From the mind of Sarah...
No Two Interviews Are Alike: A Tale of Two Interview Processes
May 12, 2019
Note: This blog post describes my actual interview process with two different companies. I have removed (or attempted to remove) all identifying information about the companies. This is also only two experiences - I've been through interview processes with other companies that were very different than these two, and others that were similar. These two experiences are fairly different from each other, which is why I thought it would be interesting to look at both of them. These may be nothing like any experiences you've had - which is part of why I wanted to share these two experiences - I wanted to show that there are a lot of different interview experiences out there, and it's good to go into the process knowing that it may be different than you expect.
The Initial Contact
I found the job listed online and applied - sent in a resume (slightly tailored to the job - there are only so many things I can say about the same experience) and cover letter.
I got an email the next day inviting me to schedule an initial phone interview, which I scheduled for the following business day.
The First Interview: Phone Screen
The first interview was a phone interview with one of the company's software engineers. We spoke for about half an hour and talked about my background and what the company does. We also talked about the specific position, and I was given the opportunity to ask questioons.
Before ending the call, my interviewer told me that the next steps would be a phone screen with the lead front end dev, and if that goes well, a half-day onsite (and possibly a skype call if someone is not available in the office the day of the onsite).
The Second Interview: Technical Phone Screen
Less than two hours after I completed the initial phone interview, I was invited to schedule a second interview, which would be a paired programming exercise with the lead front end dev. We scheduled that for two business days later.
We used an online shared code editor for the pair programming exercise, and I was asked to work on a React component. I faced some problems that I had to solve, but nothing that wasn't manageable, and I was able to complete the challenge - and was told that I was the first person they interviewed that completed everything. After the code challenge, the interviewer and I talked about the company a bit, and the interviewer told me about what they're working on and a little bit about the company's future plans.
The Third Interview: The Onsite
One business day after the pair programming exercise, I was invited to schedule an onsite interview. The interview was scheduled for 3.5 hours and would be an opportunity for me to meet with the tech team.
I got to the interview a little early (before the interview room was ready), so I sat in a different room and chatted with a few people. Once the room was ready, we started the interview. The interview was set up as 4 different sets of interviews with different people.
In the first interview (which included two people, one of who was the lead front end dev I had spoken to the week before) was a coding challege. I struggled with it a bit more than I thought I would, but figured it out. After that, I was asked to look at a piece of their existing codebase, find the reason for a bug, and solve it. That one I struggled with - I had a sense of what was happening, but I couldn't really pinpoint where exactly the bug was.
The second interview was also with two non-engineer team members and consisted mostly of behavioral questions. It was a nice conversation, and I felt like it went okay. I do struggle a lot with behavioral questions, but I didn't feel like they were trying to trip me up or find negatives in what I was saying, which was very encouraging.
The third interview is where things started to really go downhill. I met with the engineer I had spoken to during my phone screen and one of the co-founders of the company. I was asked to architect a project. Architecture has never been my strong suit, so I immediately felt out of place. They tried to be encouraging and help guide me, but the further along we went, the more I found that I couldn't figure out the right answers. Overall, I felt like I completely bombed what was probably one of the more important interviews, and I felt terrible about it.
The final interview was with the technology director, who asked a lot of behavioral questions and questions about what I'm looking for and my goals. I was also asked one of those "out of the box questions", and then asked ... I probably could have come up with a better answer, but I still thought it was an interesting way of assessing whatever was being assessed (I'm still not sure ... probably something about responding to curveballs).
The End Result
A week after the onsite, I still had not heard back from the company. Considering how quicky things had moved before then, I was pretty sure what that meant, but I still emailed my contact (the person I had spoken to for my initial phone conversation) to ask. A few hours later, I received an email from the recruiter/HR person (I'm not sure what this person's role was) who had been scheduling everything saying that they weren't going to extend an offer (with a reason, which was exactly what I expected).
Things I Liked About This Process:
- The whole process was very fast - from when I applied conversation to onsite interview was less than two weeks. Until the rejection, everything went very quickly, and I liked that. There was a lot less of that nervous waiting that usually comes after an interview.
- At the onsite interview, they offered me water and coffee, and between every interview they asked if I needed a break. Almost everyone tried to put me at ease and they really made me feel like they wanted me to succeed. It definitely seemed like they wanted me to be a part of their team and I wasn't just one of many who may or may not be a fit. (Which made me feel even worse about how badly I did in the interview, but whatever.)
Things I Didn't Like About This Process:
- I had to chase them down for the rejection email. I hate when I have to do that. When the candidate takes the time to come into your office (and yes, I understand that that requires a huge time investment from the company too), you can take the 5 minutes it takes to send a quick "sorry, not a match" email. As someone who has been rejected from quite a few jobs, feedback is always appreciated, but I'd rather get an email with no feedback than have to chase someone down (and then usually get the same email with no feedback).
