10 Hiring Practices That Will Keep Me From Working for You

Jacob Herrington (he/him) on August 19, 2019

Different variations of this conversation have been in my Twitter feed all day, and I chose to weigh-in a few times on this thread: ... [Read Full]
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1. Whiteboard interviews

I hate whiteboards unless they have funky magnets and its architectural, not algorithms or writing code. So just using it as a means to communicate not as a qualifier tool.

2. Contract to hire

I don't have a problem with this, putting someone on the books is painful if it doesn't work out. Honestly prefer it so tax season is simple so I don't have t4s and submitting for my business.

It depends, I had one startup where it was 1.5 years in and I had to yell all them to put me on the books.

3. More than 3 interviews

More than 3 seems excessive. Depends on the size of the company. If its AWS than I'm expecting 3+
If you less than 100 heads than 3+ is a red flag

4. Culture fit interviews

I don't feel like you know until someone works for you. If its a guise to check for behavioural issues I get it, that's what HR Screen is supposed to do as well.

My attitude is your company is like a soup, and each person you add is a new flavour, your company changes when you add a person, you don't shove people in a box. At least this is how I see it for 15 or fewer employees. Above 15 I understand the cubby hole mentality of hiring.

5. Group interviews

Yeah, these are weird. Government or Schools use panel interviews. I get it. I'm not a big fan when there are two developers in the room. It gets confusing. Normally its because one is a junior shadowing the other so it's not a real group interview

6. Endurance interviews

Can be tiring but since most of the times, people are booking the day, good to get it all done in one day instead of using up multiple sick days. I normally drive into town so they might as well get me all day. Sometimes though I just want to stop after the first interview, so can be a drag if you want to leave and now you have to put a stop to the rest of the process.

7. HR Screens

HR Screening should be part of your process, but not to filter out candidates at the front of your hiring funnel

8. No senior leadership in the interviews

I won't interview where I don't meet the CTO/CEO and I will normally ask I talk to them first before I even talk to a hiring manager. This is for 70 people or less size companies. I do this because I want to influence the key decision-maker and avoid getting filtered by underlings who don't know talent when they see it or might consider me competition which could jeopardize their position.

Also, it shows who serious about hiring or if they are just going through many applicants with no serious pain points that need solving

9. Reluctance to discuss pay or benefits

Again depends. Big companies need to tell me upfront. Small companies and startups, the money is there for the right person, so it comes down to bringing the proof and negation that rate.

10. Required in-person interviews

I don't mind in-person if there is a reason to come. If I still lived down-town I don't care so much but having to drive 40mins for a meeting where they are going to have an impromptu whiteboard is awful.

 

Thanks for the informed response.

I agree that many of these things are flexible for 90% of people. I'm pretty strict on them because I've got options, but I wouldn't recommend that every junior follow this list as law.

However, I would recommend that everyone make their own list of interviewing red flags, tech hiring is very broken...

 

"I would recommend that everyone make their own list of interviewing red flags"

It would be impossible as an employer to conduct an interview that would be "fair" to all candidates if everyone made up their own list of "red flags" and held companies accountable to their unknown set of arbitrary rules.

A lot of the things you covered above are minor inconveniences at best rather than "red flags". Having multiple interviews happens because teams are busy, schedules are tight, and there's more to finding a good candidate than knowing whether or not they can code. There are loads of great engineers who are lousy co-workers. Small companies (and large ones too, really) need to be careful about hiring people who are going to be disruptive to their teams. Yeah, it's kind of annoying to have a few interviews, but it's even more annoying to not spend enough time up-front and make a decision that's wrong for either or both parties.

As for HR Screens, there are lots of reasons that those are really useful for companies. An astonishing number of people simply lie on their resumes. Instead of taking the technical team away from work to find that out, an up-front screen can catch things like that. If you're looking for someone who's good with clients, and they fumble through a phone screen with HR, then you haven't wasted your tech team's time. If you want to discuss salary up-front to ensure there's alignment, then an HR Screen is useful. You might be 100% on the up-and-up, and in that case, the screen seems worthless to you, but HR Screens filter out huge numbers of unqualified candidates. They are a reaction to the reality of the job market.

