DEV Community

loading...

Reasons I've Been Rejected For Software Engineering Roles

jgaskins profile image Jamie Gaskins ・4 min read

I've been seeing a lot of discussions of tech interviews in my Twitter feed and a lot of it is around the idea that someone needs to be "more technical" (that's not a thing, by the way — technical expertise isn't linear) or that they need to be able to balance a binary search tree or whatever from memory when the job never requires it.

The typical interview process at tech companies is almost worse than useless, so I wanted to share some of the comically awful reasons I've been rejected by companies.


One company rejected me because they didn't think I would be able to jive at their scale. There are two weird things about this. The first is that they asked zero questions about my experience with scale during the interview.

The second is that this team only handled referrals — so really only putting people through their customer-acquisition funnel. Unless this company was somehow managing to gain tens of thousands of new customers per second, it's unlikely that scale was actually a factor. That's the entire population of the US in a matter of hours, though, so probably not. Even if they were going with their company's total size, I've worked at companies several times their size with several times more traffic, data, and engineers.

Scale is an ego point for some developers. It's some "get on my level" shit.

gEt oN mY levEL

But it's the kind of vanity metric that actively discourages optimizations and encourages poor scaling practices, so it requires a lot of discussion to understand someone's familiarity with it.


Another company rejected me because they didn't think I would enjoy working at a large company. I can't even begin to understand how they came to this as a hiring decision. Why would I apply if company size was a dealbreaker? Why are they trying to decide what I'd like? 😂

Can you not?


Another company rejected me because I struggled to find a given bug in the sass Ruby gem during "the debugging portion" of their technical interview — this was an on-site interview that lasted all day.

Apart from the fact that this Ruby gem contains 13k lines of code (not counting whitespace and comments), it's a parser and working with parsers isn't like working with typical apps. And in Ruby, parsers make heavy use of metaprogramming, making it that much more difficult to find a bug when you're unfamiliar with the code because you can't grep for what you need.

I asked the interviewer if the role required implementing parsers in Ruby, he said "probably not". So it was a pointless exercise, but they actually told me that my inability to locate and fix this bug in a 13k-LoC gem in 45 minutes was their reason for rejecting me.

Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it's stupid


During another interview, the interviewer asked very vague questions. Every time I asked for clarification on even the kind of response he was looking for, he just dumbed down the question. And he did it in a way that let me know I was losing points for getting "hints".

He did the same when I stopped asking him to clarify and started guessing at what he wanted. Then later, he asked questions I gave him answers for earlier when I was trying to guess at what he meant.

I remember standing in front of that whiteboard thinking "they're 100% gonna reject me because this guy can't ask the questions he wants the answers for". I mean, at least I saw the rejection coming.

Even so, this one was probably the hardest rejection because the engineering manager was excited about me and even introduced me to her team because she expected a positive outcome.


At another company, they asked me about my own strengths and weaknesses. This is a pretty pointless question in general but the rejection letter said "we're looking for engineers with a different set of strengths".

This particular interview was a shit show from start to finish, but this was my favorite bit.


None of these are small startups run by no-name techbros, either. These are well respected companies. If you're in the tech industry, you've probably heard of most of them, if not every single one of them, and you've almost definitely used some of their products and services.

And yet, no matter how good they are at providing snacks in their "kick-ass office in downtown San Francisco" or "unleashing the world's creative energy by designing a more enlightened way of working", somehow they're all shit at interviewing.

Sometimes interviewers will find arbitrary reasons to reject you that have nothing to do with you. Maybe the interviewer doesn't communicate well. Maybe they have a superiority complex and are rejecting you just to exercise that power. Maybe they just had a bad day.

For these interviews, there may actually be no way to pass it. You could probably do everything "right" and the interviewer would still find some excuse to shut you down. And a lot of the time, the team may actually be amazing but the interviewer is someone that works on a completely unrelated team who would never see you, anyway.

I've been working in this industry for 15 years. Interviewing is still every bit as terrible now as it was when I started. We're all being judged on the wrong criteria. Even when we get the job, it may not be for the right reason.

