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Month: May 2012

What Interview Questions to Ask and How to Land a Job You Love: My Experience

What Interview Questions to Ask and How to Land a Job You Love: My Experience

As I have previously mentioned, I had been in the job market for months. Had a number of pretty solid offers but I did not feel the cultural fit was there for me to be happy. In the interest of sharing my experiences, here are the questions I wrote down to ask every time I went on a first or second interview. This is not a complete list but a mix of important questions plus the (odd) ones most important to me. I am also adding notes for my reasoning behind them for the purposes of this entry. I would suggest, after looking at the list, you simply disregard the things that do not apply to you– or more importantly– the things you do not care about.

  • At will? Contract? 1099? W2? Corp-to-corp?
    Consider the tax implications of a 1099 or corp-to-corp. Seriously, big difference. Remember that if an at-will employee can leave any time– two weeks notice is a good idea because everyone can always use more references– it also means they can let you go for absolutely no reason at all.
  • What benefits are offered? Are they fully paid for by the company? How much do I have to contribute if not 100%? How long will it take to kick in?
    Will a lapse of insurance be a problem for me due to an existing condition?
  • Insurance offered by the company? Can it cover other people? Worried about in-network? HMO, EPO, ect?
    If you are getting married it may be a great idea to be able to offer such a thing to your spouse. That way they do not have to worry about it and do can whatever (maybe even take care of the rest of the familiy if needed instead of the cost of a day care).
  • Do they offer a retirement plan (401k, ect)? Do they do any matching? If so how much?
    If you start this at 18 you are sitting pretty. Starting later is not nearly as good but still well worth the tiny amount it costs you now. Trust me on this, you will not be sorry. If a potential employer does not offer it you can always hire a company to do it for you and it is still very, very much worth it.
  • What is the dress code?
    I just hate folding and ironing things with a pasaion. Feel free to ignore my insanity.
  • Flexible hours? If I put in 16+ hour days is there any compensation time? Can I work from home at least one day a week assuming I am not required in the office?
    This was very important to me. Even more so if there was no overtime. Your time is the most valuable thing you have because it allows you to do everything else. Do not kill yourself so someone else can get rich and you get shit. There are lots of things worth more than money and, if you are willing, a company may be willing to make non-standard accommodations if you just ask so everyone is happy.
  • How do meetings with the other departments go? How often (on average, not with the last big, once-in-a-life-time project)?
    I, personally, used this as a metric to see how big a company was and how much red tape I would have to deal with. Not really a great measure of anything but an indication.
  • Tandem projects? How many things will I be working on at once?
    This may not pertain to you or maybe you like it. I just wanted to make sure no one expects the impossible out of me.
  • Amount of time spent working vs meetings? Would they say my department makes the decisions it has the skills to make or other departments?
    I was worried that some big-wig boss man would be making decisions based on nothing but cost. Penny wise, pound foolish kind of thing and I wanted no part of that.
  • Can they walk me through what most of my days would look like?
    Just because they say they are filling one role does not mean I think they know what they want. Make sure you are clear on what you are committing yourself to. Use your own judgment but do not be afraid to say “no” if the job is too huge and there is little relative up side for you. Again, do not kill yourself so someone else can get rich and you get fired because they sold the company that you have no real stake in.
  • Is there a Do Not Compete clause? If so does it apply to post-employment and for how long?
    Wwhen you leave you want to make sure you can still do what it is you do. A DNC that is too broad will fuck you. Do not be afraid to request changes if you feel the spirit of the law is there but the wording is not. I have done this with every DNC I have ever signed and never once has anyone become upset because of it.
  • Are any personal projects you generate outside of company time and company equipment property of the company?
    Are things you do on your own time on your own equipment property of the company? For someone who loves what they do this would be a really, really bad thing. I was very, very afraid of this.
  • What is the salary they can offer?
    Is it a job you really want? Is it worth it to accept a little less for a better chance at the gig? Perhaps it is cheaper for them to put that difference into benefits when it would have cost you a lot more if you were to do it on your own. Make suggestions if you want something.
  • Provide equipment?
    Are they expecting you to spend your own money to do your job? Will you be reimbursted? Is there a limit?
  • Bring own equipment?
    Some companies do not like the idea of you using your own equipment (especially things with long-term storage, like laptops, ect). Make sure, if you need something and they will not let you use yours, that they are willing to spend the money required to get the job done right. If they think you suck because you produce crap it may just be because they were too cheap and not because of you. Still, it reflects badly on you and that is not something they will hear very well.
  • What time do you start your day? Flexibility?
    I hate mornings. Like, a lot. This may not matter to you. I also want to be able to stay 16 hours one day and four the next so that was important to ask (but be careful about how it comes off).

Check out the recruiters! There are people out there that have just as much stock in you getting a good job and you do not have to pay them. Generally they only get paid if you get the job, get paid relative to however much you are offered, and none of that comes out of your pocket. It is win-win for you. I am more familiar with the IT-related resume-posting sites such as Dice but there is also Monster so use those to get in front of a lot of eyes (recruiters included). I, personally, did not do any of the heavy lifting myself (craigslist, for example) and let the recruiters find the jobs but there is no rule you can not be doing both. Hell, there is no rule you can not be doing five interviews all at the same time (except for the drain on your energy, that is). This is not a marriage and you do not owe anyone anything until you sign those papers: Be a whore.

