The Theory

With all the background and life story about how I got myself into Unemployment out of the way, it’s time to explain the probably still confusing part, the Professional Speed Dater.

The term is something that I came up with to best suit my situation. The whole process of applying for a job, once you have completed an application, is exactly what speed dating is being sold as! This is a bit cheeky as I have never actually been speed dating before haha, but if you look at the stereotypical scenario of speed dating I would have thought you would find this:

  • See an event you like
  • Make an application online
  • Someone makes sure you are suitable for the event
  • Event invite is confirmed
  • Turn up hoping for the best and being yourself
  • Chat with multiple strangers about the same thing within a set time
  • Someone asks you how it went after the event
  • Nervously wait and hope for positive news
  • Eventually success or failure is the outcome

When looking at that process and comparing it to the job interview process, if it’s not the same it’s damn well very close! Just like with actual speed dating you get the option of going it alone, aka searching for companies and applying directly with them, or to go with a trusty wingman to make the event a bit easier knowing you have someone who has your back. If you hadn’t already guessed, in the Professional Speed Dating arena your wingman is your recruiter! The role of the recruiter is to find you suitable positions, put you in the best situation to succeed, and then chase for details after you have finished. If this isn’t the definition of a quality wingman then “boi”, I don’t know anything about anything!!

Luckily enough, once I started getting my profile out on job sites and giving some recruiters and old contacts a call, I was getting quite a lot of noise about potential roles and companies. However, I quickly came to see that just because you get a lot of noise coming towards you, this doesn’t automatically mean you will enjoy what is being heard.

Everyone will have their own views and opinions on what recruiters can actually do for engineers, whether they are a help or a hindrance. In my experience over the last couple of months, I found that 70-80% of the recruiters that contacted me via finding my CV from $jobsite didn’t help as much as I thought they would. A lot of the time, I would get a call about $job, ask for more details and/or a job spec in an email, then get no response back or they would be talking about positions that were completely outside of my skill set… In my mind, that was illogical, as recruiters will get a fee if they fill a position. For them not to come back to me or for them to at least say they found someone else more suitable, would have been useful. It started to become by the bye, if those type of recruiters weren’t coming back to me.

The recruiters that I found to be the most helpful were the ones I made the first contact with. Whether that was by email or by giving them a call, it seemed that they were more focussed and willing to put my name ahead of others. Whether this was the case, again I’ll never know, but it was much more reassuring to feel that they actually gave a damn and communication between us was much more open and honest around the expectations I had of them, what they were able to do for me, and what I was looking for at my next position. With hindsight I would have actively engaged more with recruiters, I connected with on Linkedin (which had been an amazing resource) for this exact reason!

Date Night!

Having all the pieces in the place and a better understanding of what i’m actually talking about, he most interesting aspect of being the Professional Speed Dater…. Dating Night! Over the past couple months, I’ve had an interesting mix of Dating Nights, to be fair, I think I’ve put in a good show for the most part, as I managed to pass the Speed Dating Event and get multiple date nights with potential suitors. Of course, not all went smoothly, I did have one noticeable date that I wouldn’t say was bad, I can only describe it as offensive haha!!! I won’t go into the specifics about any of the interviews per se but what I found, generally all dates follow the same type of structure, which coming from my perspective, can be helpful - but also created an interesting issue. Going through the multiple dates in a very short space of time, following the same flow, you will naturally pick up on cues from the interviewer(s) on what type of question(s) are coming next.

I can’t speak for other industries but in the I.T. world, commonly you will have two types of dates: Soft Skills and Technical (Hard Skills). As silly as this sounds, in my opinion, Soft Skills are more important to get right for a technical role compared to the Technical interviews themselves.

Given you’ve made it this far, I can throw out a wild statement but before you stop reading, let me explain.

