Story: A lesson from the most disappointing interview.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Stage 1: Initial interview with HR.

I started the interview process with an hour conversation with an HR representative to dig a little more into my past and potential future. I also learnt a little more about the role (not too much), and it gave me a good high-level understanding of what to expect from the company. Very positive in the end. The person I talked to was very positive and pushed me forward in the recruitment process. So far, so good.

Stage 2: Interview with VP of Engineering, my boss.

We had a good chat about the role, his expectations, future challenges, the structure of the team, and projects. I understood that they are looking for someone with a technical background in frontend engineering and many years of experience in leading people. Not a hands-on role at all as managing 15 engineers will be a lot of work.

  • 🚩 The interview was short, and I couldn’t ask any questions.
  • 🚩 This role will have around 15 engineers reporting directly. That’s a lot, and if I want to give them the attention they deserve, that’s already most of my time gone.
  • 🚩 Why is the next step a technical interview which they never give to managers?

Stage 3: Unexpected homework

This role was supposed to be leading teams, not writing code, yet they asked me to do homework that required learning new things I never worked with.

  • 🚩 This role is supposed to have nothing to do with coding. Why would they ask me to do coding homework?
  • 🚩 It is very unfair to ask any candidate to do homework as big as this one. I would never ask myself any potential future employees to do that. Plus, I could easily cheat to get the job done (that’s a topic for a separate post).

Stage 4: Product review session

An extensive interview with eight people to go through a project challenge. Two days before, I received some details, and my job was to show “how I would approach this project from a product and technology perspective”. The product part of the conversation focused on ensuring we have all the requirements, set the right priorities, learn about a typical user and how it all might evolve in the future. The technology part covered performance metrics, the right technology for the frontend, testing, and DevOps requirements, including pipelines and automation.

  • 🚩 Interview with eight people on a call is not something anybody should ever do.
  • 🚩 I couldn’t ask almost any questions as the interview overrun, and there was no time left.
  • 🚩 One more step of the interview suddenly changed to another three!

Stage 5: Interview with HR, culture fit.

As I mentioned earlier, this step has been added at the last moment, but I had a lovely chat and felt it is all going well. Good communication both ways, and we talked about soft skills mostly — How I deal with people, in challenging situations, managing high- and under-performers, etc. All the regular questions to see if I’m capable of working with a team on a daily basis (mostly).

  • 🚩 Another unexpected step was added. It’s already two in one interview process. It felt like I was the first person they interviewed for this position (likely?).

Stage 6: Leadership conversation with the team from Stage 3

Another unexpected step, but at least during this stage, I had plenty of time to ask questions, and the team confirmed that they are looking for someone who knows how to run the team, help them with career progression path, empower people, and help improve the hiring process. They also told me that I’m the right person that ticks all the boxes (yes, I asked). Perfect fit throughout the process.

  • 🚩 A bit surprising the exact people needed to talk to me again. I spoke to them about a lot of stuff but almost not at all about leadership. I think they forgot about it.

Stage 7: Conversation with CTO

The last step, and this one, was a chat with their CTO. Again, it went very smooth, and it looked like we both enjoyed the conversation. I had enough time to ask questions and understand where this role might go in the future, what the company is focusing on now, and how I can help.

  • 🚩 That’s too many stages already! And two were very intensive (4+ hours with preparation).
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Surprised & disappointed

The HR person I was talking to throughout the process was very professional and helpful. I felt we have a good vibe and all our conversations were just fun. However, I think it was for her the worst moment of the week — to talk to me at the end of all the interviews and say they decided to go with someone else.

Photo by Ergita Sela on Unsplash

My final thoughts

  • They didn’t know who they are looking for in the first place. As a result, the interview did not assess the right skills.
  • I didn’t want to see some of the red flags and missed others.
  • I’m happy I didn’t join in the end, as the whole process tells me something important about the culture and the company.
  • I hope their preferred candidate knows what he’s doing, as he will have a lot on his plate!

What is the lesson here?

Soon after this event, I realised better things are ahead of me, and I’m happy this role was not meant to be. But, of course, I didn’t know that back then, nor felt good when I found out they decided to give the job to someone else.



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Andrew Winnicki

Software Engineering Changemaker. Driving digital transformation and sharing experiences and thoughts from my journey. 20 years and counting…