Discussion (44)

pic
Editor guide
Collapse
sunitk profile image
Sunit Katkar

I will share an interview experience that happened many many years ago. The question asked was how to reverse a string. It was supposed to test how I can think about breaking down the problem and applying any algorithm if required. So I showed the standard 2 methods using a character array and going through in reverse order. Then I showed the way recursion can be used. The interviewer was okay with my answers and asked me which method I would use. Since the position required Java skills, I said none of these methods but the java provided StringBuffer which has a reverse method. This did not go down well with the interviewer despite my explanation that it's a method available in the JDK and has been tried and tested and hence more reliable.

For the other 2 questions asked, I did show the whiteboard code to solve the problem but suggested using JDK methods.

I did not get the job because the comment the interviewer made was like they needed people who could come up with solutions and not just use someone else's code!! I could not believe what I heard. I was recommending using available, tried and tested JDK methods!!

Thanks for this topic ... I too have many experiences where half way through an interview I knew that I won't get the job or I didn't want to work there.

Collapse
rashidibrahim profile image
Rashid Ibrahim

I was rejected from an interview for python when I was asked how I would remove the nth element from a list. It's python so I said I'd pop the index. I was told that since pop doesn't do that in other languages, that was the wrong answer and that I needed to write my own code... So yea I've got the python version of your story.

Collapse
theodesp profile image
Theofanis Despoudis • Edited

Yeap. I believe there is a different mentality when doing code interviews. The mentality is that we live in stone age and only the most trivial code is available in the language. So no fancy methods like pop or push.

Thread Thread
rashidibrahim profile image
Rashid Ibrahim

Worse was that they acknowledged that pop would have been great for removing the last element. Just that I was not allowed to pass it an index because languages like java didn't accept it. So it was that it couldn't be done in language that is not used at that company so we won't let you do it in language that is used at that company.

Collapse
hegh profile image
Jonathan P

I am a pretty regular interviewer at my company (I've done about 85 last I checked), and that sounds like an awful experience.

I am generally impressed when the candidate knows the API well enough to take shortcuts (most recently someone used LinkedHashMap in Java), and I allow "I know there's a function that does this, but I can't remember the name;" we agree on a name, and I check it later.

The only exception is when I want TC to implement an existing API function, but that's rare; the solution is generally available, so the signal is less reliable.

Collapse
sunitk profile image
Sunit Katkar

I currently work on IBM BlueMix but before this it was all AWS. I am an independent contractor. In this interview where I work now, I asked the interviewer if I could answer questions using AWS examples like for instance the message bus I've used is Firehose Kinesis, etc. Though I'm good at Spring and Blue mix is just a white labelled Pivotal Cloud Foundry implementation, I told him I'm most comfortable with AWS.

He was okay and was satisfied that all my cloud concepts and microservices experience was all clear though I used AWS as examples. I now work in the same group as the interviewer and enjoy it. He was satisfied that my concepts were clear and knew that I could adopt Blue mix easily.

Collapse
theodesp profile image
Theofanis Despoudis • Edited

Speaking of which. Take a look at this comment thread:
dev.to/jonrandy/comment/joh6

I believe it's not about the language or what the JDK offers but about the way you approach the problem.

Collapse
sunitk profile image
Sunit Katkar

Well he asked me which method i would use. I replied that the character array method but for most tried and tested way I would use the jdk method. So I had demonstrated my algorithm thinking and coding ability but in reality i would prefer a tried and tested facility. Whats wrong in that?

Thread Thread
dexygen profile image
George Jempty

Nothing is wrong in that of course. I've run into home-rolled code that should have never gone into production. IIRC it was an implementation for encoding a string, instead of using either the java.net implementation or Apache commons implementation. Well their implementation forgot to encode the all-important new-line character, so they were sending out incomplete emails, emails that, depending on the response, could generate thousands of dollars of revenue per month and therefore had already cost the company tens of thousands, before I figured out the problem. There's even a name for this anti-pattern: "not invented here" (or "re-inventing the wheel")

Collapse
atgaskins profile image
Adam Gaskins

Hello fellow Gaskins! I just discovered this site, and I signed up just to comment and let you know that this article really resonated with me. I haven't had this much experience with interviewing, but I have had similarly bleak and disheartening experiences at jobs I've had. Maybe this inspires a similarly themes article, ha. Anyways, it was an entertaining read and I appreciate that you choose to share these experiences!

