Looking for a job? Make sure you look hard enough.

Date September 14, 2012

When someone tries to interview you, you try to interview them right back
- With apologies to Malcolm Reynolds

A question came up on the SysAdmin subreddit asking how someone could be sure that the company was actually presenting itself accurately.

I think that needs to be a concern for anyone interviewing for a new job. How do you know the company isn't lying to make itself look better?

Turn the question around, and it becomes clearer. How does the company know that you are as good as you say? It's hard to tell, so you have to investigate, examine the evidence, and make a decision. That's why good interviews aren't half hour affairs.

So if you want to find out more, you need to interview them right back.

Tom Limoncelli wrote the great Limoncelli Test as a list of things that you, the interviewed, need to know about how your potential new company treats IT.

What it's important to really grasp is that you aren't a passive part of the interview process. You don't exist to sit there and give satisfactory answers. You need to be vetting them, too. Don't just ask them if they use configuration management…ask to talk to a person who uses it every day. Ask what's wrong with their infrastructure - ask what they're unhappy about.

Everyone has skeletons in their server closet. The difference is that a good company wants to get rid of them, and a bad company wants to pretend they don't exist.

Don't convince yourself that you don't have a choice. Don't think, "because this economy sucks, I have to take table scraps and work for an awful company", because you don't. If you are a professional (and you should be, or at least should want to be), then don't take unprofessional jobs. This is about sticking up for yourself and making sure that you work in the type of environment that's important to you.

Vetting your potential employers is important for your career and for your own mental health. Don't shrug it off and go with the first company that offers you a job. You're worth more than throwing away your future.

edit: I've been asked three times now if this was in response to my current job. Most certainly not. My job rocks. Not to say that there isn't a TON of things I want to fix, but because they explained what was broken during the interview, and asked me how I'd fix it

  • http://www.lostinthedetails.com Mike Ryder

    A great post -- I've been on both sides of the interview desk.

    It's always a bit depressing when you're interviewing someone and they have no interest in your company, operations or department. When my question "Do you have any questions for me?" is met with a shrug or less, the interview is pretty much flushed down the toilet at that point. "Buh-bye."

  • Chris

    Good post. Good advice. I suppose most people who are in the "desperation phase" of job hunting will be less inclined to "grill" the interviewer with questions like, "What's wrong with your infrastructure?". They may think it's too much of a gamble since it might tend to ruffle a few feathers depending on the interviewer's disposition.

  • http://www.funnelfiasco.com Ben Cotton

    If you're afraid to ask what's broken, a good way to phrase it is to ask what the looming challenges/opportunities are. Try to ask around your question and see how much you can get the interviewer to give up.

  • Waldo

    I love that you pointed this out; I've been telling friends and peers this for years, but you have better reach!

    I also long ago took the point literally (after a particularly bad job) of asking for a tour of the offices where I'd be working, the main company's staff offices, and the Server Room. It became important to me to see how the IT crowd is viewed/treated, by itself and compared to others, and how (IF!) they took care of their infrastructure physically.

    A company that has neatly wired racks and labelled equipment and cables is very different than one who doesn't. How are the employees treated? Are the chairs all old and worn? Are people working on 5-year-old computers?

  • Chris

    Excellent advice Waldo. You certainly can acquire a lot of information from a quick tour of the facilities.

  • shawn

    nice tip. thanks!

  • http://www.bgtechblog.com Blagomir Ivanov

    Really useful post. I am about to change my job in few months and advices here will be useful for my next interview.

    It is really important to work for people who know what your are doing or at least to have a clue about it. Believe me, the opposite is quite bad for both - employer and employee.

    I am saying this because if the employer can`t see you as a professional, he/she can`t give you a creative environment to work at.

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    Blagomir: I completely agree. Too many people think we're cogs in a wheel, and that kind of mentality isn't good for anyone involved. Don't take bad jobs if you can all avoid it!

    Good luck in your job change!

  • Ernie

    This methodology works great.

    *If* you're Tom Limoncelli.

    If, on the other hand, you didn't graduate in the top 1% of your class, and you don't exactly have headhunters calling *you*, then for example, a company that doesn't get a 100% on the Limoncelli test, or even 50%, is going to have to be what you get to settle on anyway. Because they said yes and noone else is returning your calls.

    Will they go under in 8 months? Will they stiff you out of your paycheque or screw up your tax forms, or run a business on legal grey areas that might require moving offshore sometime in the near term? Who knows. But that's the price you pay for not taking on enough stress to kill you, I guess.

  • http://everythingsysadmin.com Tom Limoncelli

    Ernie,

    I didn't graduate in the top 1% of my class.

    Also, when I teach my half-day class based on The Test most of what I talk about his how to convince your team or employer to adopt those practices. That is, how to reform the company you join.

    Hope that helps,
    Tom

  • http://www.rootmytoaster.org Kenny

    I really wish I could go back in time with this information and give it to myself before I accepted my position at my current job. There are a lot of questions I should have asked my current employer during my interview because I thought I knew what the answers were. Simple questions, such as "how many sick days do I get?" Or another great question would be "how much vacation do I get, and when does it start?"

    Most people would think that after 90 days or some other arbitrary "will they stay" time period, the answer would be greater than zero, because for jobs that aren't McDonalds, that's generally the answer. But no, right now I'm stuck in a dead end job because I didn't ask simple questions. I will remember this during my next interview and not be content with what they feel they need to tell me.

  • Rac99

    nice post, I just wonder what recommendations are for a company that will outsource in some years the jobs and they just need to fix and get ready everything before is the process done....without telling you first...