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The Job Interview from Hell

Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2004 by David E. Ross

My Job Search

It was the spring of 1996. I had been unemployed five months, and the exhaustion of my unemployment insurance benefits loomed on the horizon. Oh, I had several very encouraging interviews, including one where a very large aerospace company paid me to fly to Sunnyvale (California) for an interview. Because I received no actual offers of employment, however, I continued looking for job opportunities.

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Ability to dev. Software functional spec. Must have analysis skills for end user req's. Travel req. 2yrs min.exp. Morpark area. 805-531-xxxx

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The want-ad in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, 31 March 1996, was small (less than half a column-inch, much smaller than it appears here), but it caught my eye. I had extensive experience developing and documenting software requirements, with special emphasis on the end user. While I look upon business travel as a fringe detriment, I had traveled quite frequently for Unisys; I knew that travel was a job-requirement in my career. This ad seemed to describe me.

On Monday (the very next day) I called the phone number in the ad, learned that the company was jeTech Data Systems, and got their facsimile number and mailing address. I tailored my resume to emphasize my experiences with software requirements and faxed it to them that same day with a cover letter that highlighted the fact that their needs and my talents matched. On the morning of 4 April (a week later), I received a phone call from Ms. H at jeTech and made an appointment for an interview with her for that very afternoon.

A Positive Interview

Ms. H (jeTech's Director of Marketing) explained that the company developed a computer-based timekeeping system for hourly workers. They needed someone to visit prospective customers, learn the way they handle their work-hour records and payrolls, and then develop requirements for tailoring the system to the needs of that customer. The requirements had to be suitable not only for use by the programmers when writing additional software but also by the testers when verifying the tailored product. I told Ms. H about some of my experience in working with customers for software development, which ranged from interviewing one of the largest Ford dealers in the nation while working on a business simulation for the Ford Motor Company to participation in writing the bid-to software specifications for a $200,000,000 U. S. Air Force procurement. Ms. H seemed appropriately impressed with my background.

Ms. H then began to describe the complexities of time-keeping for workers paid an hourly wage. I told her that, although I had been paid a monthly salary, I was very familiar with such details as reporting hours, overtime, compensatory time, charging to various task codes, part-day vacation leave, et cetera. When you work on projects for the federal government, even top managers must report the time worked to the nearest tenth-hour. Further, the details of time-keeping for both hourly and salaried employees were thoroughly covered in management training sessions I attended when I worked at Unisys.

During the interview, I honestly expressed some reservations. I was concerned about setting a price on the software changes that would be required by my analysis of a customer's operations. Ms. H assured me that, on my travels, I would be accompanied by a sales person who would do the pricing. At the end of the interview not only did I have a strong feeling that jeTech and I had a very good match between company needs and my talents, but I also felt that Ms. H saw the same match. Indeed, five days later, Ms. H called to set an appointment for me to be interviewed by Mr. M, jeTech's President.

The Interview from Hell

Once again, I drove to Moorpark, to jeTech's offices. I was shown into Mr. M's office. Almost as soon as I sat down, Mr. M began to berate me! He told me that I was totally unsuited to show my face to jeTech's customers, despite my 24 years experience in working with Unisys's customers and even representing those customers to other companies. He started describing the tasks of the job so differently from the way Ms. H described them that I thought he was discussing a different position. Mr. M also belittled my training, experience, and talent, without even pausing for breath long enough to allow me to defend myself.

Then, Mr. M slightly softened his tone. He indicated the possibility of a position within jeTech's facility, either programming or testing software. He even named a salary, an amount that might interest an entry-level programmer without a degree but not a person with post-graduate study and 33 years of experience as a software professional. This was not an offer; it was an insult!

Not a Big Deal

Even if I could have defended myself, I would have remained silent. I allowed the interview to end without giving Mr. M the satisfaction of knowing that he upset me. Yes, I was very upset, but not because I saw an excellent job opportunity evaporate. I was upset because I had been victimized by Mr. M's rudeness, because of the small value he placed on my capabilities and experience, and because of the time I wasted in two interviews.

No, the lost job opportunity definitely did not upset me. As I later wrote to Ms. H (I always wrote a letter of thanks after an interview, no matter how negative it actually was), I entered Mr. M's office having just received job offers from two other companies, each at a salary twice what Mr. M suggested I was worth.

I did not even notice that, in jeTech's ad, they misspelled the name of the city where they were located until I wrote this Web page, over four years later.

In 2000, jeTech Data Systems changed its name to, just in time to catch the collapse of the Dot-Com bubble. Before then, the company moved to Camarillo, to offices in a building that was previously owned by Unisys, at a site where I had worked for Unisys for nine years and then worked for SAIC for two more years. Then in 2003, the company was bought by ADP.

Eight years after the Interview from Hell, I am now retired. From retirement savings accumulated while I was compensated according to what I was really worth, I can draw about twice what Mr. M offered.

Living well is the best revenge

George Herbert [1651]

and I do intend to have that revenge.

28 September 2000
Updated 17 January 2004

[Originally, I disguised the name of the company as kTack. Since the company no longer really exists — having been absorbed into a larger company — and I am now retired, I no longer feel a need for such a disguise. I would reveal the name of Mr. M, but I can no longer remember it.]

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