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I recently graduated and started my first full time position as a software developer. It is 6 mo. contract to hire. During the interview, we discussed using Java and Linux. That is what I put on my resume as well. When I started the job, I was given a project on an antiquated IBM system that I was told would only take a week. It has ended up taking three months, and I haven't seen or written a single line of Java.

I have been offered a permanent position, but I am not going to take it. Obviously, I don't want to work on outdated systems, but I also resent being misled in the interview. I know I need to be reasonably flexible in terms of what technologies I can work on, but on the other hand I do expect the job as described in the interview to somewhat resemble reality.

My question is how do I describe this situation to interviewers? I don't want to seem like a "prima donna" but I also want to make it clear that I want to work on Java projects. I also want to explain why I left the previous job. Should I just say it was a 6 month contract and ended?

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while you may not want to accept the job offer, you shouldn't close the door on their paycheck until you find a new position. –  mhoran_psprep Jun 9 at 17:10
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"Should I just say it was a 6 month contract and ended?" - Not a bad idea. When you don't have something nice to say about your employer, it's best not to say anything. –  MrFox Jun 9 at 17:12
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Was it obvious at the beginning of the project it was going to take more than a week? Maybe they were just as surprised as you? –  JeffO Jun 9 at 18:14
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They may not have intended to be nasty: I've worked at a company where we interviewed someone for position A, offered a job for language B, then the employee ended up actually working on language C. This was purely down to changing company needs, rather than any malice or intent to mislead. Not that that will make a boring job any more fun, admittedly :) –  yochannah Jun 9 at 18:35
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@stackexchanger if you haven't picked up on it from the comments here, the real world is not as predictable as the classroom. –  jmorc Jun 9 at 20:55

7 Answers 7

up vote 41 down vote accepted

My question is how do I describe this situation to interviewers? I don't want to seem like a "prima donna" but I also want to make it clear that I want to work on Java projects. I also want to explain why I left the previous job. Should I just say it was a 6 month contract and ended?

It may not even come up during interviews.

If it does, you can be honest - "I was expecting to work on Java projects. Unfortunately, I worked on IBM System xxx instead. I'm really looking to work on Java this time."

It was a contract-to-hire position. During the contract part both you and the employer get to know each other, to assess the fit, and to decide if it should be permanent or not. You've decided that they are not a good fit for your needs. As a hiring manager, that's exactly what I'd want to hear.

Try not to sound bitter. Try not to blame your current employer. Try not to use words like "resent" or "mislead". Potential employers don't like to hear that tone. Sometimes jobs just didn't work out - that happens. Potential employers understand that.

Your next employer will hopefully have some tasks that you will be happen to work on, but likely will also have some that aren't your favorite. Seek a company that can provide an overall fit for your personal financial and professional needs.

If Java is most important for you, don't accept a job where you don't have confidence that Java will be a significant part of your role. Ask about the kinds of projects you'll be required to handle, and what technology they will employ. Perhaps you can even ask to interview with a co-worker and talk to them about what technologies they use.

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I have gone on plenty of interviews where they went over my qualifications with a fine tooth comb but then, two days after the start date, I ended up doing something totally different. Employer needs change. Priorities change. Disruptive events such as key personnel getting run over by an ice cream truck happen. And all of a sudden, my position gets reconfigured to meet these contingencies. I don't take it personally and I am too blasé to even care that the job that I am doing and the job they advertised for are two different animals.

You're free to dislike working on that obsolete IBM platform. If I were you, I'd set the irrelevant anger aside, tell the interviewers what I am looking for, and that the reason I chose not to take the offer of a permanent position is that I don't want to be type-cast as an expert in technologies that are on the wane.

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Before accepting an offer of employment, ask to talk to your potential future co-workers. If none of them are working with the kind of tasks you're interested in, chances are that you won't either. Especially if it's a junior position, where some mentoring is expected. However, there are no absolutes. Perhaps they intend to migrate their legacy systems to a more modern platform and that's why they're hiring, but if that's the case, someone should bring it up during interview.

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You're going to have to chalk it up to "Bad Experience", I think. I've had something similar happen a couple of times. In both cases that I experienced it was due to deliberate deception.

One company had a job that they regularly billed as a "programmer" position, but I knew for a fact that it was a third level technical support position. If first and second level tech support couldn't solve the problem and it was an extremely simple one (like changing the text of a label on a screen) they were allowed to touch code, but their job was 98% tech support.

