Its not me, its you.

Inspired by Reasons You Were Not Promoted That Are Totally Unrelated to Gender I thought I would share some additional Reasons You Were¬†Not Promoted That Are Total BS. After that, I will share some tips for job interviews ūüôā

“You need more visibility to distinguish yourself from others. The fact that you are doing more technically sophisticated work than your peers is not “visible” enough. We are somewhat at a loss to define this “visibility” thing further, but you need more of it.

“The company has changed direction and we are concerned you wouldn’t be able to perform at a higher level under the new conditions. No, your job hasn’t changed, why do you ask?”

“We decided not to promote you this year because you haven’t done P and Q. We realize¬†you were specifically told not to do P & Q, but you should have found a way to do them.”

“Despite the recommendation to promote you we decided not to because we do not need someone of your skill level on this team. But here’s a 1% raise”


If you have gotten these sorts of message from your employer I recommend you do what I did the following:  Get a new job!

There are a lot of blog articles about how to prepare for technical interviews – from smelling nice, keeping your shoes on during the interview,¬†and getting¬†your resume up to date (i.e. if the last time you programmed C was in 1996 for a class project it shouldn’t be on your resume). You can Google them, or check back here for one I will be writing shortly.

This post is about how to interview the team interviewing you. This is¬†the part of interview advice that generally gets glossed over. “Ask questions to show you are interested in what the company does,” for example. In fact, this is the most important part of the interview. You dont want to get hired onto a ship going down in flames, this is how you figure out if there are smooth or choppy waters ahead.

Dont be Judge Smails

Dont be Judge Smails

1. Are they taking you and the interview seriously?

Regardless of if you are interviewing as a prospective intern or CEO¬†you deserve respect!¬†They should be on time, professional and interested in you. If they are disinterested, checking Facebook, or self-importantly diddling on their Blackberry thats not a good sign. Sure, people get busy, but an overarching attitude of “meh” does not bode well. They should be interested in getting to know ¬†you and answering whatever questions you have about the company and the position.

2. Do they have procedures in place to avoid a total shit show?

I’m assuming you are interviewing for a technical job of some sort. All good technical teams from scrappy startups to large¬†corporations should have practices in place to keep tabs on technical design. These can be formally referred to as business practices or best practices. For software, the¬†Joel Test¬†is an excellent guide. Generally

  1. How are the specs for the product decided?
  2. Who is responsible for various aspects of the deliverable?
  3. Is there a sane way to track requests for changes, issues, and design progress?
  4. How is quality ensured?
  5. How do you communicate among team members? Do you all physically report to the same place? Are you in different time zones?
  6. How has the team tracked to deadlines or release cycles historically (if applicable)?

Depending on the environment this may be implemented as a¬†horrible sea of red tape with formalized ticketing systems or just a quick conversation on the appropriate Slack channel or something in between.¬†If these questions are met with *shrug* or “we just hire really smart people” be prepared for Lord of the Flies.


3. Ask to the team about themselves!

If possible you should talk to the team members that you will work with, work for, or be supervising.  How do they come across? Do you feel like they are open and transparent, or hard to read? Ive interviewed team members that have been clearly stressed out and overworked; one disgruntled person in the team may not spell trouble but more than one most likely does.

I like to ask interviewers these questions

  1. What is your favorite thing about your job/team/boss?
  2. What is your least favorite thing about your job/team/boss?
  3. What is your typical day like?
  4. What kind of hours does the team typically work?
  5. Any advice you would have for someone new to your team?

While I think the whole brogrammer “hook up / hang out 6 times before we give you a technical interview” thing is dumb, it is important to assess the team dynamic and how you fit in it. Go to lunch or have a beer with the team. Do you feel comfortable around these folks? What is the power structure in the team and how do you fit in it? Some teams Ive worked on have been pretty even keel, others have a clear king/queen pin with the rest of the team rather minion-esque. You dont have to want to hang out with your coworkers, but you have to be able to work with them.

