This article is all about tech recruitment interviews, but in particular: why tech skills are necessary but not sufficient, what are open questions used for, why you should always have your own questions (that make sense ...), that without high "work-awareness" you're not credible, during the interview we'd like to hear about "you", not "them" ... and why you should always remember about something to back your declarations up with.
Recruitment in IT is in a pretty poor shape these days: spam offers coming in herds "out-of-the-blue", incompetent recruiters who don't bother to understand who they really look for, poorly engaged leaders who don't recognise their role in fishing for the new talent and can't even create a compelling offer with a spark of uniqueness.
We all know that, we've all been there.
But ... it's easy to criticise the other parties (recruiters, managers at potential employer companies) and forget about ourselves (engineers being recruited). This post is a collection of the mortal sins committed by the candidates - by you & your peers. It's collected during my numerous interviews throughout last several years - what probably makes it very subjective ;)
OK, here we go.
A. thinking that only tech skills matter
This is the most frequent one - candidate is fully convinced that all what matters is how well (s)he does during the technical test. And everything else (all the "soft" or "behavioural" questions) is just a waste of time - figures of "a ritual dance" that have to happen, but are pretty much meaningless.
Each assessed candidate is evaluated in terms of attitude, aptitude & skill. Technical capabilities are not even the whole "skill" part - as teamwork, communication, coaching, organising work, etc. - are also considered vital skills. No reasonable company that understands the idea of "engineering culture" hires people based on tech skills only.
B. briefly answering (or avoiding) open questions
Open questions are among the strongest weapons in recruitment teams' arsenal - they help with making the interview contextual, to track how did the individual behave in particular situation, what was her/his reasoning & learning.
Such questions make it easier to find out whether a candidate thinks independently or was just a follower of someone else's will & brains.
C. coming totally unprepared and/or having no questions
Job market may be broken & job seekers are the kings these days, but don't be naive - no self-respecting company will hire a "whateva" candidate who expresses that (s)he doesn't care much and actually makes you a favour/grace when speaking to you ("because they are 10 other companies waiting for her/him").
Employee-employer relationship makes sense ONLY if it's a win-win setup: both sides are interested, both sides contribute, both sides invest something & in the end - both sides benefit out of that.
And how does not having questions look in this context? Like you don't care at all, because you can easily switch jobs in 3 months if this place sucks.
D. nothing to be proud of / no mistakes made / no lessons learned
I always ask people about such things ("what are your proud of in particular?", "what were the most grievous mistakes you've made?", "and what did you learn out of them?") - these are few particular open questions worth emphasising. Not having anything substantial to say here means that a candidate is either very inexperienced or her/his work awareness is very low: (s)he is very task-based, acting more like a conveyor belt than an intelligent engineer giving her/his work a proper thought.
And what about not making any mistakes? The only ones who don't make them are people who don't challenge themselves. Mistakes are an element of learning - they are an imminent consequence of taking risks & without risks there's no chance for grand reward & no possibility for continuous improvement (yourself, team, product, whole company, etc.).
E. not thinking about how would you like to "sell" yourself
Seriously, you do NOT want to "sell" yourself as a "generic" ...
ASP.NET MVC developer with 3.5 years of experience (5/5), C# (5/5), F# (3/5), basics of PowerShell (1/5).
Soulless row in a worksheet, easily replaceable "resource", software development cannon fodder.
Whenever someone comes for an interview I (REALLY, REALLY) want to know - WHY YOU (in particular)?!
- how did you contribute for the projects you've made? did you suggest any improvements? conducted them? how did you convince other people? were you personally owning any topic/area?
- how were these projects special? what was the hardest? what did you learn there?
- do you set yourself any goals? what are your nearest plans? what did you do to implement them already?
Team members (I'm looking for) are not supposed to be like extras on the movie set - more like actors taking main parts in play. It's up to you to convince me you'll capable of that.
F. victimship ("them","them","them", ...)
The worst & most pitiful form of poorly selling yourself out.
Someone who doesn't tell anything about her/himself, but focuses on criticising his former teams, employers, colleagues, bosses - "they told me", "they forbidden me", "they didn't listen to me", "he were stubborn & had stupid ideas", "she was micro-managing", ...
And when you ask such a person about how much time did (s)he spend there ... "7 years".
Seriously - what am I supposed to think now?
G. empty words without support by deeds
- "I love learning new things!"
"What did you learn recently?"
- "I attend meet-ups & conferences!"
"Where have you been recently?"
- "I've read all Appelo's books!"
"What was 1 particular thing you liked most & why?"
- "I think Redux is a crucial element of our front-end stuck!"
"Why? What kind of unique benefit does it provide?"
H. lack of (any) passion
I don't hire people without (any) credible (verifiable) passion. Passion is one of the most clear indicators of the presence of intrinsic motivations.
What kind of passion? It's not that relevant as long as it has anything in common with our work - passion I'm looking for may be all about: domain, product, technology, scale, global recognition, data, building teams, coaching others, implementing modern practices (like Continuous Delivery), ...
If we can align your passion with organisation's goals and ambitions - everyone wins & we have a self-starting missionary on-board. Missionaries contribute to the org culture (because they are consistent in their missionary actions), they bring positive "doer" attitude & energy. And they don't waste time. Theirs or anyone else's.
That's why the "cliche" questions that frequently open the interviews - "what do you like most in this work? if you had 5 offers on the table, which factors will be crucial in your decision to make the choice?" - are more important that it may seem.
I. overestimating the meaning of your financial expectation
Too many people think that the question about your salary expectation is the most important one. It isn't. Or rather - it's important, but in a different way then you think.
I usually ask about financials during the initial phone-call - for one & only one reason: to make sure that you're within budget (our financial capabilities). If you're not, I tell it straight away - to avoid building false expectations. After that I ... kinda forget the number :)
Every candidate is individually assessed, compared against people we already have / know, evaluated separately within attitude, aptitude & skills dimensions ... and in the end every one (who we'd like to hire) gets her/his proposed salary. NOT dependent on the initial expectations (we know the effect of priming, we avoid it in a very conscious way). So, sometimes we propose less (I did propose nearly 2x less than initial candidate's expectation) and sometimes we propose more - fair deal seems a better option long-term than playing on someone's personal undervaluation (that is very temporal).
So, if I were you, I'd rather focus on the interview itself (& preparing to it), instead of wondering whether you've asked for too much or too little.