CEO's, CTO's, etc. have better things to focus on than individual hires. Hopefully, they're driving the 5-10+ year vision of a company and not micromanaging every hire. If you have to have a C-level executive present to answer a question from a prospective engineer then something's very broken. Imagine how much time leaders would spend just sitting in interviews, when would they actually lead their companies? Additionally, you say you don't want to do an on-site interview (which I am totally in agreement with) but then you want to require a C-level exec to be present. That's somewhat of a double standard.

A lot of these things I can get behind (whiteboards, group interviews, etc.) but some of this stuff is a bit over-the-top and very much targeted to a specific type of company of a very specific size. That's fine of course, it's your list and your career, and it seems to be working for you. It's just not great advice for others who are trying to land a job.

Hiring very much is a two-way street. Why come to that intersection carrying loads of obstacles?

It's ironic because this is the kind of list of demands that results in the need for HR Screens at a lot of companies. There's a box that says "Is this person super difficult to deal with?" and it gets checked "yes" before the engineers ever bother to take time out to speak with you.

There's a box that says "Is this person super difficult to deal with?" and it gets checked "yes" before the engineers ever bother to take time out to speak with you.

I would never apply.

Thanks for sharing! 🀠

 

I'm just speaking out the top of my head. Never thought how good it makes for advice for others. I'm generally applying to CTO or VP of Engineering roles so its a different hiring game.

 

A small company might be in a place where they can't match salary expectations but can offer something else. I'd still expect them to be upfront about it - if they can only offer me half of the money I'd expect but can offer me more time off, or equity in the company, or more freedom to work from home, or whatever else, then I'd want to know in advance. Maybe I'm willing to work for half the cash salary I wanted because the equity is worth something to me, but maybe I can't afford to take a pay cut and hope the equity goes stratospheric in years to come. If you're hiding the package on offer all I can assume is that I'm not going to be impressed when I finally find out.

 

Startups aren't hiding the package, the don't know what to offer but they are willing to shell out for the right person to drives outcome that grows the business and that person has to make the case.

At the end of the day, they have to gamble their own money or someone else's and its hard sell to hire someone on a piece of paper. The only thing that matters is 1-to-1 with what they need, and you can if you can deliver that then they will bring you that offer.

 
  1. Whiteboard interviews

I hate whiteboards unless they have funky magnets and its architectural, not algorithms or writing code. So just using it as a means to communicate not as a qualifier tool.

Though, if someone had some kind of "draw me a funny picture", I'd be impressed by the novelty of the request.

  1. Contract to hire I don't have a problem with this, putting someone on the books is painful if it doesn't work out. Honestly prefer it so tax season is simple so I don't have t4s and submitting for my business.

It depends, I had one startup where it was 1.5 years in and I had to yell all them to put me on the books.

Frequently, the companies that contact you with this, do so having claimed that they researched you before contacting you ...even though any place they might have looked you up clearly states "no interest in contract-to-hire".

Worse is the tendency for "contract to hire" shops to, when trying to convert you, have the compensation/benefits of the permanent gig be far lower than what you'd have accepted had you considered an up-front permanent offer from them.

 

One consideration I had not thought is maybe contract work is less risky here in Canada since we have so many social programs.

I'm surprised how many times I've been able to convert places that were looking for employee into contract work.

So I would call places to go through initial screening acting like I want to be on the books, so I can get to key decision-maker, change my story, be told they don't want contract, then ask their pain points, and turn around and deliver with something for free and they would then agree to contract.

In fact, I can't think of one time where that didn't work.

The tinfoil-hat part of me says that part of why corporations fight against outsourcing things like healthcare benefits to the government is that they can reduce employee mobility in the US. By making healthcare part of a job, you make it that much more of a pain-in-the ass and that much more risky to jump to other jobs.

 

These all sound great to me, unfortunately it also seems to be that if you're like me and are looking for an entry level job you have to do pretty much anything they want you to do.
Any advice on how to approach this for first time developers?

 

Sometimes you have to compromise.

I would advise trying to find a company that has a reputation for investing in the juniors they hire.

If you do take a job you don't like, work hard to build up your skills and go somewhere that appreciates you. πŸ˜‰

 

Thanks, and I've been trying to compromise, it just seems like half the positions I apply for send me an automated test that takes 30 + minutes to do. I have no problem taking tests, but this doesn't really seem like a good use of my time because I'm pretty sure they send out thousands of those.

