Interviews are terrible. Stressful, time-intensive, loosely correlated with on the job performance. They're the least terrible way we have to hire.
In an ideal world, companies would have infinite funds to hire every candidate and every applicant would be qualified.
Instead, we see hot companies that get 1000's of promising applicants for every opening, cold companies that get dozens of tire kickers practicing interviews, and a surprising number of software engineers who can't write code at all. 💩
That's what we talked about in this week's Senior Mindset Mastermind. Currently 15% off to join.
What senior interviews are looking for
At the junior and mid level, interviews are about assessing potential and coachability. I talked about this on a recent podcast.
At the senior level, it's about assessing your engineering skills. Writing code is meant to be the easy part. The familiar crutch to an important conversation.
The infamous "Can you cook an egg?" test chefs give to candidates is a good example. Everyone can cook eggs their favorite way.
If a chef can't cook eggs, you can stop the interview right there. Like a programmer who can't write a for loop.
The test isn't meant to be about cooking eggs. It's about how you cook eggs.
The test reveals more than just whether or not you can put a sunny side up (or whatever) egg on a plate - it also provides information about your organizational skills, sanitation practices, your confidence, your response to pressure and whether or not you can talk, listen and cook at the same time. I guarantee that I'm going to try to mess you up while you're working the eggs, not just because I'm mean but also because I want to see what you look like in action.
I had a guy onetime who smiled when I asked him to cook an egg just like he'd eat for breakfast - and proceeded to fry three eggs over medium using no tools but a pan. No spoons, no forks, no spatulas, no scrapers, no ladles, nothing but a small skillet. He not only successfully cracked all three eggs at the same time with one hand, he explained each step of the way how, what and why he was doing what he was doing and telling stories about all the things that could go wrong - and laughing about the times that it had. He hadn't mentioned his stint as a short order cook years earlier because he didn't think I would find it hoity-toity enough.
That's what interviewers are looking for in a senior candidate. Can you write code while explaining what and why you're doing? Can you talk about tradeoffs, past experiences, approaches you aren't taking for reasons X, Y, and Z?
Does the coding feel so easy that you have spare capacity to think about the deeper aspects? 🤔
The best interviewers and companies look at this as a scale. Not a pass/fail.
You're meant to slot into a team that has your back. Your skills and strengths overlap with others to create magic.
Typical structure and intent
Typical interview structure these days is pretty long. With multiple pre-onsite calls followed by a series of onsite interviews.
Even onsite interviews happen on Zoom these days.
- recruiter screen, verifies this is the job you're looking for
- manager screen, looks for quick ways to reject you, main goal is protecting the interview team from wasting time
- technical screen, looks for basic coding competency and technical experience
You're now considered a promising candidate with a high likelihood of getting hired. Interviewers now look to verify their initial "Yes we like this person" hunch.
- coding challenge, looks at your engineering skills, this is the egg cooking test. Comes in different shapes and forms.
- cultural interview, tries to see if you're going to enjoy working with the team
- system design, is free-flowing and looks at your strengths and weaknesses on a higher level. Which areas can we dig and dig and where do you tap out?
- product demo doesn't always happen, but looks for your user empathy and product sense. Will you be a good partner to PMs?
- manager wrapup is more of a pitch to encourage you to join
One of the most powerful questions you can ask throughout all this comes from the sales world – "What is your biggest challenge right now? What do you expect to be a challenge over the next 6 months?".
Then propose ideas and solutions!
We dug into more detail and aspects of interviewing as a pet or a cattle on the bi-weekly call. Senior Mindset Mastermind is 15% off to join this week 🦃
PS: you can find BFCM discounts for my other books and courses at swizec.com/bfcm2021
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it describes my days in a way I have not read before.
This was a very enlightening article about being a senior engineer.
You write in a way that just makes sense. I found just about every idea valuable.
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