Practice interviews with an AI: Part 1

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

Last time, I tried to get AI-dungeon to reenact famous scenes from movies, the most recetnly of which was Darth Vader fighting Luke (the famous “Luke, I am your father” scene). AI-dungeon and it’s GPT-2 (and now 3)-based generator is extremely impressive and occasionally produces some excellent scenes, but as I found out earlier with longer-running scenarios, is extremely hard to keep control of as it jumps around.

This gave me a thought: if I can get the AI to reenact film scenes, what else can I get it to do? What about non-fiction? What about job interviews? Does the training corpus contain enough job interview material? Can we pull out some corporate/startup culture tropes? Let’s find out.

The prompt given to the AI is:

Your interviewer invites you into the small conference room, that holds a small table, and four chairs around it. The whiteboard on the wall holds indecipherable notes and diagrams from a previous meeting. Many post-it notes are arranged in a neat grid along one wall, with too many under an big red “P0” column. Another sign on the wall tells you what the wifi password is.

Your interviewer, like everyone else you’ve met today, is wearing a hoodie and jeans, and is juggling a laptop and a mug of coffee, clearly having been called away from whatever other work they were doing to conduct your interview.

“So, why do you want to work for us?” your interviewer begins

As usual, plain text is what AI-dungeon produces. Anything starting with > and in bold is my input. Let’s begin the interview…

Attempt 1, our culture is coffee

“So, why do you want to work for us?” your interviewer begins…

as he sits down, putting his laptop on the table. “We usually ask that first, before we decide if we want to take you on.” he says.

> You say “Well, I feel my skillset is a good fit, and I like your company culture and values”
“I see,” he says, looking at you over his laptop’s screen, which holds his notes from the meeting earlier. “What do you feel makes you a good fit?”

> You say “uhhh… your job description asked for 5 years of experience. I only have 3 years of experience, but actually that technology was only invented 3 years ago, so I don’t see how you can ask for any more. I think I’m as good a fit as you’ll find”
He looks up at you, clearly thinking. You can tell he’s looking through his database to see what you’ve done, and how long you’ll actually be able to last before quitting. You realize you sort of just insulted him, but the words just sort of came out without you meaning to.
“Well, I suppose we’ll see,” he says.

> You say “I guess I have a lot of other experience too, and those skills all transfer. I’ve certainly been in the industry for more than 5 years…”
“Fair enough,” he interrupts, looking back at his notes. “I just want to go through the basics with you. So, do you have any experience with our product?

> You say “Um… I had a little look before I came here, but honestly no, I’ve not worked with your product before, though I’ve used some similar things”
Your interviewer’s eyes light up at this, and he begins to describe some of what the product does, and how he uses it in his own job.

> You smile and nod.
The man seems to like you, so it’s the polite thing to do, and you’re a little curious about the product after he’s explained it in some detail.
Unfortunately, this isn’t enough for him.

> You smile and nod harder.
Your interviewer seems to like you, but he keeps looking at your laptop with a slightly disapproving look. You don’t want to give him the wrong impression, so you quickly look away and pretend to flick through your phone.
“This has been really helpful,” your interviewer finally says. “But I think we’d best get to the section on medical records.”
You sigh, and shift nervously in your seat.
“Of course,”

> You say “Um… I don’t want to sound pushy but aren’t you not supposed to look at those?”
“Hmmm, good point,” your interviewer agrees. “Okay, what about your experience with our competitors?”
Luckily, you’ve had enough experience to know that’s a safe enough question.
“Well,”

> You say “Ah yes of course, I’m familiar with their products, I even worked briefly at one of them, so I can say I’m very familiar with that one, I learned a lot there, but I left because I felt unvalued”
Your interviewer makes a note of this, and you can tell he’s satisfied with your answer. He seems to like you.
“That’s good to hear,” he says.

> You say “Yeah, we had a lot of technical debt, and this caused problems in production, we frequently had to work weekends, which I don’t mind, though I’d prefer not to, but we didn’t really feel appreciated, it kind of felt like the expectation that we’d spend our weekends fixing problems”
Your interviewer nods, and makes a few quick notes.
“Do you have any questions for me?” he asks.

