How not to get a job…or then ridiculousness ensued

A couple months ago, I was swamped with freelance work and looking for someone to help me out by doing some work – mostly HTML and CSS. I posted an ad on Craig’s List being pretty specific about what I was looking for. I got a number of responses, most of them with truly awful web portfolios full of web sites built with table-based layouts when I had specifically asked for someone proficient in table-less layouts. Anyway, there were two or three promising prospects in the bunch, so I set about scheduling interviews with them.

One of these promising applicants we’ll call Bacon, to protect his identity I’ve also removed any identifying information, such as URLs of web sites he sent me. You’ll see why.

The first email from Bacon seemed normal enough:

To whom it may concern,

Attached is my resume that also lists my most prominent examples of launched sites, and most applicable positions, you can also view my online portfolio at [site url removed]. I have extensive experience in the internet industry and aside from heading up that department at a major corporation, I also ran my own company for good number of years servicing a variety of businesses with quality development. The lessons I learned from that time have taught me more then in all my years in University, however my degree has been a beneficial enterprise as well, teaching me the value in solid composition and communication skills, as well as critical thinking and problem solving. I have completed Bachelors at [college name removed] and am seeking to build a client list or find a more permanent home at a firm with the right conditions and atmosphere.

I look forward to the possibility of meeting with your company and discussing the details, and I sincerely appreciate your consideration.

Regards,
Bacon

Nothing wrong with that. I looked through his portfolio, and though some of the code was a little rough, there was promise. I emailed him back:

Hello Bacon,

Thank you for contacting me in reference to my job opening posted on Craig’s List.

I just wanted to re-iterate that this is a rather small job – most months will be less than 10 hours total, and the work will mostly be maintenance and updates. Several of the sites I maintain are older sites that have legacy code. Sometimes the client will be willing to pay us to update the site or page, but more often not, and we’ll have to work with what’s there. The pay I’m offering is $25/hour, and telecommuting is fine, though I’d like to do an in-person interview. I should have some new projects to start, but as I’m sure you’re aware, that’s somewhat unpredictable.

Please email me and let me know if you’re still interested in this position.

Thank you,
Natalie

Some people seemed so earnest, I felt as though I was disappointing them by offering up such a small amount of work. So I just wanted to be sure that was going to be okay and that Bacon felt it was still worth the effort of going through my interview process when I was being rather choosy. He responded:

Natalie,

Sounds great, I’m interested, lets set up an appointment. Is early this next week good for you?

– Bacon

So far, so good. But by this point, I was getting rather overwhelmed with responses, and getting kind of bogged down in reviewing code in the applicant’s portfolios. This on top of the fact that I still had a full time job and all of this work that was already so overwhelming I was looking to hire someone to help me out. So I said:

Hello Bacon,

Please give me a couple of days – I’ll be in touch to set up an interview.

Thanks,
Natalie

Hoping for a little break and a chance to get caught up. Well, Bacon had apparently read a few too many books on negotiating. So he responded with:

Natalie,

I do have other offers, but I’ll keep an opening to hear from you. Hopefully early next week? Otherwise I may have to pass.

I saw right through this. I was looking for someone to do at the most 10 hours of work a month. But he somehow had other offers that were going to make that impossible? I was already doing my best to sort through all the applicants, so he would have to wait his turn. I wasn’t keeping people waiting on purpose or unnecessarily. It was just tough to keep up with it all.

It took me two days to get caught up, then I emailed him again:

Hi Bacon,

I’d still like to schedule a telephone interview. I’d like to spend some time during the interview talking about your code and some of the choices you made. Please choose one web site of yours that you’ve worked on recently so that it’s fresh in your mind, and send me the URL for that site.

What time of day and day of the week is best for you for the interview?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks,
Natalie

It’s never a good sign when someone ignores a specific request when trying to get a job, as Bacon did when he responded with this:

Natalie,

I can be pretty flexible for the time, what day were you thinking? Let me know.

Bacon

Wow. I wrote a whole paragraph about wanting to discuss a specific project and why. And he totally ignored me. I tried again.

Would Tuesday evening work for you?