This whole process can be intimidating so I offer this advice: Do not act like it– seriously, most people hate me for this very reason– but think of yourself as the best; Fuck everyone else, they suck. The truth of the matter is 95% of the population are just doing what they need to do to get by and keeping their heads down. Always put your best foot forward but remember that doing 50% of your best will be worlds better than most of your competition. Also show off what you did in the past because you wanted to and why you loved doing it. Try something new. Tell them about your failures, why you failed, but how it was still worth doing. Do not be afraid of what you will do, not do, or say in an interview. This is as much about you getting what you need and want as much as it is for your interviewer.

Hope this helps anyone who might be looking for a job. It is the accumulation of me adding to and modifying this list over the course of a few months of non-stop, ~five-interviews-a-day job hunting. If you were happy being suck in a cubical you could easily do that but there is also no chance of you finding that awesome place you do not want to leave at the end of the day. Chief Technology Officer (CTO) was a great title I had at my last company, had a nice office over looking Rockefeller Plaza, and the pay was great… but I was dying inside. The more time that past doing something I did not want to be doing the more I could feel myself growing resentful of a place that did not deserve that. Remember that if you are so unhappy your hair is changing color the job is not worth any amount of money. You can find a cheaper place to live but destroying your relationships because you brought home that stress is no longer only effecting you.

Technology Is As Technology Is

Technology Is As Technology Is

I have been in the job market for a few months now looking for work as a web developer. A certain percentage of companies have decided not to work with me but I have decided not to work with a larger percentage of them. Why turn down a job in this market? To put it bluntly, because most of you people are showing up for a pay check and that is the only reason you show up. If that statement shocks you then perhaps I am directing this post at you. Yes, you.

Take a seat, you need to see a guy about a thing.

Pop quiz: How do you kill a man?
The obvious aside, one sure fire way is to stick him in a situation, virtually every day, virtually all day, where he is unhappy. Some place that creeps into his head and, after waking up one day, he decides he hates. It will probably sneak up on him. Not long after this realize will feed into itself and turn into less and less productivity for your company. This is the state of the “code factories” in most IT departments. All the benefits and job stability in the world is not worth it one byte. I, personally, will take a job way below my previous pay grade at an unstable start up in order to care for my family before I come home and take all that out on them. Although I have nothing against working for larger companies I do not favor them because they tend to be less interested in the people and making good product.

I have discovered a few warning signs that a place is too far gone to be worth any amount of compensation:

  • They have a sprawling HR department. Your interview goes well. Everyone loves you and wants you on their team. Now they need to go through HR. All of a sudden the best person for the job is reduced to numbers. “Sorry but we have decided to move in another direction.” What is a programmer with storage experience worth? What is the minimum a second person is willing to accept just to manage the storage when there is not enough storage-related work to go around? I honestly have little idea but I can not imagine penny wise, pound foolish is the way to go with your critical infrastructure.
  • They think they just need a “frontend” or “backend” person. Maybe you learn about a subject, not because you love it, but because that knowledge will improve the thing you do love. Maybe it is a necessary evil and you can not do without the related technology. No matter the reason you do not write “real” web-based applications in a vacuum; There are other parts you need to consider for a solid product. Sure, you are no DBA but I think you may agree that knowing that MySQL almost never runs your query as you entered it has a big impact on your final decision of how to do something. Did you know that PHP arrays (pretty much the only data type they give you) are not arrays? They are hash tables with syntaxical sugar. That tight loop you are porting from your legacy CGI C executables are going to need to be rewritten from scratch if you are going to reasonably support the same user base you did before the port.
  • Company is hopping on the latest thing for no good reason. I love new technology and techniques. I love to play with them. I love to build real-world products with them that you can put your hands on and get that “wow” response. One problem with the web, however: Anything new is useless for years until it is further adopted. Either that or it is not new at all and you have been taken in by clever salesmen. Obviously if you need to wait there is nothing you can do until most of your audience abandons Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 (come on, Mom, give it up already). But what about the “new” things? Take MVC, for example. I am a massive fan of MVC, even back when it was called OOP. There is nothing new there. Although I am all for OOP– and thus MVC– having a non-technical manager making a decision based on something they do not understand as well as they think they do is a problem. You hired a programmers to program, let them write the code.
  • Culture can only be forced so far. When I talk about “culture” I am really referring to people getting along with each other, complementing each others skill sets, being willing to admit there are things they do not know, and working towards an end goal as a unified front. People who want to be there are there because… well, because they want to be there. People who joined the company softball team because they are afraid it will reflect badly on them were already unhappy. Happy people work harder. Money is one of those things that is very important when you do not have any of it. We all need to eat, stay out of the cold, and not have our hair turn white when we think of the basic things we can not do for our children. Getting a nice salary bump is a fantastic pick-me-up but it is no long-term solution to your employees ability to be more productive for you. I have no links to back me up on this but, in my experience, the turn around time for companies that think money is the answer to everything is much higher than people who truly enjoy their jobs. Hell, people– such as myself– will accept less money for other perks that cost a company virtually nothing in comparison. I have my own personal preferences but compensation time or surprise days off for a job well done can go a really long way for some ones mental state.

I realize some of (all of?) this comes off as a war cry against The Man™ and makes me sound like a rebel. I suppose in some respects I even am. I am not anti-big company nor am I trying to convince anyone to change anything they are already doing that works; A company is there the make a profit and my job, as a programmer, is to do with what I have and churn out code as fast as I reasonably can for said company. There is a balance there that, in a perfect world I would rally against, but in reality I see it as a necessary evil. These are just my thoughts on the subject as I have seen them over and over recently. Most of the old ways of doing things have lasted this long for good reasons, but so has evolution. Keep in touch with your people, communicate often, and remember the long-term far out weights the short-term nine times out of ten.