My worst interview ever
Jack Finlay - July 30, 2019
This is a story of the worst interview I have ever experienced. I will be honest and up front in that I did do poorly in this interview and did not get an offer. However, I had already decided before I got that call that I was going to decline to take the job anyway. Based on my experience in the interview, the company was not a good fit for me.
Before the storm
There were a few things that should have been indicators before the interview actually began. I was told that the interview would be three hours long. Their reasoning was that they wanted to do a few different things in the interview and break it down to a few parts: cultural, technical and a live coding/pairing session. I thought this seemed fine at the time, but in reality this was excessive for one session. It’s just not conducive to good interview performance to keep someone in a tiny room for three hours without a break.
The first part, the cultural fit interview went fine, I performed well, but I should have ended the interview after that. There were things that are instant red flags to me now. The first was that they were very cagey about the ability to work from home. They were also hesitant when I asked about training budget. These are things I find important in a job search and something that I keenly look for.
The technical interview was the second part. At this point I had three developers walk in after the other interviewers left. This part of the interview felt very much like an interrogation. I was grilled on what I knew about a wide range of topics. Never given enough time to explain my answers in full, constantly being cut-off with another question. At one point I didn’t know the name for a particular language feature - I knew it as something else - and they tried to lead me to an answer, however this just made me more confused. This was humiliating to me as when I read up on it later, I knew exactly what it was already, I just didn’t know that name for it. They had made it seem like a big deal.
The final part was a live coding exercise where I was tasked to extend the take home piece of work they had given me previously. This was while all three were constantly giving me feedback, and even arguing with each other on the best way to do something. I managed to get halfway through a quick solution before they told me what I was trying to do was not the expected way. I felt like I was set up to fail because they kept telling me different ways to do it. Each time I tried their suggestion, they changed their minds. The way they put it too made me feel like I was useless. They knew my take home exercise wasn’t as extendible as they would like yet they insisted on me trying to refactor the whole thing in an hour.
I learned quite a few things from this experience. I wish I didn’t have to learn this way, but I am glad I was able to gain some valuable insights into what makes a good versus bad interview.
Trust your gut
As I mentioned earlier, I should have listened to my own doubts when it was mentioned the interview would be three hours. Had I pushed back on this, I maybe would have not wasted my own time or theirs. I knew after the first hour that I definitely didn’t want the job, yet I let myself be subjected to more. In future I feel like I could be more confident in calling an end to an interview if it were not a good fit for me.
You don’t have to accept every interview
I don’t feel like I should have even accepted this interview. While it was good practice, I knew from the start I probably wouldn’t take an offer from them. If there are factors that have you doubting whether you should do something, it’s probably wise to think about it a bit more!
Short-circuit and return early
It’s good to know answers to your deal-breakers before you get into an interview. I should have asked more questions before the interview. It’s just a waste of each other’s time to wait until the interview to ask about things that can be asked early.
Overall this was an awful experience. I almost cried on the way home. They just made me feel so useless. The whole experience made me appreciate all the other good interviews I’ve had. That’s for another article though…
Jack Finlay - Software Engineer in Auckland, New Zealand. Exploring the writing process and developing my skills through the occasional article on life as a programmer. Follow me on Twitter for updates.