A primer for an abusive relationship

As I am going to a variety of recruiting processes these days, I happened upon one interaction that stroked me as particularly odd.

Many software companies have some kind of programming puzzle as part of their screening, sometimes before the first meeting, sometimes during the meeting. Most of the times it is a perfectly reasonable task, and I understand the necessity to find out of somebody has actually a basic knowledge of computer programming.

And as I solved one such programming puzzle, (and a quite intense one, it took me the better part of a day, to implement the solution according to my interpretation of the criteria) I submitted my proposal dutifully, and expected one of the following replies.


  • You solved the problem almost up to our expectations, there are a few minor issues that we disagree with, but we will invite you for a meeting anyways.


  • Your solution was pretty good, but not es meticulous as we would have liked, therefore we are not going to invite you for a meeting.

Both of those answers I would have seen as fairly reasonable.

However, what I got as a reply, was something along the lines of: Your solution was quite ok, but there is one other thing that we would have liked to see, we won’t tell you what that would be, but we give you another chance to resubmit a revised solution.

Keep in mind, that this was quite a complex task, and coming up with the initial proposal took me almost a workday.

So I will tell you a few things that this replay contains for me.

First of all, I see a communication-pattern, that is an indicator of abusive behavior, and that pattern is telling people that they did something wrong, but not telling them what they did wrong.

So maybe, that was an oversight, maybe they thought of themselves as very generous for giving me another try at their puzzle. However, what I see is an organization that likes to assign blame, and prefers not to advance an interaction, but would rather hold back information and stall the communication. And either they do this intentional to include some test of submission into their screening process, or they are not aware of this dysfunctionality and are ignorant of patterns of abusive behavior.

I am not sure what is worse.

And exposing this kind of interaction already early in their screening process, will prime employees that go through this application in a certain way.

There appears to be no respect of a workers time, solving the task took me a day, and revising the solution, probably might have took me another day, and even then, I might not have thought of the issue that they would have liked to see. So they are willing to have a potential employee work for two days on a task, without an effective feedback loop.

And they knew it would take a day, because they announced that before sending me the task.

Telling people that they did something wrong without identifying what they did wrong, primes for insecurity. So anybody who goes through this process, will be prepared to endure quite some abuse, because everybody else probably did not go through all that.

Maybe this is the kind of employee they are looking for?

In any case, that should not have happened, what I guess went on, is that the programming puzzle is from engineering, and they gave it to HR, then HR forwarded the solution to engineering, and the evaluated it and send the aforementioned reply.

At this point however, HR should have spotted the tone of the answer and could have decided to alter the statement to be less of a hint of an abusive organization.

In the best case, HR was to inexperienced to spot the problem with this reply. And therefore I got an insight into the engineering part of the company, that should have been shielded from the outside.

However, when these are the communication patterns in engineering, I am in doubt whether I would like to work with such people.

What would you think?


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3 Responses to A primer for an abusive relationship

  1. havore says:

    Sounds like ***** company ??

    “However, when these are the communication patterns in engineering, I am in doubt whether I would like to work with such people.” — You’d better study something real (not software engineering), but you`re still young, try something completely different … ;)

    bon chance,

  2. Zacharias says:

    “You’d better study something real (not software engineering), but you`re still young, try something completely different … ”
    I don’t think that’s the target. One is aiming for a good company to work with, and your comment reads like there is no other option left in the software industry. But I still think there is enough time left, as you are not that old, to get to know other companies with different communication philosophies.

  3. admin says:

    Good guess havore, you are totally right, but I had to censor the company name. ;-) I hope you understand.


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