Last week I had an interview I prepared for vigorously. I was really excited about it, and I got the best rejection. That’s sarcasm, right? I’m about to tear into this company and make it known how terrible they are. Well … no. It was a really good rejection.
I’ve been applying for developer jobs for over 6 months now, 116 of them at the time of writing. (Yes, I keep a spreadsheet.) This rejection stood out among them as the best. But surely a rejection is bad? Yes, I wish I’d got the job, and yes, it was a bit deflating, but any rejection is.
The difference is this one actually boosted my confidence.
For a start, they actually interviewed me. In most cases where I’ve applied, I either get a knock-back quickly, or, more frustratingly, they don’t even bother to reply. In other cases I’ve had the corporate online compatibility test to see if I’m a good fit for the company. If you work at a company where everyone genuinely believes they’re a good fit because an algorithm said so, you’re probably right in that I’m not a good fit there because I would never think those tests mean a thing. They’re there to avoid having to actually get to know a candidate to, well, get to know them. Surely that can be automated, right?
So why was it good? For one, thing the interview was pretty good. And I don’t mean pretty good as in I think I did well, I mean it wasn’t a box ticking exercise, or rather I certainly got the impression the interviewer wasn’t doing one. It was more a conversation. Is that good hiring practice? You’ve got maybe an hour to figure out if someone is suitable for the job, and that someone is a person, people aren’t easily categorised, the best way to find out what a person is like is to just talk to them.
A couple of days later I was told that they liked me enough to arrange a second interview, but couldn’t set a time just yet. Immediately that was a huge confidence boost. They’d talked to me, found out about my skills, found out about the kind of person I am, and decided they want to know more. This was the furthest I’d gotten with a developer role, and I could finally say someone other than myself thinks I can do the job. At this point that wasn’t the question any more, the question was, could I do it better than someone else they’d also interviewed.
Unfortunately, a couple of days later I was told they’d decided to go with the other person. That’s bad right? Telling me you’ll give me a second interview and then calling it off? At face value it might be, but read between the lines. They initially wanted to set up a second interview to choose between two people, and after a couple of days of thought decided they wanted to go with the other one. That means I impressed them enough for them to want to find a reason to hire me, but their situation meant that on reflection they would probably have to go with the safer, proven hire. That is to me completely understandable. Interviews take time and resources, and the longer a position is open the less productivity you have. I mean, I might be misreading the situation, maybe, but I have to go on the information I have.
So what can I take away from this experience? Well, I’m going to be more confident in interviews. I now know that someone else thought I was worth very serious consideration, both from my CV via a recruiter (top job by him by the way; if you read this, you’ve got the thumbs up from me), and after finding out a bit more about me in the interview. And I know they took the time to consider exactly what I brought to the table; they didn’t just see not enough boxes were checked so it’s a no. Now I know those interviewers are out there, they’re real and not just something you hear about from people creating a myth about their ascent to developer success.
On the flip side, I’d like any hiring managers or recruiters to take away a few messages. When you’re hiring a developer, you want a developer, not someone who can maximise the potential bragging rights of every task they’ve done well for their CV; they’re a developer, not someone who’s great at writing cover letters so good that they could sway you into believing they’re the only possible candidate who even comes close. Secondly, you’re hiring someone who you’re going to depend on to produce work, and make an effort. I know there are people out there with way more experience than me, and times are tough, many of them need a job, sometimes even bellow their usual pay grade. So do you want someone who checks all the boxes and can dive straight in? Are they there to prove themselves or just pay the bills? Are they there to learn the way you do things, the tech you use, and really understand it, or just spit out some code that works? How likely is it that person is going to use your job as the number one standout moment on their CV, and have the motivation to make sure when they next apply somewhere, they have something to boast about because of that job. Do you want to end up as their box ticking exercise?
So why hire an unproven developer? Because when you do, their entire experience becomes specific to your company. Every new tech they learn, every kind of project they know, every kind of work they do, is what your company does. You have someone who is eager to learn, eager to prove themselves, and eager to do the best they can for you. They’ll happily mould themselves to become exactly the employee your company needs, and not ask you to form around the kind of developer they are. Is there a learning curve? Yes, but there is with any employee. An experienced developer still needs to familiarise themselves with what you do, and that takes time. And guess what? If you counted yourself lucky to get such good experience at a junior rate, chances are you will be waiting for someone else to familiarise themselves with you before long. The new developer can’t do that, they won’t be looking for the next thing until they feel they’ve learned all they can, and at that point, they are likely to move up within your own organisation, because now they know, now they’re the expert. They’re the exact fit for what you need, because you made them into that ideal candidate for yourself.