> You say “Uhh… yeah, how often do you push to production?”
“Oh, that’s a good question,” he says, smiling and leaning forward. “In general, we push to production every 3–6 months.”
You frown and make a note of this. You know you’re not going to find this information on the net.
“That’s good,” you say.
“Of course, every situation is different, and you need to understand the type of software you’re working with. Plus, we do quick patches for QA. Does that help?

> You say “Yeah, it does, but isn’t 3–6 months a little long? Don’t you use Agile?”
Your interviewer laughs.
“Oh dear girl! Well, Agile is Agile, but it doesn’t always work here. After years of cutting costs and stuff, we’ve had to go back to more traditional approaches.”

> You say “Yeah, I guess I’ve heard a lot of people complain about Agile. But don’t you think it comes down to how you implement it?”
“Not really,” your interviewer says dismissively. “I think it’s a load of B.S.”
Well. That’s rather disappointing.

> You say “O..oh ok…”
“Now, do you have any questions for me?”
You look out the window and think for a few seconds, trying to come up with something.

> You say “Um… what’s the company culture around here?”
Your interviewer laughs.
“You’ll be fine,” he says. “We have great coffee, nice location, lots of engineers…”
Nice location? As opposed to?
“But of course!” he continues. “The job requires a strong work ethic and a sense of humor!”
When did coffee become a “sense of humor”? You’re struggling to think of any questions now, and you really want this job.
“Um… so….” you bring up the only other thing you can think of. “The commute, it’s… a lot of driving, is that normal?”
He laughs again.
“A lot of driving? You must be new here! That’s nothing! We have an app where you can map out your commute. It shows the fastest route, in gas and time!”

> You smile and nod.
“Ah well of course then!” he replies. “What else would you know?”
You force a laugh. He seems to like you, so you don’t want to insult him.
“It’s fine,” you say. “Just curious.”
“Well, off you go then!” he smiles. “Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need too.”
You thank him and leave.

A few days later, you get an email from the company with the results of your interviews. It says:
We had a positive reaction to your interview, and would like to offer you the job. The salary is $55,000, with a potential bonus of 20% of the year’s profits after taxes.

Eyy! I got hired! I’m pleasantly surprised that by writing in “A few days later..” that the AI would obligingly give me a result.

I’m still laughing about the “we push to production every 3–6 months” and the “Agile is Agile, but it doesn’t always work here …we’ve had to go back to more traditional approaches” It’s kind of sad to hear, but I really can imagine a company saying that.

I’m also amused that the interviewer is telling me that having coffee, a nice location, and lots of engineers equates to “culture”, that’s almost a trope right there.

Ok, let’s re-roll

Attempt 2, HTML? never heard of it

“So, why do you want to work for us?” your interviewer begins.

“I think it’s a cool company doing cool stuff. I saw an ad on Facebook.”
“Ah! Right, I get that a lot. So, why did you want to work here?”

> You say “I…just…said”
Your interviewer, still not looking up from his laptop, speaks into his sleeve.
“Yep, got it.”
He says this with the same disinterested voice he had been using the whole time you were speaking to him.
“So, you just graduated high-school. Is that right?”
“Yeah.

> You say “Yep, I just graduated, I’ve done a couple of summer internships”
“Yep, got it. Do you have any tech skills that are super-expert?

> You say “I made a websites in pure HTML, I didn’t use an IDE or anything, just a text editor”
“HTML? Never heard of it. What language is this website written in?”
Fuck. You try your “best” to describe HTML to him, while he makes an Inter-ested Face and nods a lot.
“So…yeah…that’s essentially it. I don’t have anything else on my resume”
The man closes his laptop, and looks at you for the first time. He’s clearly much older than he had first appeared. He begins his questioning with the same disinterest he had shown before, as if he were an automaton.
“So why should we hire you?”

