Zynga: The Worst Interview Experience Ever

While reading yesterday’s news about Zynga laying off 18% of their company, I cringed to the thought of an interview that I had at Zynga in January 2011 for the position of marketing manager. It was the worst interview that I’ve ever had in my entire life. In 2011, Zynga was up and coming and making great waves within the social games industry. Before the interview, I admired the games they were building and thought the idea of building a career at Zynga would be a dream come true. Having gone through rounds of interviews with seven people individually, I left their headquarters in disbelief and shock telling myself that even if I was to be given an offer that there would be no way in hell that I’d ever work for a company with that kind of culture and negative vibe that I experienced from that morning alone.

I walked into their headquarters completely in awe. It was bright, vibrant, and had tons of fun game themes. It was like the actual games came to life and threw up virtual items all over the place. I checked in with the front desk, signed a nondisclosure agreement, and the interview begins after a short wait. I was brought into a small bland & confined room, where I stayed for most of the day until lunch.

The seven people I met all have been there less than a year, and of those,  five people have been there more or less than five months. The statistics terrified me a bit but it was also a little understandable given that the company was at the stage where they were rapidly trying to hire and grow their workforce. I knew with start-up gaming companies that this was common. Plus, the instability excited me.

I met with three senior level executives, one of which was the hiring manager, and four mid-level managers. I won’t go through each individually but here are three memorable moments:

Unhappy Folks & Long Hours:

I asked every single person there how they liked working at Zynga. Two of seven people enjoyed it, one being the person I will soon discuss in #3 below and one person only having been there for two months. The other five people gave somewhat of a “It’s fine and high-stress” answer, most of them not looking me in the eye. It seems almost like they were surprised to hear me ask that question. I asked about their work/life balance and it seemed non-existent across the board; one guy told me that he worked til 9pm on a regular basis even if he started his day at 9am in the morning. In a nutshell, they all concluded and told me that I’d learn a lot but that I’d have to work extremely long hours and deal with high stress.

Unstable Management:

When I met my hiring manager, I asked her how the leadership team was and her response was that it was always changing. It turns out that within the year, she’s gone through different managers multiple times.

Being Told I Wasn’t As Smart:

The fifth person I met was a well-known marketing executive, overseeing the entire marketing department. Her vibe was unwelcoming and her introduction to me was uncaring. She took me out to lunch across the street from the office at a popular Italian joint. The interview questions started the instant we walked - she didn’t ask much of my experience; she was more interested in my logic and thought process. We’re approximately 15 minutes in our session and there was one question she asked that completely stumped me about the serving of ads in the display network. I answered as best as I could, thinking and brainstorming aloud on how I would find a workaround solution because there was no real solution to that question (‘til this day there is still no real solution but there are workarounds). Here comes the good part - I was abruptly interrupted while answering by her saying to me, “Stop. I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to this for the past five weeks and I don’t know the answer. If I can’t figure it out then you never will. I have more experience and am smarter than you and everyone else you interviewed with today.” It took me by complete surprise and I was in complete disbelief that I wanted to burst in laughter at how hilarious this situation was.

In the end, it was a memorable experience and sadly, it is one of the experiences that have made me very wary of gaming companies, especially the companies that seem “too good to be true”. This bad experience did not stop me from pursuing other gaming companies, which I did (and I’ll save that story for another day), but it’s made me realize that gaming companies are really not "all fun and games".

It’s sad to see a well-known company not embrace or appreciate their employees. Zynga has developed such a bad reputation for this and because of the bad interview experience I went through, I slightly understand and can get a glimpse of what the day to day would be like. 

*Note: Out of curiosity, I did some searches to see if the people who interviewed me still worked there and here are the results: ONE