Please don’t forget to send me a URL for code discussion.

Thank you,
Natalie

Ok, surely he’ll send something along now.

Tuesday is fine.

In regards to code discussion I’m not clear on what your requesting, precisely. I would recommend having a look at my portfolio if you have not already: [url removed].

I’ve done a number of different sites and, in terms of coding them myself, I suppose below would be the best example:

a database driven CMS / php and mysql – [url removed]

flash – [url of his portfolio (again) removed]

I have many more portfolio pieces on my site, what types of coding skills are you most in need of? Will this be a strictly programming job or entail design work also?

If so, my favorite piece I’ve done the complete design for is this: [url removed]

To me, it seemed to be that the URL of a most recent project was a pretty simple request. Also, hadn’t my previous emails and the Craig’s List job posting been clear enough about what type of work the job entailed? None of the other applicants had hesitated or had any problems sending me a URL for a site they could discuss during their interviews. I tried to clarify.

Hi Bacon,

I have already looked through your portfolio. I was planning on going through your CSS, JavaScript, and HTML/xHTML choices in some detail, and I know it can be difficult to remember why certain choices were made months after the fact, so I wanted to be sure I chose a project that was recent and fresh in your mind.

The main part of this job would be front-end development, mainly working with CSS, JavaScript, and HTML/xHTML, but also from time to time working with Flash and PHP, and if you were able to do design work as well, that would be a big plus.

If you could please, send me one URL for our discussion so I can prepare my comments before our interview.

Thanks,
Natalie

I was really starting to wonder, was I being unclear? It seemed like such a simple request.

Natalie,

the best example would be [url removed – same site mentioned earlier as a database-driven php/mysql site]

I should be frank, however, I am not terribly fluent in PHP. I do learn quickly, and working with actionscript has taught me a lot about languages in general, making PHP easier to grasp. But if this position requires me to be a proficient PHP programmer right from the start, I’m probably not the ideal candidate. Let me know.

Thank you much,
Bacon

This was just getting to be frustrating. If it was this much work to get a simple URL to discuss, what was it going to be like actually trying to work with this guy? How many times would I have to send clarifications about work to be done? Still, I appreciated his candor in informing about the limitations of his skills.

Bacon,

That shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the work with PHP will actually be coding HTML and CSS around PHP that’s already been written and possibly making a few modifications to what’s there. I’m not expecting that you be able to code complex applications or anything. It’s not hard to pick up at all, so don’t worry about that.

I do appreciate your honesty though.

Thanks,
Natalie

A short time later, Bacon must have signed into his Gmail account while I was signed in, and realized that I was also using Gmail. He took the opportunity to start a pointless live chat with me:

10:20 AM bacon : hello, i didn’t realize you were on gmail

me: hello.

10:21 AM bacon: well I look forward to soeaking[sic] with you more, I do have some specifics I wanted to find out regarding your company, type of work etc I’ll speak with you tuesday night, otherwise

me: i was planning to go over that during the interview

bacon: ok, excellent speak with you then

10:22 AM me: ok, thank you

How many times did I have to explain the type of work he’d be doing? I ignored that and took some time and went through the Web site he sent and started making some notes. I got about 5 minutes into it before I saw some comments that tipped me off that this was a Drupal site. Nothing wrong with that. Except some of these comments were referencing a specific named template for Drupal. I searched for it, and there it was, looking exactly like the site I was reviewing. The header was different and there were a few minor customizations to the template, but for the most part, Bacon had just slapped a pre-made template on a Drupal installation and then sent it off to me as his own original work. This would not do:

Bacon,

As I’m looking for someone with strong CSS and HTML skills, I’d like to see a site that better showcases your skills in these areas better than the site you sent me for review ( [url removed] ). The site in question is a slightly customized Drupal theme which, as far as I can tell, only involved changing a few colors and adding a custom Flash header. Incidentally, the left-column navigation is somewhat broken in IE6, and the ‘click to activate’ issue hasn’t been resolved with the Flash header in IE6.

