I know it’s trite to say that interviewing for a job is really stressful, but I hope you’ll cut me some slack. The experience is still a little fresh. This summer I dove headfirst into the gauntlet that is Job Hunting for the first time in six years. I’d heard nightmarish stories about what awaited me: riddles and puzzles, trick question whiteboard code exercises, and grueling panel interview sessions. I was, if you’re going to force me to be perfectly honest, scared out of my mind.
It took a little while, but as I went through the process with a few companies, I realized I wasn’t looking at things correctly. Because it sounds so daunting, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing an interview is 100% about what you have to prove about yourself. What you miss is that how a company conducts interviews is telling you who they are, what they value, and how having a job there is going to feel. How a company puts their best foot forward for a candidate—or if it seems like they don’t care if they do!—says as much to you as how you approach the interview says to them. What I’m getting at is interviewing is a conversation, not an interrogation.
So, since I just went through it myself, maybe I can give you an idea of what interviewing is like at Stitch Fix, and what it said to me about who Stitch Fix is.
I knew nothing about Stitch Fix when I came in for my first interview. I was directed to the company by a recruiter, and I was the first person he’d sent Stitch Fix’s way. What he was able to tell me was intriguing, but a little vague. I mention this because my fuzzy understanding made me especially appreciate how Stitch Fix handles the first interview.
Basically, we had a chat.
My first conversation with Stitch Fix was relaxed, informal, and very informative. It gave me an opportunity not just to learn facts about the company, but to get a real feel for its personality. We also talked about my background a bit, about what I was looking for, and about what to expect going forward. It was low stress, and I was able to walk out clear-headed about whether I wanted to pursue the opportunity. (Spoiler: I did.)
What came next was a take-home coding challenge. I had already done a few of these for other companies, and what surprised me was how differently they all approached the concept. Some were closely timed, some were pure technical problems, some were bug hunts.
What Stitch Fix sent me was different than what I’d seen to that point: a working application with a handful of enhancement requests that reflected real business problems. The project was as much about how I solved the problem for users as the code itself. This is a big part of what I mean when I say an interview is a conversation. Stitch Fix’s take-home challenge was a fantastic expression of what the company valued overall in a candidate. I knew from the challenge that my ability to understand what folks at the other end of the screen needed would be vital, and that Stitch Fix saw good code as a means to help people and not an end unto itself.
That was something that got me pretty jazzed, so I was really excited to get a call telling me I was on to the final step: a trip to the home office in San Francisco for an all day interview.
Honesty time again. At this point, my anxiety shot into the stratosphere. Flying to another city? Interviewing for an entire day? How was I going to get through that without bombing out? Was I even going to survive it? Many of the day-long interviews I’d heard of were gauntlets of computer science program challenges, with hours and hours of whiteboard coding. That, it turned out, was not what the day had in store.
Stitch Fix did a lot to make the day as comfortable and friendly as possible. I felt welcomed, like they were as excited to have me out as I was to be there. It’s amazing how much it matters to know the people interviewing you care how you feel. It helped me relax so I could focus on what was important.
Even better was the variety of the interviews themselves. It wasn’t a nonstop string of code challenges, but an array of conversations about different aspects of the business.
The coding side was broken into two pieces. There was a pair programming session where I was asked to make additional enhancements to my take-home application. Because it was a project I was already familiar with, it was an opportunity to write code from a position of confidence. It was also a chance to show my pairing partner how I’d work in a more job-like scenario, which is not an easy thing to gauge in an interview.
The other code interview was more about problem solving, but in a more focused way than the abstract algorithm questions some interviews use. Most importantly, I was able work on a computer and not a whiteboard. Whew! No one deserves to be subjected to my handwriting.
That meant only about a third of the process focused on code. How did we spend the rest of the time? One interview dealt with solving business problems at a higher level, because programming is only part of what engineers do at Stitch Fix. We’re also responsible for figuring out why a problem exists, and working with our business partners to find the right solution before we write the code to execute it.
There was a lunch spent with people outside of engineering, a talk with our Director of Talent where I could ask questions about benefits and culture, and a more general discussion about who I was, where I’d been, and how I wanted to grow.
It’s a full day, but one that was a far more positive experience than I thought possible. When it was over, I was ready for a serious nap. I was also more excited about the opportunity than ever before. The interview had been built for us to learn about each other, to give both parties everything they needed to discover whether we’d be a good match. The experience had been something I was sure an interview simply could not be: rewarding.
When the offer came (yay!), I already knew my answer. I didn’t have to guess. I knew Stitch Fix was exactly where I wanted to be.