I found an internship that I'm in now and I really enjoy it. Maybe I'm just being too impatient but I really want to get my first job.

Thanks for the advice though!

 
  1. I've done whiteboarding once. It wasn't the worst thing ever, but after the last time I did it, I did put that company on my "never work for" list.

  2. C2H here at least is through a staffing company who (for me) have provided benefits on day one. My oldest was born while I was in this arrangement. I think contract (as in benefits or no) in most cases came down to a startup wanting to hire me (the types who thought 48k USD/year was "a lot")

  3. My current job did this, and it was infuriating. The whole process lasted a month with lots of last-minute changes in schedule ("Can you come in like 6 hours for another interview?"). I let it slide since it was an old boss of mine who wanted me to work with him, but I've done some interviews since, and this, #4, and #7 get that company instantly on my blacklist.

  4. I hate these. I'm surprised you didn't mention Amazon's asinine "bar-raiser" interviews that are functionally this (even if they claim it's to do what you suggest). I have to admit though that I don't really believe in "company culture," and in my experience it's used in conjunction with #10 to discriminate.

  5. Surprisingly, I didn't go through these when I interviewed at Amazon. Not self-taught, but not a CS grad and certainly not from an Ivy or "Public Ivy." I've only heard group interviews like these when someone's pitching an MLM/pyramid scheme.

  6. The company from #1 (who tried competing with AWS) and Amazon did this both. Both required out-of-town (driving to another city an hour away and flying to Seattle) travel, and I couldn't tell you anything about the experiences other than how bored I was.

  7. Every company I've mentioned has done this. I purposefully gave the most ridiculous answers (ones that would show I have no plans to stick around) and... still got the job.

  8. This is probably more reasonable to expect in a startup. A corporation you're lucky to get a VP-level executive (I've only had an non-startup executive in an interview at my current job.). These, however, have proven to be very telling. They almost immediately give away the pros/cons unintentionally.

  9. Yep, I don't think this has ever come up beyond maybe the HR screen.

  10. I don't have reluctance to these, but since I'm looking more for remote (or ideally just freelancing) work, the red flags you gave definitely would give me pause.

With that said, that is by and large why I've lost a taste for software. I can do/tolerate it in certain scenarios, but I couldn't be a software engineer ever again, and I think so many companies are on my "never work here" list that the only option is self-employment for me. It has it's challenges, but I at least can control them. As a guy just working somewhere what I lose in exchange for a salary is worse than what I gain from flexible work.

 

As a hiring manager, I came into this article thinking "Oh dear, more griping about interview techniques that are in fact very necessary and justified."

Happily, I was altogether mistaken! These are all pretty solidly on the money.

Here's a few thoughts. (Bear in mind, I mostly interview for our internship program, so I deal with a lot of very very very JUNIOR applicants.)

  1. Whiteboard interviews

Yeah, nope. I still want to see coding in the final interview, but it needs to be practical. (What exactly I do for this isn't something I publish, for practical reasons.) Code golfing really doesn't have a place in hiring.

  1. Contract to hire

If we accept an applicant to the internship program, they're under contract for the entire duration of the internship. We expect them to complete it, and we expect to do our part to make that possible.

If you're not able to commit to a new hire, you probably shouldn't be hiring them.

  1. More than 3 interviews

Two interviews here: phone and in-person. I've never needed more. Honestly, I can't even imagine doing three!

  1. Culture fit interviews

Naturally, I want to make sure an applicant is going to be a positive addition to the environment, but our cultural expectations (actually our Code of Conduct) is formalized in writing. Everything else tends to evolve as people come and go, so not much "cultural" stuff comes up in interviews. If you can do the work, you're good.

That said, I do usually bring development team leaders along to the final interview, for a variety of reasons. And yes, one is to catch out discriminatory behavior in advance; we're a diverse company, and on occasion, we've had to turn down an applicant because of overtly bigoted behavior towards certain team members.

  1. Group interviews

You seem to be describing interviews where multiple applicants are present at once...which I wouldn't condone in a million years!

I do believe in having 2-3 interviewers in a final interview, simply because our collective insight allows us both to screen the applicant better and to answer questions more effectively. I've had some top-rate co-interviewers over the years!

