All Tales from the Interview

Job interview stories.

The Triple Threat

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Interviews are bidirectional in that you are supposed to be culling as much information about the prospective team, co-workers and management as possible, in the same way that they are trying to size you up.

There are all sorts of interviewing styles; the reasonable back-and-forth conversation that actually allows you to learn about each other, the written test to see if you can do a ten line program that you had as a homework assignment back in CS102, the keep-guessing-until-you-come-up-with-the-solution-I'm-thinking-of torture test, and so on. However, this tale centers on an interviewer trying so hard to come up with the perfect question, that not only was unanswerable, but there was no way for the interviewer to judge if any answer given was correct.

WWII pamphlet warning soldiers against Tamaro, Mosquitos and Japanese Soldiers

Secure Portfolio

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Atari Portfolio Photomanipped

"Heeey, Sean ..." Aisha's tone was cloying as she poked her head around the divider of Sean's cube, still seated on her desk chair.


Monitoring the Situation

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Joe T recently decided it was time to go job hunting. This mostly meant deflecting emails from head-hunters, doing phone interviews with ignorant HR departments, and the occasional on-site interview with a possible employer. One of those on-site interviews brought him to an IT services company which handled a few large US government contracts.

004. Brasserie La Saint-Pierre à Saint-Pierre (Bas-Rhin)


Classic WTF: Trouble With Founders, the Lost Candidate, and More

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I think Tales from the Interview are always a special treat, in part because we don't run them very often. It may also be because at my last job, I was notorious for once making a candidate cry and have a panic attack, but I'm an incredibly nice interviewer! I swear!

Enjoy this veritable smorgasbord of terrifying interviews from 2012. - Remy

Trouble with Founders (from Ben C.)
A few of my friends (all CS people) were attending a startup mixer hosted at a little airport near our university. At one point, we all got kind of bored of talking with everyone, so we stepped outside to look at the planes. Soon enough, some business people in suits noticed the nerds talking outside so slowly started approaching.

They started talking with us, trying not to be too obvious about their intents. They asked where we were from and we told them our college. We asked what brought them here, and they said they were starting a company. We asked what it was for and they responded "Data Analytics". At this point, we were a little curious, so we tried to get some more information, and then they gave us their wonderful pitch.


Limit as Sense Approaches Zeno

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It’s an uncomfortable truth in our enlightened, 21st-century utopia, but we often don’t know how to deal with people that deviate slightly from the norm. Jim knows a thing or two (or three) about this, because he has a Bachelors of Science with three majors: Computer Science, English, and Mathematics. Let’s not dwell on how such a thing could be possible; consider instead the strangest reaction Jim ever encountered to his unusual credentials.

Cauchy Sequence


Role Reversal

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Ki and Morgan had an on-again, off-again relationship, but not because they couldn’t commit; Morgan was Ki’s dedicated recruitment agent at Impracticable Resources. Ki had to admit he left every other recruiter she’d dealt with in the dust. That’s why she was excited when he described the position at Initech: Ki had started as a web designer and migrated into Java development, and Initech was looking for exactly that to be the glue between their Java and UX teams. Eight short weeks ago, the initial phone screen had gone well.

Mirror

Gerard was Ki’s would-be boss’s name, and warned her straight away that Initech was procedure-friendly; every box on their list had to be ticked and accompanied by its own list of ticked box-ticking-assurance boxes, supplemented by a list of ticked box-ticking-assurance-box-ticking-assurance boxes before they could bring her on board.


The Amazon River

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Growth is challenging for any company, and the smaller a team is the more carefully they have to vet candidates to ensure a good fit. Carlos understood this, but had never seen it practiced as extensively as when he applied for a systems management position at Initech. The scrutiny applied to their candidates suggested a company obsessed with finding the perfect fit, and Carlos couldn't imagine the quality of the incredible team they must have already. Between the recruitment agency and Initech itself, he'd had three interviews and completed four online tests, including every developer's favorite: a personality quiz. Shaking hands with Carlos after the most recent interview, Initech's senior developer and his would-be boss promised he'd get a call that day or the next with the company's decision. Days went by before his phone rang, Initech's chipper HR person on the line.

"Hi Carlos! I was hoping you had a few minutes to answer a few questions."


A Little of Everything

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Chinese buffet2.jpg
"Chinese buffet2". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Assembler. C. C++. C#. PHP. Javascript. Bash. Perl. Ruby. Java. These were just some of the technologies featured on the resume of a candidate Christian recently interviewed for a senior Linux sysadmin position. The impressive list of programming languages (and related data-interchange acronyms like XSLT and JSON) made the candidate, let's call him Rob, seem more qualified for a developer position, but he went on to list common web server databases like MySQL and Postgres (plus a couple flavours of NoSQL), and, finally, the qualifications Christian was actually interested in: Tomcat, JBOSS, the Hotspot JVM, and every major Linux distro. While the resume reeked of keyword-baiting, Christian didn't want to risk missing out on an excellent sysadmin who just happened to spend a lot of time hacking, and brought Rob in.

Christian kicked off the interview by describing their infrastructure. Working for a major enterprise, his division was responsible for fifteen hundred Java application servers, clustered into groups of three or four. He explained to Rob how they managed the large number of identical deployments using Puppet, with SVN to track changes to their enormous catalog of scripts. He got through most of their rollout and monitoring processes before Rob cut in with a question.