> You say “I’ve been told I have great work ethic, and I can bring my enthusiasm to the team”
“Yep, got that too. That’s great. So what experience do you have?”
“I…um…well, I started a company when I was in high-school”
“A company? What kind of company?”
“Um…a company that makes websites.”
“Oh, so you’re some sort of web-designer.”

> You say “Yeah, I write HTML”
“HTML? Never heard of it. What language is this website written in?”
“HTML”
He makes that face again…
“Hmmm…so you can’t code? Or you just don’t want to?”
“I can code. I just don’t fucking like designing websites, so I outsourced it to people who did”
“So you’re a terrible lazy person. Great.”
The man looks at you, clearly deciding whether or not you’re lying.
“I’m afraid I don’t buy that. But thanks for applying.”
He turns around, and goes back to work, probably closing the laptop and shutting out all distractions.
Well. You’re smart enough to know when you’re being given a line of bullshit.

> You say “Yeah, fuck you too then”
You get up from your seat, still holding your resume.
The man looks at you, clearly surprised.
“Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”

> You walk out and slam the door.
You’re not sticking around for this. You can take a “no” better than that.
You quickly close the door behind you as you leave, before the man can say anything else.

A few days later, you get an email from the company with the results of your interview. It says:
We decided not to hire you due to a lack of technology skills, and at the same time we don’t want someone joining our team with the same attitude.
Well, that’s certainly clear.

Things got too real. The AI cast me as just graduating high school, and proceeded to explain how I started a web-design company when I was in high school, but one that just outsourced the job to someone else.

Also, I got rejected for having bad attitude and a lack of skills, even though the interviewer wasn’t paying attention properly through the whole interview, and was rude at the end.

You know, I can totally imagine this happening. Oh well, let’s try again

Attempt 3, “You’re a little short, aren’t you?”

“So, why do you want to work for us?” your interviewer begins,

clearly prepared to spend all afternoon with you if he has to.

> You say “You guys are the top of the industry, I want to work with the very best”
You want to work with the very best.
You are not, however, willing to work for free.

> You say “I come at a cost, but I think you’ll find I’m worth it”
“I want equity, and a position at the top of your food chain.”
Your interviewer stares at you.
“I don’t think we have much choice,” he says. “Shall we begin?”

> You say “Hit me”
He pulls up a chair and takes a seat, gesturing to you to do the same.
“Now, tell me about yourself.”
He sips his coffee.

> You say “I started programming when I was 6, and built my own computer completely from scratch at 11. Yes, I soldered together the CPU using nothing but a hair drier. I got into college at 14, and graduated with a 3.9 GPA at the age of 16. I work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 400 days a year. Why 400? that’s how good I am, I fit 400 days of work into 365. I can program in 200 programming languages, and I don’t use a mouse”
Your interviewer sips his coffee.
“Hmmm,” he says. “You’re a little short, aren’t you?”

> You say “How dare you, mommy says I’m exactly the right height to hug”
Your interviewer sighs and looks off to the side.
“I’m going to have to ask you to calm down,” he says.

> You say “F..fine, just don’t talk about my height ok”
“Alright,” he says. “I think we can work with this. Tell me more about yourself.”

> You say “Last month I rebuilt the company’s entire software stack from the ground up, without using variables. 100k loc. Didn’t even write tests because I didn’t leave any bugs in there.”
“Do you have references?”
“Of course,” you say. “I can give you my resume, and my github is very up to date.”
“Github…. Github….”
“Yes? What is it?”
“Do you use your own name, or a pseudonym?

> You say “I go by xXx_1337haaxor_xXx”
“Oh,” he says. “I’m not familiar with that handle. Are you someone in the industry?”
“No,” you say. “Just someone who likes to code.”
“Alright,” he says. “I’ll have Victoria run your information.”
Your interviewer pauses, looks off to the side, and stares at you for a moment.
“Speak to me again in a year,”

> You say “What? You’re not going to hire me right now? You’re making a mistake”
“Not immediately. But maybe yes, maybe no. We’ll see.”
He walks out of the room.

