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I applied for several positions at a large gaming company close to three weeks ago. The jobs I applied for I felt I could handle as I filled over 80% of the requirements of each one. I was, however, met with standard rejection letters for each job. Then a recruiter for the company contacted me via phone and asked if I would do a coding test for her hiring manager.

The test consisted of me writing a game in a set amount of time. I sent my code in and let two weeks go by. I was contacted again with an email that said that company was interested in interviewing me for a position. This position however, is one that I am not even remotely qualified for. I went to school for software engineering for video games. My areas of study included AI, graphics programming, gameplay programming, engine programming, etc. The position I am being interviewed for is listed as requiring 5+ years working with Unix / Red Hat in addition to hands on experience with large scale distributed systems. I know next to nothing about networking.. Even the coding test I did had nothing to do with networking.

Furthermore, not one single place in my resume or cover letter, including where I mentioned the several small school projects I've worked on, have I in any way suggested that I might know anything about networking aside from the one class I was required to take in college. I'm a college graduate with no work experience. I would be absolutely flattered and it'd be a dream come true to work at this company, but I am very worried about this whole thing.

I'm concerned about the motives behind contacting me. Could it be that maybe they saw potential in my ability to learn quickly? Could this just be "practice" for recruiters and possibly new managers for the interviewing process?

Again, I'm fresh out of college. I've applied for close to 20 different companies and this is indeed the biggest one I have applied for. It would be amazing to work there, but instincts are telling me it sounds too good to be true? I was hoping to get some thoughts from people who have more experience than me. Is this something that frequently happens in the industry?

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Did you consider the possibility that it was a simple mixup on their behalf and they actually wanted to offer the job to someone else? –  Philipp Jan 21 at 14:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 36 down vote accepted

What are their motives for interviewing you? In order of most likely to least likely I think:

  • You missed out on the first positions, but after the coding test they decided might want you and so will give you another position to begin with.
  • The job actually doesn't require the experience advertised.
  • They don't have enough applicants for the position and are offering anyone an interview to get the numbers up.

Should you do the interview?

  • Yes.
  • Definitely.
  • Of course.

Even if it is practice for the interviewers, it is also practice for you! There are no negatives I can see.

Furthermore, if they are 'taking advantage of you' and offer you a low salary, I would be inclined to take it. You can always leave the job if a better offer comes along. You will be getting experience, and you've 'got a foot in the door' for the positions you want. Much easier to change jobs within an organisation.

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The only exception would be if his interview schedule is full and he's having to turn down or change plans with some other company to make room for this one. –  Ben Voigt Jan 19 at 2:16
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Often the list of "requirements" is just a wishlist for the employer. They're not really requiring all those skills (unless a person like that does come along to the last group of selections). Of course, in real life, you gotta get by with what you get. Most people can be trained to do the job - if not perfectly, but at least in a good enough way. –  Juha Untinen Jan 20 at 12:21
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When I applied for my current job (they contacted me based on my resume), I made it very clear that I had no experience with the particular technology I'd be working with. (Note the phrase "my current job".) –  Keith Thompson Jan 20 at 17:00

Questions:

  1. Did you ask them on the phone what position you're being interviewed? If no, call them back and ask as well as for an agenda of the interview (how many people, their names and titles, what role they play with respect to the position you're interviewing for, what would they like you to come prepared to talk about). Normally a recruiter is prepping you and giving you all of this information, but if it's a small company and an untrained recruiter, that would explain why you didn't get this information.

  2. Adding to the above, if you speak with them before the interview (you should), ask them (them meaning whoever set the interview up), what in particular impressed them enough to want to bring you in?

  3. If you went through an external recruiter (one that does not work at the company, but is hired outside of the company to find candidates), make sure he/she can assure you that they understood the requirements of the position. I have seen time and time again rookie recruiters send candidates on interviews for positions that were a complete mismatch. Not fun. If it's the in house recruiter at the company, go ahead and ask them the same question.

Below is a mock scenario of how the call might go:

"(Recruiter Name), I'm really looking forward to meeting with XYZ company. I just have a couple of prep questions before my interview. Do you have a minute?" [prep=preparing for the interview. I do a prep call with every candidate I send on an interview.]

Then say:

"I'd like to know what I should focus on the most. Can you tell me, what were the specific skills XYZ company seemed drawn to most?"