Case-Closed Captioned

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Computers do... funny things to people. With alarming frequency, capable, adult professionals of all stripes just can't seem to overcome the most basic obstacles involved in the everyday practice of computing. When your grandmother struggles to understand that sending email doesn't require postage stamps, it's kind of endearing; when it's your co-workers, who grew up with computers just like you did and use them every day to do every aspect of their jobs, it's... less so. That so many people still fail so frequently leads one to wonder: can everyone really be this feckless, or are we, the creators of the software they struggle to master, just incapable of creating something usable?

Sometimes, the answer is emphatically the former.


Disqualified Candidates

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After the latest round of managerial Three Card Monte, Chris found himself reporting to Judith, on a newly formed team. That team was short-handed, which meant Judith needed to interview a lot of candidates. She sent Chris a steady stream of resumes, and he gave his feedback: “Bring this person in,” or “Don’t bother with this one.”

With Lisa, Chris knew they’d discovered the perfect candidate. She had the skills they wanted, she interviewed well, aced the technical screen, and was personable and compatible with the team. He gave her the thumbs up and waited for Judith to make the offer.


Jumping the Resigna-gun

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A large bank is one of those places where bureaucracy tends to rule supreme. While that makes it easy to goof off while waiting for other people to make decisions, it can also leave you exposed in the middle of a storm of bad decision-making. That's just what happened to Paul when his team had to hire a new Windows sysadmin. One of the recruitment firms they partnered with - Human Solutioneering - put them in touch with Bob. Bob was very strong in administration and Active Directory, and he already lived in Iowa, where the bank was headquartered.

Paul and his H.S. contact had been through several hires that quarter, and they both knew the drill: since the team had given Bob the green light, they just had to wait for management sign-off. Paul said they would most likely extend a formal offer by the end of the week. When Friday came around, though, Paul received a no-go email from his boss:


What Should He Do, Indeed

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Leighton started his career as an apprentice ICT technician for a Secondary school. The job was roughly what you would expect, but the interview went down as one of the most surreal moments of Leighton's life. With his first interview scheduled to begin at 9:15 AM, Leighton arrived forty-five minutes early in his new suit and tie. At T-minus two minutes he remained the only candidate in the reception area, and his confidence was growing. But at 9:13, in walked Dave.

Dave had a strut to him, an air of cool detachment that Leighton couldn't seem to match, even though they were about the same age and Dave had elected to wear jeans and a t-shirt. It turned out they were vying for the same position, but while Leighton was relying on his community college experience, Dave had been putting computers together since he was in Secondary school. By the time the receptionist asked them who wanted to go first, Leighton's confidence was on the floor in pieces. His brand new tie seemed uncomfortably tight, and the collar of his dress shirt kept tickling his neck. Dave was out of his chair before Leighton could say anything, and looked back at his competitor with a smirk.


The Old Switch n' Bait

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A few years back, RJ was hiring developers. Besieged by pretenders, he had devised an online coding test and hired a recruitment firm to subject candidates to it in hopes of weeding out the lower-quality developers. Since RJ and a teammate had to assess each candidate by themselves, the test was an important time-saver: if the candidate's code wouldn't even compile, refused to run, or obviously didn't work, that was an easy write-off. But this story wouldn't be much of a WTF if it were merely about some feckless applicant.

One day they received a submission from a Mrs. Qiu Jiang. Her code not only compiled and ran, it actually worked. It passed RJ's test cases quickly too, which meant Qiu hadn't simply brute-forced her way through. RJ had high hopes for their face-to-face interview.


Affidavit Deficit

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Dave D. and his wife counted themselves lucky: they'd been in the right place at the right time more than once. When a family member's health began to fail, they were able to sell their software business and retire to help him manage. In their forties, their good fortune and low-key lifestyle meant they wouldn't have to return to work unless they wanted to.

After a couple of years, things had settled into a routine and Dave was ready to consider new opportunities. A local startup was courting him for a senior position, and their engineering team, relatively young and untested, seemed excited to have a steady hand at the tiller. But this startup was unusual: no hiring decision could be made on nautical metaphors alone. They - specifically, their overlords at WTF Ventures, Inc. - prided themselves on fusing the discipline and professionalism of the corporate world to the innovation and foosball-playing of startup culture.


The Seven Year Itch

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Say what you will about the life of a contractor, it's full of surprises. A seasoned veteran of the work-for-hire world, Don knew every gig came with a new environment and new people. So even though Inverness is no Edinburgh or Glasgow (it's more like the Scottish equivalent of Boise, Idaho), Don put his CV in for an IT manager role out there anyway. He was ready for anything... except his first phone call with Gordon, the company's hiring manager.

"I'm sorry," Gordon interrupted Don in mid-sentence, "you're a contractor?"


Tales from the Interview - You Wore a T-Shirt?!

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You Wore a T-Shirt?! (from John)

Years ago, I applied for a challenging job that sounded really great – it asked for a mixture of Linux and Windows experience, some database work, some light experience with Solaris, and a lot of Cisco and networking – all areas that, believe it or not, I had extensive backgrounds in.


The Prime Candidate

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Some years ago, Phil B. invited a promising looking candidate for a developer role to come in for an in-person interview. The candidate in question, Boris, had a very impressive resume showing plenty of C and embedded systems experience; however, upon his arrival, it was clear that his communication and interpersonal skills left a little to be desired.

It wasn’t that Boris was rude or unprofessional, instead it came down to the fact that he was really, REALLY nervous. Throughout the interview, Boris sweated, fidgeted, stumbled with his answers, and eventually asked to be excused for a moment.