  1. Endurance interviews

Um, no. Final interviews are naturally intense enough already, let's not add exhaustion.

As an aside, I completely understand why interviews need to be fairly nerve-wracking experiences: they get the candidate off-script (which we need!) I always account for nerves in terms of responses and coding ability, and I never hold it against someone.

Ironically, the candidates who were the most nervous during final interview invariably proved themselves to be our best developers! They've all moved on to mid-level development positions at other software firms, and several have said that their experience interviewing with us because invaluable experiences.

  1. HR Screens

When you're wading through a mush pile of candidates, you do need to screen. That's the entire point of a resume.

With that said, my criteria are mainly centered around "can they stick with this?" If I'm seeing someone switching fast-food jobs every two months in the same area (seen it), or citing experience from seven jobs but checking "no" on permission for us to contact any of them, huge red flags go up.

Another pet peeve is if someone can't bother to read our simple and clearly delineated job application instructions. I can't tell you how many people don't both to even fill out the required application, and just email a resume to my personal inbox. I'll politely refer them to the instructions once, but I don't lift a finger on considering them until they follow the instructions.

After all, if someone can't follow three simple, clearly-printed steps, how can I expect them to pay attention to specs, workflows, or documentation? (Answer: I can't. I've tested it.)

For the record, I usually phone interview about three quarters of the complete applications I get.

  1. No senior leadership in the interviews

I'm the CEO and Lead Developer, and I'm at every final interview. I also bring along one or two members of development leadership, when I can.

  1. Reluctance to discuss pay or benefits

Up front. Not only is this clearly outlined on the website, but we also cover it in both the phone and final interviews.

  1. Required in-person interviews

I do like in-person interviews when I can arrange them. Video conference interviews can be fraught with technical issues, and you still lose some of that real-person-interaction. (I have a background in communication, and deeply appreciate the entire non-verbal experience...much of which is lost over video chat.)

However, I'm not opposed to remote interviews when necessary! Sometimes that's just what works best for someone, and we're more than willing to oblige.

P.S. We are, in fact, 100% remote, and we're good at it! Our program graduates always remark on that fact. But we also encourage (but don't require) face-to-face interaction when it's possible, such as when two interns go to the same university. We've voluntarily had spec planning meetings in person, and have hosted a number of company get-togethers.

 
 

Whiteboards can be a useful way of seeing if the candidate understands some basic concepts, as long as it doesn't turn into the kind of example you mentioned. Years ago I interviewed with an investment bank and they asked me to sketch a couple of things on a whiteboard that did little more than prove I knew how options worked and how a forward rate agreement was priced. The flipside is the kind of coding test that measures how well I know one very specific aspect of coding - I very nearly walked out of one interview because the interviewer expected me to write a piece of code using a very specific control I wasn't familiar with, as if not knowing that specific control meant I didn't know the language. I even told him straight that if he wanted to know whether I knew that control I could save us both a lot of time and say it wasn't one I'd used much before.

Pay and benefits seems to be a big one. Conventional wisdom seems to be that you don't discuss pay and benefits until the third interview and maybe not even then. Let's be frank, if I'm expecting $150,000+ and you're offering up to $100,000 we might as well both save our time and not bother pursuing this. It benefits neither of us to ace the first interview, come back for another, then discuss salary only to find we're so far apart there's no happy medium.

Contract-to-perm may work for some people so I wouldn't say it's a huge non-starter. It has drawbacks but maybe it's the chance that some people need to prove themselves, especially if they come from a non-traditional background. It potentially makes it easier for someone without an IT degree (or with no degree at all), career changers, the self-taught etc to prove themselves without the employer being on the hook if they turn out not to be as good as everyone thought. Obviously it only works if the company follows through and does upgrade the contract to a permanent job.

The HR pre-screen is a real bane, as is dealing with agencies. That said computerised pattern matching seems like it's more about learning to beat the system than doing anything useful. In a past life I knew a guy who was a really good VB programmer who knew nothing about SAP, at the time SAP was a very in-demand skill. His online resume contained the phrase "I have no experience whatsoever with SAP". Of course the agencies he worked with were always searching for "SAP" so his resume kept coming up again, and again, and again. When they were looking for a VB guy he was the first one they thought of. That got him in the door, and he had the skills to ace an interview from there.

