Interviewing Sucks

Yeah I know this is not a revelation and some of you out there enjoy the process. I say you are probably a little sadistic or masochistic or both if you do.

It’s a mental and emotional roller-coaster and as mentioned in a previous post, its like taking finals non-stop for as long as you are going through the interview process. It drained my energy and kept me from feeling creative or feeling motivated to just code for fun. Its been so long since I posted code consistently on Github which makes me a little sad.

While interviewing, I was typically too busy managing the interview pipeline and studying. By pipeline, I mean finding companies, setting up interviews, actually interviewing and then following up and doing this for each company. Several companies have multiple rounds from 1-6+ depending on the company. When I wasn’t dealing with the process of interviewing, then I was studying which I’ve mentioned in my last post how wide the range of topics are for data science interviews.

Many people talk about how the interview process is broken and there are some attempts to fix it (at least in the SF tech community from what I’ve heard & read). But let’s face it, putting people in an awkward, stressful fishbowl environment and having them perform tests that typically don’t relate to their job to see if they are a good candidate is biasing the results for people who interview well.

Interviewing well does not mean that person is the best for the job. One of the smartest and most talented people I know does not interview well and any company that passes up on that person is literally missing a gold mine of talent.

I get it that companies can only except so much risk and they are trying to find ways to vet productive and successful people they add to their team. And as mentioned, there are efforts to improve the interview process. Since I was in the thick of interviewing for the last couple of months, I wanted to note a few experiences in what worked and didn’t work in how companies interviewed.

  • Treating the interviewee like a person and valuing their time vs. making them feel like another number. Some great experiences were going to lunch with people I would work with to see how we gelled and even just as simple as having them make time for me to ask questions or check if I needed a break during long interviews.
  • Being prepared. I had a couple of interviewers tell me they looked up my Github profile before they talked to me which impressed me. On the flip side of this, I had interviews where the person came in telling me they didn’t really know who I was and why I was there. I know they are busy but this ties into my first bullet above.
  • Explaining the process and setting interview expectations. Some companies would send an email or do a call where they would explain the process which helped me prepare. There were a few times where interviews turned into surprise tech interviews when they had been explained as just “get to know you” interviews.
  • Creating as realistic an environment as possible for tech interviews and keeping it contained. One of the best interviews in relation to this was when the person had me solve a code challenge on his computer. I was told to use any resource I normally would (e.g. Stack Overflow) to solve the problem. The challenge was also focused on a specific problem that related to the type work and the environment was all setup so I could just focus on the problem. Granted he watched me while I worked and this could be too difficult for some but being able to code like I would almost normally was definitely one of the more positive tech interviews.
  • Giving constructive feedback. One of my favorite parts from the bullet point above was that the guy gave me solid constructive feedback at the end. This happened in a few other interviews but not always. Getting that type of feedback really helped me  see how well that person can communicate and evaluate work. It spoke volumes about the company and experience I would have there.

Look, I’m not breaking new ground with the information above, just giving some thoughts on my experience. I will say that even though interviewing really does suck, it also was very valuable.

When I started interviewing, I had to just tell myself to buckle down and drive after this. I was so tired after Zipfian and PyCon that it was the last thing I wanted to do, but I knew the timing required me to just regroup and push forward. I felt like I didn’t know anything when I started even though I did, and I made a point of making blocks of time so I could study as well as figure out how to solve questions I got from the previous interview. All the interviews and studying did help me become stronger on the topics.

Plus, data science is still such a new and not fully defined field and I still didn’t know how to explain what I wanted to do. The interviews gave me a chance to get clear on how companies define data science and what they really needed as well as what I want to work on in the field.

Many companies were interested in me for more metrics reporting and BI which makes sense with my business background. Still I am very interested in building things such as implementing a recommender system or applying NLP or MapReduce which is really more about developing data products. Hell, as it becomes more practical, I also want to get into applying neural nets. (All in good time.) Ultimately, the interviews allowed me to get clear quickly with companies on what we were both looking for and whether the role was a match.

A couple other things that helped the process:

  • Github Profile: I got into a space last year where I was posting daily on Github and that really paid off with some companies who saw that I could code. FYI, I’ve posted a lot of messy code there and I try to focus on getting code up more than worry about making it perfect. It will never be perfect.
  • Blog: Explaining my thought process here and progress over the last year helped a few times with people understanding me a little before we met.
  • Network: It has been ridiculously helpful the people I’ve met this past year for me to vet what the companies really are like as well as for the companies to check me out beforehand.
  • Practice: Even though I don’t love interviewing, I will totally agree that going through several made me stronger and I wouldn’t change that.

So interviews suck but they do have redeeming qualities. When you are going through it, take breaks when you need to, talk to your friends (especially those who have gone through the process) and just keep moving. It can be hard but it is survivable. And good luck!

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