Is There Room for Me in Tech?

Is There Room for Me in Tech?

Nicole on October 28, 2020

Tech is an industry full of barriers to entry and the intersection of my identities makes me no stranger to those barriers. I am Black, a woman, a first-generation college graduate—and I embarked on my career believing that tech wasn’t meant for someone like me. I thought to get a job in tech, you’d have to attend a top 10 school, meet every requirement on the job description (must-haves and nice-to-haves), and exceed the minimum years of experience by at least 2-3 years to be competitive.

Getting a job in tech isn’t easy—especially if you come from a historically marginalized group, like me. I was acutely aware that biases, conscious and unconscious, can seep their way into every stage of a hiring process, starting from the resume review all the way through the final interview stages.

The knowledge of these barriers made getting a job in this industry feel daunting. If your experience in job seeking has been anything like mine, I’m here to share all the things I didn’t know about interviewing for a job in tech. I want to try and lessen that nervousness and lower some of those barriers for you.

I will be your #1 cheerleader. You got this.

 

Table of Contents

 

My Magoosh Story

When I began looking for jobs, I wanted to find a company that did hiring differently. I wanted to be at a place that did more than just talk about their commitment to diversity. I wanted to be somewhere that was actively engaging in ways to break these forms of bias that so easily impact marginalized groups’ chances of getting the job.

I came across a job post on LinkedIn for an Associate Recruiter and thought, I have some of the experience they are looking for, but not all. I scrolled further and read, “Don’t meet all the requirements for the position? That’s okay. We encourage you to still apply.” I mean, hey, if they are telling me to still apply, why not! What did I have to lose?

I hit send on the application and my nervousness set in. The fear of rejection felt just as overwhelming as the fear of getting the interview and having to figure out how to make it through the interview process. I didn’t really know anyone in tech, and I lacked the networks to help me prepare for this process.

Despite my concerns, I was invited to the next stage of the process and went through about a month of interviewing with Magoosh. I nervously made my way through each step, wondering, do I have what they’re looking for, will this organization be able to hold my identity as a Black woman, how will they evaluate me, and will my identity impact their perception?

Spoiler alert. I got the job!

The Magoosh interview process can feel long and honestly a little intimidating, especially if you have never gone through a process like this before. There were a lot of things I wish I knew, and I want to share some tips to help you prepare for your Magoosh interview (and really, any tech interview)!

Interviews take a lot of time and emotional energy and unfortunately some interview processes you enter will end with a rejection. I can tell you, I have definitely received more rejection emails than interview invites. Rejection is hard and it can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re excited for a job or are going through hard times and need to catch a break. I have always tried to frame each rejection as an opportunity to learn and grow, but honestly, it can be hard to bounce back, especially if you have experienced multiple rejections. As we dig into interview tips, I’ll also share some ways I have bounced back and learned from rejection.

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First, Let’s Talk About the Hiring Process

At Magoosh, we run two hiring processes depending on the type of role.

Our part-time/contractor process:

  • Application→ Assessment → Final Interview

And our full-time process:

  • Application → Phone interview → Assessment → Final Interview

The primary difference between the two is that part-time/contractor roles will move straight into the assessment stage after the application, and the final interview process is generally shorter. Please note, these are generally our two processes but if you have a different process for your role, the information below should still be helpful!

As I shared earlier, I wanted to find a place that did hiring differently, and I found that in Magoosh. One of the first blog posts I read was Bhavin’s article on diversity and the Magoosh approach to addressing unconscious bias. I was impressed and excited that Magoosh was taking steps to mitigate unconscious bias, but I also had many questions. During my interview I was able to gain clarity into the practices Bhavin writes about in the article but there was one tool I had lingering feelings about, even as I started in my role and that was the Rooney Rule.

The Rooney Rule

The Rooney Rule is an accountability tool we use to ensure we engage a diverse group of candidates. We don’t move forward with Final Interviews until we know we have a diverse group in that final stage of the process. As a black woman, I didn’t really know how to feel about the Rooney Rule. I liked that Magoosh was doing the work to ensure their pipeline was diverse, but I also wondered, am I being interviewed because I identify as an underrepresented minority? Am I the “token”? If you are wondering this or have these feelings after learning about the Rooney Rule, I get it.

I want to let you know that we are interviewing you because you are the best fit for the job. The demographic data you submit with your application will never be tied to any identifying information you provide to us in the interview process (i.e. name, email, resume, etc.) and it will never be used to make a hiring decision.

We know there is a considerable diversity gap in tech and education and that we work at the unique intersection of two institutions with barriers to entry for underrepresented minorities (URM). The Rooney Rule helps us track our efforts in addressing those gaps, and it holds us accountable to our goals of having a team that’s representative of our student base.

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Chair with vacant sign and We're Hiring speech bubble with other icons indicating Magoosh interview process
Image credit: LanKogal (licensed via Shutterstock)

Here’s How to Prepare for the Magoosh Interview Process!

The stages will be outlined based on our full-time process, but a lot of the recommendations apply to our part-time process as well!

