not even be able to).

(Here's my disclaimer, I work in this industry. I work for a company who's sole job is to provide tests to determine people's profiles and competency in areas). 90% of the time, hiring people want a score so they can look at other people's scores and rate them. Now I know what you are thinking, "I wouldn't do that." I wouldn't either, but I'm not the person who makes hiring decisions. Most places don't function like MS where you are interviewed by 6 people and all have to say yes to get hired. It's a look at the resume, an interview and maybe a second interview and the decision is made. You can always not work at places that act that way, and maybe you can steer clear of them, but every time I've gone to work somewhere, there have always been skeletons in the closet, I didn't catch during the interview.

Truthfully, there is no way to stop companies from using rep as a way of showing ability. The only way is to not have it. Maybe that's O.K. that employers will use it. Someone who has a rep at least is looking at a tech site and reading it which is more than I can say for people I've work with in the past. Does that mean they are any good, nope, but if it is all they have to go on, it's better than nothing.

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I would think an employer should not hire someone with a high SO reputation, because it meant on their last job, they spent too much time answering questions on SO, and not enough time doing what they were paid for, which is probably why they are looking for a new job. ;)

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I've spent a lot of time here recently because I was made redundant. I should be getting a start date for my new job in the next day or so, so hopefully I'll be spending less time here (and SO etc.) over the next few months! As far as I know my new employer didn't look at my SO profile. – ChrisF Jul 21 '09 at 21:33

I kinda doubt employers are really giving that much weight to Rep/badges in the first place.

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Is this really a problem, or is it just an imagined problem?

My take on this is that if an employer is foolish enough to use reputation as a be-all-end-all guide to hiring, then anybody worth their salt would run away from that interview. Anybody not worth their salt, though, would think the company's full of suckers (or they're just that naive). In all cases, everybody gets what they deserve. Brilliant system, I'd say.

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Agreed, imagined problem. – JP Alioto Jul 21 '09 at 20:58

Hmmm, then it's about time I get that guy (or is Arjan a girl's name?) whose identity I've taken at SO, some real reputation then!

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You could use the same point about facebook, myspace, twitter etc.

It's been well reported about companies finding out information, complaints, cabals, deceit (eg CV, career), whatever from social networking and using it to discipline of fire employees.

So why not use SO to find out if their employee uses it and how they interact?

Are you in LinkedIn or Xing? Do you want your employer to gather recommendations from these? Why not SO?

Finally, if you want privacy, don't post your real name on the electric interweb...

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Reading someone's SO questions/answers and not hiring a troll or someone who regularly posts obviously-wrong answers... that's fine. I am referring specifically to those who give too much weight to the reputation (out of laziness, and to keep as an excuse in case they get it wrong.) – Perpetual Motion Goat Jul 21 '09 at 19:34

Maybe StackOverflow should publish some kind of metric that allowed you to guage the quality of answers provided by a user in general. Not sure what that metric would be but I've had it suggested that (by my esteemed colleague John MacIntyre):

The quantity of Nice Answer badges accumulated by the individual divided by the total quantity of questions answered by the user gives a very rough idea of the quality of their answers.

Reputation alone isn't a good metric because they might have given 1000 answers each receiving a single upvote giving them 10,000 reputation. If they answer 2 questions a day each garnering 10 votes hitting the reputation cap on a daily basis, then they're far more likely to be of a decent callibre.

For instance Jon Skeet (hopefully he won't sue me for pointing this out) has 578 nice answer badges [at the time of print] (Good job Jon, you rock) and 4516 answers (holy shit where do you find the time?!) which gives a metric of 12.8%. Now we all know that with Jon's recent appointment as "God of C#", I'd say that anyone having anything close to this [and having provided a suitable quantity of answers] should be considered worthy of hiring.

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The trouble is, posts on niche languages may not even be looked at by 10 people. I'd definitely just read some random answers from the candidate. That would tell me much more than any simple metric. In particular, it gives an idea of communication skills as well as plain accuracy. – Jon Skeet Jul 21 '09 at 22:11
Thanks for the mention Ben. It's just a quick general metric. When I first noticed this, Jon Skeet was the highest I could find and his ratio was only 9%. So the number appears to increase as questions age. – John MacIntyre Jul 21 '09 at 22:12
@Jon Skeet - Of course, it's true that has flaws too, but it's better than just blindly using someone's reputation. At least this gives an indication of the quality of your answers. Besides, I don't think C# qualifies as a "niche" language :P – BenAlabaster Jul 21 '09 at 22:16
Another metric which might be more useful - proportion of answers accepted. – Jon Skeet Jul 22 '09 at 9:24
@Jon Skeet: Haha, but then people would start watching which questions they answered, whether it's a niche question and whether the person asking that has only 1 repuation is likely to ever come back and accept your answer. So that one's flawed slightly too, and might actually be of detriment to the site because some questions might go unanswered for tactical reasons... – BenAlabaster Jul 28 '09 at 16:27

If this concerns you, don't identify yourself on SO and there is no problem. Believe it or not, my driver's license does not say "raven". It says "McLovin". Even more unbelievable, Bill the Lizard's last name really is "the Lizard".

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I would honestly answer, I have only 3.5k as I don't spend all day on SO as I generally have too much work to do, i.e. the job you are about to hire me for :)

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Who you are on SO is a version of how you will be IRL - I expect to be judged accordingly if a prospective employer happens to look at my profile/history (as should everyone publishing anything to the net).

If they have a problem with something in my SO footprint, well I'd have a problem working for them anyway.

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