An interesting interview experience with a startup

I came across a local startup (A) during the Fall career fair at my school, talked to a lady who represented A. She said she was very impressed with my experiences and projects, however since they are mainly looking for potential returners, I, as a sophomore, would have to have lower priority than upperclassmen. I agreed and returned home afterward. About two weeks later, I was contacted by another recruiter, S, from the same company A, to schedule a phone screen.

Phone screen went well. Nothing happened until I followed up with S two weeks later. S immediately thanked me for the followup and said A has been integrating a coding challenge for their candidates but is now done and can move on.

Completed the coding challenge. Again, absolute silence from S until I followed up the second time. Then S went on and scheduled a final video interview for me with two engineers.

Up to this point, a month has passed. I’ve always replied immediately to S’s emails when they came. I had a pleasant conversation with the engineers over the video chat and they told me I’m a top candidate.

Two hours later, S called with a verbal offer, then went over some things like compensation and benefits, which they don’t offer for interns. To be honest, at that moment I didn’t feel very excited about this offer already. So I told S I’m far into another interview process. S said the deadline is in three days but it is negotiable if things change. I felt a bit pressure coming from the other end of the phone but I didn’t think too much about it at the time.

Then S called two days after, updating me on some minor stuff. I told him honestly that I think the compensation is too low compared to the software engineer average salary in the area. He began to sound impatient, cutting me off whenever I tried to explain about my relocation concerns and answered: “No we don’t offer any benefits for interns”.

Two days later, the offer letter came. At the bottom of the letter, there’s the HR’s contact info for questions and concerns. I felt it could speed things up if I reached out directly for a salary negotiation so I decided to shoot an email to the HR.

Out of courtesy, I CC’d S in that email. I even ringed S’s phone three times. S picked up the phone the third time but said that there was another call and quickly hanged off with impatience. I waited for S to call back.


Here’s when things got interesting: S called back, immediately began raising their voice and chastising me for my “highly unprofessional and disrespectful” behavior to send that email to the HR. The very first thing S said was they “understand that I was inexperienced” and S, as a veteran recruiter with 15 years of experience, had never seen this behavior more than twice.

Then I was silenced by S for about 2 minutes. I was stunned. Although I did wonder if my behavior was against etiquette, I realized that S was being unreasonable. Well, if it’s only for employees, why was the email included in an offer letter? I decided to assert myself. I asked why and S said that contacting HR is only allowed for employees. I explained firmly that I was only exercising my right to know before a decision to accept the offer. S ignored my appeal and went onto talking about how unprofessional I was.

At this point, I felt it was pointless to argue with this person so I apologized to S. S began to compromise a little bit but still continued to chastise me and asserting their 15 years of experience…

I decided to decline the offer.

So this week, after messaging one of the engineers on LI informing him that I declined the offer, S called me again. I wondered again why S was calling me even at this point that I clearly showed disinterest in accepting the offer or ever conversing with them again. Well, as a seasoned professional working in the tech industry, S is clearly showing a lot of professionalism by calling me now to ask why I decided to decline and probably after saying that I was their “top candidate”. If it was what I thought it was, I’m done with S, and company A which hired S as their university recruiter.

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