- Some of the questions they asked didn't seem totally related to what I thought the job was. I don't know if that was them or if I misunderstood the requirements of the job, but it definitely threw me off a bit.
The Initial Contact
I was "introduced" to someone at this company by a fellow grad of my coding bootcamp who knew that I was job hunting and thought it might be a good match. I sent this persom my resume, and later that day received an email to schedule an initial phone screen, which we scheduled for the following week.
The First Interview: HR
My first phone screen was a conversation with the same person I had initially connected with. The interviewer asked me about my background, and followed up with some questions about specific situations. I was given the opportunity to ask questions.
At the end of the conversation, my interviewer told me what the process was and when I should expect to hear from the company again.
The Second Interview: First Code
About a week and a half later (which was within the range I was originally given), I received an email inviting me to schedule a video interview with the company. I scheduled it for a few days later, but it ended up being rescheduled due to something on their end.
The Third Interview: More Code
For two weeks, I didn't hear back from the company. I told myself that I was going to wait one more day and then email the person I had originally spoken with just to get confirmation that I wasn't moving on in the process. And then ... I got an email asking if I was interested in the position and another video interview. I confirmed that I was, and we scheduled the second video interview for a few days later.
At the end of the interview, I was told that I would hear back from the company soon.
The Fourth Interview: The Onsite
Shortly after the second video interview, I received an email inviting me to schedule an onsite interview, which we scheduled for early the following week.
The onsite interview consisted of four sets of interviews.
The first interview was with three non-engineer members of the tech team (a PM and two designers - so people who work closely with the engineers, but are not themselves engineers). We talked about my background and I had the opportunity to ask some questions and learn more about the company.
The second interview was with two engineers (one QA, one software), and it was fairly similar to the first one - talking about my background and then about the company.
The third interview differed from the first two - it was a coding challenge. I was asked to solve a problem on the whiteboard, which was my first and only whiteboard question of the process. I also had an opportunity to chat a bit with my interviewers (both engineers) about the company.
The last interview was with the front-end lead (who I had already "met" in my two video interviews) and a VP. This conversation was mosly guided by my questions, and we talked a lot about the work at the company, dev life at the company, and about some of their plans for the future. We also discussed my background a bit.
For most of these interviews, it felt like the emphasis was more on me asking questions about the company than on them asking questions about me, which was not something I was expecting, but which did give me a better sense of whether the company would be a good culture fit.
The End Result
A little less than a week after my onsite, I received an email from the company. They had decided not to offer me the position I had interviewed for, but were offering me a different position at the company, a more junior position working on a different part of the stack.
Things I Liked About This Process:
- Coding questions were real-world focused, not straight algorithms. Nobody asked me to traverse a binary search tree. I was mostly asked questions about technologies I would be using and real world situations.
- I was asked my thoughts on the process by an exec-level interviewer - they really seemed interested in my thoughts. I was glad to see that the company seemed to be welcoming feedback and wanted it to be a good process for the candidate.
- Like the other interview process, I definitely got the impression that they wanted me to succeed. Everyone was very friendly and encouraging and really seemed to want me to feel comfortable.
Things I Didn't Like About This Process:
- It took a long time. It was about 7 weeks from the initial contact to the onsite. I went through the full interview process (including an onsite) with another company during that time, as well as a number of phone screens and technical calls. In a world where things tend to move fast, having such a long process was a little weird. (I did later get the impression that this is not normal for them)
- At the onsite, I felt like I was interviewing the company as much as they were interviewing me. I get that interviews work that way - and I do want to find the company that's a right fit for me - but it was a very stressful process for me.
- I wasn't thrilled that they offered me a different position without talking to me about the reasoning first (it was discussed in a later phone call). I appreciate the fact that they want me on the team and I'm glad they saw my potential, but I wished they had had a conversation with me about the possibility of this position before just offering it.
These two processes were definitely somewhat different - and felt very different, but they shared some similarities. Both interviews (as well as all of the other interviews I've been through during this process) were multi-step interviews. Both interviews had some technical and some behavioral questions. Both onsite interviews took an entire afternoon. Both companies were kind and friendly and seemed to really want me to succeed. Both companies expected me to ask a lot of questions.
One of the things I've learned as I go through the job search process is that while no two interviews are the same, there are common ways to prepare. Understand that it may be a long process, and there will be multiple stages. Expect to be asked technical questions, and expect to have to write some code (on a computer, on a whiteboard, or both). Expect any onsite interviews to take at least half a day. Expect the company to expect you to ask a lot of questions. Expect it to be a long and tiring process. But also expect them to want you to do well. In all of my interview experience, I have yet to encounter a company that seemed to want me to fail. Those companies may be out there, but I think they are few and far between.
Every interview is different, and you never know what the process is like until you go through it. But if you go in well prepared and with a positive attitude, you can make the best of any interview and hopefully land a great job!