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If Your Tech Interview is Three Tech Interviews in a Trench Coat and I Do Five is It Additive or Exponential

laurieontech profile image Laurie Originally published at laurieontech.com ・14 min read

I want to warn you all ahead of time. This is going to be a lengthy post. So feel free to take it in chunks. I also want to add that this post is filled with privilege. At no point during this process did I fear losing my job, my basic needs were always more than met, and I'm a white cis woman. This is a narrative of my experience and the lessons I learned along the way. It is not meant as universal tips for the job search process. That's deeply personal.

There are a large number of people in tech who subscribe to the "you should always be interviewing" mentality. To be honest, I've never been one of them. If you've been around me much, you know that I'm not fond of how we interview in this industry. So it makes sense that I wouldn't choose to subject myself to that process for no reason.

That being said, I opted to begin a job search around six months ago. What did that mean for me? It meant I told some friends privately that I was willing to entertain opportunities. And if I saw something appealing, I'd apply.

That's where our story starts. This post will include lessons I learned as a job seeker. As well as patterns I hope companies will address.

Quick note. I receive a LOT of recruiter inbound. Of the companies I mention in this post, only a few of them were places I considered because of unsolicited outreach. I'm far more likely to rely on the recommendations of friends.

My Network has grown

I've not "searched" for jobs in some time. The last time was my first full-time coding job where I interviewed at nine different companies. From there, I fell into another opportunity. And when I joined Gatsby I had only applied to that specific role.

The last few years have been a lot of fun as I've gotten to broaden my reach in the JavaScript ecosystem and meet a lot of incredible people. To be honest, I hadn't realized what that would mean should I ever look for a new role.

My search quickly became overwhelming. My friends, who are awesome and I thank them, sent me so many leads and connected me with even more people. I wound up with five or so concrete interview opportunities within a week. And in the end, I went through two distinct periods of interviewing with a break in between. Let's talk about how that played out.

Search Part I

We'll start with the first "phase" of interviews, the initial five companies. For two companies, the process ended after the first conversation. One was on my side--I couldn't go through five processes at once. I was working a full-time job. The second was on their side. They liked me, but they'd just closed the role with someone else.

LESSON #1
The first qualified candidate through the process will get hired. If there is a difference of under a week they may hold off, but not always. Find out if you're part of a search for a single seat and what their timeline is.

Now for the other three opportunities! I'll start by saying I made it to final rounds for all of them. And I didn't get offers from any of them. Demoralizing? Yes. Exhausting? Without a doubt. I'm not going to name specific companies, but I will talk about each of those experiences individually.

Company A

This was my first technical interview process in quite some time. I coded in front of them in at least three interviews. One went well, one I thought went well (we'll get to that in a second), one went poorly.

They had a two-part final round and called me the night after part one to cancel the following day. I genuinely appreciate them not wasting more of my time.

But let's talk about how we got there in the first place. Their interviews were very tool-user specific. This was for a tech lead role that would need to help guide the team to solve problems, use more scalable practices, and yes, code.

Their interviews focused on whether I put curly braces in the right place on the first try (and yes, that was actually part of the feedback). I had told them prior to the interview that I was working in the frontend ecosystem in a very niche area! That some of my generic frontend skills were rusty. But sometimes, even when you set expectations, there is a clear disconnect.

You won't be surprised to hear that this experience inspired my senior interviews post.

Company B

Fun fact, this would not be the only time I interviewed with this company in the six-month period, but this was the first.

The full interview process involved eleven conversations when all was said and done. To be honest, I made some mistakes here and I think they're important to talk about.

The job seemed perfect at first! But as the process went on I realized it was very systems architecture heavy. And I ignored that. Choosing to move forward because they were moving me forward. It wasn't the right job for me, we both knew it, but neither party wanted to admit it.

Was that a bad thing? Well, yes. Because I didn't have the right kind of experience for what they were indexing on (there were other parts of the job I could do well), they added extra interviews on that subject. They wanted to be super sure I couldn't do the job! Because they liked me! And that sucked.

It seemed like everyone was being nice and giving me my fair shot. But in reality, we all knew I didn't have that skill at the level they wanted. So it wasn't super fair to keep putting me through those extra interviews.