Could you please send me the URL for a site that better showcases your CSS and HTML skills? Because I don’t have time to review another site before our scheduled interview tomorrow evening, I’d like to postpone that until I’ve had a chance to review a site that you coded yourself.

Thanks,
Natalie

I think I made a mistake here. After his hesitation in sending me a specific URL to discuss and then sending me a barely customized Drupal theme, I should have just taken him out of the running for the job. All signs were pointing to someone with less-than-adequate skills and with a temperament that would not be easy to work with. Still, I always feel like I need to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Natalie,

I haven’t made anything with CSS in awhile as I consider myself more of a flash developer now, but I would have to contest your analysis of the drupal site. It’s a lot more then slightly modified, particularly if you view the products listing page, please note the PDF symbol that shows up next to each product. I had to do custom PHP and CSS classes to achieve this functionality. The left nav works best in IE6 and is slightly bugged in Mozilla, so I’m not sure what your[sic] stating in regards to that. As for the click to activate, its[sic] just a simple line of code I hadn’t put in.

That said you welcome to view this site built from scratch, however I did not spend a lot of time programming it and the code is a bit sloppy:

[url removed – new site, not previously sent]

I also made this site:

[url removed – his portfolio site again, but this time an old version of it]

(please note that some of the links are broken or will take you to my present site, as this is just some pages I’ve left to ultimately be deleted to make way for the newer version on the way).

As for postponing the meeting, I understand your position if your concern is in regards to my ability to code from scratch, however I can assure you my skills are more then adequate having spent the last few months learning strictly advanced programming. After actionscript 3.0 (which is a class based, object oriented language) any of my next attempts at a CSS site will be much more organized and thorough.

If the meeting will be postponed, I hope we can still find an agreeable time this week. I’ve delicately set my schedule this week, however, and it would be best for me if we could proceed as planned. But if not, I’ll be as flexible as I can be.

Speak to you soon.

Wow. I don’t even know where to start here. First off, if you’re a Flash developer, why bother applying for a front-end developer position? Second of all, adding some little PDF icons next to links to PDFs is a minor modification. Any front-end developer worth their salt can pull that off in five minutes or less.

Third, I’ve never seen any front-end developer get so defensive when bugs with their sites were pointed out. It happens all the time. We help each other out. The typical response, is "Thanks, I hadn’t tested in that browser." or "I know, but the client and I have decided not to fully support that browser." And the fact that he tells me the site is in fact buggy in Firefox not IE6 just takes the cake.

Then as sites for me to review he sends me an old version of his portfolio site that he acknowledges has broken links and a sloppily coded site he assures me isn’t indicative of his usual work. What exactly am I supposed to think? And what would these clients think if I actually posted their URLs and they learned about his haphazard sloppy approach to web development that they paid for?

I’d just like to add that having worked with both ActionScript and CSS, I have no idea what the two have to do with one another. Learning ActionScript 3.0 wouldn’t do anything to improve your CSS skills.

At this point, I knew there was no way I was going to hire this guy. He didn’t have a single piece in his portfolio that he could show me as proof of the skills he was claiming. So I tried to let him down gently.

Bacon,

Unfortunately, you have to be able to show the code to back up your claims of your skills and talents. It’s not enough to say that your next attempt at CSS will be more organized and thorough. When employers are looking to hire someone, they need to hire people who are able to demonstrate their skills, not just promise that they have them.

The modification to add the PDF symbol to each product is still a minor customization, and the lion’s share of the CSS and HTML on the site was not written by you.

In reference to your left-hand navigation menu: in FF, I am seeing an evenly spaced vertical list of links with arrows on the left neatly aligned with the text. Rollover behavior is a small shift in position and a subtle background color change. In IE6, the vertical spacing of the menu items is erratic and the arrows do not align with the text. Rollover behavior includes a bottom border misplaced and not aligned with the border that’s already visible, probably due to the erratic spacing of the menu items.

If you consider yourself more of a Flash developer at this point, and that is where your skills and interests lie, then I encourage you to continue to pursue that avenue. Flash developers are very much in demand.

However, I don’t think that your skills and interests are a good match for the position I’m looking to fill at this time.