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author

Holy shit! There are dozens of us!

It'd be interesting to read an article about things like this happening on the job, but I might advise a bit of caution. I wanted people who are newer to the industry to realize that an interview rejection is most likely not even about them, but we don't want to scare people out of the industry with tales of how it'll be terrible for them even after the interview process. 🙂

Collapse
atgaskins profile image
Adam Gaskins • Edited

There's actually at least one other 'Adam Gaskins' I've encountered that is a coder, haha. What a trip. I used to have a group of friends when I was on Facebook who were all named 'Adam Gaskins', there were at least a dozen, and from all over the world. I'm sure you could similarly amass a 'Jamie Gaskins' army, and together we could form an resistance movement to hold back the onslaught from the 'Haskins' lineage. [Just kidding, of course... I have nothing against the Haskins' of the world, I've just come across that name as well, and in my mind it's an hilarious scenario for some sort of twisted IRL Monty Python skit, haha]

Anyways, I agree about not scaring people away. If I do write such an article it would be to provide early warning signs of such things [ranging from outright toxicity to more benign ignorance] and advice on handling such people. I am quite the pro-crastinator, so if that article ever materializes is whole other thing... [I hyphenate only to ironically point out my skill in somehow avoiding that which I sincerely desire to accomplish].

Anyways, nice to meet you Jamie! I hope we cross paths more in the future! :)

Collapse
dexygen profile image
George Jempty

One time I got rejected because the interviewer, a Java architect with a smattering of front-end knowledge, rejected part of my absolutely correct answer because he didn't know it was something you could do with Javascript, i.e. implement built-in get/set methods on objects, e.g. developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/W... I even offered to provide him with a URL to the documentation, but neither he, nor the business recruiter, were interested. The business recruiter gave me some song and dance about not knowing anything for about a week, and when the appointed date came and I inquired, I was told the position had been put on hold. So I inquired of my former manager when I'd worked there previously, who was the one trying to help me get brought back on board, albeit on a different team, and he was completely baffled by this. I don't know if you get this too, but between the combination of incompetent interviewers and unscrupulous recruiters, it's really hard to find a decent position these days.

Collapse
etampro profile image
Edward Tam

Hi Jamie, well written article! I think there is still huge gap between interviewing process and evaluating talent. Lots of gems are lost during these poorly designed processes.

That being said, I am curious - based on experience you learned from the past, what suggestions would you give when trying to evaluate talent?

Collapse
dexygen profile image
George Jempty

I suspect it might at least in some part be your own superiority complex or ego. For instance, you don't provide a single shred of evidence, all you do is hurl accusations.

Collapse
vinceramces profile image
Vince Ramces Oliveros

Great Article, but I would lower the tone down.(talking about the sh*t)
It was fun to read and I am actually happy that you get a rejection notice while some other companies would ghost me if ever I get to be rejected.

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author

Great Article, but I would lower the tone down.(talking about the sh*t)

If you don’t like swearing, you’re more than welcome not to in your articles.

It was fun to read and I am actually happy that you get a rejection notice while some other companies would ghost me if ever I get to be rejected.

I’ve been ghosted by companies many times, as well, and most rejection letters are vague and unhelpful. This wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of all rejections I’ve received. It might be 5%.

Collapse
bhmckendrick profile image
Brian McKendrick

Reading this article must've given you interview flashbacks, Vince. His forum - free to set whatever tone he likes.

Collapse
bernardigiri profile image
Bernard Igiri • Edited

I had an interviewer reject me because he asked about tree traversal and I gave him inorder, preorder, and postorder as the possibilities and he was actually looking for graph traversals breadth first and depth first, one of which was specifically listed on my resume.

Another interviewer was upset with me because I said the test was easy. He went on some diatribe about empathy while demonstrating none. They wanted to both under pay and over work me.

Both of these were big names in tech. I used to be upset but now that I look back, I am better off now without them.

Honestly, I hate overly academic interviews. I am a professional engineer, not a college professor. If my experience isn't being tested in your interview process, then your interview process is broken. I should not have to develop and maintain a completely separate set of skills just to get the job. My ability to actually do the job should get me the job.

