Initial Chat Interview With Automattic: Part 1

Typical Automattic Interview Questions?

In the past couple weeks I’ve read 20+ posts and articles that talk about the initial interview for the Automattic hiring process. I know more now about what various people say the initial interview is like, but I still haven’t found the “here are the twelve standard questions Automattic asks during the initial interview” type of post.

It would be nice to find a post, comment or article that clearly spells out the “twelve standard questions,” aka the “What” of an Automattic job interview text conversation. For tech companies that hire hundreds or thousands of employees each year, there are often fairly detailed descriptions of the interview process, including specific questions that are asked. Not so much for Automattic, which in May 2016 appears to be a company of almost 500 people.

Why A Chat-style Interview

But I think I pretty well understand the “Why” of the initial interview text conversation. Matt Mullenweg has talked about the need to hire people who are a good fit with the way his company works — distributed, asynchronous, minimal voice or face-to-face discussions, communicate well with a lack of visual cues, and generates a good vibe with current employees of Automattic. In a Harvard Business Review article he said:

“…We used to hire people the way most other companies do. We’d screen résumés and conduct interviews…A candidate might interview with five employees, and we’d all take him or her out to lunch…Inevitably, some of those hires didn’t work out, which was a big disappointment…As we considered the situation, it became clear that we were being influenced by aspects of an interview—such as someone’s manner of speaking or behavior in a restaurant—that have no bearing on how a candidate will actually perform. Some people are amazing interviewees and charm everyone they talk to. But if the job isn’t going to involve charming others, their interview skills don’t predict how well they’ll do as employees…”

A primary way Automattic employees communicate, as remote members of a globally distributed team, is with a lot of asynchronous chat. Voice communications between Automatticians and their customers, or for business discussions amongst Automatticians is non-existent. Because chat communications don’t convey the same audio and visual cues as voice or video discussions, it makes sense to get a feel for how well prospective hires communicate via chat, whether they understand what they’re being asked, and whether current Automatticians see them as a good fit for a remote team which relies heavily on asynchronous chat communication. Below are two post excerpts that talk about applicants’ experiences with the initial chat interview with Automattic.

Two Discussions About Interview Process

William Kowalkski successfully passed the initial interview but was not hired by Automattic.

“…They contacted me to schedule a preliminary interview, which was to take place over Slack, a chat application I hadn’t used before. This felt like a novelty–a job interview in a chat room! How futuristic and internetty!…The interview was with two people, a man and a woman, who came across as friendly and professional. They asked me general questions, including my experience with WordPress and my philosophy of customer service. Our conversation went well enough for them to move me on to the next phase, which was a test that involved some basic website work. In the interests of fairness to new applicants, as well as to Automattic, I won’t get into the details of that here, but I will say that it posed a challenge, and I was pleased when I was informed that I’d passed that hurdle, too. A second chat interview followed, after which I was offered a chance to work as an HE for $25.00 per hour [the trial project]…”

Like William Kowalkski, David Clements passed the chat interview and did the trial work, but did not end up being hired by Automattic.

“…The jobs page at Automattic indicated that you should hear back (one way or the other) with a couple of weeks of submitting your application. After six weeks had passed, I sent a follow-up email in case my email had got lost somewhere. Another several weeks had passed before I just decided they probably weren’t interested and forgot all about it. Shortly thereafter, I finally received an email, saying that they were interested in talking to me, so we set up a time to chat on Skype.

I chatted with two of their employees, who both work on the Happiness hiring team, and introduced myself to them, while they asked a few questions of me, exploring my technical knowledge and customer service skills. After an hour with them, they were sufficiently happy for me to do a mini-project for them so that they could evaluate my writing skills. They tasked me with writing a support document that outlined how a user could create a new post from their WordPress app. I spent a couple of hours on it and sent it back to them, after which they asked me back for a second interview (again, over Skype), which happened just a few days later. At the end of that interview, they evidently decided that I had what it took to explore my abilities further and offered me the opportunity to work for them on Trial…”

I’ll continue my research on the initial chat interview and summarize my findings and thoughts on the topic in a few weeks.


Here are a few more links which discuss the initial interview process:


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