The Angry MD

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After a few weeks of searching, Steven M's job prospects were looking pretty grim.

So, in a bid to find more exciting work than his small hometown could offer, he packed up and moved to London.


Trouble With Founders, the Lost Candidate, and More

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Trouble with Founders (from Ben C.)
A few of my friends (all CS people) were attending a startup mixer hosted at a little airport near our university. At one point, we all got kind of bored of talking with everyone, so we stepped outside to look at the planes. Soon enough, some business people in suits noticed the nerds talking outside so slowly started approaching.

They started talking with us, trying not to be too obvious about their intents. They asked where we were from and we told them our college. We asked what brought them here, and they said they were starting a company. We asked what it was for and they responded "Data Analytics". At this point, we were a little curious, so we tried to get some more information, and then they gave us their wonderful pitch.


The Beacon of Hope and A Positive Attitude

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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?"


A Most Wonderful Opportunity, Multiple Frustrations, and More

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A Most Wonderful Opportunity (from Ben)
I made the mistake of giving my real email address to a headhunter I met at a local dev event. So now I get emails like this...

Hi Benjamin,

I am working with one of the best known media organisations in the world. 

They are truly successful, with over £2 billion of turnover each year. The 
company is without doubt one of the flashest and coolest places to work. 
The lead developer there is so skilled that he has been given numerous 
awards for just being outstanding. 

He is a true luminary in his field and is without doubt one of the key 
figures behind the company being one of the most profitable companies out
there. Everybody can learn from him, he is essentially the Dali Lama of 
the iPhone coding world. You would be working alongside this guru in a 
small team of carefully selected developers, hand picked for their coding 
excellence and coolness. The project that you would be working on would be
predominantly iPhone native language based, but there may also be an element 
of Ruby on Rails involved too. JSON experience is also desired. 

The guru has already built, single handedly an application which enables 
all of the companies' famous magazines to be converted from PDF format to
the iPad with minimal extra work required for developers. The software 
enables HTML pages to be added to add bonus pages etc. This already 
extremely successful in the UK and is being rolled out across Poland and 
Kiev shortly.

The company itself is one of the most fine places to work, minimalist 
Scandinavian style offices with awards mounted in plexigass and titanium 
frames upon the walls, a drink fountain serving the purest chilled spring 
water fresh from the Malvern Hills. One has not lived until meeting with 
this company, an environment in which they meticulously produce the finest
quality of code, as pure as the water which emanates from the stainless 
steel spout of their drink dispenser. 

--- snip several paragraphs describing a tree in a nearby garden ---

Do get in touch immediately if you are interested in this most wonderful 
opportunity. 

Sincerly,
Jerome F-------

The Storage Warehouse, The Most Ethical, and The Customizer

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The Storage Warehouse (from Grig)
The first recession I remember was in the early 1990’s, and I remember it so well because I was looking for a job. The want ads listed an opening for a UNIX admin – something which was right up my alley – so I gave the company a ring.

“Ye-LLO!” was the greeting after a couple of rings. In the background, it sounded like John Philip Sousa March music was playing on a 1960s AM transistor radio.


More Limitin', Wrong Major, and Parallel Universe Replacement

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More Limitin' (from Andrew Warren-Love)
Even though his resume wasn't beaming as much as some of the others we received, we invited a man down to interview for either of two positions. One in the IT Department and one in the Software Group of the Engineering Department. Once he arrived, he was given a tour of the important parts of the company to encourage interest related to our company or our products just like everyone else we interview. By this point, 90% of candidates will ask questions on their own, and the rest will ask questions when prompted.

Instead, he replied in a Southern drawl "nah man, I'm good." For the rest of interview, he showed about the same level of enthusiasm.


The High-Security Interview, The PHP Candidate, and Overqualified

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The PHP Candidate (from Tony)
Before bringing people in for an interview, we give them a simple questionnaire about PHP. While this might turn off some folks like Big Picture Thinker, we've found that it tends to weed out those certain developers.

The questions are no-brainers for experienced PHP developers, and require half a brain to Google. Following is a response I got to the question, What causes the PHP error 'Headers already sent' and how can you fix it?


The Programmiss and Male Services

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The Programmiss (from Willem B)
We were hiring and it was our lucky day: a female candidate had applied for the job! As a team of three male programmers who would likely get alarming results on the autism test, we knew that she would be a very welcome addition to our team.

Her name was Natalie and without even knowing what she looked like, we all had a crush on her. Over lunch, we nicknamed her the "programmiss" and convinced ourselves that she was a hot brunette who would write emoticon-commented code and lighten up the office with her charming aura and some fresh ideas.


Three for Three, Recursion Threads, and Wrong Answer

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Three for Three (from Randall C)
My boss, Harry, needed to hire some experienced software engineers, so he placed a job ad and did some kind of sort on the fifty or so replies that came in. Later, many of us assumed that he must have done a stair sort (throw them from the top of a stair and pick the ones that traveled farthest). He then said to me "I need to hire two engineers and I've selected three candidates. Would you like to interview them?" Not actually stated in this, but his attitude clearly indicated that he planned to hire two engineers from that pool of three.

I was willing to participate in the selection process so he set up a schedule for three interviews, Tim on Thursday, Charles on Friday, and Terry on Monday. This would be a lightweight responsibility for me and I would talk to the candidates over a free lunch. Well, okay. I was known to terrorize candidates by asking difficult questions and I could usually form an opinion based on a short discussion.


