Last October I switched jobs. After almost two years of working at a supplier of public transport software
solutions (I will refer to this as
job.getPrevious() from now on), I returned to the company I had worked for the eight years prior to that. This was not an
obvious choice for me; travel time was a significant factor in my decision to leave that company, and
going back doubled my commute. But I enjoy this job a lot more than I did my previous one, and many
of the reasons I had for leaving are no longer valid.
But as I said, it wasn’t the most obvious choice. I applied at seven other companies prior to getting back in touch with my old employer. This experience reminded me that I don’t really like doing job interviews, and that while I was dissatisfied with my old job, they really weren’t all that bad compared to some of the places I visited.
Ever since switching, I’ve wanted to write down my job interview experiences in the style of Tales from the Interview from The Daily WTF.
The more experienced candidate
This is a job I applied to in November 2017. My job search wasn’t really that serious at this point,
though I did have some concerns regarding
job.getPrevious() at this point. The company I found
had a job opening that was a 100% match with my experience, and looked interesting enough to check out.
The only downside: their recruitment was handled by an external recruitment company, and as anyone who has read this site knows, I’m not that fond of recruiters. However, the recruitment company in question turned out to be quite professional (and not at all like the more notorious agency recruiters), and invited my over for an interview, with the caveat that they had already found a candidate for the job, who was somewhat more experienced. I agreed anyway, figuring that most companies in need of developers tend to have enough work for several of them, but that turned out to be an incorrect assumption. The company only needed one developer, and were going to make the other candidate an offer. It was a pleasant conversation none-the-less, and we agreed that if things didn’t work out with the other candidate they should give me a call.
A month later I mailed them to ask how things worked out with the other candidate. Turns out they still hadn’t finalized things.
Another month passed, and I asked again. Same story, with the added information that the candidate wanted to wrap up another big project he was working on before starting this job.
Another month passed, to find out that the situation was still the same. I didn’t bother asking again after that.
The hurried startup
I applied at this job early in December 2017. After the rather disappointing result of the previous application I did some googling, and ended up finding a startup in dire need of Java developers. The interview, with one of the founders, was rather pleasant, and he eagerly showcased their main product. After the interview he quickly wanted to schedule a second interview. This turned out to be two consecutive interviews, one with the other founder and their chief architect, and the other with a senior developer and one of their business consultants, which were also positive experiences.
And then the fun started. They wanted to make me an offer to come work for them, and to discuss the offer the next day, so they could get everything wrapped up before the end of the month (my contract mandated a 1 calendar month notice on handing in my resignation) to minimize the amount of time they need to wait before I could start working.
To get the process in motion, they asked me to forward a bunch of information, including:
- The grade list from my Master’s Degree (which I completed in 2008, hardly relevant, but okay)
- Consent to request an official statement of good conduct (basically a government-issued statement that I have no criminal record, quite a common practice for companies that handle sensitive data)
- Consent to an elaborate screening process (the company was a government contractor)
- A signed statement indicating that I handle my personal finances in a responsible manner
I didn’t really object to any of these, to be fair, but it felt rather invasive for a job application process. Even so, due to personal reasons I was unable to meet the following day, and we rescheduled the next week to discuss employment terms. The conversation was short and somewhat uncomfortable. The best they could offer was 10% less than the salary I was making at that time. This, combined with the invasive procedure and a number of questionable contract terms soured the deal for me.
The company that would call me the following week
Another job I applied to in December 2017, at a company located close to
job.getPrevious(), where I
had a conversation with their chief architect and HR chief. One of the first things the HR chief said after I sat down was something along the lines of “we don’t really need any
new people but we’d still like to get to know you”. What followed was a conversation that started with
me explaining the reasons for wanting to leave
job.getPrevious(), something which didn’t seem to
sit well with HR chief as I was using the words “frustrated” and “irritated” a lot. Despite this, the
conversation did seem to go rather well, though I was getting the distinct impression that I was having
two conversations: one with the HR chief and one with the architect.
The HR chief, in the meantime, was rather surprised at how well I understood their core business, and
said something about some of their employees not being able to explain it despite working on it every
day, whereas I only read their website a bit in preparation. He then proceeded to say that he was
pleasantly surprised at the ease with which I seemed to carry the conversation, as, and I quote “most
candidates are a lot more introverted”.
Apparently the HR chief isn’t aware that I score something like “88% introverted” on most personality type tests I’ve ever taken, and while it’s definitely possible that he’s spoken to candidates who are more introverted than me, ease of conversation has no relation to to introvertedness. So I tried explaining to him that introverted people can interact with others just fine, but that doing so is energy-intensive for introverts, whereas extraverts gain energy from social interactions. He then proceeds to ask me “how I deal with this condition”.
My answer was something along the lines of “this my personality, not something that I need to deal with”. He then tried to backpedal and reframe it, but that was the point where I decided I did not ever want to work for this guy.
The interview ended shortly after that, and the architect said he’d call me next week to share their impression of me.
It is now March 2019, and I have yet to receive a call, but that’s okay.
The company with the foreign HR department
This company was actually a tip from the recruiter I spoke with for the job with the existing candidate. A local company that was part of an international company. The recruiter had already tried contacting them on my behalf (with my permission) but got rebuffed by their HR department, so he suggested I contact them without him. I did, and I had a very pleasant phone interview with one of their recruiters. The feeling was mutual, so he arranged for an in-person interview with the local department the next Friday.
