12 February 2024

If you've spent any time on LinkedIn at all the past few years, you've seen the incessant posts about people "looking for their next challenge". Many of these are followed, sometimes weeks or months later, by additional posts (sometimes by the same people) about being really really really desperate to find something. Sandwiched right in between them are posts by LinkedIn "influencers" trying to tell us the right sequence of events, the "magic sauce", to get that next gig. Then, every so often, there's a recruiter in the feed that bemoans the behavior of other recruiters, says, "Do better", and disappears. Yet, nothing ever gets better.

To all the recruiters in the world: The truth is, while some of you are certainly predatory and untrustworthy, I firmly believe the majority of you aren't trying to take advantage of anybody. That's the good news. The bad news is, we still don't trust you. And the main reason we don't trust you is because we don't trust your process.

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of bad--or at least thoughtless--actors out there in the world. I recently interviewed with a CEO for a CTO position in which we would be working quite closely together. Post-interview, a week later, no response. She sent out an email right after the interview with the full job description, but has since offered no insight as to whether the search is still going, whether there will be another interview... nothing.

I don't think she's being deliberately cruel (far from it, she seems like a good person), but it's certainly sent something of a message. Even if she comes back next week with a "Great, we'd love to schedule another round..." I don't know that I'd be all that interested to continue. Sure, she's busy--but so is everybody.

Relationships, professional or personal, take work. This is a position wherein two people are going to be working closely together, and if you don't have the time and energy to lay down a good foundation for a good working relationship, then how can I be sure you're going to put the time and energy into a good working relationship once we're on the job together?

What's worse, I don't even know if we're done or if we've even started--I have zero insight into what the interview process is. I don't know if we had a good conversation, a bad one, a "meh" one that didn't really take me out of the running but left me out of the top consideration.... nothing.

I have ZERO insight into what's happening there. And in the absence of information, people tend to assume the worst, and then make judgments and decisions based on their assumptions. Then recruiters wonder why nobody's really warming up to them, even though half (or three-quarters) of the time, the recruiter is actually on the candidate's side!


Big companies are much, MUCH worse. While they have a better chance of describing the overall process to you (in some few cases, they'll actually have it posted either as part of the job posting or as part of the application process), the process itself tends to lend itself to opacity--multiple rounds, each with multiple interviewers, often each asking a spate of questions that they themselves aren't 100% familiar or comfortable with.

Depending on the position, the nature of the interview will be different. Some of these interview rounds will be "system design" interviews, in which the candidate is presented with an open-ended question, such as one I recently went through, wherein you are challenged to "Please design an Identity and Access Management (IAM) system." You get maybe a paragraph's worth of specification. The interviewer (or interviewers) are often there to see... what, exactly?

Or perhaps you are doing a "culture fit" round, where the interviewers are asking you about the company's cultural values/positions/statements. They ask questions about your thoughts on... what, exactly? Whether you agree with the company's values? How you would align to them? The minefields are so deep here.

Or, if the position is coding-related in some way, you might be asked to write some code. Of course, these are often entirely "context-free", so as to not have to worry about the business domain. This means--typically--a question specifically around algorithms. How do you insert a node into the middle of a linked list? How do you do a breadth-first search of a binary tree? How do you optimize a search of a HashMap-of-String-to-String? All of these being problems that pretty much nobody actually writes code for in 2024.

For each of these, the "right answer" can take one of several forms: the interviewers are looking to "see how I think" by watching how the design or code or cultural thought evolves in response to insights gathered and the questions I ask along the way; the interviewers are looking to "see how good an architect/coder/person I am" by keeping their thoughts to themselves until we have a finished product; or the interviewers are looking to "see how collaborative I am" by watching not what's produced, but the assumptions I make along the way (instead of asking the interviewers--the customer/client proxy stand-ins--questions).

Best part is, the interviewers often have their own opinions about what the "right answer" is for these (something something something Kubernetes, something something something comPLETE), and even if you present a viable alternative, if it's not aligned at least a little with their preconceived notion of what the "right answer" looks like, you fail.

And even more better, nobody will ever say ahead of time what the round is looking for. You're left, as a candidate, to try and figure it out on the fly. Guess wrong, and you don't pass. Don't pass the round, you don't pass the interview.

And you will never, ever, EVER know why.

It's not the recruiter, it's the process

Look, recruiters, you can be as charming, heartwarming, and convivial as any human can possibly be, and all of it isn't going to matter in the long run.

The problem is that the nicest recruiter in the world doesn't address the primary frustration that candidates experience: A complete lack of visibility into the recruiting process, both at a high level (what the process is like) or at a more tactical level (what's expected and/or being examined in each round).

Look, put it like this: Imagine somebody sits you down in a room, and tells you that the test you're about to take is going to determine your (and your family's) financial future for the next half-dozen years or so. They then walk out of the room, without telling you what the test is on, what a passing grade looks like, or the subject you're about to be tested on. Or whether the test will be written, oral, or athletic. Or even how many tests there will be. And when it's over (whenever it is, in fact, over, because remember, they can always call you in a few weeks and tell you "it's time for round two", or round three, or round twelve, or....) you won't actually be told your results unless you're hired/passed.

Repeat this a few times, and it really won't matter what the personality of the person bringing you into the room--the process itself will break even the most cheerful, optimistic, skilled, and confident candidate.

Tags: management   teams  

Last modified 12 February 2024