 

Application Stage

What we’re looking for:

  • Passion for Magoosh’s mission and role
  • Resume, cover letter and screening questions are complete and reflect a potential skill fit for the role

 

Quick tips:

  1. Apply even if you don’t meet all the requirements! This can feel a little vulnerable, especially if you don’t think you check all the boxes. I know I was really nervous about hitting submit, especially since I didn’t think I met all the qualifications! When we evaluate candidates’ applications, we are not just looking at relevant job experience. We are looking for candidates who demonstrate a passion for our mission, excitement to learn, and eagerness to take on new challenges. A resume sometimes doesn’t tell the full story, so my next piece of advice is to…
  2. Write a cover letter. At Magoosh, we read every cover letter that comes to us. This helps us learn a little more about you and the “why” behind your interest in the role. Sometimes a meaningful cover letter can be the difference between moving forward or not in this stage of the process. Please note that meaningful doesn’t necessarily mean long! I know cover letters are very time-consuming to write, especially if you are applying for multiple roles. What we’re looking for is a genuine passion for our mission and interest in the role you’re applying for.We have had a lot of conversations about cover letters and whether or not to require them for our applications. We see them as an opportunity to learn more about you beyond the points on your resume. We don’t want you to spend too much time crafting the perfect cover letter. My recommendation would be to share a little bit about why you’re excited about the role and mission, provide some interesting insights into your experience that we don’t see in your resume, and then build in some connections between your experience and the role you’re applying for. Aim for a length of around 3-4 paragraphs.
  3. Answer all the screening questions, even if you don’t know all the answers! Finally, answer all the screening questions! As you are filling out your application, you may notice open-ended questions. Those are our screening questions. We use screening questions to assess the baseline skills needed for the role. If you don’t have a great answer for the screening questions, do your best, acknowledge the knowledge gap, and share some ways you would bridge that gap in the role.I know. Screening questions, a tailored cover letter, and a tailored resume is a lot just for the application stage. I was definitely a little apprehensive about all the pieces I needed to put together just to submit an application. I can tell you that everything we ask you to submit, we review. We know that we ask a lot of our candidates, and we have constant conversations about how to make sure we are being thoughtful about your time investment. We only ask for information that we need, and we want to make sure we are assessing candidates from multiple angles.

If you’re rejected in this phase…

Check your resume and cover letter again. Are you demonstrating why and how you’re a fit for the role? Sometimes even the simplest changes in the language I was using shifted the number of interviews I was able to get after this stage.

For me, this is the stage where I most commonly faced rejection. If you get hit with multiple rejections in this phase, keep pushing! Sometimes it takes multiple applications and multiple tweaks of your resume and cover letter before you finally get a callback.

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Phone Interview Stage

What we’re looking for:

  • Passion for the role and mission
  • Experiences that highlight Magoosh core values
  • Ways you might add to our culture and values

 

Quick tips:

  1. Review the core values. You made it to the next stage! Congrats! To prepare for your phone interview, take some time to review the Magoosh core values. Many of the questions we will ask are directly tied to those values. We’re super committed to our mission of increasing equity and access, so we want to learn about how you might add to our culture and values. I was really nervous about this interview, but I also really enjoyed it! There are no right or wrong answers for this interview, we genuinely just want to learn about you. Brainstorm some of the unique qualities and perspectives you can bring to the team. To give you a little more preparation support, here’s some questions we might ask during your interview! 🙂
  2. Prepare real life examples. A lot of our interview questions ask for real-life examples from past work experiences. Have some examples that connect to our core values top of mind (bonus tip: structure your responses using the STAR interview method). I struggled coming up with examples on the spot during my interview and could have benefited from taking some time to think through a few before the interview. You’ll want to specifically think about examples of times when projects went well, when they didn’t go well, times you had to give and receive challenging feedback, and times when you learned something and grew from it. You could script the answers out before time and practice with a friend or in front of a mirror to build confidence!
  3. Assess mutual fit. Finally, the phone interview stage is an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about Magoosh. We believe in mutual fit. We want you to be just as excited about us as we are about you! We leave about 10 minutes at the end of the phone interview for you to ask any questions you have about Magoosh.When I interviewed with Amrita, I asked a bunch of questions! I specifically wanted to learn more about Magoosh’s DEIB efforts—as I shared earlier, that was a major area of interest and concern for me, and I wanted to know I was stepping into a space that was ready to do the work. It’s okay to ask tough questions. A question I commonly get is about the diversity of Magoosh. Some candidates who interview with us come to our team page and don’t see enough representations of themselves and feel uneasy about it. Know it’s okay to name that and learn how we are addressing it. Don’t hesitate to gain the clarity you need on the team, the role, or the larger organization!

If you’re rejected in this phase…

Ask for feedback on how you can improve and what gaps the interviewer saw in your skills. Were your examples clear and relevant to the role? Did you demonstrate a passion for the mission? Did the examples you shared align with core values?

Also, check in with yourself. Did you give yourself enough time to prepare? How did you feel about the interview? Where did you think you really shined and what moments were weaker? For your next interview, build on what went well and work on the things you thought could have gone better. Practicing responses out loud in areas that I commonly struggle with has always been super helpful for me!