The Big Picture Thinker, A JavaScript-like Job, and The Job Opportunity

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The Big Picture Thinker (from James S)
After an in-person technical interview, we decided to advance a candidate to the next step in our hiring process, which is a brief, one-page written test with some relatively easy (or, easy to look-up) technical questions. It's designed mostly to gauge written communication, since our developers often interface directly with clients.

Mea culpa, I forgot to attach the test. Turns out I didn't need to, this guy already aced the written communication test.


The Sixth Guy, The Company Pond, and More

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The Company Pond (from Adam)
Our company had one of those decorative ponds located in front of the building where people can gaze out their cubicles and dream of being outside. It looked nice enough, but it was disgustingly dirty with runoff and probably about half full of goose droppings.

I was interviewing a nice-enough woman for a position with our company when my receptionist sheepishly burst into the room.


Dirty Laundry

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"Your one o'clock is here," the receptionist said.

Roberto glanced at the clock and saw that it was 11:30. "Does his watch work?" Roberto muttered. "Put him in one of the conference rooms. The boss isn't going to be back until 1:00." He hung up the phone and got back to work.


Stored Procedures, The Porn Guy, and Non-returnable Email

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Stored Procedures (from Liz)
There was an article posted a little while back (Does Not Compute) that featured confusion of fairly-common tech-isms like Cookies or the Recycle Bin. It was fun, but not terribly surprising considering that everyone is not technically inclined.

I was surprised, however, when a Does Not Compete happened during an interview for a database developer position. My question was fairly straightforward: tell me about your experience with stored procedures.


The Interesting Resume, The Insecure Resume, and More

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The Interesting Résumé (from John)
Back in 2002, we needed an integration specialist for my team. This was after the dot-com bubble burst and previous ad placements online had resulted in getting flooded with résumés from desperate souls whose only qualifications for the job were that they could legally work in the US without Visa sponsorship.

This time, I placed a blind ad through our newspaper. The applicants would submit their résumés through the paper and therefore hopefully help us weed out some of the crazy, because taking the time to print and mail a résumé shows a tad more serious intent then just hitting "send" on email. I went down to the paper to pick up the first batch of submissions and was surprised at how many there were (50 or so). But there was one return address in the bunch that got my immediate and prompt attention.


The Best, The TDWTF Interview, and The Storm-out

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The Best (from Chris)
A while back, I helped interview for a programmer position on the web team. After talking to a number of candidates, we finally settled on an older gentlemen, probably in his late 50s. It wasn't an easy decision. Not only were his salary requirements above what we planned to pay, he had a few personality quirks. For example, a large part of his interview entailed him describing how he was a master composer of music, and had published songs in nearly every genre, including country, rap, pop, etc. But no matter, his experience and technical skills were top-notch.

After making an offer that met his salary requirements, the candidate made a counter offer: fifteen-thousand dollars more annually plus a signing bonus. Unfortunately, our budget couldn't accommodate that, and we declined. Negotiations after that failed, so we formally rescinded the offer for employment so we could talk to more candidates.


The Command Center Administrator, and More

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The Command Center Administrator (from Joshua Knarr)
A job listing email for a "Command Center Administrator" recently found its way to my inbox. The message was from ACME COMMERCE, which was apparently an UP AND COMING company that would be HUGE AND SUCCESSFUL if they could keep their INTERNET STORE FRONT FOR SPORTING GOODS going. The position was offered to me in fits of caps lock, and it was tough to understand if they were merely excited, or if someone was playing Mad Libs with Job Listing Generator 3.0. I decided they were simply excited to be expanding, so I dutifully sent along my résumé and asked if they had a job description for the Command Center Administrator position.

Moments later, my phone rang. It was Krishna from ACME COMMERCE. "Very nice résumé," she said, "we would like to interview you! What time can we set this up?"


The Interupting Rebutter, The Final Word, and The Jury Rig

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All three of today's Tales from the Interview are from R Huckster.


The Interupting Rebutter
The job sounded right up my alley: it was in a field that I was experienced in, offered a laid-back environment, and employed a young and hip workforce. After passing a few programming brainteasers and describing my experience in the field, I thought I was a star candidate. That is, until the interviewer asked me specific details about my previous job.


The Raybinator, Copy & Paste Error, and Yes I Do

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Got tales from your own interview? Then share them, why don'tcha!


The Raybinator (from Ray Smith)
My first interview after university was with a small local finance company applying for the position of "database engineer". Having only a little experience with Access, SQL Server and MySQL, I wasn't too hopeful of getting the job, but figured that the both the general interview experience and getting an idea of what would be expected from database work in the workplace would be worthwhile anyway.


All Over the Map, Odd Shaped Container, and The Ideal Pair Programmer

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All Over the Map (from Peter Banner)
On paper, the candidate looked like a perfect fit. He had a very impressive résumé and seven years of experience in C#, C++, VB .NET, SQL, Oracle, and pretty much every other technology under the sun. Obviously, I had high expectations, as did my co-interviewer.

However, five minutes into the interview, I got the feeling that the candidate’s résumé was a just a bit padded. For instance, when I asked him why he enjoyed programming in C# more than VB .NET, he answered “I like those things… the… umm… you know!” and then proceeded to draw a couple curly braces in the air with his forefinger.


The Missing Interview, Infantile Expectancies, & More

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The Missing Interview (from Charles Ross)
I went for an interview to work as a junior IT support Engineer at a certain Royal bank here in Scotland. It was a late interview, around 4:45 in the afternoon, and I turned up at 4:30, sharply dressed, and with all the documents I'd been requested to bring. Since this was a bank and security was a must, I had a full five year history sitting in front of me.

