Skip to main content

Stop Trying To Get Hired And Start Becoming Someone People Want To Work With

The title of this post is paraphrased dating advice and I believe it's applicable.

I wrote the previous post in 2018 in response to a pattern I was seeing in interview loops. Candidates would generally do well, but when it came time for Q&A, they'd ask safe, sometimes deferential questions that were unlikely to reveal anything useful. It seemed like a squandered opportunity to engage with the interviewer as a peer.

Nonetheless I received some polite feedback on that original post, indicating that survivor bias and imposter syndrome are still robustly represented in the industry. Which is okay. This stuff is hard.

I've had some follow-up thoughts in draft mode for years, and the launch of this new blog seems like an ideal time to address a few concerns. I mean, I've been interviewing software dev candidates[1] for a little over two decades, so what do I know?

"I don't feel comfortable asking these questions" #

I think you'd be surprised at what interviewers can and are willing to share.

Remember, you're trying to start a conversation, not perform corporate espionage[2]. It's perfectly reasonable to want to know if you're going to be spending your time solving problems or putting out fires.

If you're worried about non-disclosure, just say that! "I'd like to hear a little bit about your tech stack, if that's permitted," or "if this topic is confidential, we can talk about something else." Any experienced interviewer should know where the line is.

That said, respect that line. Be interested, not nosy.

Oh, and if you're anxious that you'll offend your interviewer by asking these types of questions, let me just say you can't do any worse than candidates who ask softball questions or no questions at all.[3]

"I'm new. How can I ask these questions if I haven't experienced them myself?" #

You don't need deep experience to have a conversation between peers, and you don't need to have solved any of these issues yourself. In fact, think twice before offering solutions. They should hire you for that!

By flipping the script, you're getting valuable insight into how the team or company operates. Just be sure you're actively listening and look for opportunities to ask follow-up questions. Maybe you've never had a job with an oncall rotation. Great! You're about to hear about what it's like here. Maybe you haven't had to gather requirements on your own. Awesome! You're about to hear how they do that here.

You're not doing anything different than your interviewers are by asking STAR-style questions. You're just leaving out that "tell me about a time when—" part.

And if your interviewer does ask about your own experience, you can always say something like "I haven't experienced that situation yet myself, so I'm interested how it's done here."

All of that said, you should probably work on having opinions. More on that in future post.

"I don't think I can keep a conversation going" #

Please don't be mad, but I don't believe you.

Why? Because you're in tech, and tech folk LOVE to talk. They have opinions. You've never debated the merits of some language or framework or Linux flavor with your classmates? You've never spent a team lunch discussing how to deal with some gnarly legacy code? Server vs. client-side rendering? "ɡɪf" vs. "jɪf"?

One of my teams spent part of an afternoon talking about whether one should ever put comments in their code.

You can do this because you've already done this. Take advantage of this energy! Leverage the addictive properties of tech discourse!

Now you've found some common ground. You're no longer the candidate who crammed on CS fundamentals all weekend vs. the interviewer who hasn't thought about topological sorting since their own interview and is preoccupied with why the server cluster needs restarted every day at noon. Now you're compatriots, fellow travelers — peers, even!

By asking questions that imply you're interested in discussing and solving problems, you're signaling that you're not just keen to get a job, but you're someone they should want to work with.

And to return to the dating analogy: how do you know when a date is going well? Flowing, engaging conversation.

  1. Mostly front-end, sometimes full-stack. Although it's tough to be only front-end these days, especially if you want any say in things like data contracts and APIs. ↩︎

  2. A super-secret stealth-mode startup might balk at answering in detail. But then, they may not have actually built anything significant yet (and if they have, it could be bootstrapped with hot glue and duct tape). ↩︎

  3. And if you're around long enough, you're guaranteed to encounter folks that radiate some truly toxic vibes. Better to discover this now before you accept an offer. ↩︎