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Discussion on: What's your ideal interview process?

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matlus profile image
Shiv Kumar

Just the way I interview candidates. I feel most companies only know how to interview college graduates and so their interview style is very much like a "test". Many times I've walked out in the middle of the process or have not gone in just because I can tell a lot about a company from the way they interview and I wouldn't want to work there.

After the introductions and other pleasantries and I've made sure they're comfortable (food drink etc.). I tell them how this interview will go (I mainly interview senior engineers and architects, sometimes mids):

Just imagine we're two geeks, geeking out at a coffee shop forget that I'm interviewing you. We're just going to have fun. You're going to start by tell me about one of most interesting projects. I don't want to get into the weeds of the business so keep it more technical than business. As you're speaking I'll stop to ask you some questions on what you just said. If you don't want me to asking you a question on a certain topic, don't mention it (anything you say, can and will be used against you, jokingly). If you're able to answer, I'll dig deeper and deeper, till we either hit rock bottom or I feel you've reach your limit. Not knowing it not a crime. I'm not keeping score. Continue with story.

If you don't know, I prefer you tell me right away. If you don't know but would like to give it a shot anyway, let me know and go for it. We don't have much time, and I'd rather we spend time discovering what you do know rather than what you don't. I want to see you succeed. My aim is to get a sense of your breadth of knowledge and experience while also the depth of you knowledge on each topic, technology etc.

I may interrupt you while you're answering, either because I feel you don't know, or I know you know and I'll asking something about something else you touched upon. For every question I ask you, I'll give you the answer with explanations and variations (how, why, when).

This style of interview gives me soooo much information about the candidate.

  1. Communication skills and the ability to clearly/succinctly explain problems and solutions.
  2. Their personality. How do they take criticism and direction. Do they feel comfortable saying "I don't know" are they argumentative. Are they passionate about they job choice and the work they do
  3. Get a really good sense of their breadth and depth of experience.

I give them an opportunity to talk about anything else we didn't hit upon that that'd like to talk about, with the same caveat (anything you say, can and will be used against you :)).

If the interview ends soon, ether you, me or the both of us didn't care much for it. If we're having a blast, someone is going to walk in and say we need the room!

By the end of this session, I can see the candidate is still all present, drained to some extent but they're so excited that they've learnt so much. Most times they feel comfortable enough to say one of two things:

  1. I know, I've not made the bar, but I've learnt so much, what would you suggest I work on/study, gain more experience in. How to I become a senior etc.
  2. If I make it, will I be working with you or some other team?

Where I work, candidates are asked by HR to provide feedback on the interviewer (there is a multiple choice questionnaire). I've got only 2 bad reviews so far after hundreds of interviews.

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sophia_wyl profile image
Sophia Li Author

Thanks for your thoughtful response!

I have a couple questions:

  • When you say you, "I feel most companies only know how to interview college graduates and so their interview style is very much like a "test"." , are you suggesting that the approach for interviewing college graduates is a good approach?
  • When you're talking about projects, are they personal projects, work projects, or really anything they want to choose?
  • It's so interesting that the outcome of the conversation can lead to the candidate knowing they've not made the bar and feel like they can ask for constructive feedback in an interview setting. What do you think you do/say/ask to indicate to candidates that they have not met the bar, but in a way where they still feel comfortable asking for feedback?

Also, I really like that your company's HR team asks for feedback on the interviewer. It's a great way to improve the interview experience for both sides. And congrats on the good feedback from interviewees. Sounds like you're a great interviewer!

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matlus profile image
Shiv Kumar

To answer your first question:
For the most part I don't believe that style is getting you much. I mean there are sites that provide all kinds of practice questions and problems and apparently if you spend your time there you'll ace the FANG coding challanges. So it's become like school. You practice, and the ace the exam. Maybe it's a good way to interview candidates who have very little experience. I'm not qualified to interview candidates at this level so I can't speak from experience.

Work or personal projects?
Typically work projects, but I'd be interested in personal projects too. Just so I get a sense of what the candidate does on their own time, how much effort they put beyond work towards their craft. I spend a lot of time on personal (but real world) projects myself.

On my very first job interview, I took a laptop with me with all of the personal projects (I had also done a couple of contract based software projects where I was paid for the work), and I think that helped or maybe the fact that I did a lot of (real world) work on my own helped.