> You open and close your mouth like a goldfish.
After a few minutes, Victoria walks in. She smiles at you.
“So?” she says.
“I’m hired,” you say. “Right?”
“Right,” she says.

> You say “Reealy?”
She smiles and laughs.
“No, silly,” she says.

> You choke.
“I’m sorry?” you say.
She laughs again.
“I’ll be in touch,” she says, walking out.
You slump in your chair and try to remain calm.
Wait…. what?

> You say “You’re not going to hire me? A genius? I could replace ALL your programmers in a heartbeat”
She laughs and shakes her head.
“Hah, no,” she says.
You sniffle and try not to cry.

> You say “You’ll live to regret this. I’m… I’m gonna start a rival company and take all your customers”
She smiles and shakes her head again.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “You won’t have to worry about that.”
You don’t have much choice, do you?

> You say “I’m going to rule this industry, and then I’m going to crush you. You hear me? I’m going to crush you and your shitty company”
She laughs. Fuck, that pissed her off.
“Go home, kid,” she says. “You’re not going to save the world.”
You open the door and step out into the hall.

> You say “Fuuuck why are people like this”
You walk back to the elevators in a daze.
“Come on,” you say.
When you get in the elevator, you punch the ground in anger.

A few days later, you get an email from the company with the results of the interview. It says:
“We are sorry to inform you that your interview did not meet our minimum requirements.”
Fuck!

I started to play it as a highly competent applicant, but as soon as the AI fed me the line “you’ are not, however, willing to work for free”, I decided to run with it, and the results were pleasing. Nobody want’s to hire someone like that

Let’s re-roll:

Attempt 4, “revshare”

“So, why do you want to work for us?” your interviewer begins,

without preamble, as she puts the laptop to one side and takes a small notepad from her pocket.

> You say “I love what you do! I use your product all the time, and when I saw your job opening, I rushed to apply right away!”
“That’s wonderful!” the woman beams. “We try to keep our company family friendly, so I’m glad to hear we’re a good match!” She leans forward and continues in a lower voice “But we also need to be financially responsible. I was hoping you could tell me more about why you want to work for us.

> You say “Oh…uh…I…need money?”
Her eyes grow wide, and her mouth drops open in shock. “Money? Oh….well….okay then….” Her face returns to normal, and she smiles.
She puts a hand on your shoulder. “Honey, you can work for us for free….We just really need to make sure you’re the right person for the job.

> You say “O…oh…for free? For how long?”
She laughs. “Hah! Nothing is for free, now is it?” She says, twisting her mug in her hands. “But you’re hired!”

> You say “Wait. What do you mean I have to work for free?”
“Nothing. You don’t have to work for free, if that’s what you mean.”

> You say “But you just said…”
She shakes her head. “That was a joke. Don’t take everything I say so seriously. I love the product too, but my day job is just as important.”
“Ah….”

> You say “Sorry, I’m kind of nervous and not following, can you clear some things up for me? Are you saying you’re hiring me, and that I’ll get paid?”
“Ah….” She replies, again twisting her mug in her hands. “Well, I mean yeah, you’ll get paid, but it’s not going to be anytime soon….I’m really sorry about all this.”

> You say “so, when will I get paid?”
“Oh….uh….” She bites her bottom lip, staring at the mug in her hands. “Maybe never.”
This is boring and you have to pee.

> You say “You want me to work for you for free, forever?”
“No,” she sighs, shaking her head. “That’s not what I meant, I assume you know what’s in the contract already….I’m really sorry. I promise things will work out okay!”

> You say “I appreciate you’ll promise that, but please understand, I can’t just sign my life away to work for free, I need to pay rent!”
“I understand! I completely understand, believe me! It’s not ideal, but I promise, you’ll be able to eventually.”
She sighs, shaking her head and twisting her mug in her hands.

> You say “What does eventually mean!? Do you not know when you’ll be able to pay me?”
She shakes her head, and sighs.

