Thursday, November 25, 2010

Interview Blues

Yesterday, I came away from an interview feeling like an engineering imbecile. What made it especially bad was the fact that I really liked the company, and the product they're developing is really impressive. I'd come across them by accident and taken the initiative to approach them a couple of months ago, though they weren't hiring. Got a call from them on Tuesday night, asking me to come in for an interview. I was elated.

Unfortunately, it didn't go well, because my skill set isn't quite what they require at the moment. Although they appreciated my software skills and might call me back in future, I wasn't happy. I felt like I'd bungled everything, and felt like an idiot for not being able to 'get it right', for not being what they wanted. Drowning my sorrows in a hot chocolate from a Starbucks on the way home, I realised that I sometimes expect too much of and am too hard on myself when I fail. It's ok if an interview doesn't go well, or I don't get that job offer. It's ok if I can't recall my engineering knowledge perfectly or don't know everything; I'm not a supercomputer and I don't want to be. I don't have to be The Perfect Engineer or The Perfect Interview Candidate. I just have to do my best. That brings such relief, even in the midst of disappointment.

So here's a (hopefully) humorous and deprecating little poem I scribbled on the way home yesterday, remembering various interview stories that I've heard over the years. This is dedicated to those dejected, yet intrepid job-hunting souls, who have felt like the epitome of the "Doofus Ignoramus" after bungling an interview that seemed to be going exceedingly well. I especially remember my good friends Tim and Varun, who persevered through pressure and hardship for more than a year before finding good engineering jobs. I have deep admiration and respect for you.

I hope those who have been in the workplace for some time will remember their own early interview foibles and gaffes with a smile and shake of the head. Cheers, y'all!

- The Wisdom Seeker

True Blue Interview
(by Kevin Thomas)

Walked into the office dressed for success,
Suit, tie and shirt neatly pressed.
Knew my stuff, unflappable attitude
Radiating confidence, I was The Dude
Looked around, felt right at home
Wasn't self-conscious, or feeling alone
"You can do this, old chap,
Piece of cake, it's a snap."

"Why, hello there!," the interviewers said
Vigorous handshakes, as we each the other read
"Tea? Coffee? A glass of water, maybe?"
Such hospitality, they must surely like me!
70 mm Kodak smiles flashed all around
Off to a great start, things looked sound.

"So, tell us a bit about yourself"
That's easy, I could fill a whole shelf!
Careful now, don't say too much
Short and precise, just the right touch
Beaming smiles, they looked happy
Seems like my answer wasn't too sappy
And off from there we happily went,
Like the perfect Waltz, all was well.

How we joked and laughed as we talked shop!
Let the good times roll! Who wants to stop?
Java, Linux and Networking too,
Embedded systems, Digital Logic to boot
Question after question I answered with flair
At this rate the job offer would surely be there!

Then, like the serpent in Eden's paradise came
An innocent question to defame and shame:
"So, what kind of experience do you have with.."

Heart nearly stopped, body went stiff
The rolling meadow turned into a massive cliff
Mind stuck in neutral, scrabbling to engage
Trying to remember, but stuck in a cage
"Oh, good grief, what shall I do?"
Is this my curtain call, to bid adieu?
Hadn't touched that stuff in such a long time,
Don't remember anything, that's not a good sign!
"Um, uh..," vauge answers were the best I could do
The Titanic was sinking, they could see it too

The Oldest Engineer gave me a kindly smile,
The type one bestows upon an imbecile child
Asked more questions, tried to help
Didn't do much good, I could only yelp
Their method of ending my misery was humane;
Didn't nick an artery, or cut a vein:
"Do you have any questions for us?"
Thank you kind sir! It's no big fuss,
Although I feel like I've been hit by a bus.
Pleasantries exchanged, wrap-up time
And onto the street, Vancouver's winter clime

"I'm sorry, God", I say
Failed again, but that's ok
Time to head home for a cup of tea,
Tolkien's waiting there for me
Cheer up! Chin up and smile!
God's kept it waiting, just one more mile!