Tips from an interviewer at HackerX
“Don’t hire the guy ahead of me, he’s a racist!”
This was one of the many interesting quotes of the evening. I recently was an interviewer at HackerX, an invite-only recruiting event for developers.
The premise is simple. Hundreds of developers flood into a room with 15–20 companies and “speed date”. You get 4–5 minutes with each company and then you move on. It’s an interesting concept that helps both companies and developers to see what’s out there.
For developers, this is one of the quickest and easiest ways to get in front of top tech companies. HackerX boasts Google, Twitter, and Uber as past companies. In practice, it all depends on location. I hadn’t heard of any of the brands at the event I attended.
For companies, the pitch is that each developer was hand picked by the event coordinators. There is a generally a specific focus too. Our event was for full-stack developers with 5+ years experience.
I spoke to over 30 developers that night. I reached out to two. And I currently work with zero. It was a bust. All in all though, HackerX did a good job organizing the event. There was free food and beer. The fast-paced interviewing ran like clockwork. The developers just kinda sucked.
At least, they interviewed that way. Understandable, since this was a new experience for everyone in the room. As an interviewer, I saw many strategies that developers took. It didn’t take learn to learn which were successful. If I were to attend as a candidate, these are some of the things I would focus on.
Make a Positive First Impression
Research shows that you have six minutes and 25 seconds to make a solid first impression in a job interview. While first impressions are hard to shake, at least with a real interview you get that chance. Here, first impressions aren’t just important, they’re everything. Make it count. Don’t call people racists (yes, this happened).
A staggering number of candidates spent too long complaining about their current situation. Why their company was wronging them and how much better they are than that. They focused on everything negative.
After all the pleasantries, you’ve got about 240 seconds to impress. Take a minute to complain and 25% of the time I’ve known you, you’ve been full of negativity. It’s not a good look.
I can’t imagine a situation where complaining about your job makes you look good. If you feel it’s that relevant, fantastic. Tell me about it later in a full interview. But don’t spend precious time convincing me that you’re a victim.
If I’m a candidate, I’m avoiding all opinions about my current employer, good or bad. It’s irrelevant at this stage. If I’ve only got four minutes to convince someone I’m worthy, I’m focusing on personality and skill set. That’s it.
One of the most surprising things from the night was the number of developers that didn’t want a job. They spent most of the conversation explaining why they were content. They wanted to see what was out there.
Unfortunately, most of these people chose to mention this at the very end of the conversation.
To me, this was a waste of both our times. It’s the equivalent of attending an actual speed dating event and ending the conversation with “I’m happily married, I just came for the free beer”.
“What are you going to do with my information?”
Uh, maybe contact you so I can hire you? I left so many of the conversations utterly confused. If you’re here to hang out, fine. But be upfront about it.
If I were attending as a dev who had no intention of joining another company… well, I wouldn’t be attending. But if I had to I’d be sure to lead off the conversation with that. Let the interviewer of the hook. We can take a break and chat. But I would not lead the interviewer on.
Leave a Lasting… Something
HackerX provides interviewers with names and contact info for each attendee. This sounds good in theory. But after speaking with tens and tens of candidates, it’s not easy to stand out.
The fast-paced nature of the event means there is zero time for reflection. No time to write more than a word or two about each candidate and a quick little ranking. I marked a few developers with scores of 9’s and 10’s, but by the next day, I had no idea why.
Just like in real speed dating, you have to do something to stand out and be memorable. A small number of candidates brought resumes. I was able to compare these resumes to my ratings. I gave one dev a 7 in the interview but reached out to him because of his resume.
If I were to attend as a dev, I would be sure to bring something memorable for the interviewers to take with them. It wouldn’t be a traditional resume though. This is a pretty informal event. Indeed, the resumes seemed a little out of place.
I would bring a fun overview of my skills and experience with a small profile picture. I would make it smaller and less wordy than my traditional resume. I’d add some color. This way they have something to remember me by. In my experience, it would have put candidates on another level.
Try It Out-If You’re Looking
If you’re looking for a job or interested in switching I’d still recommend giving it a try. See if there is a city near you and request an invite. Worst case scenario, it will be a valuable new experience. Best case you may meet your dream job. Just don’t show up if you’re already happily married!