I sat down and was quickly ushered into an interview room. I sat there for 20 minutes waiting, occasionally sticking my nose out the room to see if anyone was coming. After another five or so minutes, it was about 4:55 and I decided to go hunting for someone.


I Guess So, Computer Skills, and The Temporary Offices

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I Guess So (by Stuart Whelan)
The company I worked for was hiring a C++ developer, and I was assigned the job of hiring the candidates. When the scheduled start time of 1:30PM came and went, I went to the lobby to see if there was a scheduling mix up. At around 1:50, while I was chatting with the receptionist, a disheveled fellow walked in the door. "Is this Omni-tech?" he asked.

Subtly looking at the giant wall relief with our logo, I assured him it was. "You must be Gary," I asked.


The Automated Interview, The Denny's Interview, & Missing CDL TLA

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The Denny's Interview (from Bruce W)
Not too long ago, "TaxQuik" announced major layoffs at the company, and I found myself to be one of the unfortunate few to be without a job. Nervous about being out of work, I found myself responding to just about every job posting that was remotely related to technology. Including a Monster job ad for a "Web site developer".

Shortly after applying for that position, I received an email requesting a demonstration of my programming skills. They wanted me to put together a web page that did some simple addition using JavaScript. I took the eight seconds required to build the page and emailed it right back.


The Shoe-In

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Once word hit that certain departments within South England Financial were going to be outsourced, employees naturally started to get a bit nervious. Being a contractor — and therefore exempt from any kind of nice severance package — Jon Kipper was determined to find a new job before the axe fell.

After about a month of tossing his resumé out into the world, Jon received a call from a very perky recuriter regarding a position that was almost a dead ringer to what he was doing. Although the position was in London — a good two hours from his flat by train — Jon liked the idea of working in the big city with all the glitz and glare.


The Designer's Cover Letter, Temporary Web Siter, and Scaring off Female Candidates

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The Designer's Cover Letter (from Josh Perry)
One of the great things about the graphic design profession is that your first impression to employers — your résumé — is often your strongest. Unlike programmers, who generally have wait until the technical interview to show off their chops, designers get the chance to show off their background and skills in one little sheet of paper.

That said, we've posted a number of different graphic design positions over the years, and have been blown away by the response. Quite a few résumés have been on par with these ones. But there was one that stood out from the rest. It came via fax (which, wasn't even posted on the job description) and had the following cover letter.


The Easiest Interview Ever & More

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Got Tales from your interviews? Then send 'em on in!


The Easiest Interview Ever (from Adrian)
It had been many long years since my last job interview, so I was a little anxious about interviewing for a new job. So I studied. I prepped. I mock interviewed. I made sure that I’d be ready to answer every question that they could possibly throw at me, and I even came up with a long list of questions to ask them, just to make sure they knew I was interested.


The Ace in the Hole

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After spending his first three years out of college in an entry-level position with Ask.com, Erhen was ready to move on to something with more responsibility. One day, he received a phone call from a company that wanted him to come in for an immediate interview.

The following day, Erhen arrived at the company’s place of business. It was a sports equipment supplier, operating out of a building that might have been built entirely out of asbestos. On the inside, there wasn’t a piece of furniture or decoration that had been built post-cold war.


The Winds of Recession, A Doomed Interivew, and Oops!

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The Winds of Recession (from Juan Seul)
Among other things, my job description at a certain Austrian software company includes interviewing candidates for project manager, developer, and other IT positions. In all my years conducting interviews, I’ve never had one that was all too crazy, and to this day, I still haven’t. But I think I was pretty close.

One day, I had an applicant scheduled for an 11:00 AM interview. She had been downsized a few months ago from a local manufacturing company, and seemed pretty excited at the opportunity to work with my company.


The Next Big Thing, "The Best" Interview, & Too Primitive for COBOL

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Have your own Tale From an Interview? Don't hesitate to send it to me.


The Next Big Thing (from "CPound")
I recently found an advertisement in one of those thin newspapers near the entrance of the grocery store. It read:


Rolling in the Money

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Kevin Saff is not what many would consider “the ideal candidate.” He started his career as a C++ coder for a major manufacturer, but then quit to pursue a mathematics degree in Canada. That didn’t quite do it for him either, as he then dropped out to pursue something far more interesting: canoe from Calgary to New Orleans. But after 1,200+ miles of rowing, his journey ended in Minneapolis with a cracked boat and a frozen river. Temporarily, of course, as he plans to pick up and continue south someday soon.

All that said, Kevin was pretty excited when he received his first response to all the resumes he’d been sending out to various Minneapolis-based companies. He immediately called back to schedule an interview and was pleasantly surprised at how flexible the interviewer was: Kevin could “stop by any time.”


It's All About C, The CIA Interview, & Not People Like You

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It's All About C Now (from Dan M)
Last year, I saw that a certain founded-and-headquartered-in-the-Netherlands electronics company was hiring web developers in my town, so sent in my résumé. Like most résumés, mine contained the standard skills & buzzword section:

Languages and technical writing: PHP, MySQL, AJAX, JavaScript, PRADO Framework, MSSQL Server, C#, .Net Framework, Perl, C/C++, Visual Basic, ASP, HTML, DHTML, XML, SOAP, CSS, Java, UML

I was pretty excited to get an interview. Well, that is until the interviewer took one look at my resume and said "Why is C so far down on your list?"


