Tale from an interview



  • I just had a job interview this week.  Sadly, I think I was the WTF.  Over the past few years, I've really only done a handful of interviews.  (I guess that's a good thing, as I usually get a job if I make it to the interview, so I never usually need to do a lot of them.)  Also, I recently moved to Los Angeles, trying to make a jump into a new industry.  Between general lack of comfort and experience with job interviews, and nervousness about doing the first interview in a new city and industry, I was in a rare state of blind panic.  I might as well have just pissed myself during the first half of the interview.  By the end of it, I had finally calmed down enough to have a reasonable conversation, but 3/4 of the interviewers seemed to have grown bored of me by that point.  Some highlights:

    Q:  So, what was the name of the network monitoring system you used at that position?   A:  Uhhhh...  (I eventually did remember that those countless hours where spent with Solar Winds.)

    Q:  You know a lot about 3D, right?   A:  I know more about 2D in this context.  (Could have mentioned some of the 3D animation I've done on student films, or some of the OpenGL 3D work I've done, or the simple 3D raytracer I wrote...)

    Q:  You know perl, right?   A:  I know python a lot better.   ( Less WTF'y than some of my answers, but I have hacked enough perl over the years that I could have given a more confident response.  I guess it's a good thing to be honest in preference to claiming expertise about something when it isn't true.)

    I have no idea if everybody actually had a copy of my resume.  I was carrying a folder with extra copies in case anybody needed one, but at the start of the interview, I was too paniced to ask or just look to see if they were holding resumes.

     

    ::Sigh::  I'm sure a lot of us have had bad interview performances over the years.  Still, it's really frustrating to know that I didn't make the impression that I feel I should have.  Now I'm obcessing over every little thing that I should have said.  I spent most of the interview time talking to one guy in particular, and kind of ignored the guy who would be my boss at this position.  Maybe the fact that the one guy I did talk to was the boss's boss will ultimately play in my favor.  Meh.  I just needed to rant a little bit abot myself.  I'll stop now.

     



  • If this helps, I had an interview yesterday at 7:30AM and was given a whole matrix of trees of numbers, and was asked to a) figure out the mathematical relationships and b) write some code to traverse the tree in an order that would be based in part, on the data contained therein (e.g.: a self-altering n-ary tree search that was neither depth nor breadth first).

    I'm generally a morning person, but not THAT much of a morning person. The solution came to me an hour later. Unfortunately, the guy thinks I don't know how to code because I didn't pick up on it in 10 seconds.

    Sometimes you're on your game; sometimes you're not. MOST of the time it's the interviewers who ask useless questions that see if you can figure out what they're thinking instead of telling them what you can do.

    I've been doing this for 25+ years, and the only useful thing I've learned is that (sometimes) life steers you away from bad things, and you don't realize it until later.

     Don't beat yourself up over it.

     



  • @forkazoo said:

      Over the past few years, I've really only done a handful of
    interviews.  (I guess that's a good thing, as I usually get a job if I make
    it to the interview, so I never usually need to do a lot of them.) 
    In [the computer stuff] industry, I've had about 6 interviews. 5 were for deciding which placement position I'd be lumbering future employers with between years 2 and 3 of my degree about 13 years ago. (The last secured the placement. Which I carried on with after the year; never did finish the degree...) The next interview some 10/11 years later secured the job. I'm still at that one.



    I have no illusions that I'm a great candidate (during interviews) - I'm not. With hindsight, I just got lucky on #5 and (especially on) #6.



  • @snoofle said:

    I've been doing this for 25+ years, and the only useful thing I've learned is that (sometimes) life steers you away from bad things, and you don't realize it until later.

     

    +1


  • @Rick said:

    @snoofle said:
    I've been doing this for 25+ years, and the only useful thing I've learned is that (sometimes) life steers you away from bad things, and you don't realize it until later.
    +1

    To be honest I think that's crap.

    I've had some bad interviews early on in my career, when I had no idea how to present myself. I came into one interview 15 minutes late because of a traffic jam and screwed up the whole interview because I was so nervous and felt so stupid about it. These days, I'd just joke about it a bit, and it wouldn't be an issue to me or them. I learned some valuable lessons that day, but the job would still have been great.

