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Yesterday I had a job interview doing software development for a branch of the government. Though it went well, I was certain I didn't get the job as they were looking for someone who was highly proficient in Python (which isn't me). At the end of the interview they didn't really give me time to ask questions and were quick to bring things to an end (I did try to ask some questions but they closed things down). Now they are giving me a job offer I have 24hrs to reply to. Since I got no opportunity to ask questions I'm not sure if the place would be a good work environment for me. I've had some awful jobs and don't want to get stuck in another.

I would really like to know:

  1. What are the people like?
  2. What's the company culture?
  3. How many people do I directly work with?
  4. How many people do I indirectly work with?
  5. Is it an open office or cubicles?
  6. Do people communicate face-to-face or mainly IM?
  7. Do they use the agile method?
  8. Is there overtime?
  9. What times are people generally at the office (this is important as I need to plan my bus route)?

Any suggestions on what I should do?

  • 16
    If I were you, I would politely reject the offer and keep looking for a "right" job. I can see a couple of red flags: 1) they did not provide you an opportunity to ask questions; and 2) you are not proficient in a technology that they are really looking for, i.e., you may not enjoy the work. – samarasa Apr 15 '15 at 20:36
  • 31
    If you have 24 hours that sounds to me like you have the opportunity to ask questions. There's always phones. – Jan Doggen Apr 15 '15 at 20:59
  • 2
    Not having the answers to your questions is a huge risk if you were to accept the offer. I think you should definitely not accept until you have your answers. Decline if you must. – Adam Jensen Apr 16 '15 at 3:46
  • 9
    Sounds to me they are rushing things. 24 hours is not enough time to think an offer through and respond. It also doesn't give you enough time to compare offers, which perhaps is what they're hoping to do? Personally (and I really mean don't follow my advice) I don't accept jobs on principle if I feel I'm being pushed into it, (or my employer lies about anything, or tries to misrepresent things like work conditions, salary, etc) – Joeblade Apr 16 '15 at 7:52
  • 3
    it would raise lots of red flags if a possible employer doesn't even pretend to care for my requirements during an interview. – A ツ Apr 16 '15 at 8:56
132

"Dear HR person,

Thank you very much for the offer. Before I accept, there are a few questions I'd like to ask - would it be possible for me to have a half hour chat with the hiring manager?

Many thanks,

Me"

If they say no, you probably didn't want to work there anyway.

  • 46
    I like this answer, except I would prefer asking by phone because of the time-sensitivity. – Adam Jensen Apr 16 '15 at 3:45
  • 3
    @Lohoris nothing stops you doing both. Phone and then send an e-mail starting with "Just confirming our phone conversation". – Philip Kendall Apr 16 '15 at 9:52
  • 12
    Email, so you have a record, then give them 10-20 minutes to reply, then if they haven't replied, call. – user568458 Apr 16 '15 at 9:59
  • 3
    @Lohoris at the very least, the email should be followed up by a phone call. Emails being missed is not unheard of. It's irresponsible to only send an email when you have a deal breaking deadline in 24 hours. – Adam Jensen Apr 16 '15 at 10:00
  • 3
    Note that had there been time during the interview to ask questions, there wouldn't have been a record either. So I don't see why that record is so important. I would just call. – RemcoGerlich Apr 16 '15 at 14:31
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For future reference, if I had had what I was told was the final interview without getting a chance to ask questions, I would have called the recruiter and said that I wanted a chance to ask questions, and could she set up a meeting where I could ask them. I would do that without waiting for an offer.

You can still do that. Call right now and ask for a meeting. Say that you need to know these answers before you accept, and ask for an extension for however long it takes them to get them answered. Say you will give them an answer 24 hours after the meeting.

