How to Know Whether Your New Job Is a Shitshow or NotBy Charity Majors | Last modified on August 18, 2022
We here at Honeycomb have some pretty strong opinions on the interviewing and hiring process: Namely, that it is broken af in our industry, for engineering and non-engineering roles alike. Too often, it seeks to reinforce power imbalances instead of making candidates feel like an equal partner and makes people feel terrible instead of setting them at ease. So as a job seeker, what should you look for in the interview process?
Emi Tolibas is a relatively new Honeybee (nearly four months in!). I was chatting with her, and she mentioned some things she noticed while interviewing that made her feel safe or reinforced her decision to take the job afterwards. I found this fascinating because so many of them were things I would never have thought of—like the way she was attuned to our language around accessibility, or how important that first conversation with Jessica was in setting the tone for the interview and making her feel seen and comfortable.
We thought our conversation might make a good blog post to help job seekers figure out whether where they’re interviewing is someplace they’d want to work, so ... here you are.
Getting to know Emi
Charity: Hello Emi! Tell me a little bit about yourself—who you are, where you’re coming from?
Emi: I’m a visual designer. I’ve worked at art departments, for marketing and brand design, freelance design, and lots of other stuff. I have pretty strong opinions on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). I’ve been on lots of committees and done work on DEI groups with past employers.
Charity: How did you come to us at Honeycomb?
Emi: When I was looking for a new job, I followed a bunch of Twitter accounts for people in tech who were members of marginalized groups, including you and Liz [Fong-Jones]. That’s how I found Honeycomb. I was really looking for a company that could be held to a higher standard after some painful experiences in the past. Also, I really loved your teams page.
The interview process: Transparency and respect
Charity: Nice. Me too. ☺️ What was the interview like?
Emi: The interview was one of the most transparent things I have ever been through. It felt more like a conversation about whether we wanted to work together, rather than the interviewers demanding or pushing me to show my skills.
They already knew who I was and what my skills were. Sarrah Vesselov (the hiring manager) had researched my portfolio. It was very clear they respected me by the time I showed up for an interview.
Charity: I feel like the most demoralizing part of any interview process is about having to prove yourself. Even when you’ve been in the industry for a long time, it’s like you’re always starting over at step one.
Emi: Yeah. It felt like we had both done the work before we met each other. There were no surprises.
Charity: Talk to me about what that means, “no surprises”?
Emi: Jessica Fowler, the interview coordinator, had originally reached out to me. She was super friendly and super quick with communicating updates. She mapped out the whole big day and explained what it would be like.
When you’re talking to multiple teams for 5-6 hours, it can be really draining, but Jessica made sure I knew who I’d be talking to, what teams they’re on, and what topics would be covered. It was very good prep. I felt I knew what to expect, and my expectations were always met.
I’ve had interviews before where it felt like I was being dropped into different things without anybody thinking about the flow, so I’d get asked the same question multiple times or it seemed the interviewers themselves weren’t prepared. Another thing I really appreciated was that each time, the interviewers stuck around to listen to me and answer my questions, they didn’t just bail after they were done with their questions. And they always checked in to make sure I had plenty of time to rest, to get water or something.
Charity: It’s easy to forget how critical the little things are, like getting prompt responses and always having a friendly point person to shepherd you through the process.
Wrap-up and salary negotiations
Emi: Exactly. There was a short but agonizing wait after the interviews wrapped up, and Sarrah was very clear about what was going on and when I would hear back. It made me feel my time was respected. There was always someone reaching out to let me know where I was in the system.
Charity: Not knowing is the WORST.
Emi: Even the salary discussion was transparent. Sarrah told me upfront that we don’t negotiate, ever. I actually felt relieved and that I would be treated fairly.
Charity: Nobody asked you how much money you had made before, right?
Emi: RIGHT. It wasn’t an issue! I’m an introvert, and at former companies, you could always see who was getting the push forward to plum spots. I always wished I could find a place where my skills were what mattered or at least where a different, more diverse set of personalities could be successful.
Onboarding and all-hands
Charity: So what happened once you were hired?
Emi: Sarrah asked me to write an email about myself to introduce myself to everyone, and it felt like I actually mattered to the company. It felt like people were interested in me as a person, not just as a cog in the wheel, even before I started.
Charity: Ha. I’m glad to hear that! I guess I’ve always wondered if people found those emails awkward or not, so I’m really glad to hear that it worked for you.