Thanks,
Natalie

By this point I was pretty frustrated and tired of spending time on this candidate who I now knew wasn’t a fit. But I thought this email was still professional and not reflective of my emotional state. Please do let me know if I’m wrong. Bacon was apparently offended.

by the way, the spacing in the left nav is different reflecting rather or not there are sub items, so there. There is nothing wrong with it. good luck with your "company".

"So there"? Seriously? Bacon’s next move was to sign into chat and blast me with this little gem, then sign out immediately before I could respond:

[12:34] bacon: your professional demeanor leaves much to be desired, I was on the fence anyways, I don’t think I would do well with the sort of work ethic or environment you seem to pruport[sic], good day to you and thank you for a lesson in how to better manage my time, avoiding companies such as yours.

[12:34] bacon: critisizing[sic] my coding openly before even working together is rude, if you dont[sic] like my work dont[sic] hire me, otherwise keep it to yoruself[sic]

[12:34] bacon: good day to you

The sort of work ethic or environment I seem to purport? You mean one where people don’t claim template code as their own, or go around passing off sloppily coded projects on clients? I was too steamed not to respond. But I still tried to be professional.

In general, constructive criticism of code, particularly when it’s pointing out something that’s not working properly in one browser or another, is welcomed with open arms among the web development community. I did not intend to offend you. The general assumption is that the developer was unaware that there was a problem, and the developer is generally thankful to have a problem pointed out to them before the client discovers the problem and complains.

Attacking someone’s work ethic and professional demeanor without cause is uncalled for. I have been professional and polite in all my communications with you. The code that you have shown me simply has not demonstrated the skills I am looking for. You yourself said that you consider yourself more of a Flash developer than an integrator or front-end developer. Your skills and interests simply don’t match the position I have open at this time. Please do not take it so personally.

As I said before, please continue to pursue Flash development if that is where your heart lies – Flash developers are very much in demand and you can make a lucrative career for yourself doing what you love rather than trying to fit into a position that does not match your interests. Best of luck to you.

–Natalie

The next email I received was from Google:

** NOTICE TO SENDER **

Your intended recipient has blocked your e-mails.

Well, so much for that. I can’t say as I felt anything but relief at this point. At least I wouldn’t have to hear from Bacon any more. Ha. Until three hours later when he apparently un-blocked my e-mails and wrote:

Natalie,

Should I expect a phone conversation sometime this evening? Please keep me updated.

– Bacon

I swear I could not make this up if I tried. Now he was still expecting me to conduct the phone interview? I was so angry. I vented to a friend who pointed out that if I kept it going Bacon was just crazy enough to continue escalating the situation and driving me mad. At my wise friend’s advice I wrote Bacon:

I’ve selected the person for the position. Thank you for your interest, and good luck to you in the future.

It the hardest email I ever wrote. I typed "So there!" at the end of it, then deleted it at least twenty times before finally hitting the Send button.

Bacon, apparently back to his senses responded:

Natalie,

Yes I wish you the best of luck also.

Yeah, I bet you do. But at least this was the last I’ve heard from him.

4 thoughts on “How not to get a job…or then ridiculousness ensued

  1. I would have finished this conversation after the first of this time wasting responses. If they are not even able to understand a simple paragraph how would the perform if they would have to translate client requirements into actual results 🙂

  2. what a nightmare nat!
    you have way more patience than i would have,
    although, i have made similar mistakes in my own
    line of work.
    it is hard to be professional AND care for others feelings.

    just wanted to say i hear you and i get it.

    love you
    mac x

  3. Oh Nat, you are a softie. I think I’d have dumped him out of the running when he sent you the sloppy site 🙂 He definitely sounds crazy and deranged. He was a poser and you found him out. On top of that, he clearly ignored the requirement to send a URL. He sounds foreign though.. most Americans don’t call it University.

  4. Wow that is truly unbelievable. The best part was there at the end.. where he blocked your emails then proceeded to squeeze some work out of you. I sure would have not been able to keep my cool, I am not one for working with bad clientèle ;). I applaud you in your effort to end this with him in such a professional manner.

Leave a Reply to Michael Mackus Cancel reply