Emily Kager

Virtual Interview Reflection

I have a confession.

For someone who has made some sort of a name for herself on criticizing the tech industry, particularly interviews and hiring, I had never actually been through a “real” tech interview process. For the only job I had had in tech I snuck my way in. Meaning I was hired as an intern after a HackerRank challenge and a quick chat with the team and then was hired on full-time after my internship. This year when I thought about leaving, I knew that would change. So I grimaced and prepared myself for the worst.

Step one was even motivating myself that I could interview. I had terrible imposter syndrome. I had fully convinced myself that maybe I had been just fooling everyone this whole time. I don’t actually know anything. Well okay fine, I can admit that I’m okay at my current job, but that definitely won’t stack up to what other companies are looking for. When well-meaning friends gave the advice of “You’re going to be fine, just try! What’s the worst that could happen??” the anxiety part of my brain was happy to tell me. I imagined interviews gone terribly wrong. Embarrassing myself, making my friends who recruited me look bad for vouching for me, and then interviewers who knew me from the internet outing me as a massive fraud. The only reason I was even able to start interviewing was a few friends who had recently gone through the process graciously helped me bolster some of my confidence and do some mocks with me for generic interviewing before the real thing.

Step two was deciding where I was even going to interview. I’m lucky to have a wide network, and I knew I wanted to join somewhere where I at least knew a few familiar faces - especially when joining remotely during these unprecedented times. I got some referrals from the aforementioned friends, and started the process in the new year.

As I’ve alluded to, I am very grateful to have ended up with multiple fantastic offers. Here are some thoughts after interviewing (remotely) for really the first time!

Interview fatigue is real

It’s really hard to keep up the on-site motivation and I quickly succumbed to interview fatigue. Towards the end of my timeline I started faltering on coding challenges and it was hard to keep energy up for behavioral or design interviews. You don’t always have control over on-site dates, but having them not so spread out over 3-4 weeks would have been much better for me. That, or maybe I should have just drank more coffee.

A personal touch goes a long way

I know it’s hard and not always scalable, but personal notes before or after interviews from the manager/future teammates always made me feel more connected to a role. It’s really hard to get a read on a manager or team during these virtual interviews, so any interactions outside of those can be a good way to make a candidate feel more welcomed.

Don’t burn bridges

I was genuinely interested in every company I interviewed with which made the decision process much harder. Obviously you can only choose one job so it’s an extremely difficult position to be in. I’m not sure how recruiters would think about this, but I think being as genuine and kind as possible in your rejections as you are in your acceptance helps to not burn these bridges. Who knows what the future holds!

Keep an open mind

As I mentioned above, my only criteria for new roles was really that I knew more than 0 people within the company and the team seemed nice to work with. I was coming from a product team and I thought that was what I wanted to keep doing, but after hearing about teams that were working on things much different than my old role, my mind was definitely opened a bit. It can be easy to lean on your current competencies and map them directly to a new role, but there’s also value in considering trying something pretty different to change pace.

Lean on your network

I am so grateful for the friends who helped me through this process - whether through getting me a referral, just letting me rant, helping me assess comp and understand stocks, just hyping me up and celebrating wins with me, or helping to prep me. Don’t be embarrassed to lean on people in your network during this process. Ask for a referral. Share comp offers with a few people to get an outside perspective. Just make sure to return the favor when someone else is looking!

Of course once I had offers I felt guilty that I was letting my friends down by not joining their companies or teams. But at the end of the day, I know my friends all just want what’s best for me.

Communication is key

Remote interviews are weird for both parties. Even though I was nervous, all the interview prep instructions bolded communication as most important, even more important than the right answer, so I kept talking. It can be really awkward at first to try to talk while anxiously trying to solve a coding problem, but it’s really not as awkward as sitting there in silence for an hour. Even though a coding interview seems like a purely technical task, there’s probably almost equal importance on your communication while working through it. Obviously this includes talking through the code in a clear and concise way but also coming off as a pleasant future coworker. Making little jokes about something not working or typos can make you come off as more human and someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

Interviewers don’t want you to fail

I imagined the worst about interviewing at big companies - that it would be constant “gotchas” and trivia questions to try to prove that you’re stupid. In reality, every interviewer I had was kind and nice to “work” with. Even though you’re being interviewed, you’re not expected to know everything. Most pairing interviews were explicit that I could look up syntax or anything else I needed. And if I was having a bit of trouble, they were happy to point me in the right direction.

It’s a scary time to find a new job

I am inherently risk averse, so interviewing during a pandemic to join a new company/team remotely was/still is extremely scary to me. If you’re interviewing people now, I would recommend addressing these concerns and how you’re going to make new employees feel comfortable before the candidate even brings them up. For me, feeling comfortable also meant eliminating as many unknowns as possible. What would I likely be working on first? What is the team onboarding plan? How does the company do remote onboarding? Who would I be working directly with and can I meet them? If you’re like me, make sure you’re asking those questions of potential managers to ease your fear.

Interviewers or friends??

During this process, I met a woman working on a team that I didn’t end up joining, but I thought she was awesome and we exchanged numbers to meet up post-pandemic in SF. This isn’t really advice as much as a flex, but I guess it’s also a reminder that interviewers aren’t robots and are real people who you can build a relationship with and stay in touch, even if you don’t end up working together!

Ask the tough questions

After passing the on-site, most companies encourage you follow-up with the team and manager to chat more casually. This is the time where you are 100% evaluating THEM and can and should ask the tough questions about company reputations, work life balance, D+I, what you first project could be, tough team relationships, any negative rumors you’ve heard, etc. Don’t shy away and thank them in advance for their transparency. No company is perfect and you deserve to hear some of the negatives as well as the positives.

Remote interviewing is weird

We’re still calling them “on-sites”, which I guess works for being “on” video calls and “sites” like CoderPad and Whimsical. Even though we’ve all been doing this work from home thing for almost a year, there are still uncontrollable failure points with remote interviewing. My WiFi dropped in the middle of a coding pair exercise and getting my hotspot set up and working cut out almost 10 min of the hour block. But in another interview, my interviewer had a plumber over so was working in a corner of the house with spotty connection. We’re all going through this together, and in my experience everyone was gracious and understanding about the bumps in the road.

In addition to tech failures, there’s no social time with the team built in like a traditional on-site might have. Once you have an offer, it’s okay to ask to meet with the team again for a more casual chat, but it’s definitely harder for me to get a read on people virtually.

Trust your gut

I wish there were an easy way to know what was going to be best for you, but the truth is there’s so many factors involved here and there is no magic formula to make sense of it all. Of course comp is an easy comparable factor, but it’s not everything. And even with on-paper comparable comp there are unknowns around stock growth, IPOs, refreshers, etc. For me, it was less about money and more about the opportunity. I told everyone I was “just looking to work with nice people”, but the problem with that goal was that everyone I met during the interview process was nice. At the end of the day, I just had to trust my gut about my next move based on all of these quantitative and qualitative factors. Here’s hoping my gut is right 🤞

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