Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The worst job interview ever for software & systems developers

Recently I've been meeting with a local company to asses what opportunities they have, how they operate and more importantly, how they treat people.

I wanted the first hand information opposed to going on their reputation.

I met with them 3 times (have to give them a fair run and all that) and each time there was something strange going on. First time around, in a 14x14 room with paper and pen to do a memory syntax test, to asses what I'm like as a "developer" ...... really .... Second time was a whole day with a 15 min break and given the last 30 seconds of each meeting to ask my own questions. Then when I was called in for the 3rd interview, my mind was made up, which is the experience I'll use as an example here.

For the cost of a few hours of my life (the 3rd interview) and something to reflect on, it turned into a gold mind of "How not to interview software people".

Everyone was late, there was no interview process, I'd been given the wrong job spec, the interviewers ranged from completely uninterested (one didn't say more than 5 words) to aggressive and baiting, and so on.

I looked about and found a "top 5" worse questions list and to my amazement I was asked all of them in one interview, and mostly by the same person. I'm not sure if the company realizes how damaging it is to let people like that interview.

Knowing that the organisation deals with people in this manner, confirmed by hunches that it's bad, really bad. I wonder how they attempt to attract or keep talent.

I thought I'd go over the questions and try and think of some alternatives to pull some good out of it all.


1. "So then, tell me about yourself"


The number 1 worst question you can ask, especially when you have someones resume in front of you.

Also if you're sitting at a computer 5 minuets before the interview, how about putting their name into Google, if they work in IT and specifically the web, you should be able to find them. Not doing this show a lack of imagination, skills or planning for the interview. Again who wants to work with someone like that?

On a side note - One of the main things I'm noted for by friends in my curiosity. I always have to be learning, doing courses about random subjects, and trying to see the world from different perspectives. I attempted to answer this question by explaining that. I see having a curious mind as a good thing, and that I've actually trained at learning.


I listed of a few of the topics that interest me and that I've studied and received the answer :

"No no no, don't tell me about your professional career, we've talked about that. School is for getting a job that is all, tell me about the real you, I want to know who you are".

I couldn't believe what I was hearing, though seeing as an interview is a two way process, they all got on the fail boat, sailed off and sunk at that point !!

Alternative

What is it you're actually trying to learn? If you've any clue you want to get them to talk about something they are passionate about, see if they have the spark. You're likely after 3 skills, problem solving, interpersonal and ability to execute.

Can they figure "it" out, doing it in a team, and get it done.


2. "Where do you see your career in X years"


Err ............ building things? Given the speed tech and decent companies move at, who knows. Also if anyone is planning that far ahead they are going to limit their opportunities and decisions in the hear and now. Which is the important bit.

Alternative


Why do you want them to look into a crystal ball ? Unless the company has interesting projects that are engaging, people will leave. Asking them to lie about wanting to build a career with a company they don't know yet,  is mostly pointless.


3. "What are you bad at, where have you failed"


Once again a pointless exercise in humiliation, and a dead end question.

Alternative

How about asking what was the last time a foreseen risk was adverted and how ?


4. "How do you work under stress, can you deal with a lot"


Basically you're explaining that you work in an abusive environment and that you want the person being interviewed to accept that as the norm, so you can treat them that way later.

Alternative

Realize that focused, healthy and happy people are far more productive?


5. "Tell me why you want to work for company X"


Ego driven and nonsensical. This nothing more than an attempt to hear lots of good things about a company the interviewer works for. And it's every actually the company you work for it's a project you work with. You  could choose any mid size organisation, and it's a collection of groups doing different things, there is no magic Kool-Aid dispenser.

Alternative

You're likely attempting to discover motivation for being there ........ ultimately it's to get paid, deal with it. So why not focus on why a person does the kind of work they do. In the IT case, why the certain area of coding they work in. They could look at my resume and legitimately  ask "Why LAMP for 13 years, what keeps you engaged with it that long", for someone else it could be the internals of a database, or network programming, system design, etc.

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Just goes to show 60 seconds on Google and save both sides a whole lot of headache and wasted time before an interview. Also don't say "Thanks for coming we'll be in touch" if you don't follow up as you're just proving yourself to be a liar, say "We'll contact you if we want to take this further" ....... it's call being forthright and honest!

I'm happy to of had a lucky escape, learning what I did before getting involved.

As per "Interviewing & Dating for the Techie : Playing the game" remember that this is a two way process you have to asses the situation and what is on offer from both sides.


It's good to know I'm not alone, and there is a lot (unfortunately) of this going on :


Take care people !

@JeremyHutchings



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