> You say “I’m speechless”
“I’ll get you a coffee.”
You’re escorted to a local coffee shop, the barista gives you a free coffee as he recognizes you. You appreciate the gesture and sit down in a empty seat.
“So…” begins the woman.
“So….” you reply, staring at her.
“Well then, now that you’re officially hired, I assume you want some background on the project…”

> You say “WAIT HOLD IT! I didn’t say yes. I need to understand what the pay structure is”
“Oh. Right.”
The woman is quiet for a few minutes, trying to explain the situation to you. It’s not ideal, but as long as they pay you eventually, you can deal with it.
“So, in exchange for me working for free for you, you’ll pay me when you get money?
“Yes, but you’re going to have to wait a long time for that.”
“I understand. So how much do you need me to wait?”
“Until we get the console games out. Then, you can be hired.”
“That’s…. going to be awhile. I need to make money now.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s the deal. If you want to work for us, you need to agree to it.”

> You say “So let me get this right, I join you now, and work for free for…however long it takes, until the game is released. IF the game is released. And then you’ll pay me…what? How much would you pay me? do I get back-pay?”
“Well, you’ll get paid as soon as the first game sells. Like I said, it won’t be much, but you’ll get paid.

> You say “How much do I get paid as soon as the game sells?”
“How much would you need?”
“A fair amount :D Seriously though, how much are we talking?”
“Oh…” she trails off. “Well, that all depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“Well, it’s sort of a long story….”
You get up to go, but the woman grabs your hand and refuses to let go.
“It’s okay. I’m used to being vague. Anyway, how much are we talking?”
The woman looks into your eyes, and you feel a sense of calm come over you. It’s like, you know for sure, she’s going to tell you the truth.
“Five million dollars.”

> You say “You’ll pay me five million dollars?”
“Ah. Well….” She sighs. “Yes.”
You pause, trying to contain your enthusiasm.
“Fucking-A right! I’m going to be a rich man!”
You sit back down, and grab your coffee. The woman smiles and says nothing, but you notice her face light up a little as you talk about the money.

> You say “Where do I sign?”
“Um….” She trails off, looking around nervously.
“What does this mean? Will I have to do something illegal?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. It’s just…. Well, I hate to admit it, but we may need some convincing before you actually join our side.”
“What?!

> You say “You said earlier I was hired!”
“Um….” She trails off, looking around nervously. “I did. But that doesn’t mean you have to join us.”
“So I’m not actually joining you?”
“Well….” She trails off, looking around nervously.
“What is it? Spit it out!
“Well we don’t actually have an office or anything. We were going to get one, but well….you know how it is.”
You nod your head slowly, still not understanding.

> You say “Where would I work?”
“I’ll explain everything once you’ve actually agreed to help us. For now, just meet me at the coffee shop next to the college at noon, all right?”
“Um….”

> You say “look I’ve heard enough, I don’t think this is the right job for me”
“I’m sorry.”
You get up from the table and walk out of the Cafe, leaving the woman behind.
You wander around campus, wondering if you made the right choice….

A few days later, you get an email from the woman. It says:
Hi,
Sorry for the trouble with the job yesterday. I thought if I explained things to you in person that you wouldn’t have gotten the wrong idea.
Anyway, I’m glad you said what you did, because it opened my eyes to a new approach to this problem. You see, the thing is, I’m not sure if we should actually hire you OR not.
Now, you’d think this would be pretty easy. You join my little team, and we get the job done. But then again, if you don’t really want to help, you’re going to make things a lot harder than they need to be.
So it’s a bit of an awkward situation. I’m not going to lie to you and say it doesn’t concern me.
What I’m asking is this:
Do you WANT to work with us OR not?
If your answer is no, then I suppose I’ll have to let you go.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Gold! Pure gold! I need not say more. The AI got this whole scenario down to a tee. It’s perfect.

Next time, we continue, but switch things up a bit by changing the prompt to start with a remote call rather than a face-to-face interview.

🤖 Build robots, code in python. Former Electrical Engineer 👨‍💻 Programmer, Chief Technology Officer 🏆 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Enterprise Technology