Outcome and asking for feedback:
I think through the whole process the candidate feels at home, we're really having fun. They're quite aware of the questions they've not been able to answer or didn't provide a full/more in depth answer. Most times they assume they didn't make it and I'll let them know otherwise. I don't expect any candidate to be able to answer every question because the more you know, the deeper I'll go.

In some cases their expectation are way higher than their skill/experience. I call it the big fish in a small pond syndrome (As against a small fish in a big pond). That is, if you stick around in one company for too long you get comfortable, you've earned a certain status, you probably don't hire folks that know more than you and so you're the top person in that company. But when you come out in the real world you get a rude awakening. Some candidates have said as much. That self realization is very encouraging to me and we'll make an offer at a lower level than they are asking for. Some will take the offer while others don't.

I ask them if they have any questions for me about the work, projects, company or anything else. So that's when the conversation take a different direction.

I got the HR folks to start that process because I honestly wanted ot know if I was being too hard on the candidates or whatever else. I felt I was flying blind and I don't think it is appropriate to put the candidate (given the situation at the time) on the spot and ask them how I'm doing. When I'm training or talking at conferences I do ask the audience how I'm doing. They even fill our a questionnaire after every session, so I get that feedback so I missed knowing where I'm at for interviews.

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sophia_wyl profile image
Sophia Li Author

Thanks for providing more insight! I'm a junior starting out my career so I'm curious what a good standard for interviews is (and of course understanding there is no perfect process). Your answer helps a lot in understanding what different types of interviews exist, and what types of processes provide a better candidate experience while also providing a better assessment.

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stereoplegic profile image
Mike Bybee

Love this process, Shiv. You learn so much more by letting the candidate relax.

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sorinpav profile image
Constantin Sorin Pavelescu

If only there would be more interviewers like you. Way to go! Thank you for doing what you do best.

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mattschwartz profile image
Matthew Schwartz

This is almost exactly the same process I follow as well. My interviews are entirely conversation-driven. Any technical challenges are driven by the topics that come up. It's worked very well for me over the years.

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rad_val_ profile image
Valentin Radu

Excellent approach. What strikes me is that for most of the people here on dev.to this is the ideal interview, still, in real life, it's almost impossible to find some one who does it (at least in Germany/Spain/Romania, where most of my interviews were)

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matlus profile image
Shiv Kumar

I know, think companies conduct interviews en-mass so they need one process to conduct all interviews. What they don't realize is that everyone is different, and if you truly want to extract the strength of an individual you've got to personalize it on the fly for the individual. You've got to work at it. Also both parties have got to leave their egos, at the door.

Interviewing (And being interviewed) is an art form that we as an industry do not understand. I remind friends and co-workers who are going out to be interviewed that they are the ones in fact who are interviewing the interviewer (After all they are the ones moving from one relationship to the next) and not to forget that.

Also find another job while your current one is secure. Don't wait till you don't have a job and are desperate. Beggars can't be choosers as they say.

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bam92 profile image
Abel Lifaefi Mbula

That's something interesting! Unfortunately, it is for senior or architect positions. What I like in your process is that you give feedback rather than just letting the candidate go and send them an "unfortunately we could not advance with you" email.

I wish I learned more about how you decide which candidate you take or give offer after having all info you need, especially as you don't give score.

No story for entry or junior positions?

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matlus profile image
Shiv Kumar

@Abel, I can't really pin down a process or method. You get the overall feel after a talk with someone. Ok, so they don't know, but can they learn? Can they be taught? Would they gel with the others on the team?
If they do know, will they spend time teaching others, bringing them up to their level? etc.

As senior, you are expected to know a minimum level and to a certain depth rather than just surface level. Need good "quality" experience rather than just years of experience.

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bam92 profile image
Abel Lifaefi Mbula

Thank you for this clear answer.

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matlus profile image
Shiv Kumar

Abel, the companies I've worked for over the last 12 years have only hired seniors and architects and I'm not qualified to interview juniors and mids, so I can't speak from experience. Well, I had a couple of experiences where I was asked to interview a mid level and a junior and it was a disaster (for me) and a waste of time for the candidates. I fear that interviews for junior positions take the route of FANG companies. But honestly I don't know.