Emi: There was an onboarding email that was super detailed and long. I’ve spent a lot of time clicking on links and reading up on things from that email, even now. I got my software and hardware setup quickly—it was such a smooth process. I had an onboarding buddy, and knowing I could get help immediately was just not normal in my experience with new jobs. I also loved that accessibility matters were addressed in the onboarding email, in a very matter-of-fact manner.
Charity: And then you started working on a team, with Haley and Sarrah...
Transparency around DEI work
Emi: They were just so great. I wasn’t in the dark, ever. And then right after I started, there was an all-hands meeting where Jeff presented the results of Honeycomb’s first-ever company DEI survey, which included a breakdown of employee demographics. My takeaways were:
- The company was already working on these things (DEI) that were super important to me
- The results were presented without excuses. We aren’t pretending to be perfect. We know we have some areas to work on, and we’re open about them
- At other companies, I was always on these committees where we were trying to push those things through, and it was frustrating. Knowing that the leadership here already cares and holds themselves personally responsible was huge.
Also, Emily was soliciting some volunteers for people to work on some of these DEI initiatives. I found it really reassuring that there were boundaries stated, like “you should only be spending this amount of time,” and that it was considered part of your core duties. In the past, I don’t know how many hours I put in outside my responsibilities at other jobs, and not only did I not get rewarded for them, I got punished for them if they were seen to be taking time away from my other responsibilities.
So I felt a lot of relief—that I didn’t have to be the one to always take it on just because I was the only Asian woman or something. It was nice to feel like the management team felt this work was valued and was conscious and careful about burnout for everyone.
Charity: There’s nothing more motivating than showing up to a new job and realizing you’re single-handedly responsible for both representing all women/PoC/whatever AND rehabilitating the company’s image 😬
Emi: I also loved seeing the closed captioning and the sign language interpreters in all-hands meetings. That made me feel like this stuff is actually being taken seriously, and accommodating people in all their variety is just everyday life.
How we could do better
Charity: Now that you mention it, yeah, we do talk about accessibility stuff in our onboarding documents, but I don’t think we say anything about mental health resources in those documents. We should probably have a directory of ERGs (employee resource groups) and link that directory to the onboarding index, too. Otherwise, how will people ever find out about, e.g., erg-disabled?
Emi: Good point. I also really appreciated the email you sent shortly after I joined, reminding people about it still being pandemic times, that these times are not normal, that a lot of people are suffering. I liked it because it wasn’t a reactionary response to some emergency, just a reminder of past messaging around how to be human to each other in hard times, and how to ask for help when we aren’t at our best.
Charity: Is there anything else you can think of that we could do to improve the experience of new Honeybees? Any other signals we could send to help people adjust to their new job here?
Emi: The onboarding docs—I definitely spend a ton of time with them. And in our all-hands, I spend a lot of time frantically Googling and trying to understand what people are talking about. It’s just a lot of information to try and absorb and learn in a short period of time.
Charity: Hmm. It sounds like what I’m hearing you say is that our onboarding process was very much originally designed for engineers, and we have work to do in order to make it just as friendly for non-engineers. Does that sound right?
Charity: Cool. So I have two things to follow up on from this chat: mental health/ERGs in the onboarding process, and making it more tractable for non-engineers. Thanks so much, Emi! <3
- Speak openly about your company’s values and processes to attract like-minded candidates.
- Respect the candidate’s time.
- Respond swiftly and politely to any communication. Keep them in the loop.
- Fill candidates in on what to expect. Who will they be talking with, what will the questions and topics be? Are there any resources they would like to have handy?
- Get organized behind the scenes. Make sure every person or group knows which questions are theirs to cover and don’t duplicate.
- Treat the candidate like an equal partner in trying to figure out if this is the right fit. Allow plenty of time for them to ask questions of every interviewer.
- The best interviews feel like a conversation between peers on your overlapping areas of expertise, not like a pop quiz.
- It’s okay not to know things. Make sure the candidate knows that it’s expected not to know everything.
- Don’t ask about current or past compensation. It has nothing to do with the value of the job to be done.
- Once hired, be sure and give them a buddy, someone they’re encouraged to ask questions of.
- Show you care about accessibility and mental health issues upfront, in your onboarding docs.
- Don’t make it a nightmare to get software and hardware set up. Especially for remote teams, it can feel very isolating if it feels like nobody remembers you exist.
- Once again ... show respect for the candidate and their time. Even if you don’t end up working together this time around, people should leave the interview process feeling valued and seen. They shouldn’t feel like they’ve “failed” some arbitrary test. Even in case of a disappointing outcome, you should still feel respected and like you had an opportunity to show your best work.
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