    So all you can do is shrug, prepare yourself next time:
    - you can never be sure they have your resume, so it doesn't hurt to have a couple with you yourself.
    - many interviewers like to talk, so get them talking early on, that also gives you time to settle down
    - and if you miss an opportunity, well, so be it.

    Good luck next time!



  • those things sometimes happen.  Once I went to an interview after arriving back from a vacation, very tired, got wired on coffee, and was really nervous, my throat was dry and i probably came across like a meth addict.  they were using novell which I didn't know much about but could have made a better impression just by being more relaxed and thinking clearly.  Normally I'm a pretty good interview because I just try to relax and have a conversation, also I usually know my shit backwards and forwards



  • I think you probably did ok, but might not have the skills they are looking for. When I do interviews, I can tell who the people are who are simply "giving the right answers" to questions, and I put those people on the bottom of the stack. We can train smart people to do languages - what we don't have time for is to turn liars into good employees - we have the marketing department for that.

    So what I'm saying is, I would probably hire you, given your honest answers, than someone who gives me "interview answers" - I really hate that. In an interview, we're trying to get to know YOU, not check if you've read the standard interview tips. We want to see the real you.



  • @snoofle said:

    If this helps, I had an interview yesterday at 7:30AM and was given a whole matrix of trees of numbers, and was asked to a) figure out the mathematical relationships and b) write some code to traverse the tree in an order that would be based in part, on the data contained therein (e.g.: a self-altering n-ary tree search that was neither depth nor breadth first).

    Holy moley!  I've never been asked anything beyond the "average ten numbers in an array" or "reverse a string" kind of coding questions in interviews.

    @snoofle said:

    I'm generally a morning person, but not THAT much of a morning person. The solution came to me an hour later. Unfortunately, the guy thinks I don't know how to code because I didn't pick up on it in 10 seconds.

    AFAIC, any job that wouldn't accept as a valid answer in that situation ...

    Well, I can't tell you exactly how I'd code that, but I can tell you how I'd do it: go grab Knuth off the shelf, and get reading.

    ... wouldn't be worth having.

     



  • @DaveK said:

    Holy moley!  I've never been asked anything beyond the "average ten numbers in an array" or "reverse a string" kind of coding questions in interviews.
     

    I have.  I once went to an interview which lasted all day (including going out to lunch with a couple of the guys), and the assigned programming task was, well, a task.  The company made molecular modelling software, and they asked me to write a program (C++, circa 1999, Silicon Graphics workstation running Irix) to read a description of a molecule from a plain-text file and render it on-screen as a stick-figure model.

    They provided an object framework into which I had to plug my code, and at the beginning they told me not to worry if I didn't get through the whole thing.

    So far, so good.  Now for the WTF in all this.

    About 40% of the way through the allotted time (a total of several hours), I fell into a nasty hole in the framework - bad enough that I could not continue - because, as they said, "nobody's ever got this far before", apparently not even them.  Fixing the deficiency in the framework took only five minutes, but that only makes it more WTFy.

    In the end, I finished the program, and showed them the display of the molecule, including the bonus feature of being able to swing the view around the molecule. Based on what they said, none of the other candidates they had had before me could even get the molecule read in from the file.

    For that and other reasons, we both decided it wasn't a good fit...

    But the most WTFy interview I ever went to was five hours long, from 10am to 3pm, and all I got in terms of lunch was a vague, "well, there's a sandwich shop up the road that way."



  • @Steve The Cynic said:

    In the end, I finished the program, and showed them the display of the molecule, including the bonus feature of being able to swing the view around the molecule. Based on what they said, none of the other candidates they had had before me could even get the molecule read in from the file.

    For that and other reasons, we both decided it wasn't a good fit...

    In other words, they got they got their molecule visualizer for free?



  • @Steve The Cynic said:

    The company made molecular modelling software, and they asked me to write a program (C++, circa 1999, Silicon Graphics workstation running Irix) to read a description of a molecule from a plain-text file and render it on-screen as a stick-figure model.

