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back to article Mmm, what's that smell: Coffee or sweat? How to avoid a crap IT job

Do not try picking up a girl with the line: “You’re not as fat as my current girlfriend; if you sleep with me I’ll drop her as soon as she’s finished painting our bedroom.” Trust me on this, it doesn’t work. It should set off alarm bells in anyone's head. Yet during job interviews, hopefuls are told things like: “We’re ditching …

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Pint

Wow, that was like being transported back in time to when El Reg lived up to its old motto, "biting the hand that feeds IT"

Sometimes I feel that their new one should be more like "Licking the hand that feeds IT" but then maybe that's just me.

Have a beer on me.

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Alert

"Licking the hand that feeds IT - but give the kiddies a 'Yar Boo Sucks' session if we can even vaguely allude to Apple."

That's about it:- under the auspices of El Reg's very own Troll Queen...

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A wise check to make

Keep a copy of your CV with you and query that it matches the one that your interviewer has. Agents are not above (it may even be required for some clients) rewriting them, either to emphasise certain attributes or to remove particular things, like salary requirements.

Generally in the UK, if it's not your first IT job pretty much every vacancy goes through an agency. That way companies can distance themselves from some of the most egregious biases that still exist in IT, whilst still making sure that they only get the "right sort of chap" sullying their reception areas.

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Re: A wise check to make

This. THIS!

A THOUSAND TIMES, THIS!

I remember one interview (which turned out to be the best job I ever had), we were talking about university, and I mentioned in passing that I got a 2:1. The interviewer was very surprised, as the recruiter had removed the grade from my CV so he had assumed I'd got a 3rd!

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Re: A wise check to make

I'd upvote this twice if I could.

I would also add considering not using your favorite email address when using an agency, and ideally use a single use email address. Agents will take your adress and CV with them when they move from job to job, and its almost impossible to get the scum to stop mailing you with irrelevant jobs. "My client is looking for a Visual Studio programmer..."

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Devil

Re: A wise check to make

Correction - take at least TWO copies of your CV to the interview. That way if the person interviewing you doesn't even have a copy you can politely hand one over whilst making a mental note to run like hell. In a whole series of interviews there was only one where I called the agent back immediately and said 'I don't want to hear from them again' - and to their credit, I didn't. A few other pointers from that interview to watch out for:

At the time of your interview, the interviewer is in a different building to the one you're waiting in. Though at least this gives you time to look around and notice...

Piles of boxes in the reception area.

A name etched on the glass in reception that isn't the name of the company on the job description.

Reason for hiring being that the market is 'consolidating'.

Good article though. Before I would have suggested that one tip for interviewing is to re-read a first-year undergrad textbook on the subject to get an idea of how the facile starter questions are going to be phrased. But then as suggested here, if the most in-depth thing they ask is about 'public / protected / private' then you don't want to be there anyway.

Good article.

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Re: A wise check to make

Correction: Take SEVERAL copies of your CV with you, so that if you are team interviewed you can provide each of them with one.

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Coat

Re: Take SEVERAL copies of your CV with you...

And also the phrase 'three seashells' springs to mind...

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FAIL

Re: A wise check to make

This is VERY good advice. Employment agents never, ever lose an email address and they never, ever give up spamming an email address once given, no matter how out-of-date it is, or how little the recipient wants to hear from them.

Twenty-odd years ago I uploaded CVs with skills like SAS and general lab chemistry and so on to assorted job-hunting sites. I still occasionally get plaintive requests from employment pimps that I might want to update the CV, and that they have some really great opportunities for me...

Use disposable email addresses when dealing with employment agents.

Secondly, never, ever expect anything even remotely resembling intelligence from employment agents. They don't read instructions, they don't learn from experience, and they never, ever try to make life simple. Many's the time I've spent talking to one, slowly and painfully determining that the jobs on offer were not in fact vaguely near to Manchester where I lived except in the cosmological sense.

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Facepalm

Re: Re: A wise check to make

".....Secondly, never, ever expect anything even remotely resembling intelligence from employment agents....." I think my fave experience was ten-odd years ago, when an overblown agent claiming to be a "headhunter" from Nokia called to discuss "a perfect opportunity". After thirty minutes of prattle, during which I was actually starting to believe I might have been wrong all these years when describing agencies as the homes for the terminally unemployable, the agent paused and dropped the bombshell - "Oh, it doesn't say so on your CV, but you do speak Finnish, right?" Resisting the impulse to ask if he really thought something as unusual as Finnish would be left off a CV, I reminded him I was looking for contract jobs in England not Scandinavia, to which the "headhunter" replied; "Well, Finland's not that far!"

