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We need more interview fail posts

Matt Ellen
Ultra-fullstack software developer. Python, JavaScript, C#, C. He/him/his
・2 min read

I see many people on Dev wondering how to get their first job. I also see people offering advice on interviews and portfolios and such.

I'm sure the advice is fine. I doubt anyone is giving advice that would hinder someone.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuut it's only a part of the story. Every successful interviewee can tell you what they did and maybe there are some useful nuggets. And every job agency can give you the same advice they give every candidate, but not every candidate is successful, obviously, so what actually works? Who knows?

Let me introduce you to a well known phenomenon called "survivorship bias". This video is a nice overview of the idea. Basically, if you only look at the damage surviving planes suffer, you don't find the weaknesses. You need to look at where the bullet holes aren't to understand why some planes don't come back.

If you only hear about successful candidates, you can't tell why the others failed. You need to know about the unsuccessful ones to get a clear picture.

I known the problem with having people describe their experiences is that people favour themselves. This is natural, noΓΆne likes to think badly of themselves. So when it comes to reading about failed interviews, we need to keep this in mind, that not even this will get us to the whole truth. I can only implore people willing to blog about their interview experiences to be as honest as they can. It's hard, if for no other reason than reliving rejection is unpleasant.

This is on the hiring companies, too, moreso even. If they don't explain what didn't work, then people aren't going to be able to course correct. I got so many rejections letters before my first job and there was nothing to go on. Vague things like "not a good culture fit" aren't particularly helpful, and most of the time there wasn't even that, just "not successful, will keep you on file".

What was I doing wrong? I don't know. Was it because I was very quiet? Too loud? Not wearing a tie? Did I not express myself well despite the stressful situation? Did they not like people with beards?

I can see why companies wouldn't want to do this. It's time consuming and it will lay bare your cultural biases and help people steer clear if you raise any red flags. But if you want to stream line your hiring procedure this is a good place to start, because people will know what doesn't work for you and be able to know better themselves if they're wasting time.

Of course, companies are exponentially more likely to use spin to make themselves look good than the interviewee, so it is far more important to approach their input with scepticism.

This is a bit rambly and unstructured, but as a call to action: tell us things that have annoyed you about interviews when you didn't get the job. What felt like the company was over-stepping, or time-wasting, or box checking, or anything that seemed irrelevant to you.

Discussion (1)

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Amelia Vieira Rosado 🐣✨

This post is underrated. Failure is not the sexiest topic and people don't like to show themselves in a vulnerable light (myself included). Thus, I hereby pledge to share my failures with the world, everything else be damned! (I mean it, despite how stupid that sounded). But in all seriousness now, I agree with you wholeheartedly on this one. We NEED more failure stories.

Now, here's my side of the story: as a Junior, I haven't had many interviews. I got to do internships at the company I'm currently at because I knew an employee there. He did me the favor of forwarding my cover letter to higher ups and some time later they called me in for a chat. Nothing fancy (besides, I live on a small island. Everyone knows each other, bla bla)

What frustrates me about the hiring process? Every darn thing! Okay, let me be specific:

  • How they take centuries to get back to you (no matter if it is good or bad news,
  • That cultural fit BS (I've heard of it before and it's plain stupid. You hire for skills, not for personalities or whatever. Or so I think)
  • When you don't make the cut, you get no feedback. So you are left there wondering what was a turn off to them.

Man, I could go on, but I feel myself getting gradually angrier, so I'll cut this one short.

Thank you for shining a light on this topic @mellen Hope we can get more failure stories on here. I'll do my part in any case. Cheers 🍻