    They provided an object framework into which I had to plug my code, and at the beginning they told me not to worry if I didn't get through the whole thing.

    So far, so good.  Now for the WTF in all this.

    About 40% of the way through the allotted time (a total of several hours), I fell into a nasty hole in the framework - bad enough that I could not continue - because, as they said, "nobody's ever got this far before", apparently not even them. 

    Wait, what?  You "won" the test by crashing the simulation?  Now where have I heard that before .... ?




  • I once had a great interview. I was interviewing for a position in a well-known software house, and the position seemed like a pretty good match for me.

    I arrived, and the person who interviewed me took me to a small conference room, and explained that usually they give homework to all applicants, but he had seen enough of my code that it wasn't necessary. Still, he asked me to take a glance at some printed code and say what's wrong with it. I spotted a memory leak immediately, muttered about it and continued to analyse some more complex code, at which point he pulled the paper back saying that yes, that's exactly what he was after.

    The interview continued by asking some technical questions, like whether I'd done any inter-process communication, to which I said no, but could list a dozen different ways of doing so. In general the whole tone of the discussion became less of an interview and more of hey, we're among friends here over time. I left in high spirits.

    Two weeks later I got a totally cold corporate "no thanks" answer from the same guy. I was rather stupified.



  • @Zecc said:

    In other words, they got they got their molecule visualizer for free?

     

    😉  Well, if they did, it doesn't say much about their main product...

    In fact, no, it really was a programming exercise, because they were an established publisher of this kind of software.



  • @DaveK said:

    Wait, what?  You "won" the test by crashing the simulation?  Now where have I heard that before .... ?

    It was worse than that.  The framework was a bunch of reasonable-quality C++ source code, and I just had to create a derived-class object, populate it from the file, and then use methods on the base class to help me display the object.  A key one of these methods was missing.

    It was, nevertheless, how I won the test.  (Well, that and finishing the assigned task that nobody had got even as much as half-way through.)



  • I think my "worst" interview was when I applied for a job that was nominally in my field. At the interview it became obvious that my experience wasn't suitable to the actual job, but the interviewer basically castigated me for not having the needed experience. I went away from that interview feeling like a failure until I finally realized that the interviewer was being an arsehat

    When leaving another interview, where I was interviewed by two people at once, I heard one of them comment to the other something like "..my job description says that I am only supposed to do interviews for 10% of my time, but I am up to 15% right now". I was glad I didn't get that job.

    Then there was the one I had a few weeks ago where the interviewer told me he didn't think I wanted the job because I didn't reply to his voicemail on the same day (but I called first thing the next morning). And that the second thing out of his mouth was wanting to know how much I wanted - and when I named an average amount for the field, my qualifications and what the job description called for, he said it was too much and that there was no point in carry on with the interview



  • @Steve The Cynic said:

    In the end, I finished the program, and showed them the display of the molecule, including the bonus feature of being able to swing the view around the molecule. Based on what they said, none of the other candidates they had had before me could even get the molecule read in from the file.

    For that and other reasons, we both decided it wasn't a good fit...

     

    I don't get this; sounds like you were probably a great fit for the job and exactly the kind of guy they needed.  What were the "other reasons?"

    And on a side note, what sort of background do you have that got you in the door at a place like that?  Sounds like really interesting work.



  • @Justice said:

    I don't get this; sounds like you were probably a great fit for the job and exactly the kind of guy they needed.  What were the "other reasons?"
     

    Probably severely overqualified, I guess.

    @Justice said:

    And on a side note, what sort of background do you have that got you in the door at a place like that?  Sounds like really interesting work.

    Combined with him not getting the job, I assume they were a grunt work company, not the actual molecular science implementors.

     



  • @Steve The Cynic said:

    About 40% of the way through the allotted time (a total of several hours), I fell into a nasty hole in the framework - bad enough that I could not continue - because, as they said, "nobody's ever got this far before", apparently not even them.  Fixing the deficiency in the framework took only five minutes, but that only makes it more WTFy.

    In the end, I finished the program, and showed them the display of the molecule, including the bonus feature of being able to swing the view around the molecule. Based on what they said, none of the other candidates they had had before me could even get the molecule read in from the file.

