Interviews - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Looking for a job sucks. A couple of months ago, I was going through interview after interview like a wrecking ball blasting through concrete. No buildings were destroyed in the process but I may have burned some bridges along the way. We laughed, we cried, it was roller coaster of emotions and then I got a job.
Here’s a blow-by-blow review of the interviews I went through. I’ve reflected on each interview and coupled each with recommendations for you if you are or are planning to go through a similar interview process.
My comments speak to my experiences and will be most relevant to those working in a similar field to my own (software engineering).
Interview #1 ¶
As soon as I started looking for work, a coworker from my previous job reached out to me asking me if I was interested in new opportunities. He put me in contact through email directly to the CEO of a company that he wasn’t working for according to his CV. After looking into the company, I wasn’t ecstatic about working there because it seemed a bit too similar to the kind of work I was doing previously.
I was hoping to go to the interview, talk to the people there to get a better idea about the company and the kind of work I would be doing. My work experience seemed like a good fit for the kind of people they would be looking for so I was expecting a decent interview.
… I couldn’t have been more wrong.
This my first interview I’ve ever had in which I was not given any meaningful details about the work I would be doing. I tried to pry the information out gently but they weren’t interested in making me interested.
A good interview is a conversation, a solid back and forth between two parties ensuring that both can, if desired, come to a long term decision that’s profitable for everyone involved. If possible, try to steer the interview back into a conversation whenever possible and appropriate: ask as many questions as you answer or more and explain your thought process fully when solving problems.
Lying as an interviewee isn’t beneficial because the truth comes out eventually. That’s true for the interviewers too but often they will massage the truth to their benefit, and hope that you forget by the time you’ve signed the contract. Human resources people will often call you and tell you sweet nothings. If it’s not on paper it means nothing but you’ll have a hard time getting them to write anything on paper other than their copy/pasted contract.
This interview was a waste of time for everyone involved. When I received the call informing me that the company wasn’t making an offer I inquired about why. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive an answer that made much sense.
Interviewers have never taken the time to give me constructive feedback on why they didn’t make me an offer. I suggest being attentive before, during and after an interview to try to get a glimpse into why an interview might have gone well, badly or somewhere in between. Your interviewers stop thinking about you the moment they decide not to make you an offer.
Interview #2 ¶
I contacted one of my professional contacts who works for a company I was interested in. I applied for two positions at the company. My contact escalated my case and got me an interview within a few days.
I cleaned myself up, shaved, cut my hair and headed out the door with a stride in my step.
Even though most jobs don’t require you to look impeccable at all times, first impressions are important and as such you should make an effort to look as sharp as possible for interviews. Remember to dress appropriately, I wouldn’t wear a tuxedo to an interview although customs and expectations can differ greatly between different companies and cultures.
I arrived around fifteen minutes early. I notified the receptionist of my interview and sat down. I double checked my look, I closed my eyes and then I performed some deep breathing exercises to put my mind at ease.
Most jobs are stressful to some degree, life can sometimes be stressful, practising meditation at any level is great no matter what you do or who you are and I highly recommend it.
Ideally, I would have opened my eyes before my interviewers joined me in the lobby. With my eyes closed I came off as being stressed or not confident even though I was.
Interviews have much more to do with the way you present yourself and how agreeable you are than with your technical skills or knowledge you have. Once you get the job, that’s when your skills are put to the test. Most people would rather work with someone who is nice to be around but less competent than a genius who is a complete asshole.
Again, first impressions are important, so make it count. You don’t want your interviewer(s) to decide that you’re not fit for the position the first time they lay eyes on you. No matter what you do, they still might dismiss you but don’t lose hope.
I greeted them with a handshake and introduced myself.
Write down your interviewers names to remember them and to give you a point of contact for a follow up if needed after the interview. After getting the job, speaking to the people who interviewed you is a good way of meeting your new coworkers.
As one interviewer, I’ll call him interviewer A, opened the door to the interview room, he told me that he wouldn’t be talking much because he wasn’t interested in me.
It doesn’t matter what you say or do, some people are never going to hire you no matter how good your interview goes because they’ve looked at your CV and your face and decided that they’re not interested. As mentioned above, looking your best for an interview is important. Making a good looking CV is also key because the person who set up your interview might not be the person who’s interviewing you.
We sat down and I noticed that interviewer B looked like they wanted to jump out of the window.
So here I am, doing an interview where one of my interviewers isn’t planning on hiring me no matter what I say and another is having a bad day.