Any techie will know, when you go into a technical interview, you know the range of technical knowledge will be tested on. You expect to get logical/illogical scenarios asked of you that you either know or don’t. This actually makes these type of interviews much easier to cope with as it’s very black and white. There are no grey areas, you either know how BGP, Spanning Tree or $Other_Random_Network_Topic works or you don’t. You are probably saying; “Well I know its a technical interview, so I can just revise over topics…. “, but given that every network is different and it truly depend on what $company is doing within their environment, trying to revise what potentially could be asked would be pointless. So for me, when it came to technical interviews, I would look at specific details that I knew I would forget, such as lower level packet details, port numbering etc but outside of that, as I said, I either know it or I don’t. There is no point in apologizing over things you don’t know or haven’t worked with before. Given this logic, if you don’t know everything asked of you, you can start to see why Soft Skills are just as important. Granted, I have never sat on the opposite side of the table interviewing before, so what I’m going to say could be 100% bollocks, but I believe that showing technical range will get you only so far, yet if you can show that you are a well rounded individual with the ability to learn, showcase your technical skills and be humble enough to ask for help, these character traits will get you remembered and potentially be that hidden 1% over someone who has that bit extra in technical knowledge.

That interesting issue I mentioned earlier, I had stated being able to predict questions and situations was a great card to have, however it can backfire epically when you get a simple question that breaks the dating norm. That question, that makes you overthink the whole date with you saying to yourself, How did I cock up such a simple question?!? What a simple but unexpected question can do to a polished interviewee can actually be amazing, as Theresa May shows when she was asked how she copes with having such a stressful job. One of these were thrown recently during a technical date night. It was a Soft Skills grenade while I was trying to predict what the next techie question was going to be. I honestly fumbled my way through it but was lucky it was towards the end of the night, so I managed to turn it into a funny story!

When I look back at all the dates and consider the whole picture, I am a little surprised that I didn’t get more of those unexpected/left field questions, as they probably would give the interviewer more of an idea, how $candidate deals with unexpected situations. Donal O’ Duibhir aka @irldexter has been a big advocate about how to structure the current ‘date night’ within technical fields, and how it’s getting outdated due to a move towards automation and working at scale. He has created a tool called Pansift to do automated expert screening. Pansift can help companies ensure what $engineer has said they can do, they can actually do. For me, this is could a differences maker that could:

  1. Help $company create a company relevant, repeatable set of the requirements that they can hand over during a technical date night, to get a full understanding of what level $candidates are at
  2. Help $candidate understand the importance of being prepared and fully understand their own limitations, and as said above, be humble enough to say I don’t know this. Additionally they will know the level of technical skills the $company is looking for.

The last sentence in point 2, this point is important and can be undervalued by the $candidate. Being humble enough to say I don’t know is one thing, however understanding that a position, at potential good company may not be the best fit for you personally, is such a valuable trait to be able to pick up on during any interview process, hell in life in general! A tools such as Pansift, if done right, could be deal-breaker for both $company and $candidate, as it will give both parties the oppunitunity to get an understanding of how each other works and if they want to keep moving forward together or go their separate ways.

Another undervalued notion, I wish I considered, was finding out how many dates were expected before getting a final decision. You may be thinking, what is he going on about now, but there was quite a difference between UK and US ‘dating’. Throughout my career, as of writing this, I have always had UK dates, which generally followed this set of dates (we will exclude conversations with our wingman):

  • First Date: Phone call
  • Second Date: Face-to-face dinner date
    • Dinner: Mum & Dad
  • Third Date: Marriage

For US date nights however they followed these type of dates:

  • First Date: Phone/Video Call
  • Second Date: Face-to-face day out
    • Breakfast: Uncle
    • Brunch: Aunty
    • Lunch: Brother
    • Dinner: Sister
  • Third Date: Phone/Video Call
    • Skype: Mum
    • Google Hangout: Dad
  • Fourth Date: Marriage

As a side note, I got a priceless nugget of advice from @Ruirai on the NetworkToCode Slack Channel, who did a presentation on the common interview process for the Big US based Tech companies. These slides were such a godsend, and I would suggest anyone who hasn’t gone through this process before to give it a read. I found it helped with setting my expectations.

The biggest differences between UK and US dates were number of them and the amount of people you have to interact with. This was a bit of a mind blown moment, as at times, I had thoughts of I must have been doing something wrong, if they keep asking me to talk with a different person about the same topics but in a slightly different way. But then when I considered this from an employer’s point of view, it is important to get as much information about $candidate as they can and if you end up with multiple people coming to the same conclusion, generally you will come to the right decision. Not to say, that the way things are commonly done in the UK are bad. The UK process can be more condensed and quicker for both parties involved when compared to the US, which has its advantages. As the saying goes There’s more than one way to skin a cat comes to mind :-)

For my final thoughts, head over to Part 3!

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