Collapse
sunitk profile image
Sunit Katkar • Edited

Now I make it clear to the interviewer during the course of the interview that I'm good at understanding the problem and building the app/service they need. But I'm not a great algorithm inventor or steeped in comp science minutae. I do it purposely as I'm not interested in tech shock jock kind of atmosphere and I-know-better-than-you kind of colleagues. I just want to put in my 40 hours, get paid and then enjoy my personal and family life.

Also being an independent contractor, it gives me freedom to work at organizations who are using technology to develop solutions for their business processes and problems. I've had my fill of working at a tech giant and 2 networking patents there. Tech company interviewers are more interested in trumping the candidate with their mastery of some minutae and beating them down. ☺️ So I prefer non tech clients.

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author

Someone called me out for my language in the article, too. 😄

But I think you're right, the power and complete lack of accountability that comes with being on the company's side of the table, especially at larger companies, makes it incredibly easy for them to reject you for arbitrary reasons.

Smaller companies don't typically have this level of negotiating power since they don't have nearly as many people trying so desperately to work there, but some small companies try to emulate that large-company mindset, including in hiring. It kind of goes along with scale being a point of ego for a lot of engineers. But even people at Google say things like "no, this interview process is terrible, please don't copy it!". 🤷‍♂️

Collapse
rncrtr profile image
Ryan Carter

This makes me feel better. I thought it was me. Had a hunch it was them. I typically interview well then get told I'm not right or whatever for no apparent reason. Code tests do not help at all. This is like online dating but offline.

Collapse
turk profile image
Turk

There's no you and them. It's we who are trying to build a good team together.

I was an interviewee a few years ago and now I am conducting interviews to fill positions similar to mine.

Most of what's said in the article are not causes for a denial.

It has to be combination of things and interviewer(s) might have picked just one.

It could even be the attitude (no offense, this is just a guess), but no one will say 'you had a shitty attitude in the interview'.

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author

There's no you and them. It's we who are trying to build a good team together.

I disagree with this. So many tech interviewers want to “outsmart” the candidates. It’s extremely common. To those interviewers, it’s absolutely about them.

Collapse
davewo profile image
Dave Owens

Jamie, thank you for the great article. I hope you were able to find a role and org that you enjoy despite the tribulation.

I have hired folks for software engineering in an organization of 40-ish technical people. We would curate 2-3 candidates through a couple screening interviews then introduce them to the team on which they would work. The team would be able to veto any individual, though they always seemed to choose one candidate out of the group that they liked best. This is a time intensive process but we were all happy with the results.

I was usually very terse in my rejection letters, but would always respond to someone who made it through the initial screens. I wonder if "we decided to go with a different candidate" is better or worse than "we liked someone else better because they have more direct experience with x". You've given me something to think about regarding candidate rejection...

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author

I did indeed find a role with an engineering organization I really like. Surprisingly, they were one of my lower-ranked picks for myself when I started the process but they ended up being my top pick by a mile. :-)

Regarding your rejection letters, telling a candidate why you chose another candidate could end up adding friction as they try to justify their knowledge, but the reality is that they don't know who the other candidate is and how much experience they have with X technology, so it's hard for them to argue. They'll probably ask, but at that point it's probably best to leave those interactions to the recruiter (assuming you have internal recruiters) so you can focus more on other candidates.

But to take it back a bit, a "we prefer them" rejection is often way better received by a candidate than a "we don't want you" rejection. :-)

Collapse
dyland profile image
Dylan Davenport • Edited

I had an interview a few weeks ago that included a whiteboard challenge. Admittedly algorithms are not my strength so to speak but after finishing the challenge the interviewer said “you’ll never ACTUALLY do this in real life. We just want to see your problem solving skills.”

Ok...I get that but I first had to complete a take home assessment using Angular and the Google maps API. I’ve never used Angular but I finished the assessment in 4 days when I was told that it usually takes people a week or more to finish it.

To me that is a more realistic representation of my problem solving skills and should hold more weight than some algorithm that I’ll never use.

What’s most alarming is the fact that poorly conducted interviews are wide spread and well known yet nobody does anything to correct it. I partly blame us as developers for putting up with it so long.