You dont want to work with Walter Peck.

You dont want to work with Walter Peck.

4. Ask everyone about their expectations for the role you will be filling.

The job description says one thing but that is rarely the entire picture, and sometimes inaccurate! Ask everyone you interview with if they can tell you what they expect the position to entail and what skills you would need to be successful in that position. If no one seems to know or you get disparate information follow up with whomever the position will report to for clarity.

5. Do they really know what they are looking for?

Every Data Scientist Job Post

Most Data Scientist Job Posts

Do they need what they think they need? For example, everyone is trying to hire “data scientists” right now because they think¬†beating everything with the sledge hammer of machine learning will make them wildly rich, attractive, and retired in 2 years.¬†Not so.

Does what the job they are asking you to do correlate well with the ends they are trying to achieve? Do they think you will come and be the Personal Jesus to their product? Does that seem realistic? Especially if you are doing technical work for someone who is either not technical or not familiar with your job it is REALLY important to discern whether they know what is realistic. I recently turned down a job in part because they expected me to come in riding on a rainbow and solving all their problems. (Yes, it was a Data Scientist job)  This is not always a deal breaker; in some instances the organization may be open to you providing the best approximation of what they want. Just be clear with them when you interview.


6. Does the interview seem appropriate for the job?

A good interview should prod the parts of your expertise that will be needed for the job. Are they interviewing for a developer position and haven’t asked you to write a line of code? Consider if your peers had been given the same interview you were; would you feel confident about their abilities?

Of course, this gets into Impostor Syndrome. Am I good enough for this job? If you are in doubt, ask the interviewers how they think your skills will translate to the work you will be doing. If you are offered the job and still feeling doubtful, ask a trusted, knowledgable friend for a frank assessment of your skills and what you know of the job responsibilities.

No one can cut down a tree with a herring.

No one can cut down a tree with a herring.

7. Ask about the on-boarding process

Depending on the size of the company, how a new employee is brought on board will vary a lot. An early stage startup just trying to get all hands on deck may need a Javascript wizard they can just throw at problems immediately. A more established company may have a process of documentation reading, apprenticing (bug fixing perhaps) before you are given the keys to the Cadillac. Ask yourself if their plans seem reasonable given what you know of the company and product.

8. What is the future of the product or team you are interviewing with?

I once worked on a team that continued hiring full time employees after the company decided to dissolve the team. Some of these employees moved overseas, left solid jobs, and moved their families only to be told they were out of a job 6 months later. Its not always possible to avoid this kind of situation, but by asking about the financial and organizational details you might be able to find out.  Ive point blank asked interviewers what their take on the current climate is for the team. Do they feel secure? Do they think the product or team is destined for failure or success? Does the team have funding for the equipment and headcount they need? Another tip is when things are going south, training budgets are the first to go. Beware of a company that is pinching pennies that has good revenue numbers. It could be a sign that they do not value the team or product.

An interview is a microcosm of working with someone, both from the point of view of the interviewers and the interviewee. Like all relationships, your work relationship will not be perfect Рyou will have frustrating processes (or frustrating lack of processes), nasty coworkers, terrible bosses, and that person in the cube next to you that ALWAYS microwaves fish for lunch. You will learn from these situations Рperhaps inspired to be a GOOD manager, or how to help your next team avoid a train wreck in product development, or that you really prefer working from home.

My hope in posting these tips is that it will help you ask yourself if YOU want the job. I acknowledge that this is a pretty privileged position to be in – able to turn down a job – and believe me, when I have done so I have second, third and fourth guessed myself. I think as tech folk we accept shittiness when we shouldn’t – “Its ok that my cubical is 4’x6′, I don’t know where I am when Im engrossed in¬†analyzing timing diagrams anyway.” I hope this post¬†inspires you¬†to ask for more out of your next position, or at least to leave your interview more informed.

What else do you think is important to ask when interviewing a company? Other Reasons You Were Not Promoted thay spurred you on to look for a better situation?