The Mandatory Three, The Easy Road to Success, and Relevant Inexperience

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The Mandatory Three (from Jim)
After the dot com bust, I spent a lot of time interviewing. It was mostly dead ends or companies that were only willing to hire one person to do the job of four (specifically, the four that they had just laid off). A friend of mine who worked at a school, told me about an IT position there. Being out of work for so long, I was very eager to get in for an interview, and figured I might have an "in" since he was working there already.

When I arrived at the interview, there were two other candidates waiting. I was to go in first, and I was informed that all three of the interviews would be done in "rapid fire" succession, and each would take just 30 minutes. I went into their conference room, and was a bit startled by the fifteen people sitting around the table. This was known as "The Gauntlet." This group of people only asked a few, fairly non-technical questions. Most seemed bored, and some occasionally looked at their watches and yawned! Now, I am not the most exciting person in the world, but I am certainly not that boring. I finished the interview and left feeling quite confused. What the hell just happened?


Persistence is Key and The Nightmare Dream Job

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Persistence is Key

After two years, Thomas B. had become somewhat bored with his job. He was the first developer the small TV station had ever hired, and while he enjoyed building a PHP-based CMS that they'd use internally, over time his job had essentially been reduced to babysitting the web site. He accepted another offer and told his boss about his plans to leave.

Since the CMS had been built from the ground up and Thomas was the only one who knew everything about the system, he was an integral part of the interviewing and hiring process. His boss delivered him six résumés and told him that all six of those candidates would be in that day. Thomas hadn't been given much time to review the résumés, so he just had an opportunity to skim them before the first candidate arrived.


The Receptionist Test

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"When you work in computing services for a university, you spend about as much time on high-minded development as you do un-jamming printers and resetting passwords for faculty," Ed G. writes. "It's not ideal, but it's a living." It was time to get some new staff, and after being burned by some previous employees that could talk the talk, but not walk the walk, they devised a new litmus test for potential hires, called "The Receptionist Test."

It's quite simple, really. When an applicant arrives for an interview, (s)he spends at least five minutes waiting in reception. During this time, the receptionist stages a minor tech support problem and asks for the applicant's help.


Routers, Routers, Everywhere

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CommQuack hires like crazy. They hire in good times, they hire in bad times. They hire before, during, and after periods of massive layouts. Only one department was sheltered from the endless churn of hirings and layoffs — HR. For a company of ten thousand people, the fact that one thousand of them worked in HR should tell you something.

And the HR staff was busy. Résumés came in by the hundreds, and those that weren't referrals from existing employees were fiercely fought over so that the first person to grab it could claim the bounty. The HR staff were paid near-minimum wage rates, and like time-share salesmen, they were paid primarily on commission. Each referred employee that turned into a hire netted the referrer a cool $5,000.00. The upshot of this is that this meant that if you were qualified but not referred by someone in HR, you didn't get hired. The upshot of this is that a lot of unqualified boobs got hired. After interviews from HR, the candidates would be sent to the departments they hoped to work for, which meant that Grig L. had to conduct many of the interviews.

The Applicants


A Problem at the Personal Level & More

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A Problem at the Personal Level

From Shari

I arrived a few minutes before my interview and, after notifying the receptionist, took a seat in the lobby and patiently waited for 2:30 to come. When the clock struck quarter to three, I inquired with the receptionist to make sure that 2:30 was the correct meeting time. While she clicked through the company calendar to verify, an employee brisked past the desk and mentioned that he was taking a late lunch and would be back soon.


It Depends & Too Good To Be True

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It Depends (from David)

Several years back, a "small startup on the verge of explosive growth" emailed me back after I had sent over my resume. They were interested in an interview. I went there, and their "office" was an old house in some shady downtown neighborhood that had four home-built computers jumbled together on an improvised table in the dining room with two guys in wooden chairs sitting around it. For a startup, I didn't think it was that bad, as many start up that way.


Hot, Hot, Hot!, The Last Interview, and A Wrinkle in Time

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Hot, Hot, Hot! (from Rob Sutherland)
In the mid 80s, a headhunter found me a good lead for a coding position at a (now-defunct) auto manufacturer. When I showed up to the headhunter's office, a very large and very scary looking woman took me out to the cafeteria so she could smoke during the interview. Different times, the 80s.

I could tell right away that she wasn't impressed with me. She lit up a cigarette, blew a cloud of smoke across the table, picked up my résumé, looked at it, grunted, flipped the page, grunted again, and tossed the résumé to the middle of the table. After another grunt, she glared at me and said "get a haircut!"


My Tales

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After sharing so many of your interview stories, I thought it was finally time that I’d share a couple of my own…

Finally!

Back in the .NET 1.0 days, I interviewed for a contract position at a certain large insurance company around here. It was a technical interview with two senior-level developers. After I finished answering a softball question about how Try-Catch blocks work, one of the interviewers followed up with a question about Finally blocks.


The Starting Salary and More

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The Starting Salary (from Steve)
After a massive layoff during the dot com crash years, I had gotten used to my employers closing their doors after just two years. At the same time, I had no trouble finding employment in other web design companies.

One of the interviews I got was so ridiculous, I couldn't believe I had wasted my time there. It started off pretty well, I was asked about my experience in web design, integration, Flash, etc. They joked about my previous employers going out of business while they've been in the game for 20 years or something.


Hypothetical Question & Tales From The Dump

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Hypothetical Question from Simon

I’m usually pretty good with interview questions, but this one threw me for a bit of a loop.


