My secret Hobby: Applying for jobs

I have a probably unusual habit: I'm applying for jobs as programmer at least once a year. It 's not that I don't have a job, or that I don't like what I do, but since I am self employed and running my own company I have the feeling that I am coming out of touch of what the current job market is like, and so I started to apply for jobs at different companies once in a while. Just to keep in mind how this is like and for the fun of it.
I think this is also a good training should I need to be employed again in the near future: As 'CEO' of your own company, you tend to become a bit arrogant and tend to get an exaggerated opinion of yourself. Doing job interviews helps you to keep down to reality a bit.

So about once in a year I pick an advertised programmers job at a company I like, and in most cases, they invite me to the job interview. Because I'm not actually looking for a job, this sounds maybe like I'm wasting the time of that company, but actually, I usually tell them that I'm currently not looking urgently for a job. Additionally, who knows, maybe the job is surprisingly nice and interesting, and maybe the payment is as well, so if they want me, I maybe still would consider working for them.

Until now, I did quite a few job interviews like that, and most of them were quite interesting. I talked with a lot of interesting people, learned new views, got constructive reviews of my skills and personality, and even built some business relationships in this way.

But recently, I noticed that all this has changed a bit: Human resources divisions of companies tend to treat applicants like meat and recruiting agencies don't even know what kind of people they are looking for. The usual symptoms of this is that the people you talk with in this process can't tell the difference between C++ and JavaScript, and they tend to want to invite you to at least three different rounds of interviews, distributed over several weeks. The time between applying for a job and getting an answer has gone up, and even small companies now behave in that process like they are multinational corporations.

I'm not sure if this is just me, but I think experienced software engineers don't play along with this. If a recruiter seriously asks me for a clearance certificate by the police for a job as website back-end programmer, then I won't apply for the job. If you want me to program a puzzle test for several hours just to apply for your company's crappy underpaid job, then no, sorry. If you want me to fill out your custom online application web form with about 50 fields where half of the comboBoxes don't contain the values which would be correct for me, then I simply apply for a job at a different company.

These companies don't notice that in this way, the good people a driven away, and only the desperate will apply. So I pity those poor programmers who get treated this way today and I am currently quite happy that I'm not looking for a job under these circumstances.

36 comments, already:

I am a human resources manager, and I like to call people in for interview.

We do not have any openings but I just like to call them, give them 1-2 tests, make them sweat, then never call them again.

It is more fun than going at the interview, you should give it a shot. :)
Daniel - 10 08 11 - 13:10

lol
Gareth - 10 08 11 - 13:22

I do this too (web dev freelancer), we should go together once. :) I’m in Berlin, though.
Stefan - 10 08 11 - 13:26

I’ve noticed the trend, as well, and I simply don’t apply for those jobs either. Frankly, if you’re too busy to make sense of my resume, I don’t want to work for you.

I had a company which required an online IQ test, a “puzzle” test, and a personality evaluation before they’d interview me. I only did that once and will never do so again. I state that up front when dealing with recruiters – it tends to make the idiots go away, leaving me with recruiters who actually know something about the industry, and lets me only apply to companies which know something about hiring.

Now, asking me to program something makes a bit of sense, but even then it’s not going to give the whole picture. It’s fine to ask someone who’s coming in as a consultant to prove that they have skills – you’re contracting with them to produce an output – but it’s a bit different when hiring an employee, I think. An employee may not have the skills right now, but those skills can be developed.
David T. Macknet () (link) - 10 08 11 - 13:37

I really want to know what’s written over that image, but I can’t.
Nostaw - 10 08 11 - 13:42

be glad that you have the money to play this game.
burning - 10 08 11 - 14:06

Stefan I’m looking for a dev job in Berlin any suggestions? (.Net on the server-side and has to be english speaking, yeah I know)
JRAcabado (link) - 10 08 11 - 14:24

Nostaw—“The lord works in mysterious ways”
RV - 10 08 11 - 14:31

@Nostaw: ‘The world works in mysterious ways’, and then what looks like a signature
charlie - 10 08 11 - 14:37

The image says, “The lord works in mysterious ways”.
Chintan Patel - 10 08 11 - 14:38


Phil - 10 08 11 - 14:50

Isn’t that a photo-shopped default Windows XP splash screen?

a linux user
Jamie - 10 08 11 - 14:53

My first boss used to tell me to go out and interview every 6 months or so. Just to see how good I have it. If I actually found a better job, he would be happy for me and I should just move on. It’s something I’ve been doing my entire career (15 years now). You have come to the same conclusions I came to each time I went off to see how green the grass truly was. Surprisingly, I had it better than I thought. I never bounced on that first boss. Eventually the firm went under, and all those previous interviews helped build a network that got me my next job (and the next).
PM - 10 08 11 - 15:01

Yes, sometimes the rush of making sure you are still marketable is of a different level. I mean I don’t do it like a hobby, but when job hunting as a programmer you know you’re in the offensive, especially if it’s without the help of recruiters. Bad for those whose skills belong to a small industry – word gets around; but then the need for top talent easily makes up for it.
Arbie () (link) - 10 08 11 - 15:07

Why the games? As applicant we take time out of our day (and maybe even lose some pay) to attend the interview(s).