It's always funny when you see an ad for a job that requires more experience of a technology than is possible, or an application claiming more experience than is possible. I still remember getting a resume from a guy with five years of C# experience. That was impressive, given C# had been available for two years at that point. Maybe he was one of the engineers who wrote C# but if that were the case I doubt he'd have been interested in the junior position I was looking to fill.

What always annoyed me the most was when a company wanted applications but then couldn't even do the courtesy of a reply. I get it, you've got lots of applicants for this well-paid job but is it really so much to ask to send a response to people you aren't inviting to interview, or the people you interview who you aren't inviting back?

One key point is that interviews have to work for everyone. If your candidate has a job it's no good to just tell them "I need you here at 10am tomorrow" because it's not necessarily easy to just bunk off work. And when your candidate is there, be aware of their time. If it's an interview over lunch or before work, respect where they need to be. Don't expect them to stay with you for 90 minutes, then get back to work with a vague excuse about meeting a friend for lunch and service being really slow, then having their stomach growling all afternoon because they didn't actually get to eat any lunch at all.

Your comment about cultural fit is a good one. Monoculture can be a very damaging thing especially in a technical field but if someone just isn't going to fit in it can be disruptive. How to balance needing someone to fit in while also bringing their own (perhaps quirky) thought processes to the table, while also doing everything possible to eliminate bias based on irrelevant matters (age, race, gender etc) is potentially tricky. To a large extent it depends on whether the position in question is for little more than a code monkey or an analyst/problem solver.

 

I love that you "went public" with this list! Whiteboard interviews in particular come across as elitist and counterproductive.

Unless the candidates are whiteboard-ing for hours a day as part of their job, there are much better ways to gauge their capabilities and problem solving process.

 

If someone sees this list and doesn't wanna hire me, I wouldn't want to work with them anyway ;)

 

I find whiteboarding useful on the hiring end and fun on the hiree end. I can tell if a candidate can think on their feet (literally), if they can think without an IDE and a little about how they present themselves.

It allows smooth panel interviews and interactive "coding". It's not about testing what you do day-to-day, it's about how you think and collaborate dynamically outside your comfort zone.

The rest of your stuff I am in complete agreement with with one addition, companies which don't publish their technologies because they "want people who can adapt". Just tells me they want contractors and not experts.

 

My problem with whiteboarding is that many people struggle with that skill, but are wonderful programmers. I think it's an arbitrary test, and there isn't any real science or data behind the practice.

 

If employers were excluding candidates based on it, I'd agree. I don't have any tests which are supposed to be exclusionary in and of themselves. I prefer to look at the interview as a whole and it's just as important to understand where someone is weak as where they are strong. I like my programming challenge to be a little more than the candidate can handle and I like to know how strong they are if they are required to present their work.

If they ace the programming challenge, I like them as a person then how they do in the whiteboard makes little difference. If their programming challenge is average then the whiteboard session may well save it.

Judging developers purely on their ability to ace technical challenges leaves you little room for growth when you need team leaders, client facing devs, integration engineers which imho are all better promoted from within your ranks than hired.

 

Very interesting and strong opinion on when you would walk away from a potential employer. When reading your article I felt a strong sense of negativity that I can’t help wonder if it carries with you when you interview. All of these practices can make the candidate feel undervalued. No one wants that, especially when you are looking for a new job. I take a little offense to wanting to keep HR out of the process- we can often keep the process rolling forward or put an end to it when it makes sense based on talking with our Tech Interviewers. Thanks for your thoughts- it is ALWAYS good to hear others points of view and relate it to our own circumstances

 

This is very much a sellers market. Being able to turn down companies that are unsuitable due to their broken hiring process is a huge benefit. You can waste a lot of time being surprised / suckered into an interview with all the anti-patterns because companies and HR people are often not very upfront about their expectations or they very poorly adjust their hiring process to the actual requirements of the job. Part of the issue is of course that people who actually know the requirements of the jobs and what is required from a candidate are often not involved in the process until a very late stage. And too many people just take this sort of mistreatment and see it as the price of admission, much like hazing in fraternities or the military.

 

I'm actually a super positive person 80% of the time. However, I am really picky about who I want to work with, and I feel strongly that tech hiring is broken.