The interview started pleasant enough, with the most pressing question being why I wanted to work for only
32 hours a week. They then proceeded to ask if I was okay with attending meetings remotely during my free days,
and seemed rather taken aback by my adamant refusal.
They then proceeded to ask me a bunch of ridiculously easy entry-level questions, which I could easily
answer, though at their fifth “do you know what X is?” I rather irritatedly responded “of course I do, that’s
<insert explanation here>”.
The two interviewers look at each other, and then proceed to ask me: “sorry, but which job opening are you interviewing for again?”
In retrospect, this is when I should have gotten up and left, but I patiently explained that I was there for the “Senior Java Developer” job opening. The interview rapidly went downhill from there, as they once again stressed all the reasons why nobody in their right mind would want to work there:
- Mandatory Windows OS
- No access to build servers for developers
- Did we say Java developer? We’ll also need you to do C#
- Those meetings we mentioned earlier, we really need you to attend them outside of regular working hours
- Also this building is a hundred years old, has no airco, and gets insanely hot in summers
The monday after this interview the HR department called me to thank me for my time and to inform me that they did not consider me suitable for the position. I told them the feeling was mutual, but also informed them that while I considered their HR department to have been professional in their communication throughout the process, the same could not be said for their local department, and that at the very least, their local colleagues should be aware of the exact job a candidate is interviewing for.
startscale-up among the ruins
This one was recommended by a local recruiter that happened to find me on LinkedIn, and whom I didn’t block outright due to actually knowing a bunch of companies I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Through his mediation, I ended up interviewing at two companies.
I arrived at the interview location to find a building with broken windows and no signs of life. If it hadn’t been for two people walking into the building ahead of me I would have thought I was in the wrong place. As it turns out, only the right half of the building was in disarray. The left half had been recently renovated, and looked quite all right from the inside. Anyway, the building housed dozens of small companies and other ventures, so it took me a while to get my bearings and find the right office. If an office is what you could call the two rooms the company used.
Room #1 had 1 large wooden table (non-adjustable in height), that in addition to about forty scattered pieces of random electronics in various stage of disrepair, appeared to also function as the equivalent of twelve desks.
I received a warm welcome from the four employees present at that time, and proceeded to the other room, which had a large table also covered in aforementioned electronics, and on chairs (we rolled two from the “main” room to this one). This, from my perspective, wasn’t one of my best interviews, though my interviewer (the CTO, if such a term can be used for a company with less than 20 employees) was a nice guy and did manage to convince me that the job and the productthey were working on (of which he gave a quick demo) were worth my time. But despite this, the impression the company made can best be described as chaotic. Not just the scattered electronics, but also the following exchange:
Me: Do you guys have any specific rules on operating systems used? I don’t really like working with Windows. I see you’re using a Macbook.
CTO: Not really, no. As long as it runs a JVM and IDE you’re good. Do you have an adequate laptop you can bring to work?
Me: Erm, no, not really. Just an ancient one
CTO: Oh well, I suppose we could buy one for you.
Some context here: every company I’ve ever worked for was well established by the time I came along, and took care of the hardware, so I interpreted this as “we generally don’t supply hardware, but we can make exceptions”. What they meant to say though (as it later turns out), was “we want you to work with whatever makes you most productive”.
Even so, I declined their invitation for a second interview. I can handle a bit of chaos, but this was too much for me.
The 99% match
The other company this recruiter introduced me to is one I had heard of before but never seriously considered applying at. It took some convincing to get me to go and talk to them, but in the end I was glad I did. Contrary to the startups, this was a company with a fair bit of history, who had in the past decade decided to open their own software development department to avoid becoming obsolete in their market.
My first interview at this company was with the guy who handled most recruitment, but also had a CTO-like function. It was a pleasant conversation that mostly focused on non-technical aspects, discussing stuff such as what I was looking for and why I wasn’t satisfied with my current job. After the interview, he took me to their demo room to show me the various applications of their products.
This demonstration, combined with his enthusiasm, led me to accept a second interview (at this point I was getting rather tired of all the interviews, along with the lack of either results or willingness to pay what I consider an acceptable salary), with two of their developers.
Another pleasant interview followed, where I felt they did a good job of testing my suitability without it negatively impacting the conversation, and I got answers to all of my most pressing questions. A few days after that interview I got a call saying they wanted to make an offer, though they wanted to know my current salary to make it suitable. I told them, and I got a feeling they thought I was bluffing, because the next question was if I could send them a few salary specifications from my current job. I hesitated, but agreed to send them, and their offer matched my current salary and had much better secondary benefits.
Even so, I still declined the job, though it was a tough decision. A number of things that led me to say no:
- The contract was only valid for 7 months
- A number of positive changes at
job.getPrevious()during the months I’d been applying at jobs, including a challenging new project
- A draconian employee code of conduct (for instance, a ban on personal phone usage during office hours)
- Preset break times, with about twice as much break time as I need, and semi-mandatory activities during break time
- The office itself. There were plenty of good things to say about it, but the development room was rather dark, with half the developers with their backs to the door (a personal peeve)
But what it essentially boils down to is that it just didn’t feel right.
What did I learn?
All this has taught me a number of things:
- I really hate job hunting
- Decent recruiters exist. They do not work for the large agencies
- Always inflate your salary. People assume you’re bluffing anyway
- Nobody ever gets to see your current salary
- The grass can be greener on the other side, but there’s a decent chance it’s on fire