Author: Jeff

Systems Architect, DevOps Engineer, Software Developer, Technomancer

The Interview Chronicles, Part 2: Always Be Interviewing

You’ve just started a cushy new gig.  Maybe you’ve even been there for a while and you’re still loving it.  All the perks are there.  The pay is there.  The tech stack your work on and the people you work with are both amazing.

Most people, at this point, stop looking at open positions and stop taking recruiter calls or LinkedIn messages.  After all, they’re content with the job they have.

This is the worst thing you can do.  Always be interviewing.  Even if you don’t want a new job.

Keeping up with the industry

When you’re interviewing with a company as a programmer or a systems admin, one of the ways a company will try to sell you on their position is to talk about their stack.  Some of this information may be public, but few companies will talk about the coolest stuff they’re working on without a signed non-disclosure agreement.  This is, by far, one of the best ways to keep up with trends in the industry.

If you start hearing about a technology a couple of times in a row during interviews, it’s a good sign that the technology in question is one to start brushing up on or looking for ways to use at your current job.  It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than attending conferences and such, especially if you’re a consultant that doesn’t have an employer to foot the bill for travel and attendance.

Practice, practice, practice!

Like any skill, you need to practice interviewing to get better at interviewing.  Going on interviews is a good way to test out different resume and cover letter combinations, get exposed to numerous different forms of the technical interview, and get yourself better at parts that nobody likes doing, such as salary negotiation.

Not only that, you’re going to eventually be asked to interview someone else as you move up the seniority and/or management ranks, and being exposed to many different interview styles can help you ensure that you’re doing both your company and a potential candidate a favor by coming into an interview without a bunch of frivolous questions and exercises that don’t tell you much about the candidate.

Wrapping it up

As programmers and sysadmins in a hot technology market, we are, by and large, blessed/lucky/what-have-you by the fact that jobs come to us.  Everyone has recruiter stories, and their favorite ways to get less calls rather than more.

Rather than treating them as an annoyance, use the demand to your advantage.  You get great intelligence on where the industry is headed, the opportunity to practice people skills that will positively affect your future earnings, and you’ll make yourself a better interview in the process.

Always be interviewing.

The Interview Chronicles, Part 1: Never Provide Your Salary History. NEVER.

Author’s note:  While this advice is mainly for those individuals undergoing the tech interview process for a programming or systems position, the advice within certainly applies to other positions as well.

Negotiating a salary with a company can be difficult.  Once you’ve gotten to this point in the interview process, an interesting social dance happens, whereby you, as the job candidate, decide how you’re deciding to sell 40+ hours of your week for without seeming greedy.  Congrats on getting this far!  There’s a ton of great guides out there on how to handle this part of the interview process…

…except you’ve probably already handicapped yourself, and you did it way, way earlier in the job search/interview process by disclosing what you currently make or previously have made.

NEVER PROVIDE YOUR SALARY HISTORY.

NEVER.

There is absolutely nothing good that can happen by disclosing your salary history to a prospective employer or a recruiter.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

Disclosing your salary history will only do one of two things — if you’re making an above market salary, it may scare off potential employers that you’re willing to take a pay cut or end a conversation before you have the opportunity to convince the company you’re worth the salary you’re commanding.  If you’re making a below-market salary, it allows the interviewing company to use that as a basis for (at best) a percentage raise over that, which will still likely leave you earning a below market rate while the company can push back against further demands by pointing at that reasonable-looking percentage raise.

In fact, because of that second point, Massachusetts is making the practice of requiring salary history illegal.

For those of us in the other parts of the country or world where it is legal to request or require a salary history as part of the interview process, however, there is a pretty darn good strategy to employ.

When asked for your salary history, simply reply that you’re looking to receive a market rate or a percentile salary (like top 10%) salary.  Most recruiters at this point will push back — you’ll get a story about how they just want to make sure that if you’re the right candidate, they can give you can offer you’ll accept.  What they’re doing here is making you negotiate against yourself, and no disclosure you can give here will help you.

Your job is to make sure that you get some information out of the recruiter at this point.  Is this due to the company being cheap/small?  Is the company impressed by your resume/any conversations up to this point and therefore is worried they can’t give you what they think you’re worth?

If a company or org is worried they can’t afford you, and you really want to work there anyway because it’s something you’re passionate about, reassure the recruiter that you can be flexible on base salary, and use this opportunity to get a fancier title, more time off, a (larger) piece of equity, flexible working hours, or some other arrangement that doesn’t cost the company cash directly out of pocket.  If it’s a larger company and there’s noises made about how they don’t do one-offs like that, they’re simply cheap.  If you don’t need the job, this is the time to bail out and thank your lucky stars you didn’t get trapped in corporate hell.

However, if the company is highly valuing your experience and/or the interview feedback they’ve received, this is the time to negotiate from power.  Ask for a little more than you want, and let yourself be talked back a bit to the number you’ll be satisfied with.  That leaves the employer feeling like they negotiated themselves a deal and starts a rock-solid relationship.

If you’ve let them know your salary history at any point before this, you’ve given away information for free and established a starting number for any salary negotiations going forward.

Never disclose your salary history.

Almost Interesting

I decided to get myself one of these blogs. I hear they’re the hot new thing on the Internet nowadays!

…okay, not the first trend I’ve been late on.

I’m Jeff. I’m a server engineer. I make terrible jokes and puns.

They only get worse.

I like automating and measuring computers.  I like writing code that deploys out hundreds of servers at once, and I like writing the code that tells me everything about them — what they’re doing, how they’re running, what they need.

I’m also a political geek. While my personal views can be aptly described as bleeding-heart California liberal, the entire US political system itself fascinates me, especially the intersection of technology and politics.

I plan on writing on both topics here.

Let’s see how it goes.