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Go

Re: A wise check to make

I had that happen early in my career. The headhunter had changed my CV, and I noticed during my first interview I was getting some pretty strange questions about experience I didn't have.

Early this year I interviewed with a startup. Very wealthy CEO. At the end of the day, the CEO took us all out for dinner. He made everyone kick in to pay the check. Needless to say, I didn't take the job based on that dinner and, needless to say, they are no longer in business.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A wise check to make

Seconded!!! I had the same at an insurer 7 years ago. I talked about various things and the interviewers looked more and more puzzled. Then they asked "what about this 2 year gap in your CV?" to which I responded "what 2 year gap?"

Turns out the genius of a recruiter decided to erase one of my employments for some unknown reason... Needless to say I didn't get the job, and needless to say that recruitment agency was told in no uncertain terms to kindly take their practices and shove them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A wise check to make

Correction: Take a PLETHORA of copies of your CV with you, so that if you meet someone somewhere who is hiring you can provide a copy instantly.

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Woofter

Fresh out of university with my PC badge fully installed (1989), I decided not to accept a job where I was asked "You're not a woofter are you?" He went on to explain he couldn't have that type here as some of he contracts are with the department of defence.

The secretary didn't sound that surprised that I turned it down - I could hear a smile on her voice - she must have known what kind of chap he was.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Woofter

I doubt it was really to do with the DoD. Not many IT people I have met would want to work with queers. Same as 'WASP' filtering is pretty routine. If it has a foreign sounding name, or a same sex partner on Facebook it goes in the bin...

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Megaphone

All jobs are ultimately a waste of time. Don't try too hard to get any one job. Don't even read the descriptions (have you ever read one that was accurate?). Play the numbers game. This has several advantages; it's easier, and by attaching no significance to the outcome of the interview you are free to perform your best and to take a healthily cynical view of your prospective employer.

The painful fact is that it takes a recruiter about 2 seconds to determine whether they give a shit about your CV, so why should you spent (more than) 2 seconds reading a job description when the effort will not in any circumstance be reciprocated? It's not fair is it? And who's time is more important? Yours. The recruiters are paid to look at your CV, so send it in and let them worry about the sodding job description. Most of the time they haven't even read it themselves, so what is the fucking point?

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I am in two minds about your post, I hope you never apply to work for me on the one hand, but on the other, I think that you may be confusing waste of space recruitment companies with the actual employers.

The last person I employed was told by his friendly recruitment agent not to discuss the salary that he wanted with us in the interview. When _we_ pay the agent a fee based on the salary of the new recruit, you can be pretty sure that we expect the recruiter to work on our behalf. Unfortunately a lot of recruiters seem to be young people struggling to get their next bit of commission who are ignorant and sometimes dishonest.

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Just to clarify I do advocate reading the job description before the interview. But when dealing with the waste of space recruitment companies, any amount of effort you put into impressing them is wasted. They see exactly what they want to see in the candidates. I have spoken to these people are you are right, they are ignorant and dishonest. If they ask technical questions at all, it is immediately clear that they do not understand the nature of what they are asking, and are simply reading items off a list. A robot could do that.

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Mushroom

You pay them a percentage basis and you expect them to minimise that percentage?! Dream on...

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Wee Point

In my experience, you can tell a lot about a potential employer by checking the state of the loos. Make sure you check the ones that the staff use, not those reserved for "guests" or "visitors" (unless comparing the two). If there are such reserved loos, that is also a big signal.

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Unhappy

Re: Wee Point

"In my experience, you can tell a lot about a potential employer by checking the state of the loos. Make sure you check the ones that the staff use, not those reserved for "guests" or "visitors" (unless comparing the two). If there are such reserved loos, that is also a big signal."

I tried this.

They'd sealed one off for me to do the drug testing in.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wee Point

Did their staff have a bit of a drug problem, then? ;)

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: Wee Point

Yes. Is there handwash in the bogs? If so, are the bottles empty? A man can know everything about C++, but if washing his hands after having a poopie or a wee-wee then he is no man at all.

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"Screens are also a signal"

The desktop infrastructure manager of a large public undertaking once made it very clear to me that they "did not support" screens larger than 21". Which made it kind of hard to develop their public-facing large-screen information displays. The issue wasn't meanness, it was institutional stupidity with no override.