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Assessment Stage

What we’re looking for:

  • Subject matter knowledge
  • Clear and thoughtful approach to the exercise
  • Problem solving skills

 

Quick tips:

  1. Assess mutual fit, again 🙂 The assessment stage gives you an opportunity to get a feel for the type of work you will be doing at Magoosh! When we create the assessment, we try and replicate a bite-sized piece of the role so you can get a feel for what you’d be doing. The assessment focuses on a problem we have addressed in the past, and any data we share with you to complete the assessment is either old or made up. The assessment is another great place for you to assess a mutual fit. If you are excited about the exercise, it’s usually a good sign that you will be excited about the work you do in the role. On the flip side, if you receive the assessment and find the exercise boring or draining, that’s okay! Just reach out to the recruiter and let them know that this is not something you’re interested in.
  2. If you are feeling stretched, focus on approaching the assessment with a growth mindset. The assessment is about problem-solving skills and subject matter knowledge. The expectation isn’t that you know how to do everything in the same way we do it at Magoosh, but that you are thinking creatively and demonstrating a growth mindset in your approach. We are much more interested in how you get to your solution than the solution itself. I felt unsure about how to approach some questions in the assessment. I leaned on how I would approach the questions if I were in the role, even if I hadn’t done that exact task in the past. We don’t expect your submission to be perfect! In this stage, we mainly want to learn about how you approach your work.
  3. Ask questions! When I received the assessment, I had so many questions! The fear of looking unqualified held me back from asking those questions. Now I know that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you have questions about the assessment, please reach out to your recruiter. We are a resource for you, and we genuinely want to see you do well in the interview process.

If you’re rejected in this phase…

This is another great time to ask for feedback! Since this exercise is specifically assessing skills for the role, I’d recommend specifically asking for feedback on where your skill set could improve.

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Final Interview Stage

What we’re looking for:

  • Passion for the role and mission
  • Subject matter expertise
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Growth mindset and the ability to take on new challenges

Our final round of interviews can run from 4 to 6 hours. We try to make the final interview as fun and engaging as possible, but it can be exhausting. Two to three days before your interview, you will receive an agenda outlining what you can expect on your interview day. We usually add at least two breaks and a lunch period into that agenda; however, if you would like to add some additional time to take a breath between interviews, let us know! We want to make sure you feel as comfortable as possible. Our goal is to set you up for success. We want the best person for the job, not the best interviewer.

We also give candidates the option to do a prep/pep talk with the recruiter prior to the interview. I think I can speak for the entire recruiting team when I say, we want you to take advantage of this! We are more than happy to share some more details about team members you will be meeting with, the interview day, or anything else that is on your mind as you get ready for the interview. Again, we are rooting for you and want to see you succeed.

The interview is usually comprised of:

  • 90-minute culture interview (similar to the phone interview). The culture interview asks questions that are closely tied to Magoosh’s core values. In preparation for that interview, I’d recommend taking some time to review the core values again, but also to think through some examples of:
    • Giving and receiving feedback
    • Positive and challenging work relationships
    • Past projects
    • Ways you have grown and continued to learn throughout your career.

    Similar to the phone interview, we will be asking you to draw from past work experiences, so have some examples ready to go.

  • One or two 45-60 minute, skill-based exercises. Prior to the interview, we will send over some prep materials for the skills-based interview and details about the exercises you will be working on. Once you have reviewed those materials, please reach out with any questions!As part of the skill-based interview, we normally include an exercise that revolves around collaboration or giving/receiving feedback. For these exercises, we want you to be able to ask questions and engage in the exercise authentically, so don’t hold back! Your interviewer is anticipating questions and doesn’t expect you to know everything. Similar to the assessment, this is more about how you work and think through problems than the actual end product.
  • A 30-min reverse interview. The reverse interview gives you the opportunity to interview us! To prep for this interview, I wrote down a couple of lingering questions that I had. You’ll be paired with someone who works in your department (or very closely with your department), and we do our best to choose someone who would also share the same manager as you. Your reverse interviewer will not be a part of the evaluation team, so please feel comfortable asking any and all questions—we want to make sure you leave the interview with the clarity you need!

If you’re rejected in this phase…

If you make it to this stage in a Magoosh interview, you generally would get feedback, but if not, reach out to the hiring manager or your recruiter and ask for feedback. Since this interview is assessing deeper core values, mission and skill fit, try to find out where the red flags came up. You can also ask for any words of advice or gaps to address before your next interview if you’re applying for a similar position.

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Finally, know that you did your best no matter the outcome!

No matter if you got the job or not, you applied and you hopefully learned from the experience. I have always tried to frame my failures and my successes as an opportunity to dig into where I can grow and how I can be even better. If you get rejected after applying for a role at Magoosh or elsewhere, take what you can from the experience, allow yourself to process, and press forward. There’s another opportunity waiting for you!

Our hiring process isn’t perfect. We are always looking for ways to learn and grow, so if you have any feedback on how we can improve please share it with us here.

These are just a few of the things I wish I knew before my interview. I hope that it has been helpful for you! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out. Like I shared earlier, we are a resource and are always happy to help.

Now hit “send” on that application. We can’t wait to meet you. 🙂