Better Technical Interviews: Part 3 – The Interview Itself

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This post is part of a series I’m writing on better technical interviews. I’d love your feedback in the comments!

OK! Now that we’re well-prepared, the day of the interview is here and it’s time to execute on it.

The Actual Interview

  • Just before heading in, remember what it’s like to interview. The dread, the lingering feeling afterward on whether you did well, the self-doubt, the headspace you’re in, the muscle memory folks have from past environments and cultures. Remember that no matter what, you want this person to tell other people how good this company would be to work for. Remember that you want them to succeed. Now, you are ready to head into the room.

  • The introduction matters. A lot. I like to do the following to start off on the right foot:
    • Make sure they feel comfortable. Ask them if they want a drink of water.
    • Confirm how long you have them in the interview. This lets you know if you have a little extra room for questions, and also sends the signal that you respect their time.
    • Let them know this is more of a conversation than a quiz, and that you will be sure to leave room for questions.
    • Let them know the agenda. This allows them to have expectations, and to mentally prepare for what will come after them.
  • Pitch your company first. Why do you like it? Help them understand why it’s a great place to work, in ways that are relevant to them. Allow for some questions up front. Get them excited. This shows you understand that a mutual fit is important. Also, whether the person is an appropriate hire or not, they’ll leave armed with information and a good feeling about the place.
  • Also, let them know what won’t be on the agenda. Will you not be running a coding exam? Let them know that (and likely listen to that huge, sweet sigh of relief.)
  • Are you taking notes? Let them know it’s just to write down what they said, not to cast judgment in real time.
  • Start off with a “recent win”. Is there anything – preferably professional, but outside of work is acceptable – lately that someone feels is a “win” for them? I like this because people seem to immediately relax. They can talk about something they know from experience, and it kicks the interview off on a positive note. It also tells me something about what the interviewee values and why, and what they consider to be a positive impact in their lives.
  • Leave enough time for questions at the end. The interview needs to be a two-way street.

Assessing During the Interview

  • Notes. I tend to take short-hand notes on anything the candidates say that find to be of substance / value. I start this during their “recent win” section, to ensure they know I’m not just making marks against them in a notebook.
  • Use your outline. I use the open-ended list of questions I’ve prepared, and I try to make notes near those sections when we get into those areas of discussion.
  • Challenging in the moment. It is important to push back if an interviewee says something that is incorrect or that you want to dig into a little further. However, this doesn’t have to be done in a stand-offish way. How would you do that with a teammate? Follow-up, clarifying questions that give the benefit of the doubt are likely the way to go in this instance.
  • Does an interviewee get a question wrong? If the interviewee answers a more cut & dry question incorrectly, it’s a good idea to let them know what you were looking for & why, as well as telling them it’s OK. The interviewee may be able to clarify their understanding, or to provide further information on their perspective. It’s also an option to see if folks are open to being corrected or if they get very defensive. Also, it’s an interview; remember that people are nervous and they get questions wrong sometimes. Making sure you show that you’re not judging them is an important part of how you present yourself and your company in the interview.

Delivering Your Feedback on the Interviewee

Once you’re done, I think it’s important to do a thorough write-up of the interview – a three-dimensional look that includes potential strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and the context in which you’re thinking about the hire. Map the interviewee’s performance to your company’s goals and values, and to the relevant skill level of your company.

I think these kinds of thorough debriefings are important for a few reasons:

  • They allow you to receive feedback. My interview notes have surfaced conversations with recruiting teams that have led me to understand their approach and ways I might be thinking about it differently than they’d like me to. In some cases I’ve adjusted my approach because of this; in other cases, I’ve stood firm. But the key is that the information allowed for the conversation.
  • There still might be a place for a person you reject. If someone wasn’t a fit for a senior-level role in this case, there’s no reason that they might not be an excellent fit for a mid-level role shortly down the line. And because if your interview prep and empathetic execution, they may still be interested when they come to mind for that role.

Phew! You’ve survived executing the the interview. Congrats! In the next post, we’ll wrap up with some odds and ends on my thoughts on various interview practices.

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