There’s not much I could have done to salvage this situation although I tried my best by being confident in my abilities and answering any questions as best I could.
I received an email the next day informing me that neither interviewer was interested in me. This time, I was given a reason although it was complete nonsense.
They stated that I lacked sufficient knowledge of C++. I have multiple large C++ projects completed in the workplace and in university. I answered all the C++ questions perfectly except the question “Why is multiple inheritance in C++ frowned upon?” I answered because it can make the code hard to understand. The answer they must have been expecting was the “Diamond Problem” which had slipped my mind at the time.
Let’s take a step back. This company hires non-software engineers (electrical, aerospace, etc.) with no experience writing good C++ code by the truckload and they’re telling me that I can’t write C++ code and thus they can’t hire me?
They have to give a reason because that’s in their policies. They don’t want to get into legal trouble for dismissing people for reasons other than their qualifications (looks, race, gender, etc.) even though it happens all the time.
After every interview think about how you can improve the first impression you give by making modifications to your CV. One of my mistakes for this interview was that I had removed a section featuring my many notable personal projects. This made it harder for me to convince my two interviewers that my C++ capabilities were up to date and on point. You could go so far as to build a CV for each job you apply for. After a couple years of experience, you’ll have to pick and choose the most relevant aspects of yourself that you want to present.
You should make your CV fit on one page no matter what. Feel free to link to a longer form CV if you have a lot of experience but the likelihood of someone reading past the first page of a CV is probably not very high. If you’re already in the interview room then the CV doesn’t matter anymore.
Students, I recommend you favour education programs (university or otherwise) which provide you with real work experience. It is invaluable. You’ll discover your likes and dislikes, you’ll make professional contacts in whatever industry you’re working in (maybe several others), you’ll learn by osmosis through working with more experienced coworkers. Also, you’ll be able to fill out your CV with real experience which interviewers like to see.
Interview #3 ¶
I spoke on the phone to a recruiter from HR from one company. Eventually, he stated that my French wasn’t good enough for the interview and recommended that we switch to English (from the ages of around 6 to 17 years old my education was purely in French, I have a year in my post graduate studies in a French university and I have multiple years of experience working solely in French).
I’ve been told by native French speakers that I’m perfectly bilingual. I don’t know about that but I can communicate anything I need to communicate well. Given that most people I work with are at least bilingual (English, French) in Montreal, Canada (where I live and work), if I’m speaking French and I’m unsure of how to express an idea I’m able use English words here and there to help bridge the gap.
I got an email from the recruiter I spoke to saying that the company wasn’t interested in continuing the recruitment process with me. I replied back nicely asking the reasons why. I never got an answer.
Interview #4 ¶
Another company requested that I do an online programming test as the first step of the recruitment process. I hadn’t done one of those in a couple years. Most of the work I’ve done at previous workplaces looks absolutely nothing like a programming test. So, I was rusty and I didn’t perform well on it.
I over engineered a solution that would have taken me more time to implement than the hour and a half I had to take the test. In my defense, our dog, who rarely barks, was barking non-stop which wasn’t helping me concentrate.
My results didn’t impress the company and they weren’t interested in continuing the interview process.
Each company’s interview process is going to be different. When preparing for interviews speak to others in a similar field to yours and to get an idea of what to expect and prepare accordingly. Shortly after failing this test I spent a couple days building a framework for solving problems on projecteuler.net with automated test generation. I used it to solve around thirty problems that I had never solved before. I wrote two similar frameworks: one in Python, a language I know very well, and one in Go, a language I didn’t know.
One Interview to Rule them All ¶
At this stage, I was undergoing the interview process for three companies. The company I was most interested in gave me an offer that I couldn’t refuse and so I accepted it.
Notice that you only need to receive a single offer, the fact that a couple other companies don’t think you are a good fit doesn’t matter. Ideally the company you are most interested in makes you an offer. Fingers crossed.
Their interview process was the most reasonable and effective (at least from my perspective). I was able to meet many of my future coworkers who asked me a good mix of questions about the work I’ve done in the past and allowed me to ask my own fair share of questions which helped me figure out if I would be a good fit for the team and the company.
I’ve been working at my new job for almost a year now and it’s been going well.
What have I learned? ¶
Looking for a job sucks because it sucks being told that you aren’t good enough over and over again. Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, I just have to remind myself that I am good enough (Chances are that you are too). There’s always room for improvement but life is a journey, if you’re not learning something new every day about yourself, about the world, about anything then what’s the point.
I try to be happy with where I am now, improving myself and growing one day at a time. No matter what other people have to say about me.
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