Monday, October 15, 2007

Hard Truths

I had two very uncomfortable conversations today with close friends. On the one hand, it's good to have friends who feel comfortable enough with you that they can look you in the eyes (figuratively) and tell you very uncomfortable truths about yourself. On the other hand, it's more than a little scary.

Last month, I had a job interview. I was under the distinct impression that it went well. They liked me (I was told), I liked them, I had two people at the company pushing for me to get hired, I had an ex employee of the same company also sending emails on my behalf...I was all but a shoe-in. After the interview, I was told that I was the strongest candidate they'd met, that my personality meshed with the team better than anyone they'd met, and that I'd hear from them in a day or two. I took myself out to a nice dinner to celebrate an interview well done.

Except...they apparently didn't like me; they just said that. In actuality, they thought I interviewed badly, was "tentative," and didn't know nearly enough to be considered for the position for which I interviewed. One of the interviewers told one of my friends that he couldn't recommend me because, based on the interview, he couldn't tell how much "hand-holding" I'd need.

They continued to interview, and I was told—again, through these three friends—that there was almost no chance they'd find someone at the level they were looking for, and that I was all but a shoe-in for the "lower" position one step down on the pay scale, for which I was definitely the strongest candidate they'd seen, blah blah blah. They'd open up that position if they didn't find someone that was a very good fit for the other one. The one I interviewed for. I sent them a "Thanks, please keep me in mind" email with a salary requirement that I know for a fact (because of the aforementioned three friends) is near the high end of the salary range for that position, but since I am "the strongest candidate they've seen," I figured it made sense.

Well, it seems they did find someone for the higher position. When I was informed today that they'd offered this other guy the position, I was frustrated and griped to my friends who were online.

Who let me have it between the eyes, figuratively speaking.

It seems that I don't have confidence during an interview. It seems that I'm my own worst enemy. It seems that the only jobs I've gotten since the very first one were because someone at the company already knew me and could get them to see past my horrid interview to the good developer that I am. To "give me a chance," as it were. It seems that the job I had two jobs ago had the exact same reservations this new place does, but my friend—who worked there at the time—had to "lean on them" to get them to hire me over their objections.

So from one friend—and he is a very good friend, indeed—I learned today that I'm basically unhirable because I come across as unskilled and tentative during job interviews, and this causes them to wonder if I actually know what I'm doing. If it hadn't been for him and another friend or two, I would be unemployed and living in my mother's basement, or still working for the soul-sucking void where I worked for nine years.


I have a computer science degree and 20 years of experience in programming. Dammit, I know how to program! The language matters not to me; it's all learning syntax at this point. My skills are in problem solving: getting the computer to do what you tell me you want it to do. Let me work out the details.

The guy this company made the offer to has a PhD in Mathematics.

While I know that this doesn't mean he knows nothing about computers and programming, it makes me question why I spent four years in college getting what amounts to a useless degree if basically anyone who just has better interview skills can end up getting jobs I know I'm qualified to do. But apparently can't convince others I'm qualified to do. At least if I'd gotten a degree in something else, I'd have something else to fall back on, n'est-ce pas?

So I'm doing something wrong. But how do you get feedback on something like that? You can't call up an employer with whom you had an interview but didn't get the job and say, "Excuse me, but would you be kind enough to point out some of the mistakes I made during the interview so that I'm better able to convince the next company to hire me?"

It just doesn't work that way.

Except this time, it does. One of my friends inside the company was at my interview, strictly as an observer. She was under direct orders not to say a word because her boss knows we're friends and he didn't want her to influence me in any way.

So as painful as it may be to hear that my last three jobs have all been because I was hired in spite of my interview instead of because of them, at least I can now get some constructive feedback.

But that was only the feedback from one friend. I said there were two.

I was griping about the same thing to the second one and she started asking me questions about why I was angry. I saw immediately what she was doing. I said to her, "I reserve the right to be angry and not have to explain it."

She was leading me down the path to the same conclusion: that if I didn't get the job, it wasn't because of anything they did; it was my own fault.

So, yeah. "Happy Monday! Here's your world, which I've conveniently put into a snowglobe. Now I'll just...flip it upside down a few times so it looks pretty and snows! Hey, why are you pale?"