Next:

"What position is this for?"

[If he/she says it's the position you don't feel qualified for]

"Oh I see. I noticed that this role requires knowledge of Unix/Red Hat as well as experience with large scale distributed systems. These were not a part of my studies in school. Can you explain XYZ's process for training employees on new technology?"

[If he/she says it's for a completely different position]

"Could you send me the job description for that position and tell me more about it?"

Interview Questions that you should ask your recruiter or person at the company that set the interview:

"I'd like to learn more about the people I will be meeting with and the interview format. Do you know if the interviews be one-on-one or group interview style?"

"Will I be asked to white board?" (breaking down code flow on a white board, to observe your thinking skills)

"How long should the interview last?"

"What are the names and titles of the people I will be meeting with?"

Then you can go on LinkedIn and look up their profile and get a feel for their past career - don't send them an invite before the interview). You should ALWAYS know who you're meeting with in advance.

SALARY

Don't afraid to ask this question to the recruiter or person who set up the interview:

"What is the salary range that the company has defined for this role?"

They may not know or may play the salary game with you and respond back with:

[Recruiter:] "What salary are you looking for?"

If that happens, just say:

"Well I would need to learn more about the projects I would be working on and the depth of the position first. I'm sure XYZ company has hired for this position before and has a set salary range they prefer to stay within. I realize the actual offer will be contingent on my skill level. I'd like to know what the low and high end of their salary range is."

There is nothing wrong with pushing a little. Don't get trapped into telling them what you want to make. Use the comment above to avoid answering it. How can you give a number if you know very little about what you'd be doing? That's where you get into trouble.

How to Avoid the Money Trap Question

If you DO get trapped into answer the salary money, make sure you did your research on salary ranges for the position you're interviewing for. If the salary range is 40K-60K, for example (and it's an approximate because not all companies pay competitively and others pay above the trends in the market in order to motivate their employees to stay long term), then you would say that you're looking for a position that will allow you to expand and utilize your knowledge in (whatever your role/skill is) and from your research, the market average is between 60K-70K. Never mention the low end of what the real range is and when you phrase it to be more about "the market is paying" vs "I am looking for", it protects you from giving them a set number. You don't want to give them a set number because you may be completely undervaluing yourself and they will make an offer to you at the lowest number you give.

Regarding your comment:

Could they be trying to take advantage of my inexperience with the industry so they can try to pay me an extremely low salary? Could this just be "practice" for recruiters and possibly new managers for the interviewing process?

You're not getting taken advantage of. It could easily just be that you're dealing with an inexperienced recruiter or a company that doesn't have a formal interview process. I see this a lot with smaller companies.

You're going to make less going in with no experience than if you were 5+ years.

  1. Do your research before the interview to understand what the salary range average is for this position. Check out indeed.com/salary
  2. If you're familiar with Linkedin.com, there are thousands of people on there that specialize in what you're interviewing for. Find a few and reach out to them. Just asked them if they would be open to a 10 minute call or if they wouldn't mind answering 3 or 4 questions. Then just ask them what they believe is the starting salary for a skill-set like yours. Your college should have this info as well.
  3. Go check out XYZ company on Glassdoor.com. If you've never heard of that site, you're going to love it.
  4. Google the company name and dig into the last pages of the search. You're looking for anyone who has written about the company in a blog. Lots of good scoop that way.
  5. Look for people that use to work at XYZ company. Find the ones that left over a year ago. They are usually pretty open to talking if you'll just reach out to them. Ask them what the pros and cons were about working there and why did they choose to leave.

Good luck and I hope it all works out!

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Forward thinking employers are after a lot more than just raw skills. Technical skills can be taught and learned, but a persons personality rarely changes. Sometimes, they'll see something in somebody that they like and decide that they want that person in their company. It could be your energy, your dedication or that your personality is a perfect fit within the team. Maybe they've had dozens of interviews with technically competent people who just didn't "feel" right.

I actually see the reverse results of this more often - people who have the technical skills moaning that they were passed up for a job or promotion because they've failed to realise that the employer was looking for more.

In your case, you should simply turn up and be honest. I was once accepted for a job where the manager actually put into writing that my technical skills fell short of what they would usually look for, but they felt that I could (in time) make a good contribution.

Remember, recruiting someone is a mid-term investment for a company.

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