If you're planning to work in development, check for signs of non-standard boxes with their lids off and wires trailing around - if there aren't any you'll probably find that you're expected to do your software development with codepad.org.

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Good bosses DO get the coffee

Some years back when working for a large insurance company we had a bit of a crisis - all hands to the pump, working all weekend, late into the night. The Operations manager called in on the Saturday to see how things were going - he wasn't a techie and knew it, and decided that the most effective thing he could do was keep running backwards and forwards to the kitchen with coffee and sarnies and phoning for the pizzas, without asking every ten minutes how things were going. A GOOD boss.

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Re: Good bosses DO get the coffee

Yup. Also, team-building 101: Forget building rope bridges on a soggy Welsh mountainside, just take the team to the pub or restaurant at least once a month, and buy them all a beer or other drink of choice, whilst making it quite clear (both verbally and by your subsequent actions) that anything said is off the record, and will not ever be mentioned again. This last bit is quite important, and takes many months to put into action properly.

I may not know much about managing, but I've built teams that would follow me into any battle I decided to fight. The senior managers generally dislike me, for some reason, though.

GJC

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Stop

Re: Good bosses DO get the coffee

"A GOOD boss."

Wasn't Aviva, was it? Because I might have been there that day if it was.

The old "get the lads a pizza" routine is a pretty cheap way of faking care, while gathering intel on who is in the office and which "slackers" left off after a mere 24 hours of straight work and so can be culled at the next round of redundancies. It allows the boss to swing by the office for a mere hour on a Saturday afternoon on their way home from squash (no real inconvenience at all) and get an update relatively painlessly and so they look clued up on a Monday morning in front of their own boss. They can then claim kudos from being there via "when I was here with them at the weekend" comments. They will also make matey comments about being in the trenches during the crash meeting in front of senior management, thus showing how great and hands-on they are. That's easily worth a tenner's worth of pizza and an hour to any bastard sociopathic boss, so don't mistaking it for caring.

A genuinely decent boss will sit there with you throughout the crisis, not asking dumb questions every five minutes, not crowding the screen*, hands hovering above the hot phone. He will intercept each and every bulls&^% call every ten minutes from the helldesk or users, which are hassling for updates and dragging people away from fixing the problem. He will field them -and this is crucial- WITHIN EARSHOT, both so that you can urgently wave your arms around if he starts saying something massively incorrect and so that you can hear and know that he's not secretly slagging you off or telling lies. He will buy you time and have a basic grasp of the issue, and let you do your job. Hell: He'll maybe even go run your kids to football or whatever important thing that you're having to cancel to be there if he hears you trying to organise it with the misses on the phone. He will supply coffee, and food which took him more than a phone-call worth of effort to purchase. He will be as knackered as you are at the end of it all, but will still get in early on a Monday to deal with the initial flak. He will go to the crash meeting and give you the OPTION of either coming along to make sure he doesn't tell lies/drop you in it/screw it up, or of getting some rest while he goes it alone.

And he will make sure you get paid the overtime in full.

*Management tip: Four sys admins hovering around a single screen is a sure-fire problem of fairly severe proportions and worth getting off your backside to investigate.

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Facepalm

Re: Re: Good bosses DO get the coffee

".....*Management tip: Four sys admins hovering around a single screen is a sure-fire" sign that they have found a hole in the firewall that they can stream pr0n movies through.

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Re: Good bosses DO get the coffee

"they have found a hole in the firewall that they can stream pr0n movies through."

You have to go by their body language. If they're looking extremely furtive and shifty and talking quietly.... then it's a not pr0n.

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Mushroom

Re: Good bosses DO get the coffee

You do realise that they will expense the Pizza?

nb, 4 sysadmins around a screen may also be a sign of good porn - maybe a hot intern returned her mobile without remembering to wipe those intimate shots? Or uploaded all her very personal photos to her network drive?....

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Cheap way of faking care ..

'The old "get the lads a pizza" routine is a pretty cheap way of faking care, while gathering intel on who is in the office ..'

Don't forget that the bosses secret sidekick reports every unguarded comment straight back. You can spot him as he never gossips, was transferred in from another division and never gets drunk. While you-all were reading The Art of Unix Programming, your boss was reading the Art of War and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, that's why he's boss and you're not. If you really want to advance your career, you'd be better off starting your own cult, people will believe any-old-nonsense if it's wrapped in plausible sounding language.

