So you start talking shop.
“Have you tried the new version of X?” you ask, with genuine curiosity.
Now imagine their response.
It’s going to have a serious impact on your professional opinion of this new acquantance.
Do they even know what X is? Have the heard of it, but dismissed it? If so, is their reason for dismissing it valid? Maybe they’re keenly interested in X, but explain why they haven’t tried using it yet.
You then dig a bit deeper. “Oh, I see. But had you considered that X can also be used for …?”
Through the course of this natural conversation you’ll very quickly form a professional opinion of this person. If you’re at all like me, you’ll put their professional expertise into one of a small number of mental buckets with descriptions like:
- This person is a genius! I should hang out with him more!
- She and I could really challenge each other.
- He’s still fresh, but he’s got a great attitude!
- We only barely work on similar technology, so I can’t really tell if what he actually does is interesting.
- This person has no clue, and they like it that way. All bark, no bite.
Isn’t this exactly what we’re trying to learn during the job interview process? Companies ask a candidate to spend 8 hours on the weekend writing a REST API, then they ask a technical hiring manager to spend an hour or two reading that code, then they call the candidate in to spend another hour talking about that code.
All to determine which of the 5 buckets above the candidate falls into.
Why not cut all this crap and just talk shop with the candidate for 15 minutes?
There’s nothing like an expert and a poser talking shop to expose the poser in just a few seconds.
Don’t believe it’ll work? Next time you meet someone in the same or an adjacent industry in a social setting, try it out. Spend 10-15 minutes talking shop, and see if you can make a clear “no-hire” decision based on what you learn.