I also froze in one of the early interviews on that subject. I can normally BS and talk through most situations, even when I'm terrified. I couldn't in this scenario. I suspect this is a big reason they opted to add additional interviews--in case it really was just nerves.

LESSON #2 The company may be awesome. You may want it to work. But if the interviews are focused on things you don't like/aren't good at AND you've confirmed that matches the tasks of the role, drop out.

Company C

I'll state up front that this was my most frustrating interview experience. And I'm still not pleased with how it went. I applied for a staff-level position, had an initial call, and was fast-tracked to their final interview process. Awesome!

This company does generic interviews for candidates at that level (they're not alone, I'll touch on this later). The problem was how this played out. I was applying for a somewhat specialist position. As I moved through conversations and they didn't seem to match the role at all, I'd ask "is this type of work part of what I'll be doing in this position"? 3/4 interviewers didn't know what I was interviewing for. 2/4 looked it up and hadn't heard of the team.

I would never recommend a company do this for so many reasons. I knew as soon as I left the final conversation I hadn't met the bar. Because the bar didn't even make sense. Plus, I was exhausted (we'll hit on that in a moment too).

When the recruiter emailed me she mentioned how amazing I clearly was and that she was sure I'd land somewhere great. I had a sense she was stunned I could tank their interview so badly when it was clear I had experience. Tech is big! People can't know everything. So don't interview them for things you aren't hiring them for.

Now to the exhausted point. I was exhausted. This was the last of my processes. I was doing interviews almost exclusively in west coast time because I had a day job. If I recall correctly, that final round started at 6 pm on a Friday night for me.

LESSON #3
Interviews when you're tired put you at a disadvantage. Schedule them as best you can to prevent that eventuality. And if there are jobs you don't want? Drop out and save your energy for the ones you do.

So where does that leave us?

And that was the first stretch of interview processes I went through! By this point it was Fall. I was moving. The holidays were coming up. I was exhausted. I'd followed through on the initial leads and nothing had panned out. So I stopped.

This is the absolute best thing I could have done for myself. I had barely made it through some of the end rounds with my mental health. It was a pandemic still. Work had been really busy, and a bunch of my friends had left.

As I was about to take two weeks off for the holidays, something shifted.

Search Part II

I still hadn't told any additional people I was looking beyond the original handful. But apparently, the end of 2020 meant a lot of roles were about to open up.

All of a sudden I was contacted for, referred to, and otherwise told about over a dozen roles. I won't go through each of these individually, but I'll capture the highlights.

Company D

I was so so excited about this role. I didn't start an official interview process, it was all conversations about me, my background, what the role entailed, if I was interested in it.

But part of the reason I didn't interview was because they didn't want to put me through that until they were sure they could hire me. In the end, they couldn't. They didn't have the right headcount in the right places. But the company treated me as a human and an individual. Timing didn't line up but if they came back in the future I certainly might consider working there.

LESSON #4
Timing is everything. A company may contact you to interview just as you're about to accept an offer. You may find an amazing role that would be perfect for past you, or future you, but not current you. It's frustrating, but it's good to recognize that a lot of job searching is out of your control.

The Start-Ups

This is not an entirely fair grouping, but there were three companies in my space that had various roles they were interested in me for. I took those conversations, sometimes going a bit further into the process.

The problem was I sort of knew that wasn't what I wanted for my next step. But it took me a while to feel confident in that and walk away from those processes. And I had too much going on at the time too, so that forced my hand.

LESSON #5
It's really hard to say no. Like, really hard. Especially when the company is small and you don't feel like just another number. But it's best for everyone that you do. Even if you were referred to the role. Be respectful and fair.

The repeats

This may seem surprising, but there were a lot of companies I talked to more than once, for different roles. Some didn't move quickly enough before I had another offer I wanted to take. In other cases the role wasn't right the second time around, so I dropped out.

Talking to places twice was great because they tried to limit the conversations I'd already had. And they were keyed into the type of work I wanted to do.

LESSON #6
There will always be another role open at a company eventually. Don't burn bridges if things don't work out the first time around. And don't be afraid to apply to a new listing even if it's at a company you just completed a process with.

The title "cuts"

This one is interesting and was a part of the conversation at a lot of different companies, but two in particular. These companies had openings for roles with a specific level in mind, rather than a sliding scale that they'd peg to the candidate in question.