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Free coffee

+1 on the coffee anecdotes. My last employer started with free coffee. They downgraded to a 20p-per-cup swill-machine, and six months later they were announcing redundancies. Conversely another company I worked at were on an upward trend, and the free coffee was soon supplanted by a dishwasher. It felt like luxury at the time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Free coffee

If they replaced the free coffeee with a dishwasher I'd be out of the door! Now, if they complement the free coffee with a dishwasher...

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Re: Free coffee

Supplanted? I mean in addition to the coffee!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Free coffee

I've just landed the second job in my working life that includes a complementary weekly half-hour massage in work hours for all the devs that want one. However, the last company that did it was clearly on a rocky footing and the massages stopped after the first six months. I think on balance I'd marginally rather have someone paid to bring me cups of tea and biscuits all day.

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Re: Free coffee

How about 'supplemented'?

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Re: Free coffee

> If they replaced the free coffeee with a dishwasher I'd be out of the door!

Some places I've been, the output from the dishwasher would be BETTER than the output from the coffee machine.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Free coffee

I'm not so sure. I hate coffee, but if there was a free dishwasher... well, I could bring in a box of dirty dishes from home each day. (And each night, taking the box home, I could tell the pointy haired boss that I was taking work home with me again)

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Trollface

Re: Free coffee

No tea ?

Fucking heathens.

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Re: Free coffee

What you really wanna watch out for is when they start buying hairy recycled paper for the laser printers ;)

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Go

Great Read

Good read and great advice. When I think back to go the good and bad jobs I've had they nearly all ring true. In fact, my current job is the best I've had and the only thing I didn't get was an office tour.

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Re: Great Read

I'm guessing one of the reasons I love my current job so much is that they flew me out to the States (not cattle-class either) for the office tour. And the CIO picks up breakfast for the troops every morning, and genuinely gives a hoot.

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Bod
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Coffee is the first priority

Not just being offered coffee but the quality of it. If it's instant out of a tin or machine, walk ;)

Or at least ensure there's a decent coffee shop nearby or they do proper coffee in the restaurant (if they have one).

What gets me though are freelance "interviews" where you have a bucket load of experience with loads of clients and perhaps even armed with a little portfolio, and despite the easy fire if it turns out you're not up to the job and far cheaper recruitment, they still insist on running you through a mini exam as if you're a 16 year old school leaver! And then some are all questions testing your ability to remember a reference manual, not actually solve problems.

And if anyone asks, "where do you see yourself in 5 years time"... walk. More so if it's a contract job!!! (and yes, I've had one ask that for a contract!).

Ditto any that spend most of their time seeing how you fit their company image rather than actually doing the job.

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Re: Coffee is the first priority

I remember once being given a coffee at an interview which was obviously Nescafe catering powder because most of it was floating on the top of a thin film of what looked liked oil. Also there was a lump of something that looked like post masticated sandwich on the rim of the mug.

It did allow me to practice my distraction skills via continually asking questions in a successful effort to avoid drinking it.

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Re: "If it's instant out of a tin or machine, walk ;)"

If it's good instant, I doubt you'll tell the difference.

Personally, unless I'm working for some multi-megabucks-huge corp, I wouldn't expect much more than a tin of Carte Noire or Nescafe. That and if it's a cafetiere, you don't know if it's been cleaned properly. Enjoy those stale grounds.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Where do you see yourself in five years' time"

A salient question, particularly for positions attracting graduates or early-career individuals. It helps the interviewers to gauge important personality traits such as ambition and vision.

We ask this of all our interviewees. Do not walk. Answer honestly without sucking up.

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Re: "Where do you see yourself in five years' time"

1) Permie job - standard answer is "in your seat"

2) Contract job - correct answer is "on twice what you're offering"

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Re: "Where do you see yourself in five years' time"

I suggest you change your interview strategy then. I suspect many good candidates will find this question both demeaning and trite. Most employers don't offer five years worth of career development, so an honest answer from anyone with half a brain would be "probably not working here." Clearly that isn't going to land the job, so now you're putting your interviewee in the position of lying to make you happy. This isn't very comfortable for the person you're trying to attract, and you haven't learned anything valuable about the candidate as a potential team member.

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Big Brother

HR Departments

Is it just me, or the rose tinted glasses?

Personnel departments used to treat you like a person.

Human Resources departments treat you like a resource.

If sure it was better in ye olde days.

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