“Everyone in the office agrees, you are pretty cool.”
That's the text message I got after the call. At that point, I had the confidence to work for this fortune 10 company. Sure, I had already failed the technical assessment 6 months prior, but this time, it was going to be different. We exchanged phone numbers, we sent text messages and memes. We communicated in the off hours. This was not your typical recruiter interaction. But I did not expect it to end like a romantic break-up.
The first recruiter contacted me while I was on sabbatical. Let's call him Dave. I wasn't looking for a job, but I thought it would be interesting to go through the process. There is always someone on twitter sharing about the nightmare of interviewing at FAANGs. Every time I read those, I'd think of the thousands of people who go through the process, get the job, and make no fuss about it on the interweb. Only the bad experiences get coverage. I don't ever remember tweeting or posting about getting a new job, and I'd like to keep it this way. So I'm only posting this a year later, and will carefully try not to mention any company names. But I'm sure you will connect the dots.
Dave spoke to me for no more than 10 minutes over the phone. He was straight to the point. His company was looking for developers, he saw my resume online, I was a good fit, and that was it. He then followed with an email where he shared links to the assessment test and some practice material. The practice test proved extremely useful because it gave me an idea of the type of test I'd be getting. Sorting Algorithms, Big Os, and puzzles. I ran out of time on the practice test but it gave me valuable insights. I had a whole week to complete the test, so I used the following days to practice.
I don't know about you, but I kinda suck at algorithms. I had to brush up on quite a bit before I felt ready. I have to admit, that little timer on the top right corner of the screen, counting down as I was trying to come up with solutions. It was all I needed to increase my heart rate. I couldn't focus. So rather than use the traditional methods to find a solution, I used my work experience. I read the problem, and brute-forced a working solution. It wasn't efficient, but it solved the problem. Once I was satisfied with the answers, I went back and thought of ways to improve my algorithm to be O(n). The timer was ticking, and I couldn't find an efficient solution on time. So I submitted my answers with some notes explaining why I chose the methods that I did.
Right after, there was a cultural test where you answer some questions that I would describe as a Rorschach test. I spent the next 30 minutes answering those questions. It was hard work but I did it. I sent an update to Dave to let him know I was done. I didn't get a reply but it was late enough in the day.
The next day, I received an automated message saying that they would not be moving forward. It was disappointing, but understandable. I wrote to Dave one more time, thanking him for his time. I never got a response. I moved on.
6 months on the dot, I got an email from a new recruiter from the same company. Let's call her Sally. Sally asked me if I was looking for a job. It had been close to a year since I had left my previous job. I was ready to push a little further in my job search. I answered Yes and let her know that I had applied at her company before. We scheduled a call where I assumed it would be not unlike the call with Dave. I was wrong.
In fact, I didn't even feel like I was talking to a recruiter. In my entire career, I always felt like dealing with recruiters was one of those necessary evil things to do. I always felt uneasy talking to them. But not so with Sally. She was a real person on the other end of the line. I didn't even feel the hour that went by as we spoke like two human beings.
I genuinely felt like she had read my resume, and my blog. Her main goal was to find me a good place where I can work and feel comfortable in. Incidentally, I'd make a conscious effort to contribute positively to her company.
She claimed that she was part of a new program where they don't just hire people for a specific position. Instead they hire talented people and find the right place where they can fit in the company. She told me about the initiative, about how she felt about the old process, how impersonal it was. "Yes, very impersonal." I agreed with her. She said something about people not being generic gears in a machine that can fit in a predetermined slot. "We want to work with people. Real people with all their humanity on display."
I admired the company. Not because she praised her employer or anything, but because I got to know a real person that worked there. I learned about my recruiter, about her daughter, about her granddaughter. I learned about the difficulties a single mom faces when raising a child. She shared the story of how she had to paint her hair pink and shave one side of her head to support her granddaughter. I shared my own story. The struggle to raise twins as a first time parent. We could totally relate.
She spoke about the studies that were often shared at her job. "The ability to do algorithms does not automatically equate to a good hire". I had been working close to 15 years as a software developer, and I had designed systems that catered to millions of people. Yet, I had a hard time designing bubble sort from memory. My real world experience counted for something, and here she was acknowledging it. This was the company I wanted to work for.
After the call. She invited me to a couple internal seminars where I could learn more about the company and how to thrive in it. I asked questions to the panel, and they were very receptive. After one of the calls, I got a text from her:
"Everyone in the office agrees, you are pretty cool."
After a week of information sharing, texting and what not, I got a link to the assessment test. "Don't worry, this is just a formality. We still have some work to do here to see where you will best fit." Of course.
I had brushed up on my algorithms, and I had done hundreds of practice tests on HackerRank. Around that same time, Dave reached out. He sent an email that had his name on it, but the content was clearly automated. He informed me that it had been 6 months since my last attempt and I could re-apply again. I replied to his email, informing him that I had been talking with a new recruiter, Sally. He never answered.
At this point I was comfortable enough to start the test. I sent an SMS to Sally with the words "Wish me, luck!" She responded "You'll ace it!"
I was able to complete the technical assessment this time. The cultural test was still a similar Rorschach word jumble. I have to assume that they have a way of grading that.
The next day, I received an automated message saying that the company would not be moving forward with me. I could re-apply once more in 6 months. I was confused. Did I fail the test? Was it something in that cultural assessment? Was it a mistake? I had so many questions. I sent a text to my favorite recruiter to get some clarifications. But this time I got no response. I let a few days go by before I sent her an email to ask what would be my next step. There were no answers. I didn't know if I was to worry or be angry. I was confused though.
What about everything we had talked about? What about the new program I was part of? What about the seminars that I had attended? All that information, what was I to do with it? Wait, was it a lie? Why did they make me go through this if it was just a lie?
A few more days went by and I thought, what if something bad had happened to her? I sent Dave an email asking if everything was OK with my friend. I got no response. This was super weird. We were in a pandemic after all and anything could have happened. I was angry and worried at the same time. What if something bad had happened to her? She was of the age group that would be in higher risk.
It took a couple weeks before I went on Linkedin and I saw a post that made my stomach churn. There she was with her hair dyed a neon pink and the side shaved clean. Not only was she posting that day, but she had been posting every single day. Daily tips and tricks, the dos and don'ts for getting a job. She was living her life like nothing had ever happened. It's like I was just a fling. A one night stand. She had ghosted me. I was old news. All I could do was gather the rest of my dignity and mark a virtual X on this company.
I got another job. It didn't take long at all. It did help that I had brushed up on my Algorithms. Intellectually, I had moved on. But emotionally, I felt cheated. Don't get me wrong, I like my new job with all its quirks. It's one of the few companies that people go deliberately out of their way to watch their commercials. But I was like the guy who says he is over his ex, yet still roams around her social media profiles. I needed closure.
No, that's not true. I needed to confront her. To give her a piece of my mind. To show her that I'm better off now. That I'm doing just fine without her... job.
In fact, I was presented with the opportunity. 6 months after the ghosting, an email popped into my inbox. My heart raced. My fingers clacked on the keyboard before I could formulate a coherent response. I stopped and reread her message.
She didn't beat around the bush. She knew she had leverage over me. She had the job I wanted and she knew I would do anything to get it. So she asked if I was "ready to give it another shot." Oh, revenge. Sweet, Sweet revenge. I did exactly what you think I would do. I gathered all my dignity and made a grandstand. I hit the back button, and left the email un-answered.