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Interviews are bidirectional yet I think it was Adam Smith in the Wealth Of Nation who noted that the employer tends to have more leverage than the employee (and potential employee).
That’s a seductive lure to stay longer than makes sense and it means the people who abuse that leverage are “bad and deserve to feel bad”
If you have a gram of self-esteem you need to bail out the moment they try making fun of you for running Linux.
If they’re making fun of you, you walk, full stop.
I keep hearing about this tactic where the interviewer will intentionally try to rattle the candidate by being flat out rude to them. Seems absurd, but I’ve heard enough times about this to wonder if it’s actually something people out there actively do. Has this ever worked in practice or is it absolutely delusional?
Sort of the equivalent of “negging”, I guess? I hope that I’m never in a position to need a job so badly that I’d put up with that sort of behavior in an interview, still less at an actual job.
Woah, wait. There are interviews where you take your laptop into a room and present/live code while eleven (eleven!!) other people sit around watching? I’m not sure I’d be into that on a good day.
Yep, they likened it to: bring your own machine, that way it’s already setup and you can do your best work. I definitely dig that idea, but I didn’t have my own laptop, and had to find one and set it up beforehand.
I thought I was incredible. Yet, due to an overwhelming sense of Imposter Syndrome, I keenly knew that there were things I didn’t know.
I thought this was fairly confusing, especially given the preceding paragraphs. The author seemed spelled out a belief that they were awesome (that was my perception of them, at least). The sort of setup described is just asking to be humbled, either on the job or in an interview.
“This presentation is bullshit. You have no evidence, nothing valuable to
show, just spurious subjective opinions. …. ”
I’d have walked out at that point. Whether they’re negging you just to see how you’ll respond or they’re serious; that’s not stuff you say at an interview.
The most “embarrassing” interview I’ve ever had wasn’t nearly this bad, though it still left me wondering what the hell I had spent so many hours preparing for. In brief, I showed up for a Jr. ASP.NET developer interview and was asked take a host of W3Schools tests on a computer and to program an elevator control-type program in PHP (?????). I stuck it out because it was my first interview after leaving my last gig. Not once did the topic of prior work experience or anything terribly relevant to the job come up.
Regardless; that was a really shitty interview– I’d have walked out after the first or second snarky comment.
Lastly, this story fills me with an overwhelming desire to never continue the cycle of abuse.
This was all a terrible sob story for the most part. It almost feels unreal, that enough people would be such assholes in an organization. But this line struck me as odd. It felt like the author is making more of the event than was actually there. One incident doesn’t constitute a “cycle”. I have been on both sides many interviews and never experienced any abuse. None of my friends have ever related such an experience to me. This is a terrible story, but let’s not make it sound like this is somehow the standard experience.
I’ve been in a lot of interviews, on both sides.
That happens but it’s not the norm. It might be 3-5% of interviews where the interviewer is that obnoxious, and it usually isn’t seen at decent companies. In general, if interviewers go out of their way to humiliate or upset people, they’re often not in a good state. Either the company’s doing poorly, or they’re doing poorly in it (in which case, it’s quite possibly sabotage rather than the more common bad mood) and a company that has its shit together isn’t going to have interviews done by people who are doing poorly. (I did once find out, a year later, that one of my interviewers was on a PIP at the time. It wasn’t a well-run team, obviously. Contrary to what you might think, that interviewer was professional and decent the whole way– I would have had absolutely no idea.) In any case, a bad interview like that is usually a sign of an even worse job and it’s better that it not happen.
In general, I think that bad interviews are just an occupational hazard. They don’t deserve the bitterness that they sometimes inspire. At some point, they cease to have any emotional impact. Rejections and bad interviews are just normal and happen to pretty much everyone; what I find it harder to get over, emotionally, are lowball offers. I won’t claim that that’s rational, but I find that a lowball offer sends a sharp negative signal, whereas a rejection could occur for any number of reasons.
What is a PIP?
Personal improvement plan. In theory it’s supposed to help low performing employees improve. In practice, it is often used as theater illustrating that management “did their best” to make things work and the employee was irredeemable.
I’ve seen it happen a few times. If you’re ever asked to be put on a PIP then you should start looking for a new job, immediately.