That was great information to have upfront! I decided not to pursue either role in the end, though the level misalignment was not ultimately a factor in those decisions. One was a timing thing. The other had a bad reputation for women when I asked around.

LESSON #7
Make sure to use your network and ask around about companies you're considering. Typically you'll do this research before applying, but recruiter inbound is different. This is especially important as a minoritized individual; be sure to get a clear picture of the company culture before investing too much time in the process.

But let's get back to the title cut conversations. Knowing the company had a specific level in mind ahead of time was a perfectly reasonable explanation. Unfortunately, there was more than one place I spoke with where the recruiter opened with "you may have to take a title cut" and no further explanation. They were projecting what they thought my experience would count as before interviewing me in any capacity. That was a red flag.

LESSON #8
There can be a lot of reasons for titles, compensation, etc. Make sure you know why. Context does matter.

The offers

Now we're getting to the final two. The places where I chose to go through all the interviews and ultimately received offers.

Company E

Another generic interview! I told you we'd come back to this. But this one was done really well! All the rounds were applicable to my skills, everyone knew what types of signals they were looking for, etc.

But I still don't like generic interviews. While this experience was far better, it left the team match until the end. It was essentially, "if we like you, we'll find where you fit when we're done". That meant a lot of time was put into a process for a job I didn't know anything about.

And in the end, I really liked the company. But finding the right team and the right manager felt like a burden I was putting on them, dragging out the process. That wasn't a great way to feel.

LESSON #9
Always take your time and do your research after you're given an offer. If the company tries to rush you, be wary. However, see my note about privilege at the beginning. You may not be able to do this, and that's perfectly ok.

Company F

This was a repeat process so they nixed a few interviews. But the role was in such a different technical area than the first process that it was hard to do more than that. What's interesting about this process was that I was in touch with the hiring manager throughout. I spoke to him early on and checked back in for ~15-minute calls between almost every set of rounds. This was unique among the places I interviewed. In most cases, I'd meet the hiring manager once. And in at least one process they planned to hire me without having met them at all!

Another interesting part of this process was they were clearly aware of the possibility that I may not choose to work there. This is always true, but rarely is it acknowledged in a scenario where companies hold a lot more power than candidates. This meant that they asked me a lot of questions about what I wanted to do, raised concerns they saw about where the role may not match my needs, etc. I felt confident by the end that I knew what to expect.

LESSON #10
You will almost always have more questions than they give you the time to ask. If you don't feel like you have a good sense of the role, or the team, or the company, or anything else you want to know, make sure you have someone you can follow up with asynchronously.

The Patterns

  1. Every final process included multiple interviews. And each time they'd talk about how each of those interviews was focused on different skills/questions. Yet they consistently repeated questions and I repeated examples/anecdotes. This is a frustrating waste of time that we should address as an industry.

  2. Interviewers need to know the skills they're looking for in a candidate or they shouldn't be interviewing them. One size fits all makes zero sense for a company of a certain size, regardless of the level targeted.

  3. The tool user problem I talk about in my senior engineers post is absolutely real. The best interviews I had included only one hands-on coding task and you passed based on your approach to the problem, rather than familiarity.

  4. There were some red flags I witnessed that I think are worth writing down. They may not be flags to everyone, but they were to me.

  • Using the term "famous" or "superstar" as a way to appeal to me as a hire. It made me worry about what criteria they were using for the team/company.
  • Mentioning that I would help them break the mold of a homogenous team based on friends of friends. I had no interest in being a guinea pig.
  • Managers who made it clear they'd rather be ICs and used their time accordingly. Not someone I want helping me navigate the next stages of my career.

There were others, but those three stick in my brain.

So what's next?

I'm starting a new job next week! I'll probably mention where in the next few days. But I wanted to focus on the process first. I truly hope it's useful to see this all written down.

It took a considerable amount of time to find a company I wanted to work for, with a role I was interested in, where the timing aligned. There were times it existed and I didn't pass muster. It was a hard and tiring process but I'll leave you with one final lesson.

LESSON #11
People tell you to always be interviewing because the tech industry has turned interviewing into its own skill that you can get rusty at. If you don't want to do that--I didn't--make sure the company you’re most interested in isn’t the one you interview with first. Give yourself a true trial run, with real stakes, to stretch those interviewing muscles. By the time I got to the second phase of companies, I was seeing exercises I'd already seen and solved.

