How does a bad interview look like in data engineering

All of us have gone through a terrible job interview.

Lousy job interviews come in all shapes and sizes. You could have an unpleasant conversation. Perhaps, they withdraw the offer at the last minute. Maybe you went through a six-hour-long interview session to hear about the lack of culture fit.

Today, I will share my interview stories. I do it, so one day, when I am responsible for hiring someone, I will remember what I shouldn’t do. Maybe it will also help you avoid being a terrible interviewer.

Here is what happened when I was trying to switch from backend development to data engineering.

What you don’t say matters as much as what you say

I went through a lengthy process. I had two or three phone calls with HR and a programming assignment. After the calls, they invited me to a day full of interviews. Seven one-hour-long meetings with 5-minute breaks between them. A nightmare.

What’s even worse, they interviewed me for the wrong level.

I applied for the position of regular data engineer. All of the people I talked with were sure I had applied for a senior job. I figured that out in the middle of the day. One of them said, “If you want to be a senior data engineer, you really should know the answer.”

What? I didn’t apply for a senior position!

I had to inform every subsequent interviewer about the misunderstanding. An HR person performed the last interview, so I told them too. They said they would sort it out and adjust the evaluation accordingly. I had no chance to pass the senior level interview because I wasn’t experienced enough.

They did adjust the evaluation, but I had to go through another set of interviews. This time on the phone. Seriously. After 7 hours of interviews, they needed to talk even more.

After every meeting, I received emails from HR saying they wanted to schedule a call to discuss the results and the next steps. However, they didn’t mention discussing the next steps in the last email. I had known what it meant even before they called.

We had the call on Friday afternoon. I got rejected. To add an insult to the injury, the HR person wished me a nice weekend…

If you wish a nice weekend to people you reject, call them on Monday!

But I least I got the feedback. “The feedback,” to be precise. They told me again all questions they asked during the interview and my answers to them. That was it. The feedback. No comment on why they think my answers were wrong. Nothing.

Meet your expectations

I interviewed for a position at a German company. They had an interview guide for candidates on their website. Nice. Every company should have it.

In the guide, they wrote, “We are a German company, so don’t be late.” I wasn’t. They were late. Every person with whom I talked was late. Everyone.

It’s double annoying because being late and other people being late is my pet peeve. I find it extremely disrespectful.

Interrogation

What’s the point of having two separate interview sessions where people ask you the same questions?

Do they check later whether I gave the same answers to both of them?

What’s that? Was it supposed to be some “good HR, bad HR” interview style? If yes, they failed because they both were mediocre at best.

Are you playing mind games with the candidates? Please stop.

Whiteboard interview

Yes. We all love whiteboard interviews. Years ago, I wrote a blog post defending this interview method. I still believe it can work. Most of the time, it doesn’t work at all.

It doesn’t work because people can’t run code in their heads. Neither can the interviewer nor the candidate. Because of that, the candidate’s solution will get accepted only when they write precisely what the interviewer had in mind. Nobody bothers checking whether the code does what it was supposed to do.

But wait. We can make it even worse. During one interview, they told me my code didn’t work. I was sure it does. I asked whether they could provide a test example to prove it doesn’t work. What did they say? “It’s your homework. You can figure out why it doesn’t work later at home.”

What about you? What happened to you during a job interview?

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Bartosz Mikulski

Bartosz Mikulski

  • Data/MLOps engineer by day
  • DevRel/copywriter by night
  • Python and data engineering trainer
  • Conference speaker
  • Contributed a chapter to the book "97 Things Every Data Engineer Should Know"
  • Twitter: @mikulskibartosz
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