Oleksandr Kaleniuk


Please don’t sell yourself. We’re not buying

Yes, this is yet another “technical interview rant.” Like many others, it is biased, trivial, and it would not in any way help you get a job of your dream. Unlike many others, it isn’t even supposed to.

I just want to verbalize one important thing. The job is not a prize. It’s not something you win and go. It is something you will be spending your life on for quite a long time. It will be a part of your life; it will become a part of you.

Or it wouldn’t. Then some other job probably will.

My point is, getting the most hyped position on a market should not be your goal. You need a job that fits you now and that allows you to grow comfortably in the direction you want.

And what’s fascinating, when I got involved in a hiring process, I came to realize that the company when it wants to fill a position has a very similar goal. It looks for a candidate that fits the job well and is capable of growing in the directions the company provides.

So, in theory, the hiring process should be as easy as a showdown — you lay your cards down, we lay down ours — and if it all works for both parties, we all win.

Unless of course any of the parties chooses to bluff. Or in other words “sell themselves.” That spoils everything. Candidates now have to do a comprehensive research on a company before even walking into an interview, and the company, including ours, in particular, has to come up with some test to verify candidates’ claims about themselves.

We don’t do white-boarding when hiring for our team. Nobody likes that, and it’s not very helpful anyway. But we do give a small programming task right during the interview to see how the candidate codes. It is not the best exercise, sure, and we realize that. But a lot of applicants that look extremely well both on a resume and in person simply can’t code.

We also do puzzles. Not that “candy in the Volkswagen” crap, but simple geometrical tasks to see if the candidate has three-dimensional imagination. It turns out this is also a rare gift. It is essential for what we do, though, so we have to test for that.

And we do a C++ quiz as well. C++ is huge, and we have to probe candidate’s knowledge at least in some crucial points. Of course, it is ok not to know everything. Most of the applicants don’t get even half of our questions right, and they are still ok. There are people who come from “templateless” culture or who never had to use exceptions in their professional experience. Not knowing something has never been a show stopper. But we expect a certain level of competence in the fields the candidate claims to be familiar with. That’s what the test is all about.

I’m pretty sure our process is unjust and ineffective. We’re making it better step by step, but it is inherently flawed, and there is nothing we can do to make it drastically better. There is simply no good way to access a person’s skills in just an hour and a half. That’s why we have to rely on the bad ones.

What troubles me is that the very idea of “selling yourself” is somehow socially acceptable, and the idea of white-board programming is not. These are just the two sides of the same coin. We all have the same goal, we all want to match a person and a position in the best possible way. But we can’t trust each other which is sad and unnecessary.

So next time you’re in the technical interview, please, don’t sell yourself. Just be yourself.

Not getting a job is not the worth thing that can happen. You can always get one that fits you better. The worst thing would be to land in a workplace full of incompetent people who are only good at being interviewed.

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