I think this is now enough of an open secret that it becomes self-reinforcing. If a company wants you to change some aspect of your work, but they do genuinely want you to improve it and stay at the company (so this isn’t just cover for wanting to get rid of you), they’ll find some other way to signal it than a formal “performance improvement plan”. Which leaves PIPs being used almost exclusively as shams, in cases where they aren’t actually interested in a plan for your performance’s improvement.
If the manager genuinely wants to improve someone, he’s not going to use a formal PIP.
First, PIPs put the blame entirely on the employee. Usually, the fault is multilateral. When someone’s problematic, it’s often because of cumulative dissatisfaction with the team, the project, the role and level of social status assigned that person, and many other random factors, many of which will go away over time. This doesn’t mean that the employee did nothing wrong, but only that it’s not 100% the employee’s fault. When you put someone on a PIP, you’re saying, “Fuck you, you’re shit and we’re awesome, so shape up or get out.” That might scare an employee into beating the PIP, but it does nothing about the accumulated dissatisfaction.
Second, PIPs remove options. A PIP’d employee can’t transfer, both because of official HR policy in most cases, and because no one wants a PIP’d employee. Usually, PIP’d employees' bonuses get zeroed, even if “guaranteed”. (Often, “low-performer initiatives” are in place to steal bonuses, when a company realized that it overpromised with regard to compensation.) A PIP’d employee is going to have to work as hard just to get his regular job back as most people work to get quick promotions– although getting a promotion after a PIP, even years later, is pretty much impossible. If there is an actual business layoff, the ex-PIP’s are going to get hit first anyway. You don’t go from a PIP to a clean record.
Third, PIPs lead to adverse selection. I’ve seen plenty of good employees get PIP’d and the competent ones are gone within 3 weeks (before the end of the PIP) but the bad ones stay and find a way to “work it out”. The serial underperformer types (they’re rare, but they exist) will perk up for a few weeks to beat the PIP, just to be adversarial and show up the boss, and then slowly revert to slack mode once no one’s paying attention.
Fourth, PIPs usually require the manager to outright lie about the PIP’d employees performance. Perhaps that person did some things well and some things poorly, but when writing a PIP, the manager is invariably pressured to shit on everything the person has done in the past year, even if the work was well-received and rewarded.
There is one case in which managers use PIPs and aren’t intending to fire that person, and that’s “storying”. Storying is when a manager gives a good employee bad ratings, brings him to the brink of getting fired with a PIP, and then “rescues” him, making the case that he’s a miracle working manager. Of course, it’s horrible for the employee, and the advice is the same: get the fuck out.
Performance Improvement Plan.
Two things to learn about tech companies when they fire people.
First, even if the manager would prefer to have the person leave with a severance package, HR won’t allow it in most cases. HR likes PIPs because they “save money” on severance, but their actual effect is to externalize the cost to the rest of the company: the manager who has to run this kangaroo court, the team that has to deal with a pissed-off employee, and the employee himself who has to do PIP make-work instead of finding another job.
Second, most of these sleazy tech employers claim to have never had a layoff, and that’s bullshit. Banks have business-cause layoffs, announce that they’re doing it, and let people go with severance. Sometimes, they’ll hire those people back when they can expand again. With the banks, it’s not personal. Tech companies, on the other hand, don’t want the press of a layoff, and would rather have the stigma stick to departing people, so they call it a “low performer initiative” and decide that a percentage of total salary has to get hit. It’s functionally the same as a bank layoff, but in a company that refuses to own up to what it’s doing. At some point, this becomes regular employee stack ranking, and it just ruins the culture. A company can withstand one big layoff for obvious business reasons, but incremental small cuts destroy morale… and when the company is lying and claiming that it’s firing people for performance, because it doesn’t want the press of a layoff, it’s even worse. This is one of the reasons why employee stack-ranking is justifiably hated. Many of the big companies use continual stack-ranking as a way of hiding layoffs: they claim that only the bottom 2 percent gets affected, but if business is bad one year, then there’s an executive mandate that 10% of the company has to end up in that bottom 2 percent category, in some sort of dystopian Lake Wobegon phenomenon.