    So... you did a full day's work for them, in fact it would have taken them several days since they had nobody with your skills... for free?

    I hate to break this to you, buddy. Be proud of your programming skills, but I think you got totally screwed. A contractor would have charged $2000+ for the work you did.



  •  @Justice said:

    I don't get this; sounds like you were probably a great fit for the job and exactly the kind of guy they needed.  What were the "other reasons?"

    And on a side note, what sort of background do you have that got you in the door at a place like that?  Sounds like really interesting work.

    The other reasons were mostly the concern (on both sides) that I'd be bored stiff, because the work would be pitched at the level appropriate to the general stream of candidates, coupled, I suspect, with a concern on their part that I would be wanting to be paid more than they wanted to pay for the position.

    My background at the time was fairly mixed, a bit of industrial controller (gas flow correction, PID loops, that sort of thing), a bit of network comms (an ATM switch that failed in the market despite being immensely better quality and value for money than the competition, go figure), and some anti-virus work (but not the virus detection / disinfection part).

    Oddly enough, molecular physics was not on that list.

    In other words, someone with a wide range of stuff, and the ability to turn my hand to whatever comes along.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    So... you did a full day's work for them, in fact it would have taken them several days since they had nobody with your skills... for free?

    I hate to break this to you, buddy. Be proud of your programming skills, but I think you got totally screwed. A contractor would have charged $2000+ for the work you did.

     

    Nah, it was a test, nothing more.  I first spoke to them in another interview four years earlier, and even by then they had a product that could do way more than what I wrote on that day

     



  • @forkazoo said:

    I have no idea if everybody actually had a copy of my resume.  I was carrying a folder with extra copies in case anybody needed one, but at the start of the interview, I was too paniced to ask or just look to see if they were holding resumes.

    Small tip, it's just the first thing I pulled out and put on the table. In case they wanted to talk about something on my resume I could look it up instantly. Yes, you should know what's put down there. But people might have understood it wrong. There was 1 interview where I was the only one with the copy, so I handed it over. Don't think you look stupid with your own resume with you. You look confident and well prepared.



  • @Steve The Cynic said:

    @blakeyrat said:

    So... you did a full day's work for them, in fact it would have taken them several days since they had nobody with your skills... for free?

    I hate to break this to you, buddy. Be proud of your programming skills, but I think you got totally screwed. A contractor would have charged $2000+ for the work you did.

     

    Nah, it was a test, nothing more.  I first spoke to them in another interview four years earlier, and even by then they had a product that could do way more than what I wrote on that day

     

    Well, fair enough. But I think it's safe to say that that amount of work is far above and beyond what an interview should require.

    @Daid said:

    @forkazoo said:

    I have no idea if everybody actually had a copy of my resume.  I was carrying a folder with extra copies in case anybody needed one, but at the start of the interview, I was too paniced to ask or just look to see if they were holding resumes.

    Small tip, it's just the first thing I pulled out and put on the table. In case they wanted to talk about something on my resume I could look it up instantly. Yes, you should know what's put down there. But people might have understood it wrong. There was 1 interview where I was the only one with the copy, so I handed it over. Don't think you look stupid with your own resume with you. You look confident and well prepared.

    Also have a pen. Even if you need to borrow one from the receptionist, that's better than borrowing it from the interviewer-- nothing makes you look less prepared.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    I hate to break this to you, buddy. Be proud of your programming skills, but I think you got totally screwed. A contractor would have charged $2000+ for the work you did.

    He only got screwed if he actually got screwed. There are all kinds of intangibles that can make up for this kind of thing. One of the first interviews I ever went to, way back when I was 16, was for a part-time basic data entry/formatting job. I turned up, chatted to the interviewer for a while, and then was shown what the job entailed and asked to process a few entries as a sample just to show I could follow instructions. Instead, I demonstrated how Excel could be set-up in ten minutes to automatically do the job with a simple copy-and-paste from the source material - the entire job was repetitive reformatting of a spreadsheet, manually, row by row. The interviewer thanked me profusely, but we both agreed there was no point them employing anyone for that position now. I didn't get paid for that small amount of work I did, but a few days later I got a call out of the blue offering me a job I'd never heard of or applied for - turned out to be the result of a recommendation from the company I'd interviewed at, and a much better, more lucrative job at that.

