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Joe Mainwaring
Joe Mainwaring

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A Bitter Interview Experience

Recently, I interviewed for a leadership role that left me bitter at the decision not to proceed. While I wasn't sold that I was the correct fit for the role, I felt that the decision was made prematurely given how the role was advertised. I won't name the company, but I'll generalize it as being of the moonshot pedigree with an extremely unique and forward-thinking business problem being solved.

What Went Wrong

The Job Description didn't cover the key technologies

As an interviewee, I rely on job descriptions to self-evaluate & prepare for interviews with different stakeholders. In my most recent experience, I found myself performing top-level discovery in both the hiring manager and technical interviews, leaving me unprepared to speak in regards to those technologies. If you know that you need to build out a data lake with a robust abstraction layer, or that you need to scale a tech stack component that's more unique to that industry, it's helpful to describe that with the advertisement. It's also helpful to stack-rank your priorities in the job description, as it intuitively emphasizes what you need most.

No Agendas

To put it simply, it is disrespectful in business to schedule a meeting without an agenda. That opinion applies equally to the interview process, as it doesn't enable one side of the meeting to adequately prepare. As an interviewee, going forward I will be asking for an agenda for every meeting. This will enable me to ask follow-up questions if I'm unsure of what a certain topic will be and come prepared.

The test didn't reflect the role

Competency tests are a common (and debatably necessary) part of the interview process, as it serves to be a filter around the necessary skills to succeed. But a lot of companies get it wrong and measure a candidate incorrectly, which is how I felt after this interview.

The test itself (Application Architecture Design) is a completely legitimate type of test when you're evaluating an individual contributor like a Senior or Principal engineer. But as a leader? I'm not being hired for ditch digging, I'm being hired to build successful teams that solve the company's problems. Yes, it's important I have a base level of competency, but when the role isn't that of an individual contributor, this kind of test is not a golden signal for evaluating a candidate.

How I would have done it differently as the interviewer

To start, I would update the job description to reflect what topics are going to be discussed during the hiring manager and technical stage interviews, and stack rank the priorities of each bullet point.

Second, Agendas. They don't even have to be complex agendas either, something as simple as the following works:

1.  Introductions 
2.  Pair session - Application Architecture Diagram
3.  Q&A 
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Third, I would design a competency test where the candidate pitches a solution & plan to implement. This would be a more appropriate way to measure a leadership role involving a vague problem & a budget to build a team. It wouldn't be a synchronous test, rather an assignment that would be issued after passing the hiring manager stage and submitted following the completion of stakeholder interviews.

Last but not least, I would re-organize the technical interview step into a round robin where a candidate meets with 2-3 stakeholders individually to evaluate competency. Preferably, the stakeholders would be from different teams/departments, enabling different perspectives & providing a more comprehensive evaluation of a candidate, reflecting the the fact the job isn't a single function.

Your Thoughts?

Do you empathize with my experience, have your own to pour on, or have differing opinions? Share your thoughts below in the comments section, but please keep it civil and agree to disagree ;)

Top comments (8)

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aarone4 profile image
Aaron Reese

On the basis that nost line managers, including those in senior or directorial positions are not professional recruiters, it would be a courtesty to feed back to them your observations of the hiring process so that they can conjugate and do a better job next time; in the same way as you would ask for feedback from the interviewer.

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theaccordance profile image
Joe Mainwaring • Edited on

You're absolutely correct about incorporating feedback as part of the interview process and something I overlooked in my post.

I did provide feedback upon receiving the decision but I'm unsure if it will be reviewed let alone considered as the notice didn't solicit for feedback.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ • Edited on

It will most likely not

Google pioneered brain teaser questions. In fact it cargo culted a dumb idea from Thomas Edison that didn't work already in Thomas Edison times to ask brain teasers that make the interviewer feel smart like "how many windows are they in Manhattan"? It took years before Laszlo Bock had the courage to tell Google that their own data showed that the questions were obviously useless. In the meantime brain teasers had been cargo culted by many many it companies, some still do it.

Bad recruiting practices are just way more viral than the good practices because they require no effort

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ • Edited on

I empathize with all of that which is both very bad and very common

At the same time I feel that are not yet cynical enough. Many companies don't need some technical adjustments to make an otherwise same recruiting process better. No, we are past this point.

Instead they need to admit that don't know how to hire well and accept to be coached by people who actually put the time to acquire a real expertise.

It's more like going to talk with a psychologue, the first step where you admit that you need help is both the most important and the hardest.

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adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

I did read your post but I still feel the same, there's Plenty more fish in the sea. Every failed opportunity is a chance to find something better and finally you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need πŸ€—. I'm sorry this happened to you it's good to write about this to vent

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stevewhitmore profile image
Steve Whitmore • Edited on

This hits home. I'd interviewed for a position some years ago and I felt blind the whole time. They told me nothing and I had no idea what to expect. I stood up to leave at one point because the people interviewing me did the same and they just chuckled and said "oh you're not done yet" and I was like, "ok, what's next?". They gave some vague response and then left. Then 2 more groups of 3 came in to interview me. They grilled me on a very specific area that I was only aquainted with. I felt blindsided.

I put partial blame on the recruiter who'd coordinated the interview. I think they misled myself and the interviewers so none of us were on the same page from the start. Needless to say I didn't get the job and honestly probably would've turned down an offer. If that's how they conduct interviews then I'd hate to see how normal business is handled.

On a related note; the interview process is broken in many ways for software developers in general. I say, don't waste everyone's time having the interviewee solve algorithms or some such nonsense. Maybe if you're a brand new developer but not for someone with a few years under their belt. Make a mock PR to address a bug to emulate a real world scenario.

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divyakshshukla profile image
Divyaksh

Feedback is indeed an integral part of the interview. It helps you reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. I have been through few interviews where the at the end of the interview round the interviewer asked me (interviewee) for a review, but when I asked them for an interview they said that they cannot say anything as per company policy and the talent acquisition person would tell me about the feedback, which was either nothing very specific or a made-up story. I don't like that as I don't get to reflect on my mistakes and work on them.

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theaccordance profile image
Joe Mainwaring

Given that they can't always provide feedback, be mindful that sometimes, there's nothing you should improve upon. Sometimes, you were never the correct fit and they should have not wasted your time.

Generally speaking, I self-reflect and look for improvements, but I'm not always searching deep within my soul for ground-shaking answers.

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