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The Merit Engineering Interview Process

December 9, 2019

Interviewing engineers is really hard. It’s hard for the interviewer, but more importantly, it’s very hard for the candidate.

Having gone through Silicon Valley interviews myself, I remember how challenging (and sometimes horrible) it was doing 6+ hour interviews and experiencing the gamut from ridiculous whiteboard puzzle questions, YABFSQ (Yet Another Breadth First Search Question) to some excellent and engaging sessions.

The delta between good and bad interview sessions, and good and bad interviewers, had a huge impact on how I viewed the company I was talking to.
At Merit, we put a lot of effort into trying to make the entire interview process engaging, fun, informative, friendly, and fair for everyone that we have the pleasure of talking to.

We want candidates to be left with enough information about us at Merit to make an informed decision on whether we’re a good match.

Guiding principles for interviews

Our culture of teamwork and honesty is extremely important to us and that also colours the whole interview process.

Our culture demands that we give every candidate the absolute best chance to shine, to see us for who we are, and to leave the interview knowing exactly what our mission is, not just our technical stuff.

Everyone is a friend

Treat all candidates with genuine care, friendliness, and respect.

A lot is asked of candidates during interviews and it’s paramount that we are respectful of the candidate’s time, personal circumstances and desires.

We want every candidate to walk away thinking not just of the tech stack, or company mission, but that we would be a great bunch of people to work with.

Give the candidate the best chance to showcase their talent

We want everyone to succeed and have a chance to show how awesome they are.

When you approach every facet of interviews with this in mind, it’s fascinating how much the entire process is better in every possible way for candidate and interviewer.

Truth and trust

A big part of who we are as a company is truth, honesty, and transparency. When you bring these values to an interview, you build trust with the candidate and that is absolutely huge.

In my opinion, there was nothing worse than leaving an interview thinking, “I’m not sure I really trust that company. Is everything they told me real? What skeletons are hiding in the closet?”

Be informative, share everything

Really this is part of truth and trust, but so important that I wanted to call it out individually. A candidate can’t possibly make an informed decision that we’re right for each other if you don’t do your best to share everything you can.

From our tech stack, our current projects, our cultural values, our company mission, funding, successes, and failures. We want to share everything we possibly can.

The process — phone chat

We talk to candidates first via phone, to make sure the candidate is interested after hearing the mundane stuff like company size, location, and logistics of working together.

We also think it’s really important to share our mission and values as it’s something that we’re proud of and want everyone in the company to understand and embrace.

The process — on-site coding exercises

A candidate will run through 2–3 ~1 hour coding exercises during the interview process, with exercises tailored specifically to a candidate’s preferred language and other strengths.

Coding exercises are designed specifically to *not* be something “gotcha” that only 1 person out of 10 can solve, that are designed to make you fail. Almost all candidates can complete all our coding exercises.

Coding exercises are not an abstract, vague concept, or a rehash of something you may have covered in school years ago.

We prefer somewhat realistic challenges over obtuse, vague puzzle-based challenges, in a language chosen by the candidate, with an “open book” philosophy. Google anything, ask anything. Interviewers must remember their job is to help the candidate succeed and act accordingly.

We tailor coding exercises to the candidates preference for job role — be it backend focussed, frontend, testing, infrastructure, mobile, or any varied combination of all of the above. We make sure to give candidates a choice of track to help them shine.

The process — lunch

We’re pretty into food at Merit engineering — lots of foodies here — and have lots of great restaurants around the office.

So by taking care of getting candidates a good lunch, we also look after ourselves :)

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The process — on-site team lead chats

Everyone interviewing a candidate has an obligation to discuss openly anything and everything related to Merit, but the team-lead chat is where we focus solely on just getting to know you, and working out if we’re a good fit for working together.

Coming prepared with tales of success and woe from past experience, and lots of questions for us gives us all the best chance to get to know each other.

Summing up

Overall, we expect to have an informal 15–30 minute phone chat, and an on-site that lasts around 6 hours.

We’re not into multiple phone screens, multiple on-sites, take home projects, or anything that drags the process out.

We think that 6 hours is already heaps to ask of candidates, and so we want to do our best to give the best experience possible without delays or uncertainty.

To us, this means giving the best chance to succeed, and giving as much information as we possibly can, so all candidates have the knowledge they need to make a choice to join us.

It also means we want to give feedback to candidates after interview completion as quickly as possible.

If you’re looking for new opportunities, please reach out or check out our careers page; we’d love to meet you.

Stephen Pittman
Written by Stephen Pittman

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