Collapse
skamansam profile image
Samuel C. Tyler

I totally relate to this. IMHO, smaller startups tend to ask the right questions and assess real experience and ability. They want to know if you and the team get along well and tend to give more real-world programming assessments.

Collapse
rafh profile image
Rafael Heard

I have interviewed with companies in the past, and I have been asked to take technical assessments provided by 3rd party vendors. I'm sure all these tests aren't the same, but I've been burned multiple times. Sometimes I'm asked to solve a problem not related to the job description and once it was in a programming language not shown in the job description. I find things like this very frustrating. Hopefully, companies are vetting these 3rd party vendors periodically.

Collapse
jwollner5 profile image
John 'BBQ' Wollner

Early in my career I had a 2h interview during which the interviewer spent the entire time telling me why he wasn't going to hire me. I was too green to just leave so I toughed it out.

Collapse
barmatat profile image
Dmitry Spasibenko

@jgaskins , how did it happen that you could collect so many rejection reasons? I never even got one which could make any sense. In my case a "standard" rejection answer is a copy-pasted bullshit...

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author • Edited

Most of my rejection letters have been, as well. But after 15 years and a whole lot of rejections, it’s possible to get a few relatively straight answers. If I’ve been rejected for 50 roles, for example (no idea what the real number is, but it could be higher), I’ve probably had to ask 48 of them for feedback (this part is important because almost no company volunteers that info), 35 of them have given it (the rest may have a no-feedback policy or they’ve decided not to respond), and only 10 have given a straight answer.

Collapse
barmatat profile image
Dmitry Spasibenko • Edited

Thanks. Last fall I've just come through of the process so I can share some numbers. For some short period of time I've been involved in about 50 interviews, which turned into ~20 on-sites. I did not pay much attention to pre-onsite process (screenings and different phone calls), cause the reasons of not going forward could be different and they are not interested to me so much. I was more interested in the on-sites rejection results, which in my case were 1/2 of the total number (~10). I always explicitly asked for the feedback. I got zero answers that could give me an understanding of the rejection. Nobody told me the reason. Zero. That is probably one of the weird things in the whole process.

Collapse
jadnohra profile image
Jad Nohra • Edited

You are totally right Jamie. My own experiences and conclusions about this I wrote down here: Interview Brain Freeze: a Self-experiment
linkedin.com/pulse/interview-brain...

Collapse
ryanhaber profile image
Ryan Haber

Do you think some of the dumber reasons were honest? What do you think were the real reasons some of the companies rejected you?

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author

Please refer to the last 3 paragraphs of the article for that explanation.

Collapse
ryanhaber profile image
Ryan Haber

Oh, yeah, I saw that. That definitely happens, a superiority complex.

I know "the real reasons you didn't get the job" wasn't the topic of the post. It's just the last paragraphs didn't really leave me with a satisfying sense of the full range of possible reasons, so I wondered if you had other thoughts that didn't fit into this article.

Also, superiority complex alone leaves a job interviewee with very little sense of what he can do differently to improve his odds next time around.

Ya know what I mean?

Collapse
pdtayl888 profile image
Patrick D. Taylor

So it's like damn near every other industry.

Collapse
brycebba profile image
brycebba

Just playing devil's advocate, it could be that you aren't qualified but they aren't able to communicate that in a clear way that makes any sense or they are just blithering idiots...

Collapse
jgaskins profile image
Jamie Gaskins Author

For future reference, any time you're opening with any variation of "playing devil's advocate" in reply to someone you don't know, it won't be taken well.

For every single one of the roles listed in this article, I exceeded every requirement laid out in the job posting. When you considering these are almost always more of a wish list than actual requirements, the problem isn't being unqualified. I also have a history of contributing to open source and even building my own tools. I also have a blog with some pretty great content in it.

I've had plenty of interviews where I was out of my depth. That was not the case in any example presented in this article.

Collapse
brycebba profile image
brycebba

Whoa man, that's why I said ... or they are blithering idiots. I wasn't questioning your intelligence and qualifications are in no way related to intelligence anyway. I was just saying sometimes when companies don't "like" a candidate for whatever reason they sometimes don't communicate that well and pick some stupid reason to say that might not even be related to the real reason.