I agree with Nikolaus Gebhardt that the personality tests dont show anything. Anyone I have ever taken I take with the assumption of what will the test algorithm produce.

It might be interesting to try and purposely apply at the jobs that need a personality test and try to crack them.

[BTW Nikolaus Gebhardt, Wish you would sign your posts :-) Couldn’t find your name ]
Andrew - 10 08 11 - 16:09

LOL here comes the spam.
Andrew - 10 08 11 - 16:11

Daniel’s comment wins.
David Moreno () (link) - 10 08 11 - 16:43

5 minutes later, and Daniel’s comment is still making me laugh
kenny (link) - 10 08 11 - 17:00

An interesting article. As someone who also works for themselves I have to admit I never thought about spending time applying for jobs. I hate doing it and one of the reasons I became self-employed was to avoid having a traditional ‘job’ in the first place.

Yet, in the past few months I have seen my business slow down dramatically and I’m finding I may be forced to get a short term job.
Ian () - 10 08 11 - 17:59

So you’re adding to the mess of HR managers’ inboxes. Just for the “fun” of it? Back off and leave that space to people who actually want/need the job. Don’t you think hirers are inundated enough as it is? What an irresponsible message.
Michael () - 10 08 11 - 18:44

Michael. Job interviewing is a skill in itself, and like any skill “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. Keeping yourself in tune with the job market as well as what competative firms are looking for keeps you knowledgable and resourceful. In a “dog eat dog” world its your responsibility to stay on top of things and there’s few better ways than to get into the fray and see how you fare. So sure, sit tight in your position but if the rug ever gets swept out from underneith you I’ll be miles ahead in playing the recruitment game.
Graham - 10 08 11 - 20:22

The time between applying for a job and getting an answer has went up

The correct English idiom is ”...has gone up. Marks you as a non-native speaker even though your English is excellent, fyi.

@The op-ed; HR departments have to prove that they are essential, and other departments should be downsized before them. Ergo, more testing, more lengthy applications and more irritating testing.

Or, “try to prove you are not a camel” ;)
Anonymous English Teacher () - 10 08 11 - 20:40

When I was hired at my current job, I had to go through a series of interviews all on one day. The entire interview had me talking with Techs and Engineers, other Managers then finally ending on the Manager that I would be working under. Throughout my day, each Tech and Engineer would ask me certain questions pertaining to the type of work that I’d be doing to see if I knew what I was talking about. But each time I moved on, I used the previous questions to answer the next questions. When finally getting to my Manager, he was so impressed with my skills that I was offered the job AFTER he took me on a stroll through the entire company, in rooms and labs that normal outsiders just don’t get into. It was a fun experience. We’ve since ended that type of interviews, now it’s just a panel of 3 or 4 people then they all submit what they thought to HR and then the Manager decides.
xSo () - 10 08 11 - 21:04

p.s. 11 years later, still with same company. But I think it’s time to test the waters and have a little fun with an interview or two..
xSo () - 10 08 11 - 21:08

If this is a test, then your statement that “The time between applying for a job and getting an answer has went up…” has, sad to say, disqualified you.

Please come back after earning a G.E.D.

We really need people who can communicate, OK? In, like, language?
Ray Bliss () (link) - 10 08 11 - 22:27

How do you say ‘no’ if you don’t want to join while still maintaining a good relationship?
Alok () - 11 08 11 - 00:29

Remind me of an experience I had in 1989 in the UK. Had two interview lined up for the day. First one I arrive ontime, made to wait 30 minutes and then some HR bod appears and hands me a form to fill out, all the stuff thats on my CV. But can I just attach my CV to the form, no I have to manualy fill it out. I’m then interviewed by this HR women who said thats alot of money for somebody your age (I was around 23 at the time and 6 years commercial experience). I then get to have the real interview we all know and love. Asked me questions about barcodes which I ratteled off verbatiam including all ISO standards (having read a artile in a magazine on the train ride over the the interview) I then after lots of technical questions ended up outshining there contracter. Basicly a good interview. I then had the next interview with a software house working in area’s I wasn’t that upto speed with (first meeting with 4gl’s and UNIX having done PC and mainframe work previously). I get offers from both and the first who put me thru all those hurdles endedup not only offering me what was asked but another £2k more ontop of that. I realy nice offer which I instantly turned down on the grounds that (1) I couldn’t work for a company with a HR department like that. (2) I’ll get to learn more in the other job.