    What it comes down to is whether the company has got you in with the intention of getting some work done free, or whether you just happen to do some useful work as part of the interview process. It's usually pretty obvious when it's the former. The worst I've seen was one (household name) company which offered me a three month trial - but I wouldn't find out til the end of the three months whether I'd be kept on, and the kicker was that they'd only pay me for those three months if they did keep me on. That was the first time I ever laughed in an interviewer's face: I was convinced it must be some kind of test to weed out people without enough backbone to stand up for themselves, but it turned out to be a company policy (of very dubious legality). I strongly suspect that no-one ever made it past three months.



  • @Daid said:

    @forkazoo said:

    I have no idea if everybody actually had a copy of my resume.  I was carrying a folder with extra copies in case anybody needed one, but at the start of the interview, I was too paniced to ask or just look to see if they were holding resumes.

    Small tip, it's just the first thing I pulled out and put on the table. In case they wanted to talk about something on my resume I could look it up instantly. Yes, you should know what's put down there. But people might have understood it wrong. There was 1 interview where I was the only one with the copy, so I handed it over. Don't think you look stupid with your own resume with you. You look confident and well prepared.

    I always keep at least 5 copies of my resume on hand.  I've had interviews where the interviewer was suddenly called away and I had to interview with the entire dev team in one room (I had a copy for everybody).  A friend of mine who does interviews frequently "forgets" the candidate's resume to see whether they were prepared with an extra copy.

     Also, since I frequently deal with third-party recruiters, the interviewer doesn't always get the same resume you handed off.  Recruiters like to make creative edits.

    The worst interview I've ever been on involved an angry German educating (yelling at) me for 20 minutes about how AJAX has nothing to do with Javascript or XML.  He also locked me out of the interview room and "politely" asked me to go to the bathroom while he stepped away to find the next interviewer.  Thankfully, I got the rejection call during my drive home.



  • Filed under: Is "angry" German redundant?

    More or less the same correlation as XML and Ajax.



  • @snoofle said:

    I had an interview yesterday at 7:30AM
    7:30 am?!  What was the position, head doughnut-maker?  



  • My last interview went like this:

    "Hello?" as I answer my cell phone in rush hour traffic heading from Raleigh NC to Sanford NC.

    Recruiter:  'bla-bla bla got your resume from sitex'

    "Oh. What do you need."

    Recruiter 'Bla-bla SQL, bla bla Access, bla bla Migrate, bla bla Reports, bla bla Business Objects'

    'Yeah I can do that. What flavor of SQL server are you using, Microsoft? Oracle?  Pervasive?  What version of Access?"

    Recruiter 'Can you come here for an in person interview tomorrow?  How soon could you start?'

    'I'm tied up with projects for the next month, will be travelling to Texas, Ohio and Illinois.  I can do phone interviews only for the next month. I could start two weeks from the time I recieve a confiremed offer.'

    Recruiter 'Ok.  Uh.  Can you do a phone interview tomorrow at 1PM?'

    'Sure - I'll make certain I'm available.'

    ------
    9:30 AM next morning:
    'Hello?'
    Recruiter: 'Hi, this is recruiter, we talked yesterday?  Can we do the phone interview now, the hiring manager is eager to talk to you.'
    'Umm, Sure.'
    Hiring Manager: 'Hi, did you say you could convert Access 2000 applications to SQL Server 2000?'
    'Yes.'
    Hiring Manager: 'How long would it take you to convert one?'
    'Dependson the number of tables, how much vba code, whether or not thier are any of a dozen oddities in the table structure like non-indexed tables, whether or not you want Access to remain the front end or you want a web or desktop app written for the front end.  A simple data move for an average app shouldn't take more than a couple . . . .'
    Hiring Manager: 'Can you start tomorrow morning?' <MUTE>
    'I couldn't start for at least two weeks, I have to give my current company some notice.'
    Recruiter: 'It would take about that to get you into the system.' <mute> <unmute>  I'll e-mail you the formal offer and fed-ex you your W4, Direct Deposit, and employement forms.  Can you fax me copies of those as soon as you get them?  We want you to start two weeks from today.'

