Fundamentals - Interviewing

What do your interviewing techniques say about your company?

While it’s natural for a candidate to want to do their best to impress a potential employer it’s not always the same in reverse. Often I’ve heard it said, even by interviewers, that a job interview is not only an opportunity for a representative of the company to get to know a candidate but it should also be an opportunity for the candidate to get a feel for the company.

The Outside Looking In blog series is a collection of semi-fictional stories based on real life experiences and industry observations as a Software Engineer.

Help! My hair is on fire and I’m supposed to interview you!

I’ve arrived early; suited and booted. Extra copies of my resume in hand; check. References and credentials within arm’s reach in my satchel; double check. I’m ready for anything. I tell the receptionist at the front desk I’m here for a job interview and I’m told that someone will be with me shortly.

30 minutes later (hardly "shortly") a different receptionist approaches me in the lobby. The previous one has disappeared in the meantime. She leans forward with double raised eyebrows and asks “I’m sorry. Were you here to see someone”?

Clearly my interview appointment has been forgotten or lost.

After a few minutes explanation as to why I’ve been sitting in the lobby for so long the receptionist disappears and comes back with a frazzled lead software engineer. He shakes my hand while mumbling apologies about being late and something about sitting in meetings all morning.

Meetings all morning and drive-by interviews… Does this guy ever get to sit at his desk and get any work done?

I smile back and follow the man into the nearest empty conference room.

My last minute interviewer absentmindedly goes to the whiteboard and begins outlining the latest architecture problem he’s been working on. He turns to me and asks “So how would you design this?”

This isn’t an interview. It’s free consulting!

I begin asking him if he has taken a step back to ask if this problem is really worth solving but the interviewer furrows his brow at me as if I’ve insulted his intelligence. In hopes of cooling his heels I humor him by picking up another pen and approaching the whiteboard to talk through a few approaches that have come to mind.

Does communication always travel in just one direction around here?

After roughly an hour of whiteboard banter we’ve come up with a few solutions and picked apart the pros and cons of each. I’ve attempted to ask a few questions regarding the high level context of the problem but each time the engineer clams up. It’s clear that he’s either uncomfortable thinking at that level of detail or someone higher up has tasked him with solving the problem without being able to explore business level options.

The poor guy must have been mandated to do what he’s told and don’t ask questions.

The interview ends. The interviewer shakes my hand and says he’ll be in touch. As I leave I sneak a look back to spy the interviewer taking a picture of the whiteboard with his cellphone.

You’re welcome.

What leads to a company conducting interviews like this? Have you had job interviews that left a bad taste in your mouth regarding the company? Have you ever been in the position of the frazzled interviewer?

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