All too often, the technical interview is used to find flaws in candidates. When in fact finding their strengths is a far more effective way to identify their potential.
I’ve always been fascinated by interviewing – it connects each of us to opportunity. A great interview should be an equalizer, not a challenge. It should showcase what job a candidate can really do. Often, most teams don’t have the expertise or incentives to make that possible. Are your engineers experts on a technology they’ve only used for 10 to 15 hours? No, probably not, and neither are they experts (yet) at interviewing.
When I managed software engineering teams at Indiegogo, I decided to take on the development of an interviewing program that could offer greater fairness to candidates. We made great strides in leveling the playing field for candidates. Little did I know that a few years later I would be conducting technical interviews full time at Karat. And not long after that, leading a program that builds and tests technical interviews for their ability to increase signal.
I’ve learned a lot along the way. I want to share some of the practices and principles that make an interview predictive, fair, and even enjoyable.
When interviewing candidates, be prepared to offer clarity in your questions, encouragement when needed, and guidance when it’s called for.
Clarity: Judge candidates by what they do, not what they don’t do. After all, they may not have known it was something they should have been doing. Instead, be clear about the behavior that you’re assessing. The technical interview is about problem solving, not mind reading.
Encouragement: Don’t enable poor candidate performance by being combative or aggressive (this happens often and many of you have probably experienced it). Believe that the candidate can succeed and meet your expectations.
Guidance (or hints): Don’t give harmful guidance that confuses more than clarifies or mistakes humility for inability. It can be okay to give hints, especially on an ability or piece of knowledge that is not a strong signal for success in the role. A technical interview isn’t a game of trivia, after all.
Who you hire is a big deal. It will shape your team and your company. Let candidates be human and put the onus on the interviewer to be as consistent and fair as possible in the technical interview. This often calls for a structured approach that relies on shared indicators of success, technology, and even quality control.
Create structured, observation-based, intentional scoring rubrics: How can an interviewer know which competencies matter if the write up is just an open text field? Interviewers, like candidates, have complex experiences and perspectives. Establish shared language and guideposts that describe candidates’ abilities, then apply that to a structured, observation-based write up format. This will make it clear what to spend time on in the interview and what a candidate’s performance really means.
Separate scoring from the recommendation: Interviewers’ feedback, if structured and using a shared language, should drive the hiring decision (or next step) without an interviewer explicitly stating “hire” or “don’t hire.” This makes it possible for others to review the feedback and identify aberrations that may be indicators of bias. It also guides the hiring manager who will put all of this information together and to make the best possible decision.
Quality control: As we do with code review, apply learning and quality control into your process by using interview reviews. Two interviewers that conduct an interview together or watch the same interview video should independently write the same evaluation. Reflections like these are a great opportunity for sharing communication best practices, improving the questions you use, and when to advance candidates through the process.
Getting technical interviewing right is hard, but the benefits are substantial. Those who do get it right will hire faster while knowing that they gave candidates a fair and exceptional experience.
If you’re interested in learning more, and are in the New York City area, I am hosting a free workshop in New York on September 17th. Or if you'd like to continue this conversation remotely message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Big thanks to Sheilin Herrick for partnering with me on this post \o/