Are You Cool, Man? and More

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Are You Cool, Man? (from Scott)
The interview I was conducting was going great — the candidate answered technical questions well and was honest when he didn't know the answer. I'd decided that he would make the short list for an offer and began wrapping up the interview.

"So, do you have any questions about the company, or about the job as a Senior Linux Sysadmin?" I asked.


IBM Survivor, The High Road, & Find the Function!

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IBM Survivor (from Reid Maynard)
In the middle of the dot-com bust, I interviewed at IBM for a contract position. I can't remember exactly what the position was, but I'll never forget the interview.

My first clue that the interview was a bit different the fact that another candidate was waiting in the lobby, and was scheduled for an interview at the same time I was.


The Incredible Shrinking Applicant and More

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Today's tale comes from Evan Wade...

I had the unique treat of interviewing for my replacement after accepting a promotion in the state agency for which I worked.


Thinking Machines

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Through the much of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Cambridge-based Thinking Machines was ahead of its time. As innovators in parallel computing, they developed a massive, 65,536 processor supercomputer known the Connection Machine. Visually, it made Cray’s distinctive look seem like a piece of outdated furniture, and was even stunning enough to star as the “impressive blinky-light server” in Jurassic Park.

Of course, that’s just about all it was good for. The Connection Machine was an AI researcher’s dream that no AI research lab could afford. Its inability to run FORTRAN – and every other programming language aside from a specialized Lisp dialect – made it pretty much useless for business and scientific purposes. Its baffling inability to even do floating-point operations mostly guaranteed that no one would buy it. But, hey – who needs customers when there’s lots of money from daddy!


Let's All Reinvent the Wheel... Again, and More

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Let's All Reinvent the Wheel... Again (from K.D.)

I was interviewing candidates for a junior web application development position. The candidate had, so far, seemed very knowledgeable and more than met the requirements of the position. I had, in fact, almost made my decision that I would make Joe an offer, but I had to ask just one more question.


How Can You Expect This?!

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How Can You Expect This?! (from K.D.)

I was interviewing candidates for a Unix system administrator position. One of the "broad" questions I tended to ask was purely intended to get insight into the candidate's problem-solving abilities, but also a way to see what tools and techniques they might suggest (rather than the old "here's a list of tools, have you ever used them?" type of questions, since invariably every candidate would insist they had used them all).


Design Me A House

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Design me a House (by David J)

Like most sane people, I absolutely despise the whole Job Interview 2.0 thing. Now, I'm usually good at sniffing these types of companies out before wasting their time and mine with an interview, but recently I got caught up in one when looking for a Java position at a mid-sized consulting company.


Avoiding MUMPS & Arcadius

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Avoiding MUMPS from Joe

A few years ago, I interviewed at the company featured in A Case of the MUMPS.


We Need a Body

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Although Brice hadn't been on the job for very long, he'd gotten pretty comfortable with leading technical interviews. He'd quickly compiled a stock set of questions that could weed out the hacks.

  • Questions that immediately disqualify you for the position if you get them wrong:
    • What is your first name?
    • Name a .NET language.
  • Questions that almost certainly disqualify you if you get them wrong:
    • What datatype would you use to store a string of characters?
    • Is it C sharp or C pound?

When Brice's company had five other developer positions to fill, he was called on for the technical portion of each interview. Not long ago, a candidate named Corey applied and was brought in for an interview. Brice couldn't put his finger on what it was exactly, but from the moment Corey walked in something just seemed... off.


Not Too Particular and More

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Not Too Particular from Ichabod
After reading through a stack of dull resumes, this one was a welcome change.

OBJECTIVE
A job in IT. After looking for searching for a job for several months I'm not too particular anymore.


Never Quite Made the Interview

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If you’ve ever had the opportunity to review a handful of resumes, you’ve probably seen a few bad ones in the bunch. And if you’ve reviewed a whole lot of resumes, you’ve definitely seen some really bad ones. And if you’ve reviewed a whole crap ton of resumes, then chances are, some of ‘em definitely belong here.

Joel McNary sent in a resume that he received a while back for a programmer position. Based on the cover letter, I’m guessing the candidate never quite made the interview…


The Case of the Clueless Candidate

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Today's Tale from the Interview comes from Scott McNair. Don't forget to submit your own interview story, from either side of the table. 

The company I was working for had an opening for an additional .NET developer, and the technical portion of the interview process fell to my coworker and me. We wanted to make sure we had candidates with average-to-strong SQL experience, so we came up with a question that would hopefully expose the candidate's knowledge.


The Re-Interview

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It was the best job opportunity Kirk had ever seen.

WANTED. Smart programmers who enjoy working on WELL-FUNDED projects 
using STATE-OF-THE-ART technology to fill a HIGH-GROWTH position at 
an INDUSTRY LEADING travel company. TOP-NOTCH PAY and comprehensive 
benefits including AIRLINE PERKS.

Slightly More Sociable

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Today’s Tale from the Interview comes from Shanna...

Fresh out of college, and used to being the only woman in my engineering and computer science classes, I wasn't quite sure what to expect in the real world. I happily ended up finding a development job in a company which was nowhere near as unbalanced as my college classes had been. The company was EXTREMELY small and the entire staff, except the CEO, was in one office. I ended up sitting at a desk next to the office admin, another woman who was hired a month or two after me.