    Started on a Thursday -- Direct deposit for first weeks (full week, despite only two days worked) pay showed up at midnight.  Converted 53 Access databases to MS SQL server over the course of the next week.  Still there.  Relatively happy.  VP is very pleased.



  •  

    Small tip, it's just the first thing I pulled out and put on the table.
    In case they wanted to talk about something on my resume I could look it
    up instantly. Yes, you should know what's put down there. But people
    might have understood it wrong. There was 1 interview where I was the
    only one with the copy, so I handed it over. Don't think you look stupid
    with your own resume with you. You look confident and well prepared.

    Ha, one tip I've learned is to always avoid having my resume in front of me during an interview.  I know my resume better than I know the strangers who are asking me scary questions, so I find it warm and comforting.  Consequently, I just sort of spend the whole time reading my resume again and ignoring my interviewers.  So, I bring extra copies in a folder in case anybody needs them. I'm anti-social enough by nature that I sort of need to pay attention to these things when I'm meeting people.  🙂

    Also, in case HR made any tweaks I can't back up.  It's never been that big of a deal for me, but it did save a guy I was interviewing once when a recruiter tried to massage his resume, leading to answers that suspiciously failed to match what was written.  When he whipped out the slightly more modest resume that matched what he was saying, rather than just claim that the resume was correct, he earned points for honesty and he was the one we hired.

     

    Anyhow, strange addendum to my rant about myself...  The HR person called me later this week asking for more information.  Apparently, no matter how badly I thought I did during the interview, some of the other guys did even worse, so I was still in the running.  Who knows, I may yet manage to land this one.  (I hope so.  Everybody seemed cool inthe interview, and it's a really cool place.)



  •  I had an interview like that once.  Company asks me to look at some C code and describe what's going on, and I stupidly go on for about ten minutes about the error-prone memory management techniques, poor naming conventions, etc.  Of course it was their production code.



  • @kc0a said:

     I had an interview like that once.  Company asks me to look at some C code and describe what's going on, and I stupidly go on for about ten minutes about the error-prone memory management techniques, poor naming conventions, etc.  Of course it was their production code.

     

    What's stupid?  Do you think you'd enjoy working with code like that?!



  • @AlanGriffiths said:

    What's stupid?  Do you think you'd enjoy working with people that write code like that?!

    FTFY.



  • @Medezark said:

    (story about cellphone interview)

    Heh. One of my job interviews was kinda similar to that; it was basically a mix between on-site interviews and phone interviews. But the one that pushed me further into that specific job was the phone interview, where I was asked about experience managing LDAP servers... all of this while I was outside Office Depot, waiting for a cab.

    Sometimes the job-landing interviews turn out to be pretty memorable. That particular job I landed made me relocate to Mexico City, and to a pretty large financial institution. That wasn't just a job, it was an adventure.



  • @danixdefcon5 said:

    @Medezark said:

    (story about cellphone interview)

    Heh. One of my job interviews was kinda similar to that; it was basically a mix between on-site interviews and phone interviews. But the one that pushed me further into that specific job was the phone interview, where I was asked about experience managing LDAP servers... all of this while I was outside Office Depot, waiting for a cab.

    I did an interview where I was on-site, but sequestered into a conference room, alone, where I sat on the phone with an interviewer in the main office.



  • @HighlyPaidContractor said:

    I did an interview where I was on-site, but sequestered into a conference room, alone, where I sat on the phone with an interviewer in the main office.

    Did they made you wear green goggles? Also, did you check behind the green curtain?



  • @alegr said:

    @HighlyPaidContractor said:

    I did an interview where I was on-site, but sequestered into a conference room, alone, where I sat on the phone with an interviewer in the main office.

    Did they made you wear green goggles? Also, did you check behind the green curtain?

    Unfortunately, the Wizard could not get me a job.

    I did, however, leave with a nice pair of ruby slippers.




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