We’re going to take a brief pause in our technical perusings to talk about something that might range into feelings-territory. Don’t worry; it’ll be okay. I promise we’ll stay on track.
A few weeks ago, Elise told us that we would start having 15-minute interviews with our sponsoring companies to get some sense of which company we wanted to work for. This brought up a round of panic, not because interviews are scary (though they can be), but because of one simple truth: I don’t know how to answer that question. I don’t know how to tell if I want to work somewhere. Never in my life have I had free choice, or felt able to judge a company by merit. The only question I ever had was how much will you pay me?, and that wasn’t really a question I ever even felt safe enough to ask.
When you work in customer service and food service--heck, when you work in unskilled labor--you don’t get a lot of choices. It’s a buyer’s product, and your only job in an interview is to show that you are worth the MSRP.
I asked if we could have an event to talk about culture fit and how you can determine if a company culture will really fit you, and Elise said that we could if I put it on. I said yes. On Tuesday, I held that event.
Four smart and talented friends of Ada, Serene Careaga, Renée Hendricksen, Jeremy Wadsack, and Jeffrey Lembeck, agreed to be panelists at our event. I want to thank them again for agreeing to participate; the event was hugely successful, largely due to their skills and their thoughtful answers.
Below, in no particular order, I want to put some of the advice they gave that really stuck with me. These questions are not meant to be asked all at once; think about when in the interview process you want to ask these questions.
- We are entering a sellers’ market. With the amount of skill and experience that we will have at the end of this program, and especially in Seattle, where there is a high demand for tech jobs, we will probably find somewhere to work. Therefore, if a question is important, ask it. You probably don’t want to ask it first thing in the interview, of course, but you should answer your questions before you accept the job, even if it’s a difficult question to ask. No one wants to go through a long interview process and then start the job, only to find out your first day that you don’t want the job because they don’t have a good enough vacation policy or they don’t have enough structural support for minorities.
- Job descriptions can be misleading. It is not uncommon for a job description to be thrown together by someone who doesn’t actually know what to ask for. All panelists with experience hiring people agreed that they had never actually cared whether someone had a degree or not, for instance, but they had put that requirement on several job descriptions. You need to have something in the job description other than “apply and we’ll see.” This also means that the description of what you will do at the job is not necessarily true to reality.
- Think about what you prioritize. Know whether you prioritize slow growth or quick growth, quick money or steady money, established structure or freedom, and think about which you are more likely to get at that company. Asking questions like what the business model is for the company, or where they see themselves in 3 years or 5 years, might help indicate the stability of that company.
- Pay attention to your intuition. Are you uncomfortable? That probably won’t magically change when you get there.
- Ask about your day-to-day Agile is a buzzword that means everything or nothing these days. Ask them how long their SCRUM meeting is; if they have really long SCRUM meetings, then something is wrong there. What tools do they use, and what is their core competency? If they use weird, outdated tools, or if they make their own tools when they don’t need to (a company that makes airplanes probably shouldn’t be making their own version of PivotalTracker, for example), this may be a bad sign.
- Use what visible signals of internal politics you can. Ask if you can see their internal chat logs. Ask to see the employee handbook. Do they have an HR team, and is it internal or external? Large (compared to the size of the company) or small? A large, external HR team may indicate a problem within the company. An employee handbook may or may not indicate anything, depending on the size of the company, but most companies larger than a few people have one, and it might give you some insight into what they prioritize.
- Ask the right questions to the right people. A developer might find it offputting if you ask her questions about vacation policy, especially right off the bat, but HR will expect that question and have no qualms about asking it.
- Ask multiple people about work-life balance. It’s important, and sometimes, people over/underestimate the time they’re putting in. They might also be deliberately misleading out of loyalty to the company. Ask whoever you can.
- Think of the technical interview as a pairing experience. The technical interview can tell you a lot about the company. How well do they work with other people? Do they tailor their questions to your perceived ability from your resume (for example, if you don’t have a CS degree, do they still ask you theoretical CS degree questions?)? As a bonus, technical interviewers don’t want to be bored. If you are engaging and work with them instead of just in front of them, you might make a better impression.
- Ask about what they do at lunch. Okay, this one might actually be my favorite. Do the employees all work through lunch? You might be expected to do that, too, or they might be overworked. Do the employees all go out and eat together? If you get along, this could be a really good thing. Does everyone do their own thing? This might mean a higher level of independence, or that they don’t get along very well. In my small experience in asking this question already, it tends to be out-of-the-ordinary enough that they will answer with a higher degree of candor.
Okay. I have 31 minutes before my first interview. I hope these tricks helped you out; wish me luck!