Blinded By His Brightness

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Jay was excited: he finally landed a job interview for a developer position. While for many of us such an event registers pretty high on the “big deal, that happens to me all the time” scale, it was pretty rare for Jay. Like many of his young peers, Jay lacked experience in the industry. But unlike his peers, Jay did not have a college degree. And he lived in Mississippi, a state not exactly known as a hub for things high-tech. Or really even tech.

“Just work with what you’ve got,” a friend told him, “and you’ve got a damn good GPA from a damn good upstate New York public school. I mean, compared to the schools down here, that’s practically a college degree!”


It's Like a Double Yellow Line, and More!

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It's Like a Double Yellow Line:

Near the end of a technical interview, Paco H. was asked a rather blunt question from the candidate he was interviewing: "Hey, be straight with me. How am I doing?" Paco replied with the truth: not too well. The candidate was a bit disappointed, so Paco gave him a chance of redemption.


Good Answer... Perhaps TOO Good

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Peter B. was an out-of-work PHP developer looking for contract work in early 2005. A recruiter he'd worked with in the past emailed him some information regarding a possible position. Reading the job description, Peter thought he'd be a good fit, so he submitted his resume and got a response via email a few days later.

The hiring manager described their typical process; Peter would have to answer a screening question to determine his skill level, and if his answer was satisfactory, they'd schedule a face-to-face interview. With a little trepidation, Peter said he was ready for the question. He was concerned that it could be about a complex topic that he wasn't very familiar with. A few hours later, an email arrived with the subject "SCREENING QUESTION," flagged with high importance.


We'll Be In Touch Maybe

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You're special, reader. You're probably a developer and since you read this site you probably care about writing code that won't ultimately wind up being featured here. And you're hard for employers to find because you're probably employed and not looking for a job.

Now that I find myself the interviewer rather than the interviewee, it's really clear that good developers are hard to find. Even harder when you're a small company sitting under the shadow of big huge corporations that swallow up all the local developer talent. Such was the situation Brent R. found himself in.


You Get What You Ask For

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Nothing screams “easy money” like headhunting. Twenty-five to thirty percent of your recruit’s first annual salary? Twenty dollars off the top of each hour worked by your contractor? With that kind of bling, who wouldn’tsign up as a headhunter?

Of course, recruiting good people is no trivial task (that’s probably why it costs so damn much), but that certainly doesn’t stop a whole lot of wannabes from trying. Like the fine folks behind this email that Chris M recently received …


The Interview For Hell

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“So, let me guess, ahhhhxxxCCxxshheeecczzzahhhhem,” started Mr. Thompson, Ed B’s prospective boss, pausing to make the most vile power-snorting, throat-clearing, wet-cough noise ever heard. “You’re Edward – cxxxxshxxx cxxxxcaaaheem – and you’re here for a job interview? A harr harr harr!”

Ed forced a smile as Mr. Thompson half-laughed/half-coughed at the apparently funny joke: moments earlier, the receptionist called to say that Ed had arrived for the interview. Before even sitting down, Ed knew he could never work in that office, for that man.


You, Jeepies?

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“You know,” Rich Z thought to himself as he cruised down Highway 23, “I think this job might be the one!” he was on his way to interview for a “PHP Programmer” position at a trucking/logistics company. They were apparently impressed with by resume, and he was impressed by the small company and obvious open-source philosophy. But what had him exited at the time was the forty-five minute commute through a beautiful, traffic-free rural landscape.

Rich got off the highway at Birch Road to head East for “six… maybe seven miles,” then “hang a left at the grocery store,” and finally “make a right at the Big Brick Bank Building.” From there, he “couldn’t miss it.” Obviously, those weren’t MapQuest directions. Chuck, the Head of HR, insisted that “those internet directions” are always unreliable and never work out in the country. Of course, neither did the ChuckQuest directions, either.


Classic WTF: 5 years C-pound experience

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5 years C-pound experience was originally published on November 01, 2004.


Scott C. Reynolds was looking for a strong C# developer a while back. He was kind enough to share the tale of one of the many, many unqualified recruits (who we'll call “J“) with us.


Umm, Steve Got Lost

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Unadmirable Honesty
(submitted anonymously)

Interviewing at my company is a grueling process filled with phone interviews, group presentation and interview, and one-on-one interviews. One of the one-on-one interviews is usually a behavioral interview. You know the kind, "If two people you worked with were having an argument about something what would you do?" or "When you start a project, walk me through the steps you take to make sure that you are successful." Most candidates will pass the behavioral part fairly easily since the phone interview should have weeded out most of the duds. That's why it was so amusing when one managed to slip through.


Interview by Proxy

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I Do Models
From Sam F...

It was 1992 and I was fresh out of school trying to get a job. My Political Science degree wasn't doing anything for me, so I decided to try out a new field: information technology. I eventually landed an interview that went surprisingly well until we got to the technical part ...


Tales from the Interview: A Perfect Ten!

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Here's a link to the previous episode in case you missed it: Tales from the Interview. Don't forget to send in some of your own for next time.


It Seemed Like too Much Work
from Troy


Tales from the Interview

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It's been a long, long time since I've run interview stories. Too long. Here's a few of my favorites; feel free to send in some of your own for next time.

The Wanderer
From Peter Szymonik, the VP of Technology Operations at a technology company ...


Nah'mean? and Other Interview Stories

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I like posting interview stories. They give me a sense of security that some of us are actually out there, stopping some of them from getting in. Of course, we all know they will eventually find a job ... but try not to think about that. No, just consider this nice collection of interview stories submitted anonymously by a forums member named CPound. Ironically, that's the same name as one of my favorite interview stories.

Nah'mean?