Alas that type of HR department has become the norm in so many companies who’s sole job appears to casue internal stress on the pretence of health and safty or more importantly not only justifying there existence but too the extent that they grow.

We then get HR departments who weed out CV’s for being `overqualified` a term I first experience in the early 90’s.

This is also born out as you have noticed by agencies, in the early days there were mostly ex-IT staff or least had a few at hand to grill out the candidates and would often meet and do the real weeding needed. Nowadays they mostly have spell check level weeding on the basis they can dump lots of CV’s to the company at a press of a button for there low margins. I say low margins because you get what you pay for, even if it is disguised in the HR budget.

Now I must admit excellent hobby on many levels. Though I would suspect that all the good agencies would of been wise to your lack of entention to take the job and sudo blacklisted you, either directly telling you or just not putting you forward. This would then lead you to use the lesser quality agencies and as such instead of the company getting 20 CV’s and interviewing 3-4 people they end up getting hundreds and end up running micro big-brother events to weed them down to the final stages of interviewing were you actualy get what we know as a real interview.

As for all the tests I will say that if your a proactive person who is also reactive, then you can have a hell of a time if they use certain systems and try to pidgion hole you to be either one or the other and end up 5 hours and one eclipse of the Sun later no closer to getting the job from a manager who started a week earlier and the two inhouse recruitment system guru’s.

But thats usualy the time were your best of running your own business, funny that and I hope it keeps you sane knowing things could be alot worse, you could need that interview offer.
Paul Gray - 11 08 11 - 04:20

I applied to consulting, finance, and some management jobs at large conglomerates after grad school and came away with the same conclusion. I am sure I could thrive at a large company, but I could never get passed all of the HR filters and hoops. In the end, I decided that I really don’t want to be a long-term hoop jumper and now I pretty much only work for companies with less than 50-100 people. At that size, the people you work with are still the ones that hire you and you can get a good feel from a lunch conversation about whether it is a good fit. The other approach is just a waste.
Kaaahl - 11 08 11 - 06:18

I’m french and I also need to apply for jobs while i’m an entrepreneur. But that’s not only to be less arrogant. This is because I earn less money as CEO as if I was employed by another company. But I love my job and what I do.
Damien Petitjean () (link) - 11 08 11 - 09:21

I used to go to a load of job interviews for the experience, when I was employed. Now I’m a contractor so guess I’ll be doing interviews all the time anyway, so good that I got used to them. I don’t like them much, but they are a necessary evil.

Also, I’m a pastafarian too!! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spag.. for those of you that don’t know – the (noodly appendaged) lord does indeed work in mysterious ways
Martyn - 12 08 11 - 12:39

If I am handed an “application” by HR then I assume that the job will include wearing a name tag and a hair net. No thanks, I don’t wear flair.
mec - 12 08 11 - 15:50

Love the idea! It is great for an entrepreneur to see how other companies use technology to solve their issues. I’ve made many great contacts from interviews too. Just stay positive and be upfront that you don’t expect anything but if work comes out of the meeting then good for everyone!
Rob (link) - 12 08 11 - 15:51

Applying for jobs and going through interviews a couple times a year is a great way to keep your skills sharp, and I agree it’s a great way to get “grounded” about what your landscape is really like.
Pashmina () (link) - 12 08 11 - 17:41

As someone in charge of recruiting iat a very fast growing startup in SF, I can tell you that programming puzzles are absolutely necessary part of the interview process. Not only do they help us weed out hundreds of applicants who absolutely cannot program, they also weed out applicants such as yourself that do not care about our company. If someone isn’t passionate about our product, we do not want them working for us. That being said, we also try to keep our process as efficient and human as possible, and regularly receive compliments from rejected candidates as such.
Brooke () - 12 08 11 - 19:41

@Brooke, I also use programming tests and an integral part of the hiring process, because of the large number of people with impressive looking resumes who fail what are really simple tests. But I don’t make them do that much work up front, I do the test as part of the in-person interview, and it’s an interactive test where I help them whenever they get stuck.

I assume people can and will make up whatever they feel they need to make up in order to land the job, so I keep that to a minimum of seeing if the job I have is likely to be one they want and if they are willing to say they can do it.

I actually started doing tests after being tested in some interviews myself and thinking this was a very reasonable way for me to prove my skills. On the other hand, I’ve taken other tests that I thought were a complete waste of time and pissed me off because they were testing stuff that is easily looked up (how many different kinds of Java classes are there) rather than testing important skills. So it’s hard to generalize.
Another CTO - 12 08 11 - 22:31

We ask applicants for two links—(1) a link to their LinkedIn profile, and (2) a link to their GitHub account (or links to a few live samples of their work). From there, we get to know them as people and see if they’ll fit.

BTW—Simple Energy in Boulder, CO, is hiring: http://www.simpleenergy.com/jobs
Yoav Lurie () (link) - 15 08 11 - 05:43


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