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I applied for an engineering position at a medium-sized* but international company. During the first interview, I got the impression that their tech stack does not quite match the public job description (nor my interests). So I expressed no further interest in the position.

However, they sent me a really nice message that they liked my profile and that they would like to stay in touch. That made me change my mind, and I had a second interview/meeting with the department head, which clarified my doubts.

We agreed that I would take a day off of my current job, so I could visit the company for a whole day, get to know some people, complete 1-2 basic tasks to get to know their workflow. Apparently, that day went well, because the following week, their hiring manager contacted me with an offer.

He told me (during a phone call) that he would send me a contract and we could possibly sign it next week. However, a few hours later, the hiring manager sent me a message that the company CEO would like to arrange another meeting in person.

The hiring manager wrote explicitly that this was unusual procedure for them, but that they "had bad luck with employees in the past". However, upon request, he also told me that they had no doubts that I would be qualified for the position.

I'm not sure what this CEO meeting is all about. Both the department manager and the hiring manager told me that they had far less qualified** people start working for them in the past and. If the CEO meeting is going to happen, what questions should I ask, to make sure everything is OK with the company?

Background: The department manager told me that last year, one of their developers quit their job (he didn't mention why, but I think someone changing their job is nothing unusual), and that they had to cancel their contract with another developer during probation, because he refused to work with the tools and frameworks they provided (which doesn't apply to me).

*There are more than 50 employees at multiple locations, at least half of them at the office where I'm applying. The CEO/founder is no longer involved in software development. He developed an early version of their product, though. The hiring manager seems to have further, higher level responsibilities besides hiring, although I'm not sure what exactly. There seems to be no separate HR department, which I find odd for a company of this size.

**I was told that some of the current engineers had basically no experience with the tech being used, and gained the relevant experience during their first months in the company. (The tech is not top-notch, but not antique either. I guess it's a matter of personal preference.) The fact that they had positive experience with less qualified people makes their behavior even more puzzling to me.

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If the CEO meeting is going to happen, what questions should I ask, to make sure everything is OK with the company?

Start with something like: "So I have been told that meeting with you was an unusual procedure, but that you have had bad luck with employees in the past. Can you tell me about that?"

Then you see where that leads and ask follow-up questions as appropriate.

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    Great answer. Given that the company is actively recruiting OP, it sounds like he's in a position of some negotiating power and has doubts, so I think this is a great suggestion. An interview always goes both ways. Good reminder of that! – bob Feb 18 at 18:26
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    Plus it shows maturity and confidence which are good things. – bob Feb 18 at 18:37
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    +1. And try not to 'finger quotes' "bad luck" when you ask about it. I've had several good contracts where the MD or other senior also wanted to interview me; I don't see it as a red-flag; quite the opposite. – Justin Feb 19 at 13:14
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    If the CEO is hesitant to answer the question and/or dodges around the answer, then take that as a red flag. You could work for this company, you have the right to know some things beforehand. – Bodrov Feb 19 at 14:12
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    One company I worked for told me they'd had 'bad luck'. I discovered they'd basically hired 4 people for my role who'd left in under 12 months. Personally, I decided 'bad luck' meant they'd previously made horrible decisions so someone higher up wanted to double check what they were thinking. I didn't see it as a reflection on myself. – Dustybin80 Feb 20 at 12:45
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It's a red flag in that it indicates two things:

  • the CEO is jumpy about people leaving and a sign that people at the company aren't readily replaceable, which probably means they need an off-the-beaten-path skill set. A developer quitting during probation over the tools and frameworks sounds like he was bait-and-switched, and you've already said that the tech stack doesn't sound like what was advertised to you either.

  • the CEO doesn't trust the judgement of his hiring managers and has to "just make sure". This could be a sign that he interferes in other areas as well.

Neither of these is necessarily a deal-breaker, but if you do continue, proceed with caution.