If they agree to that, then no problem. If they don't, that means they are trying to rush you into a decision. Good companies almost never rush you into a decision, and any decent company will give you a few days extension if you have a good reason. When a company tries to rush you it usually means they know they won't stand to comparison if you are allowed to think about it. (A 24 hour deadline isn't itself a problem, but a 24 hour deadline without giving you the time and opportunity to get the information you need is a problem)

The fact that they failed to let you ask questions is, in my mind, already a warning flag. Ask your questions carefully and thoroughly, and do your research on the company. Whether you accept of course depends on you, and how desperate you are.

  • 14
    Short acceptance windows may also be given to avoid the candidate 'shopping' the offer or using it to gain a retention offer from their current employer. It also avoids having a candidate sit on an offer while alternative qualified candidates may be lost to their delay. Without additional information, I wouldn't assume bad faith on the employer's part - just a hiring process homogenized by bureaucracy. – David Apr 15 '15 at 19:55
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    @David depends on whether they're willing to yield on the rules or not. 24 hours is not a great margin to make a decision in and there will be individuals that cannot do so in such a time. if they don't respond well to a request for more time, I'm generally out of there unless they gave a clear reason for it during their interview. – Joeblade Apr 16 '15 at 8:00
  • 2
    @David, your points are valid, however 24 hours is unusually short, especially for a government agency. – daaxix Apr 16 '15 at 21:27
  • @David See edits. – DJClayworth Apr 22 '15 at 15:42
14

One aspect that most everyone that have replied seem to have missed is that you applied and interviewed for a government job. You didn't specify which branch of government you applied for, or which and if it was Federal or State government. I have worked for state government off and on over the years and currently work for the Tax Commission for the state I live in. So as a government employee let me try to help you out...

First you seem to have some ideals about what working in the real world is gonna be like. And from your post I get the sense that you are making some kind of life-long commitment. And maybe you are, Working for Government can be a pretty good gig in a lot of cases. You're basically guaranteed a paycheck and and the benefits packages are awesome. The downside is the hourly rate is less, and your work is well defined by your position so your work is gonna be in a narrow scope. In the private sector, your work is usually far more fluid based on what the company needs and/or client. In government, if something different is needed, they usually run to the legislature to ask for a budget. There is a lot of waste. In the private sector, the whole goal is to get things done with as small of a budget as possible. In government, the motivation of management is to get as big of a budget as possible. Also, if an agency does not use their entire budget they typically loose it. I've seen agencies blatantly waste money to keep from loosing their budget or a portion of their budget in the future. They want the argument that they spent all their money and that they need the same level of funding or more.

Usually when a government agency opens a position, a small committee is formed to hire someone new. In most cases, I see 2 or 3 supervisors/managers from a department make up the committee. Sometimes larger, sometimes smaller depending on the size of the agency and a variety of other factors. I have been involved in these hiring committees a handful of times. We make a list of questions to ask during the interview. Sometimes we do open it up at the end for the interviewee to ask questions. And then we are done. So the interview process is very structured. far more structured than what it is in the private sector. That has been my experience.

  1. What are the people like?

They are government employees. Expect it to be pretty laid back. Not that you won't have work to do, and probably some kind of performance matrix. But usually this is just documentation that most government agencies have to keep to justify how and why tax dollars are being spent.

  1. What's the company culture?

It's government. When was the last time you went to a government agency to try to take care of some personal business? Been to the Post office to mail a letter? How long did you have to stand in line? Did the person behind the counter care you were standing in line? Alternatively, how long did you stand in line at the grocery store? See the difference?

  1. How many people do I directly work with?

How to say. You didn't say what agency you interviewed with. I expect it would be fewer than 10 in most situations.

  1. How many people do I indirectly work with?

Depends how big the agency is. Could be few to a lot. If it is a larger agency you might find yourself in meetings deciding how things should be done or part of committees from several individuals that want to provide input and wish lists of features for the project you are working on.

  1. Is it an open office or cubicles?

Likely cubicles...taxpayers get mad when they see government staff in large private offices.

  1. Do people communicate face-to-face or mainly IM?

If it is a government agency, probably face to face. Freedom of Information Act would allow the subpoena of instant messages...or in a case of a lawsuit against the agency, instant messages could be subpoenad.