People who lose the stack-ranking game aren’t usually fired immediately, because often they’re good employees who got unlucky, and there’s legal risk in firing people who did nothing wrong, so they end up on bullshit PIPs and often lose their “guaranteed” bonuses and will be fired at the end of the PIP. Even if they succeed, they’ll be ineligible for promotion or transfer for several years because of the stigma, and their managers will probably PIP them again in a year (managers hate losing PIPs).
Needless to say, if a company has its shit together, it’s not going to have an interview conducted by someone who’s on a PIP.
HR likes PIPs because they “save money” on severance, but their actual effect is to externalize the cost to the rest of the company: the manager who has to run this kangaroo court, the team that has to deal with a pissed-off employee, and the employee himself who has to do PIP make-work instead of finding another job.
I know you’re completely correct that this is the purpose of a PIP at many companies, but I equally know that it is not always the purpose of a PIP. I’ve been a manager a few times in my life, and twice have had to put employees on PIPs. In neither case was I attempting to save the company money, and in one of the two cases I fought for and secured severance from HR.
What about the second case? Well, that’s my point: PIPs, when used properly, and for their intended purpose, can actually save certain classes of problem employees.
Ideally, if you’re a good manager, the PIP is not about finding an excuse to fire someone; it’s about making it very clear to the employee they screwed up, and providing a clear path they can follow to fix things.
I had an employee who was working insane hours and generally adversarial with the team. I knew he was a good coder; he was just a lousy colleague and had horrible work habits. I’d talked about this with him several times, and completely failed to get any traction. He really felt like it was just me whining, and that I could be ignored.
So I put him on a PIP with explicit issues and explicit solutions. And that finally worked: when I wrote down everything that needed to change, why, and how I was going to measure it, he was suddenly able both to recognize the need to change, and to actually change. He cleared the PIP without issue after a couple months and is now a really highly valued member of the company, last I heard.
Do most managers use PIPs this way? Probably not, honestly. Too many managers think of management as some weird power trip, rather than as your change to coach people into being the best they can be. But I think PIPs have a worse rap than they really should as a result.
I know I’m echoing what some commenters have already said, but if I was in his position, unless I was desperate for the job, I’d have walked out in five minutes or less. And I wouldn’t have been kind either. There’s no need to be rude, but indicating why you’re leaving versus a generic “Thanks for your time” feels entirely warranted and reasonable here.
“I’ve seen enough to know this workplace is not suitable for me. I have no desire to work for a company where the conduct I’ve just witnessed is even remotely acceptable. I hope you treat future candidates with more professionalism.”
It feels like there might be a missing chunk of the story around the recruiter who sent in multiple candidates with the wrong time. I can’t imagine intentional sabotage (well, I suppose I could), but this person has a wide opportunity to great damage here but no scrutiny.
If the candidate was built up as someone very different from (a) who he was and (b) what he was told the company was expecting, then that set of mismatched expectations could sow the seeds of a disaster like this even outside of anything the interviewee might identify to place blame on.
Those recruiters who can barely spell your name right in their intro emails… Imagine what details they get wrong presenting you to the companies.
No doubt they were unprofessional and rude, but I think the cascade of events ruined it for him before he could even show his code. He showed up late, so the interviewers were probably in a bad mood from the get-go. He showed up in a suit, which probably screamed “I am not one of you”, and the non-Mac just reinforced it. At that point it didn’t matter what he showed them, they had already made up their minds not to hire that sales guy that showed up late. First impressions and all that.
Not to justify the interviewer’s behavior, but I can definitely understand how the author’s “look how smart and impressive I am” attitude, combined with the suit and walking in late (whether it’s his fault or not), could rub people the wrong way and give a very bad first impression. Showing off is one thing, but the author is taking it a little over the top in the lead in, IMO. Hell, the whole article is basically just a roundabout way of tooting his own horn that he treats interviewees the same way as 99.9% of other interviewers.
I’d also be curious to hear the other side of the story, because I’ve never experienced anything like this in over 10 years in the software industry, and have never even heard of anything quite like it. Seems a little disingenuous to call it a “cycle”.
Seems surreal that this would be at all common. Candidates talk about how they were treated during an interview, and it can seriously impact your reputation. You want them to leave with a great impression of the company and its staff, even when they’re not deemed the right person for the position. You know you’ve done alright when the candidate is rejected but still sends friends over to interview with you afterwards. Frustrating how little EQ some folks in the industry seem to demonstrate and show shortsighted they can be.