Why Tech Job Interviews Became Such a Nightmare

After a WIRED story last month described the sometimes ludicrous challenges heaped on tech workers applying for engineering jobs, some readers shared their own experiences with excessive test assignments and interviews.

The responses in social posts and direct messages to WIRED underscore how the tech industry is undergoing a cultural change—and a maturation. The companies of the colloquial Silicon Valley are overcorrecting for pandemic-era hiring, adjusting to high interest rates, and yielding to shareholder pressure to make their businesses more efficient.

The independent job tracker Layoffs.fyi estimates that more than 400,000 tech jobs have been shed since the start of 2022. In the past two weeks alone, Amazon, Cisco, Expedia Group, Rivian, and the dating app Bumble announced more job cuts.

Broadly, the US job market is still strong, with the unemployment rate at a low 3.7 percent. Tech sector employment is tighter still, with industry group CompTIA calculating it as 2.3 percent based on US government data. But the layoffs have rattled an entire industry of people who for years fed the promises of growth and progress. As a former Google executive told WIRED: “The balance of power has shifted back to employers, which has resulted in hiring getting tougher.”

Data from a startup that helps job-seeking coders suggests that one tech company in particular, Meta, has been using its moment of leverage for aggressive salary negotiation tactics—although the company says its practices are fair. And hiring experts warn that companies using laborious assignments and hardball tactics in recruitment could be counterproductive, by deterring strong candidates and adding new biases to the process.

‘It’s ridiculous’

John Moore, a technical curriculum developer and instructional designer, wrote in to say that it’s not just software engineers or programmers who are facing days-long homework assignments for job interviews. “These ‘prompts,’ as they are euphemistically called, are no joke—they are like work projects. It’s like being on American Idol trying to land a job in the tech industry in 2024.”

Demetrios C., a longtime software engineer, wrote to say that he doesn’t believe being asked to cobble together a complete app during the hiring process was too tall of an ask. (This was one of the assignments a coder cited in WIRED’s previous story on hiring.) However, he agrees that companies are taking advantage of the recent waves of layoffs to be extra diligent about who they hire.

Sasha Luccioni, an AI researcher in Montreal, responded to WIRED’s story to say it was “10,000 percent true!” She added that over-the-top interviews are a long-established problem in parts of the industry. During a past job search, she tweeted, one Big Tech company “made me do *12* interviews and a take-home assignment.” (Luccioni declined to say which company put her through that ordeal.)

Lowball Offers

What feels like diligence to hiring managers under pressure can seem like unfairness to job candidates. Interviewing.io, a testing platform where software engineers can hone their skills in mock job interviews, released a report this week alleging that Meta has recently been using questionable negotiation tactics with candidates who make it through the interview gauntlet.

Aline Lerner, Interviewing.io founder and CEO, says that out of six Big Tech firms—Google, Meta, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Netflix—Meta has had the greatest uptick in hiring over the past 12 months, despite making contemporaneous layoffs. This also gives Meta unique leverage over interview candidates, who are unlikely to have competing offers from other giants.

Lerner says she evaluated 20 interview offers that Interviewing.io clients received from Meta over the past several months, and found that the company was often “down-leveling” engineering candidates by offering a lower-ranked position than a person originally interviewed for.

She also says Meta has been offering engineers salaries as much as $50,000 below the average total compensation levels for similar jobs at other companies. A job candidate has a decent chance of negotiating for more if they have competing job offers, but those offers are hard to come by in a tight tech market.

“This was such a stark pattern,” Lerner tells WIRED, referring to the low-ball offers. “I was initially going to send this guide to just our users but then thought the broader engineering community would get value out of it.”

On a recent earnings call, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company has a backlog of positions to fill from last year, and that it plans to swap out certain job types for others this year. Although it has laid off tens of thousands of workers since the end of 2022, the company has indicated that its compensation philosophy and its compensation bands—salary ranges for different roles—haven’t changed in recent years.

Meta spokesperson Stacey Yip says the company strives to be fair and equitable to every job candidate. “Our hiring philosophy allows us to evaluate individuals based on their potential impact across various teams and match each candidate with a role and level that aligns with their skill set and career aspirations,” she says. Yip declined to respond to the claim that it will sometimes offer engineering salaries $50,000 below what might be expected.

Unintended Consequences

Amanda Richardson, CEO of CoderPad, a platform used by hiring managers to assess coding skills, says tech companies could make life easier for both job candidates and hiring managers by questioning the recent industry-wide shift to tougher assessments. Asking more of candidates can end up wasting time on both sides, she says, and exclude strong potential hires.

“You have to be mindful of the bias that can creep into the interview process,” says Richardson, whose clients at CoderPad have included Spotify, LinkedIn, and Lyft. “If you establish a process that’s a 12-hour take-home test, you are automatically filtering out for people who have 12 hours to complete a take-home test. As a parent with two kids, that would be hard for me.” It could also exclude some very talented coders. CoderPad’s clients are strongly encouraged to limit take-home tests to between 90 minutes and two hours as a result.

Richardson also encourages hiring and engineering managers to test candidates on collaborative problems during live-coding tests, instead of simply observing how an engineer is working alone. That helps test what it would be like to actually work together if that person joined the company. And rather than ask a candidate to build a sample product or solve a problem dreamed up just for the interview, Richardson suggests presenting real problems that the company’s internal team has already solved. “That way, when the candidate presents an idea, you can fast-forward to talking about the complexities of it,” she says.

Richardson says there has been some uptake of her suggestions, but mostly by smaller companies or those outside of the core software business that are still jousting for the technical talent—industries like retail, manufacturing, biotech, and financial services. Tech interviewing is far from “fixed,” but she thinks both job candidates and employers stand to benefit from better practices—ones that overcome the “byzantine, onerous interview process, and get the right candidate.”

Source : Wired