Not long ago I got an email from a job recruiter that I had built up a good relationship with asking me if I was on the market. She was well connected and typically came to me with interviews from big tech companies and giant media outlets. It’s good to know people that are well connected.
One of those companies just so happened to be SpaceX.
“I can you get the interview this week!”
She spouted, much like a 1920’s boxing couch. At this point I had just left my job and was taking some much needed time to not work and to figure out what my next big phase in life should be. I was working towards consulting and on various side-projects, so going to work for SpaceX as a software engineer was definitely not on the timeline.
This particular job interview was for a software engineering position and the technology stack was something that I was pretty familiar with, so I really wasn’t too nervous about doing the actual interview.
But it was offer that I couldn’t refuse. It’s SpaceX after all. So I agreed to do it and ran through my typical preparation for a job interview. I read the job description very carefully, took notes of the primary technologies being used and did some added research on the company’s culture just in case it came up.
This was an initial phone interview mind you, but it was with the manager who was directly in charge of the department that the position was for. Right on time the phone rang and the conversation started. We did the usual back and forth greeting and then jumped into more formal talk soon after.
Overall it was a much different interview than others that I’ve had. For one, it was more natural. It was just two people talking without any scripts. We went over my previous background and discussed the position in detail. I correlated how my skillset matched the job description relatively well, and he agreed.
He asked me a few technical questions about my experience with various frameworks. Again, I was familiar with their tech stack. This job was right up my alley from a technical standpoint.
And then the interpersonal questions began and things went slightly different. I typically do pretty well with soft skill questions mind you, and when he asked the following question, I thought I gave a good answer. I thought that anyway.
“If your manager is having a disagreement with a member on your team, how do you approach it?”
I answered to the best of my ability, and the interview ended shortly after with a traditional “Thank you. I’ll let you know soon how we proceed real soon”.
By the end of day I received an email from the manager letting me know that while my technical skills were strong enough for the role, that my interpersonal skills weren’t really fit for the company culture. And in thorough detail broke down why.
Because I wasn’t really looking for a job at this time, I took it with ease and really more than anything I was just curious as to why it was a pass. A part of me wanted to read his response and chuckle at the inaccuracies because how could I not be a fit, I’m amazing. But the other part of me was afraid that it would make sense and that I would have to own it.
It was the answer to that question above that was the nail on the coffin. I answered honestly mind you and meant it when I said it.
I answered that I would continue my work to avoid any disruptions and would let the manager and team member settle it on their own accord. Now I thought that was a good answer. Because I would prioritize the work on my desk, over the conflict that would disrupt it.
Team members fight all the time, why should I get involved? This would only slow me down and put me in a bad position with the company. No. Let the managers sort it out with HR. That’s also typically what almost every HR training video that I’ve watched promoted as well. So again, why should I get involved?
Well. Because that’s what a member of a team does. They step in and try to alleviate the tension so that the entire department doesn’t suffer in the long run. They get involved and ask what the problem is and they help towards looking for a solution because that would benefit the whole.
My answer was that of a lone soldier that’s watching out for themselves mostly and not looking at the entire picture. At the time, this was genuinely how I felt. Particularly after having recently left a job in which managers clashed almost daily.
It took me a while to accept the criticism mind you. Days passed, weeks passed, and then slowly it started to sink in. It’s all perspective. I thought about my answer in terms of a soldier in the field. Would they let their team “figure it out” while they sat on the sidelines. Probably not.
He was right. There is a good chance that my answer is detrimental to the department as a whole. And really the company as a whole. A non-functional department at any company will inevitably cause issues with other departments as well. It’s all connected in an intricate network that we don’t typically think about in our own bubbles sometimes.
More than a software engineer, SpaceX was looking for a team player. Someone that would take the reigns when needed and someone with a big-picture mentality. More “managerial” was the term that I recall in the feedback given.
This was a great lesson learned for me personally and it came from the most unexpected situation. I think the biggest lessons life typically appear to us in that way.
Lastly, I’ll say that I appreciated the honest feedback that I received which was totally not expected and really unconventional these days. While it is difficult to accept harsh criticism, it’s definitely equally as hard to give it as well.