How to Fix Technical Interviewing

April 26, 2017 at 12:00 PM by William Clarke


Imagine you had to fluently speak and understand numerous different jargons, lexicons, and technical subjects, while also needing to accurately assess other people’s mastery of those skillsets. Now imagine doing it multiple times a day with different people in 15 to 30 minute increments. It almost sounds like some crazy version of nerdy speed dating, right? Almost, but not quite. It’s just technical interviewing!

Technical interviewing doesn’t need to feel like a DMV trip. But many organizations handicap themselves with one-size fit all interviewing and hiring processes that make it for more painful than it needs to be.

Let’s be clear: this is not the fault of recruiters. They do the best they can under adverse circumstances. The modern war for technical talent is a pressure cooker that demands quick, often unrealistic results and leads to shortcuts and lots of square pegs in round holes-type shenanigans. 

In practice, that often means bringing in too many candidates for interviews, not training your technical staff crucial interview skills, recruiter’s not truly understanding the role and what to assess for, and hiring teams banging their heads against the wall trying to make more hires than is reasonable. It’s not very much fun for anyone involved, and it’s especially unfair to candidates, whose entire day could be disrupted just to have a really bad experience at a company they'll never work for.

So, instead of treating technical interviewing like a sprint to the finish line, treat it like a marathon, where every step counts and you treat your candidates like people. Here's how. 

Align Your Expectations

Effective hiring requires recruiting teams and non-recruiting teams to cooperate, communicate and collaborate. Most recruiting teams are responsible for evaluating skillsets they themselves do not possess, but your technical teams do! So, before you’ve even begun sourcing talent, figure out what good candidates look like and what the people sourcing those candidates ought to be looking for. Work up a profile based on experience, expertise and anything else your hiring manager thinks is relevant. Bringing in lots of candidates for interviews who don’t quite fit the role wastes the precious time of your sourcers, recruiters, interviewers and candidates. If you find after a few interviews that the candidates just haven’t been quite right, figure out what is missing and recalibrate your sourcing to account for that. The better the top of your candidate funnel looks, the better your bottom of tunnel will look.

Develop a candidate-friendly process

Your hiring funnel should proceed in a logical, flexible way that does not ask too much of your candidates too early. More than that, create an environment that allows them to perform at their best. Do you really need to have them onsite for six hours or white-boarding algorithms from memory in front of a panel of five people? Research by found that only 25% of interviewees perform consistently from interview to interview and a third of all high performers bomb at least one interview. Even worse, people who think they perform poorly often drop out of the hiring process altogether (especially women). This exacerbates attrition and undermines many organizations' attempts to diversity their teams. Thus, it behooves organizations to create hiring processes that reduce needless friction and unpleasantness, giving candidates the opportunity to perform at their best. Your interviews shouldn’t resemble boot camp where only the strong survive. That's not how real work works. 

Train your people

Instead of just coming up with new roles and sending recruiters out to find people, spend time training them. For instance, a recruiter should never ask a candidate a question they themselves don’t understand. Teach them the fundamentals of the technical skillset in question, what to look for on resumes, why certain kinds of experience are important will allow them to better differentiate between real deal candidates and pretenders. Think of it as teaching them to fish, if you get my drift. But it's not just your recruiter's who need training. Many of your interviewers will need to be trained on the correct and most effective ways to perform interviews, including the fundamentals of behaviorial interviewing, the importance of structured questions, and how to avoid confirmation bias. This will enable them to better assess candidates and provide more useful and predictive feedback afterwards, creating a fairer process overall while reducing the impact of bias and randomness on your interviewing results.  

Create questions for each role

To save time, many organizations mistakenly take a one-size fit all to technical interviewing questions. Unless you are a massive organization with a super high-quality inbound talent funnel, this costs your organization because it creates an inefficient and inexact hiring process. The most predictive hiring questions are those specifically calibrated to the real world problems your technical teams face and the particular responsibilities and expectations for the role in question. Creating unique questions to each role is time-consuming, but it pays off down the road by creating a more predictive process and dataset to evaluate candidates with. Also, ensure candidates for the same role are asked the same questions, so that your data in consistent. This leads to a better candidate experience and a better interviewer experience which, you bet, leads to better hiring!   

Assess for practical knowledge

Many hiring teams insist on asking academic questions of candidates. Rote memorization of algorithms will very rarely have anything to do with a candidate’s ability to write code. Instead, ask them practical questions or have them pair with one of your engineers to assess their ability. Isolating them in a room and peppering them with questions is not how real coding works. Technical work is often creative and open-ended, with solutions that are the result of teamwork and critical thinking. Considering that some of the best coders were not computer science majors, don’t get caught up trying to prove their academic credentials. How they work, think, and tackle complex problems is far more indicative of their ability to contribute. After all, work is not school, not should it be, so figuring our how they work is far more important than figuring out their memorization skills. 

Constantly Optimize

Your hiring process will necessarily vary based on each role. Nevertheless, it’s essential to pay close attention to key performance metrics such as candidates per hire, hire by source, interviews per hire and other data points that indicate how efficient and effective your hiring process is. After all, the market is always evolving, which means your hiring tactics and strategies must as well. Don’t be afraid to fix things if they no longer seem to be working as well as they once did. Like many other things in life, your hiring will always be a work a progress, and the more feedback loops you build into your process, the more efficient and effective your hiring process will become.

Every interview, phone screen, and on-site that does not lead to a hire is costly for your recruiters, your hiring managers, your interviewers and, especially, your candidates. By improving your process you’ll also create a better candidate experience and a more productive hiring process overall. The key is to create efficient and accurate processes that generate valuable data and positive outcomes.

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