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    A CEO that doesn't trust their employees at a place where the people have knowledge that isn't shared sounds like pretty much the worst place to be imaginable. – UKMonkey Feb 18 at 13:50
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    ... or it could just be anything else - like the CEO having extended, long-term plans with the position OP is applying; or they have money pressure and the hiring mgr wants to make 1000% sure that he gets OP's case approved by hyping the CEO up, or or or... – AnoE Feb 19 at 11:56
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I'm not sure what this CEO meeting is all about

You'll only find out after the meeting happens, from the given context, it's not too clear.

The hiring manager wrote explicitly that this was unusual procedure for them, but that hey "had bad luck with employees in the past". However, upon request, he also told me that they had no doubts that I would be qualified for the position.

I believe this happens for either of two reasons:

  • The Hiring manager is trying to get an explicit approval from CEO for your joining (and terms and condition) because it might have happened that both the earlier engineers who left were hired by this very hiring manager and this time he is trying to convince the CEO that is is not because of him that the conflicts happened at a later time.

  • The CEO wants to ensure that you take the job, because they think you are a fit for the job, maybe they don't have much options and the CEO wants to add a "personal touch" to the interaction so as you are more inclined to accept the job offer.

If the CEO meeting is going to happen, what questions should I ask, to make sure everything is OK with the company?

First ask yourself - do you have answers to all the questions you need to know? Are you satisfied with the "guided tour" and organization policies? Are you finally OK with working in that environment (people, policies and tools)? Are you satisfied with the compensation and remuneration proposed?

To sum is up: ask anything, just anything you want to know.

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While it may be unusual, it is not necessarily a bad sign. Stranger things have happened without anything negative happening.

At a previous job of mine, there was a famous story about one guy. During his first day at work he asked for permission to go to the pharmacy, permission was granted, he left and he never returned.

After this kind of experience, a company may adjust some of their procedures.

Just look at the situation overall:

  • Is everything OK?

  • Are there other red flags?

  • Do you really want to work there?

  • Do you have other questions which you did not ask? (about frameworks, tools, deadlines, staff...). This would be a good opportunity to ask those question. Do not be afraid to ask questions.

You may even ask for some details about the guy who quit during the previous year. Even make a joke, imply that you may want to quit also, in similar conditions.

Note (from @ypercube): play the "joke" card carefully, it may hurt you (e.g. if the interviewer is not in the mood for jokes). I never had grumpy interviewers until now, but it does not mean that they do not exist.

If they are friendly and the corporate culture is good, everything will be fine. If not, you may learn a lesson.

  • Did he mean to take permission to work at a pharmacy or buy some medicine? Strange. I don't know why someone would need permission to go to a pharmacy. You either go or inform and then go. – Sufian Feb 18 at 10:57
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    The company was IT - where he just started to work. Since it was during work-hours, he had to ask permission - it was merely a formality, the work environment was very friendly, and several pharmacies were available within a 5-minute walk. He claimed he wanted to buy some medicine (something irrelevant, maybe aspirin). Why ask permission? It is strictly related to the rules of the company (maybe laws also, safety related) - but ultimately, it is just polite to do that. – virolino Feb 18 at 11:07
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    On your first day of work it's not uncommon to ask permission for various basic things ("is it ok if I go for lunch?", "I'm about to head home, is that ok?") - it's a very natural way of assessing expectations, starting conversation, and providing a space for feedback. – RB. Feb 18 at 22:30
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    Making jokes about quitting - during an interview - does not sound like a good idea. The person in the other side may not have a sense of humour. – ypercubeᵀᴹ Feb 19 at 12:19
  • @ypercube: at least partially, you are correct. +1 – virolino Feb 19 at 12:23
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Because the last person left when they refused to use the tools / framework it would be worth finding out if the other people who left went for the same reason.

If you have no problem working with old / unusual tech then it may not be an issue for you.

I think I'd also be asking to see a copy of the contract before handing in my notice with my current employer in case there's any show stoppers in there.

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Another possible reason is the Hiring manager is on the bubble and the CEO is looking to sack them. You need to meet with the CEO to get their blessing so they know that you are going to be a good hire that is not going to be dead weight in the future.

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