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Interview Series: Birthdays, job responses, and feedback

BekahHW
Hey! I'm Bekah. I'm a career-changer. Bootcamp grad. Dev. Writer. Mom to four kids. Creator and Maintainer: VirtualCoffee.io | Podcast co-host: VirtualCoffee.io/podcast
Originally published at bekahhw.github.io on ・5 min read

When I was a kid, I used to do Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies–the VHS dance workout–with my mom. And I loved the choreography for “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” Well, that was the foreshadowing to this moment. So just like we had a 2 for 1 deal for birthdays on July 21st–it was both mine and my son’s birthday–I would also get a kind of 2 for 1 deal on the interviews: two rejections in one day on my birthday. Not ideal. But also, I’m a believer that it’s better to know bad news than to be stuck in the limbo of not knowing news. And it’s in the moments after the news, in the process of feelings and feedback that we regroup and define who we are next. And this post, it’s about all of those things.

How I found out

Junior Role

I hadn’t heard from the team since the interview, but I had expected to hear something early in the week of July 12th.

But after the final interview, I offered to talk through the interview process with one of the interviewers.

So during that interview retro, my first question was “have you offered the position to someone?”

“We have.”

I never received a rejection notification, and that was the first time I heard the news.

When I started Virtual Coffee, a number of women in tech told me it wasn’t a good idea to continue building the community. “People won’t see you as technical. They’ll see you as a project manager,” they said. Can you guess the feedback?

THE REASON : “We’re looking for someone more technical. If we open up a Project Manager position, we hope you’ll apply!”

Senior role

I also expected to hear back from this job around the week of the 12th. On the 15th, I got a message saying they were still reviewing applications, but there would be a decision by Tuesday, July 20th. When the 20th came and went, I sent a message asking if I could assume someone else had been offered the position.

A quick reply let me know that they pushed back the decision, but I’d know by that afternoon. And I did. We had a quick phone call around 5:00.

THE REASON : Not enough experience. There would need to be some time to get me up to senior level.

“Would you say I’m not technical enough?”

“Absolutely not.”

I’m just going to take a second to let you think about this.

Pause…

Do you see it? The junior role didn’t think I was technical enough. The senior role quickly answered that wasn’t the case.

So here’s the thing; every team defines their wants and their needs differently. Every team interviews differently. You don’t get a drastic difference in opinion like that, without such a varied and unpredictable system.

So, here’s your reminder if you’ve recently been rejected from a job or jobs: interviewing is a system with variables that you can’t control, that you can’t solve. And you *can’t possibly ever know all of the variables going into those interviews.*

What Went Wrong?

I didn’t ask them what they wanted.

Interviews have a performative aspect. If you’re being evaluated by a team, you need to know what each of the team members is looking for.

You have to ask, as Gant Laborde calls it, “the power question”: what’s a problem that currently exists that the ideal hire would solve?

When you get their answers, you’ve got a cheat sheet for your answers.

I only asked this question to one person, and so I didn’t have the cheat sheet for my interview. I thought I knew what they wanted based on what problems they talked about, and I focused on that for my answers. But the thing is, sometimes you don’t know all the weaknesses they have or the pressures they’re feeling the most, even if you ask.

For the junior role, I leaned heavily into talking about Virtual Coffee and systems and processes because I knew I was originally brought in to interview because of my work with it.

Could I have talked about specific coding concepts? Yep.

Could I have talked about how my experience as an English teacher equipped me to break down complex concepts, communicate ideas to different audiences, speak in front of groups, create and organize content methodically and with structure? Yep.

Could I have been more confident when I wasn’t getting non-verbal feedback from my interviewers? Yep, again.

Should I have spent more time preparing? 100% no, but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t fall down into the self-destruction pit or that I was able to think this through unemotionally after I got the news.

My Response

This is where the “Dark Night of the Soul” moment comes in. The moment where you doubt yourself and your place in the world. The moment you wonder if you belong, if you have what it takes. The moment you think maybe you’ve been lying to yourself this whole time.

What they said was:

You aren’t technical enough.You aren’t experienced enough.

But what I heard was:

You aren’t enough.

And I cried not because I didn’t get the offers, I cried because I doubted myself, because I felt like I had wasted my time and the time of others. Because maybe I was Icharus, and I was falling down to the ground because I was flying where I didn’t belong.

I messaged a friend who has become a mentor to me over the last year, and who I first told about the initial invitation to apply for the Junior Role. And in the course of the conversation, they asked two important questions that allowed me to refocus:

Where do you think your technical skills are? Self-evaluate.

What are your next steps?

Self-evaluation of my Technical skills, a brainstorm

  • I need to be more confident. I need to talk about technical concepts as confidently as I talk about community.
  • I need to have a broader understanding of React and JS concepts, to be able to apply them outside of the codebase I primarily work on.
  • I’m good at testing.
  • I can build a component with a mock-up.
  • I need work on optimizing and doing things like creating custom hooks.
  • I understand key ideas and code, but I need to deepen my roots and learn how/when to use more advanced concepts.

A very deliberate self-evaluation is good. It allows for goals and growth plans. It creates a space for making progress. And this was a good time to do it.

Next Steps

When I was in 7th grade I wanted to run the hurdles on my track team. I could clear them pretty quickly and could consistently come in second place to an 8th grader. So I asked my coach if I could compete.

“You’re too short,” my coach told me.

This is one of those enough statements. You aren’t tall enough, is what he was saying.

And maybe it seems silly to remember that story, but this has been one of my greatest motivators. Being underestimated is an invitation to exceed expectations.

You don’t think I can clear these hurdles? Watch me break the record.

Watch me be technical. Watch me amplify the technical and community skills of the women in my network. Watch me do the things Senior DevRels do.

I have given references for people’s job searches. I have made connections that have led to hires. I have created programs that allowed for experiences that lead to new jobs.

I want to support good people. So that’s it. That’s the next stage. To find ways to help more people. Because, at the end of the day, people are what matter.

Discussion (8)

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glenmccallumcan profile image
Glen McCallum

I don't know the people giving you feedback ... but ... sometimes people give the easiest, plausible explanation they can muster to quickly get themselves out of an unpleasant situation. Even if they believe it themselves it doesn't mean it's true.

Maybe you're experiencing this with the conflicting information.

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bekahhw profile image
BekahHW Author

Thanks, Glen. Also, there’s so much that isn’t covered in an interview. And people who make decisions bring their own biases, history, etc.

I would maybe prefer an interview that went more like this:

Interviewer: we’re looking for these things, here are our strengths and weaknesses, ask whatever questions you want. And come back to us in a week with something that shows you can fill this role and work well with our team.

I think I could do a really good job if that were the case. One week later, do a 2 hour interview where you make the case and have time for questions.

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glenmccallumcan profile image
Glen McCallum

I'm stealing this.

Thread Thread
bekahhw profile image
BekahHW Author

That's fair. I stole your coffee table analogy

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torianne02 profile image
Victoria Crawford

Bekah, you are absolutely amazing. This was beautifully written and your level of self awareness about where you could improve is such a great skill to have. I have no doubt you are going to continue to be successful in whatever you choose to do next.

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bekahhw profile image
BekahHW Author

Thanks so much, Tori. The good news is that I'm happy doing what I'm doing now. I would just really love to have good health insurance 😭

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iandouglas profile image
ian douglas

Great article, thanks for sharing your experiences openly.

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bekahhw profile image
BekahHW Author

Thanks, Ian.