Lessons Summary

  1. The first qualified candidate through the process will get hired. If there is a difference of under a week they may hold off, but not always. Find out if you're part of a search for a single seat and what their timeline is.

  2. The company may be awesome. You may want it to work. But if the interviews are focused on things you don't like/aren't good at AND you've confirmed that matches the tasks of the role, drop out.

  3. Interviews when you're tired put you at a disadvantage. Schedule them as best you can to prevent that eventuality. And if there are jobs you don't want? Drop out and save your energy for the ones you do.

  4. Timing is everything. A company may contact you to interview just as you're about to accept an offer. You may find an amazing role that would be perfect for past you, or future you, but not current you. It's frustrating, but it's good to recognize that a lot of job searching is out of your control.

  5. It's really hard to say no. Like, really hard. Especially when the company is small and you don't feel like just another number. But it's best for everyone that you do. Even if you were referred to the role. Be respectful and fair.

  6. There will always be another role open at a company eventually. Don't burn bridges if things don't work out the first time around. And don't be afraid to apply to a new listing even if it's at a company you just completed a process with.

  7. Make sure to use your network and ask around about companies you're considering. Typically you'll do this research before applying, but recruiter inbound is different. This is especially important as a minoritized individual; be sure to get a clear picture of the company culture before investing too much time in the process.

  8. There can be a lot of reasons for titles, compensation, etc. Make sure you know why. Context does matter.

  9. Always take your time and do your research after you're given an offer. If the company tries to rush you, be wary. However, see my note about privilege at the beginning. You may not be able to do this, and that's perfectly ok.

  10. You will almost always have more questions than they give you the time to ask. If you don't feel like you have a good sense of the role, or the team, or the company, or anything else you want to know, make sure you have someone you can follow up with asynchronously.

  11. People tell you to always be interviewing because the tech industry has turned interviewing into its own skill that you can get rusty at. If you don't want to do that--I didn't--make sure the company you’re most interested in isn’t the one you interview with first. Give yourself a true trial run, with real stakes, to stretch those interviewing muscles. By the time I got to the second phase of companies, I was seeing exercises I'd already seen and solved.

Discussion (8)

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rahoulb profile image
Rahoul Baruah

Thank you for this.

That last lesson is particularly interesting to me - I tried two interviews last year and failed miserably, despite, on paper, being perfect for the job. But I've been freelancing for so long I don't really remember how to fit in to other people's expectations.

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dana94 profile image
Dana Ottaviani

Thanks for this Laurie. I don't like the idea of always needing to interview for companies because I don't have the time for that. But with the companies I've interviewed with and the ones I've left, there have been many red flags that I now keep in mind.

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sansseryph profile image
Kyla

Such a wonderful write-up - thank you! I found myself relating to a lot of your experiences when I was interviewing about six months ago and am glad that this is out there for other people to connect with.

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laurieontech profile image
Laurie Author

Thanks so much

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harry_wood profile image
harry_wood

made it to final rounds for all of them. And I didn't get offers from any of them. Demoralizing? Yes. Exhausting? Without a doubt

I'm living that experience right now. Just reached the final rounds on two interview processes at the same time, which was exhausting. Felt like I'd definately be in a new job any day now, but then neither worked out. Hey ho. Start again

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190245 profile image
Dave

Thanks for a good read.

It seemed like everyone was being nice and giving me my fair shot. But in reality, we all knew I didn't have that skill at the level they wanted.

I sit on the opposite side of the table a lot - they were looking more at you because they wanted to save some money, knew you didn't match what they were looking for, but could probably learn it. So they would have given a low ball offer until someone on their side stepped in and said "no."

I think my views on the process involved align with yours (and I'm horrified you had to jump through so many hoops). So thanks for posting.

(I'll soon be interviewing for a Technical PM and a QA, unfortunately we're forced into 2 rounds of interview for at least the PM role, I'd prefer "one and done.")

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Great read Laurie

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elvezpablo profile image
Paul

Awesome write up. I totally appreciate you sharing your experiences good and bad. I will be thinking of these as I go to apply for positions soon!