The thing about these hiring practices is that, for me, they indicate that the employer isn't a good fit for my values. Obviously, other people might enjoy working at those companies, but I'm not going to work somewhere I don't like unless I have no other options.

Fortunately for me, the market is in such a position that I have a lot of power when it comes to job opportunities, so I don't have to compromise much.

 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these hiring methods. You mentioned that you have a set of questions that always ask. Could you share those or how you would come up with them?

 

Sure. My questions are usually geared towards startups because I tend to work for those kinds of companies.

Generally, I ask things like:

What is your vision for this team/company?

How long is your runway/what is your budget?

When was the last time you talked with a user?

How many users do you have/what is your revenue?

Who has equity? How much?

What's missing from your team?

Why do you think hiring now is the right call?

What does work/life balance mean to you?

Where does your roadmap live?

Variations of those, usually.

 
 

HR questions are so annoying, inaccurate and ineffective. I was once was asked if I had ever fought with a client. Even if I had, do they think that I would say so? Or someone who has done so will not be trained enough to cover themselves?

 

You forgot:

"Ringing my phone two times in succession and only leaving a vmail on the second call". Makes me want to tell them, "look: I have my phone rules set up the way they are for a specific reason (I get a lot of calls from random – usually low-quality – recruiters). You calling twice in succession in an effort to defeat some call-systems' screening features is what's commonly referred to as a 'dick-move'. As such, it tells me you have zero respect for me and, by extension, me dealing with you would be a mistake."

It's right up there with the body-shops that attempt to contact you via email and their very first email to you has a subject that starts "Re:". It's just a big, fat, red flag.

 

I disagree a bit about the culture fit tactic. We are a small outfit. We need people in our small group to be able to work with us and vice versa. Race doesn't factor into such a thing unless you have a bunch of racists on staff...

 

That's not true, unconscious bias is super powerful.

Not to mention that the idea of culture fit in-and-of-itself is rooted in, "we should only hire people like us."

 

I didn't say unconscious bias isn't a thing. But if you seriously think our company will not hire a QUALITY candidate who happens to be a minority or gay or of a certain religion simply because a team member has a bad feeling about him they're going to need a better reason.

A small company has too much to lose to spend 3 months ramping someone up on a platform to find out later they refuse to ask questions out of pride or some other reason.

Also, culture fit is ALWAYS part of the interview process whether you want to admit it to yourself or not. If the person was a rock star developer (resume screams fantastic candidate) who has developed an iOS game and has made a successful personal career, but shows up and refuses to answer the females there, or they casually bring up how annoying they think team-building exercises are? Perhaps that wouldn't have been caught if you didn't bring in some team members to gauge how they respond to varying personalities.

 

I read this article with some interest. I come from the "regular non-tech" world. I have started a few companies (never called them start-ups). I've been successful and not so success but I am now changing careers and am about to start the interview process for a tech job. Being on the hiring end of the process, I've always thought the process for tech companies was a bit different but figured it was just their way of "disrupting" that process also... I am pleased to see that things aren't that different after all. I agree with pretty much this entire article (the only group interview I was ever on was because of a uniquely worded job opportunity that turned out to be door to door knife sales when I was just out of high school).

You will get no argument from, how do I say, more traditional business hiring managers and owners. The only process that really hurts people like myself, who are changing careers, is the automatic HR resume process. I am at an age that should come with a lot more tech experience but because this is a career change for myself, my experience is almost always weeded out by automatic algorithms looking at resumes. I really need to get in front of people to sell myself and my unconventional experience but that is almost impossible when you are just sending resumes all over the place...

 

Hiring is a human process and automated screening is toxic. Good luck!

 

Yeah - I can't disagree with this. Have seen a few of these. A pet hate for me is knowing that a company is asking for loads of skills (which would challenge all but Zen Masters) but doesn't even have the software or any intention of moving towards it.

 

Written nicely! Just want to add one more point here.

Immediate Joiners

Companies always prefer an immediate joiner even if the candidate is not par enough. And also puts a lot of pressure on selected candidates to join early. Such a bad practice it is!

 

Thanks for sharing. I think you're so right about all of these, especially with that nuclear take on culture fit interviews! It definitely results in a monoculture. Really good point about senior management as well that I hadn't really considered as a junior. I'll definitely be on the lookout for that when I start interviewing again later down the line!

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