The Beacon of Hope (from Pete)
My phone interview for a senior developer position in the banking industry started off pretty well. The jovial and affable development manager told me that my CV stood out "like a beacon of hope compared to the vast oceans of crap applicants" he had been sent by HR and various recruitment consultants. "I just have one question," he said with a smile in his voice, "how soon could can you start?"

I chuckled, and then he told me it was time to do some actual interview questions. He started with a simple one: "Have you used WCF?"

"Yes," I replied, "I've used DataContracts and—"

He cut me off with "have you used a reporting tool like Crystal Reports?"

"Well, I've used SQL Reporting Services quite a bit in the past, in particular the cli—"

He cut me off again "Do you use source control?"

"Yes, we use TFS at work with automated builds and continuous integration and I've got SVN at—"

"This is going brilliantly" he enthused, cutting me off once more. "Seriously, when can you start?"

I truthfully told him my notice period was two months from the end of the current month.

"Ouch, is that normal?"

"It's in my contract," I said. Considering he was a fellow Brit, it was a bit curious he asked – unlike "at will" jobs in the states, employment contracts are somewhat the norm here.

"Sod your contract," he scoffed, "we can make it worth your while if you know what I mean. Just don't go in to work and come and join us instead."

I told him it was asking a bit much, especially considering we were still only two minutes into our first telephone conversation. I suggested that maybe a face-to-face interview should be the next logical step if he thinks there's a possibility of me joining them.

"Good idea! Can you come first thing tomorrow?"

"Well no, I have to work, how about 2pm Friday?"

"Excellent, you'll love it here, they're a great bunch of guys. On Fridays, everybody stops working and we break out the beer and crisps, some of the guys head off to town. They really like to chase the chicks, like a rat up a drainpipe some of them. You'll definitely want to ditch your current employer as soon as you see our setup!" he said with an increasing level of seedy intensity in his voice.

A few days later, I arrived at the bank building with a car park chock full of luxury sports cars. Everyone was sharply turned out in suits, neatly coiffured hair, and wristwatches the size of speedometers. There were posters of Michael Schumacher adorning the walls and models of Formula One cars in glass cabinets with even more Schumacher photos. The setting was certainly an affluent one with more than a hint of conspicuous consumption. Considering I didn't own a car, wristwatch, or a even a suit that wasn't a decade old, I got the distinct impression this was the wrong environment for me.

The in-person interview process started with a programming task to basically to rewrite taskmanager.exe in C#. It's actually pretty simple once you know the basics of a GridView and the System.Diagnostics namespace, you can whip up a simple program in a matter of minutes. By the end of the allotted thirty minutes, I had a decent little program that listed and controlled processes.

My interviewer started to review the code and was immediately baffled by the readonly modifier on a private property. He didn't believe that it was valid C# code, but after pointing out that not only that the application compiled, but that there's a MSDN article explaining how it worked, he moved on to the next bit of wonderment: "all the pointy brackets". I spent the next few minutes explaining how .NET Generics work, only to then explain how lambda expressions work. After another visit to MSDN to show that it was, in fact, valid code, he acquiesced and admitted that he had been a manager for a while and was not fully up to date with everything since .NET 1.1.

But it was all good: he said my skills were up to scratch and invited me to the CTO's office for negotiations. A short walk later, and I was sitting across from the most business looking guy I've ever seen in my life. He had perfect pearly white teeth, an immaculately trimmed beard, and a  slick suit. He was surrounded by photos of him fist-bumping Schumacher, high-fiving Schumacher, and rabbit-ears-ing Schumacher. His Ferrari keys were conspicuously placed on the desk and he was wearing a wristwatch the size of a dinner plate with more telemetry than a jet cockpit.

"So tell me," he asked, "why do you want to work for us?"

By this point, I had decided there was nothing more I wanted than to go home and have a massive drink. This job and company were definitely not for me, but I nonetheless made up some nonsense about wanting to progress my career and how the bank was as nice a step up.

"You know," he beamed, "if you decide to join us, you'll be the first Swiss person to ever work for us!"

This was somewhat unusual as the bank itself was based out of Switzerland. I also have a bit of a Northern English accent (which is pretty far from Swiss), and my CV very clearly lists my nationality as British. I figured it was a weak joke or sorts and chuckled.

"How will this job fit in with your family life?" the CTO asked, "will your wife be able to take care of your children? This job has a lot of overtime."

I was a bit taken aback by the question. Not because of its content (these sorts of questions are a bit common here), but because my CV clearly states that I'm not married and don't have any kids. Not sure if he was joking, I responded "I don't have either a wife or children."

"Really?" the CTO and development manager said in unison. They CTO handed me the CV he was looking at. It described a Swiss national ten years my elder who was married with two children, lived in a town a few miles from my own, who had gone to some prestigious university in France, and who had worked at serveral financial institutions. But the name and email on the CV matched my own. Sheepish looks went all around until the development manager broke the silence with "well, I think our HR consultant sometimes mixes these things up."

Things stayed awkward for a few more moments as they thanked me for coming in, and that they would still consider me for the position.  The development manager led me back to the lobby through the trading floor, which featured plenty of pictures of Schumacher and many well-dressed bankers with flash watches at their disks, all with luxury car keys very conspicuously displayed.

We both said our goodbyes, knowing full-well that we would never speak again. And we both seemed relieved by that.

 

A Positive Attitude (from Peter)
A little more than a year ago, we were looking for a Java web developer. The job description we posted included a number of web technologies as required skills, which made it pretty easy to figure out if the candidate was worthwhile to interview or not. One fellow had a fairly decent resume, but his application letter was... epic.

Hey:

So you're gonna hate me for saying this, but that might have been because of me... How?

Because I had opportunity of working as research analyst, the job in which my principal tasks consisted in carrying out the search and the realization for some project on modeling and the checking in the elements of the networks. Also I had working to developer the applications mobiles for the intelligent phones.

I can also tell you how I combine several technologies to come up with amazing web applications implemented with Java, running on a Tomcat Web Server, using my own persistence framework over a SQL layer, PL/SQL, MySQL,, SAP, Oracle presented through HTML, "sugar coated" with CSS and made dynamic with JavaScript and AJAX. And more than this, I can tell you that I work on four screens simultaneously, but the proof is in the pudding... I'm here to develop Java based, dynamic, interactive, secure, modular and maintainable web applications.

I'm a team player and just as much as I love working in a dynamic team with different ideas and visions flying back and forth, I rock just as well by myself. Give me a keyboard, a couple of screens and the right tools and you'll see magic happening right before your eyes. I learn quick, but that's not all, teach me something, I'll go beyond and improve it.

Do I have the required communication skills? I have what it takes to communicate in a professional and social context both in French and English. How do I do this? Well this is part of who I am: I can reach my very core and rewrite it on demand, I'm not stuck with the limitations of a rigid personality; I adapt, evolve and improve myself on a constant basis. The possibilities are endless, and I have every intention on reaching higher ground through hard work, a positive attitude and the will to do what it takes to succeed.

You must have gotten a brief glimpse at who I am at this point, but I would rather not spill the beans right away, we'll discuss other areas of my expertise and other dimensions of my personality once we meet in the flesh, and I'm looking forward to it, so let's arrange for a meeting, lunch or coffee and see how I can bring my addition to your team.

Best,

XXX XXXX

Despite him clearly having what it takes to communicate in a professional and social context, we decided to pass on the interview. Though in retrospect, it probably would have made for quite the story.