On Snark


snark [snärk]

  1. snide and sharply critical comments.

Normally, I’d say that snark is a term that mostly applies to places like Hacker News. Or, well, let’s just say any comments thread on the Internet, ever.

But today I was talking with a friend, someone whose opinion I really respect. He shared with me that some of my recent posts on hiring have been interpreted by others as snarky. He’s a nice guy, so he didn’t say it, but didn’t need to: he thought they came off that way, as well.

Before I go any further: I’m sorry. Certainly, this is my blog, and I can say whatever I want here, but snarky things are not what I want to say. Critical? Sure, there are things that deserve criticism. But not snarky. That’s not the kind of person I normally am, and it’s definitely not the kind of person I want to be.

So, what happened?

Improving the S/N Ratio

I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I announced I was jobless. I’d never done so before. Given the general quality of leads I have gotten while I have been gainfully employed, via random contacts from recruiters, I expected there to be a very low signal-to-noise ratio. What concerned me was my extrapolation from that data to arrive at an inordinately large number of interviews with foregone negative conclusions. Time being what it is, this would mean all parties had less of it to invest in interviews with more promise.

As such, I set out to write a post describing my next job. My hope was that doing so would prevent a number of those interviews from taking place, while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of companies who were a better match seeking me out.

Again, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

What Just Happened?

The next week was pretty much a blur. You know how we programmers tend to really dislike meetings? My week was completely filled with them. “That’s the first-iest of first world problems,” you might say. “You should be thankful that you had so much interest!” That may be. I have no idea how typical my experience was. If it was highly atypical, then I suppose that’s a great reason for me to be thankful.

However, if it was atypical, that also means it might be worth explaining why it stressed me out even more.

As quickly as the week had begun, it was over. I’d interviewed for a bunch of great possibilities, a few not-so-great ones, and a few on which the jury was still out. And the calls were still coming. I’d only been able to eliminate a few of the opportunities thus far, based on the information I could obtain, and follow-up interviews were required for those I wanted to continue with.

These varied in all sorts of ways, but make no mistake, they were all stressful, and required additional time investment, which was not becoming any more plentiful, and not just because of the additional incoming contacts.

Incoming Complete Transparency

You see, due to some personal circumstances a while back, a large portion of my savings was wiped out. They were in the process of being rebuilt, but in case you were wondering: being unemployed and paying COBRA premiums is not an effective way to build your financial future. I have a buffer in place that buys me enough time not to panic, but I’m still not anywhere close to the usual recommended “6 months’ salary” that most recommend for an emergency fund.

As such, I am not keen on wasting any more time than is necessary on this job search, but I also want to find a good long-term fit. This means there’s a really delicate balancing act to be struck here. I’ve been asked, “why don’t you just take an average job and keep looking?” The only answer I can give is that I’m just not “that guy.” I want to really mean it when I tell that next employer that I’m excited to work with them. Heck, I want to really mean it when I say anything to anyone. Life’s tough enough when you’re only trying to live one of them, so I try to be internally consistent.

The Interview Post

It was around the point that I started to really feel the impact of maintaining this balancing act between “perfect fit” and “timely fit” that I began to truly appreciate how one-sided some of the interview processes I’d been exposed to had been.

I started to feel like the interview process was designed to capitalize on the sunk cost fallacy. The more time I spend on any one prospective opportunity, the more I want that time to have meant something.

So, I wrote “Interviews are Broken”, which may have a provocative title, but I still believe it’s true. I think it just takes going through dozens of interviews in a really short time to really drive home that point.

If, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking “Ernie is boasting that he has had dozens of interviews already,” then I would like to make an important point: of those dozens of interviews, I have not yet arrived at one signed offer letter. That’s like a baseball player touting his “at bats” statistic. I’d much rather figure out a way to improve my batting average, and reduce the “at bats”, because in this simile, “at bats” suck.

What’s irksome is that the interview process needn’t be as miserable as we’ve made it, in lots of cases. We have got to create room for the middle ground between “you’re the SVP’s nephew, here, have a job” and “we have absolutely no idea who you are or what you can do, so before we begin the interview process, please complete this CAPTCHA to prove you are a real human.”


So, this process is stressful, and it sucks, even if you have options. Heck, maybe especially if you have options. Those who say “it’s a good problem to have” aren’t wrong, but they’re maybe not entirely right, either.

I have ideas about what would have made this process better for me, and would also help those conducting a more passive job search. It does not exist. I’ve looked. And I plan to build it.

In the meantime, I’m genuinely sorry if I’ve been snarky, lately.

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