In another case, I was almost hired as a DataFlex programmer but when I realized they were being evasive about describing what work would need to be done on the system I started digging. They eventually admitted that what they wanted was someone to document a huge, sprawling, badly written system that someone had coded and abandoned. Then, after that "little job" we could start working on changes to the system.

I was once hired as an in-house programmer to do Turbo Pascal and Clipper (new languages at the time) and discovered that my job was to fix a huge dBase program written by a Payroll admin guy who picked up a dBase book, taught himself how to program (sort of) and then spent a year trying to get the thing to actually work.

So...it happens. Ask questions about their specific plans for coding projects. If they are vague and cannot describe them, an alarm should start going off. But if it happens, just be professional and do your best and start looking for another job.

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Note that the dBase / Clipper position could well be the employer not realising how bad the system was and they expected you to make the dBase code work in Clipper - which it should mainly do –  Mark Jun 10 at 10:38

You don't need to indicate anything to future interviews. You had a six month contract that ended amiably. The technology mix in the contractual role didn't meet your passion for Java. You opted to not renew the contract.

You can say that you have a passion for Java, but wanted to sample what some of the other environments had to offer. If anything, the contract had the effect of redoubling your interest in Java.

This strong interest in Java is a fundamental part of your career plan, and so ask the Hiring manager what percentage of time will be spent with the technology. If you don't like the answer, move on.

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Hello Matthew, welcome to The Workplace. On our site, we're looking for answers with some depth that explain why and how. Our goal is to build a library of knowledge for navigating the professional workplace. Please consider an edit to expand, and be sure to answer the full question. See How to Answer for details. –  Michael Grubey Jun 10 at 8:41

"Misled" is the key word here. You assume ill intent on the employer side. But think of it:

When I started the job, I was given a project on an antiquated IBM system

You were "the new guy". No job experience, no track record, no skills, no abilities. Giving the project to any other employee would require taking them out of running projects and disrupting them. Giving this project to you was probably the most reasonable option.

I was told would only take a week. It has ended up taking three months

Rule #1: project schedules are almost always underestimated. IT standards is 2x. The fact you were not the right man for the job extended this time even longer.

Obviously, I don't want to work on outdated systems

Not obvious at all. "IT archeologists" are sought after and well paid - because their skills are no longer taught nor easily acquired which makes qualified experts pretty much irreplaceable.

I also resent being misled in the interview

Don't be. It possible you were not misled, "it just happened".

The "when life gives you lemons" quote is not made up. Life consists mostly of unforeseen developments. Make most out of what you got.

I don't want to seem like a "prima donna" but I also want to make it clear that I want to work on Java projects.

But it makes you a primadonna. Even company owners don't get to choose what projects they take. Look at me, after 10 years of C++, I'm now reduced to C#.

I have been offered a permanent position, but I am not going to take it.

But why? Negotiate Java clause in your contract and then take it!

My question is how do I describe this situation to interviewers?

Just like it is: You expected Java job, ended up in IBM, not what you wanted. It is very important signal to the potential employer that you will not accept anything other than Java. You are a graduate with no track record - most employers assume you're unshaped clay that can be molded into anything needed. You have to make it very clear that non-Java is a deal breaker. Every contract is negotiable. Shape your job if you don't want to be shaped by it.

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In this case I would tell anyone I interviewed with that it was a contract position to permanent. At the completion of your first project, which should have taken 6 months, you'd be offered a full time position. Tell them the truth: You finished the project in half the time and it helped you to realize that you and ABCtech, Inc. weren't a good match. Beef it up a bit for whoever asks about it. Allow the story to highlight your good qualities like work ethic, thoroughness, ability to manage projects, etc etc. And be a good sport in your story telling. Don't bad mouth your former company, use creative words to express how you and your erstwhile employers didn't see eye to eye. I'd close the story by turning it around on whoever was interviewing me by saying something like "That experience made me realize how much I expect from my employer blah blah..." You get the idea

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"Tell them the truth: You finished the project in half the time and it helped you to realize that you and ABCtech, Inc. weren't a good match" - that doesn't seem to match the description of what the OP was complaining about. They were concerned about not being given java work. –  yochannah Jun 9 at 21:45
    
Well, an employee wanting to do java work and an employer who wants someone to do something else sounds like "not a good match" to me. –  Alan Shutko Jun 10 at 2:31
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Yep, absolutely - but that sentence doesn't mention anything about the actual concerns, and seems to imply that three months of work was the complete project the OP was hired for - which isn't true at all based on the OP's description. –  yochannah Jun 10 at 9:22

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