  1. Do they use the agile method?

I doubt the person or persons interviewing you would even know what that means. Depends if the position you interviewed for is a position that was just created, or if they are filling an existing position. I would still argue that those facilitating the interview was given the task by someone to find the best candidate possible. ...not really knowing anything about software development.

  1. Is there overtime?

In a government job, most likely not. The agency has a staffing budget, and they cannot usually go over that budget without robbing from another agency. For example, yesterday was the 15th of April. The Tax Commission I work for received over 150,000 returns yesterday that need to process...and I am here writing this response from home. It will take us about 8 weeks to process those tax returns and no one is working overtime. It could take 6 months and we don't care. We get paid the same either way. And to some degree, there is some incentive to drag it out. If it takes too long to process, my boss can say hey, we need a larger budget. And then he could advocate that he needs a raise because he is now managing a larger department with more resources. If I was in the private sector and this much business suddenly came in the door, I would probably be working 15 hours a day to get the orders filled to generate revenue for the company. In many ways, government is run completely opposite of the private sector.

  1. What times are people generally at the office (this is important as I need to plan my bus route)?

This varies from agency to agency. My job gives me access to the building from 6am - 6pm Monday - Friday. The state that i work in does not allow state employees to work more than 10 hours a day. So I can work 4 10's if I want. Basically I have to get my 40 hours in between 6 am and 6 pm and between Monday and Friday. Most people I work with choose to work 7am - 3:30pm, including me. But I could go in at 6am if I wanted, or in as late as 9:30am...

Any suggestions on what I should do?

Obviously you were at the top of the list or they wouldn't have offered you the job. Sometimes government jobs don't attract the best talent as private sector positions are usually higher paying. But as I mentioned before, it is stable work and usually have awesome benefits. Guess it depends on your personality and what you want. But fresh out of school, I can't see where you could go wrong. Government jobs can be good resume builders. Also something to remember is the fact that your degree is basically a sideshow to your job. For example, where I work for the tax commission, a new programmer coming in and working for the agency would likely spend the next 4 months or so learning about tax law and tax rules. We use that as a basis for writing our rules to check for fraudulent returns, etc. So your employer is expecting that you will have a steep learning curve about the public service the agency provides before you can even begin writing a software application around those services.

  • 3
    There is a lot of waste. 40+ years in DP/IS/IT including 15+ in local/county/state agencies taught me that waste is as prevalent in private industry. It just isn't as subject to external scrutiny, so there's far less publicity. Obviously, YMMV. A given agency reflects the matching constituency of that government. – user2338816 Apr 17 '15 at 6:09
  • 4
    +1 You just did the job of that hiring committee. I sincerely hope you did it from the office, and not in your leisure time... – Alexander Apr 17 '15 at 9:50
  • -1 for wild speculation. – DJClayworth May 27 '15 at 0:16
10

It sounds like they are desperate to have someone, no matter whether he's a Python expert or not. This could be a perfect fit, if you are desperate too.

Even if they decide to answer your questions, would you believe them about the company culture or the people in there? If there is something wrong with both, and this is often the case, they won't tell you. You can only discover these things once you are in the company. If you decide to call and ask questions, then ask only about concrete stuff like whether the office is a cubicle or not.

Don't expect too much from it or to be your dream job. Look at it as an opportunity to learn Python.

Remember too, that it's easier to find a job when you already have one. Even if you don't want to spend a long time there, you could accept this job offer and keep looking.

  • 1
    +1 for the opportunity to learn a new language. Maybe make some form of tuition a condition? – RedSonja Apr 16 '15 at 13:26
  • 4
    and its a "branch of the government", chances are you won't be expected to achieve anything anyway! :-) – gbjbaanb Apr 16 '15 at 15:05
  • 1
    There is a train of thought that a good programmer can learn and be proficient any language. Its the approach they take that is the important skill to look for. Whether that actually works in practice is debatable. – JamesRyan Apr 17 '15 at 10:53

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