August 1, 2014 interview

Future Proof Your Technical Interviewing Process: Hiring or Not

This is the last in a 4-part series on how to interview well. Parts 1-3 covered the phone screen, the technical interview and the fit interviews. In his part, we’ll wrap up by talking about how to make the hiring decision.

Make Time For Questions

As important as what questions you ask the candidate are leaving time for them to ask their questions. Remember that they’re interviewing you, too. Be open and honest about the answers; technical people have a sensitive bullshit detector, so don’t try to pretend that everything is perfect; they’ll know if you’re not being sincere. However, it’s a fine line. If you find yourself dwelling on the negative, you have to wonder if you’ve found a good fit for yourself.

Also, don’t forget to factor their questions into your own thinking about the candidate. The questions they ask about a job and a team they’re going to be spending 40+ hours/week with is as good an indicator of how they think as anything else.

Making the Call

As you pass the interview candidate from person to person, make sure that you spend a few minutes in private with the next interviewer talking about what you heard that you liked as well as things you’d like them to circle back on. You want to give them an opportunity to try again, either to convince you it’s not an issue or to confirm that it is.

Every interviewer should share their thoughts about the candidate soon while they’re fresh. You can send an email around to the team as you finish or get together in the same room after the candidate has headed home, but it should be the same day; those first impressions matter.

Ultimately each interviewer will provide three pieces of information: a thumbs up/down (whether you use actual thumbs for this process is up to you : ), a confidence level (do you really love this person? are you on the fence?) and an explanation (“I loved how they think about the customer!” or They never figured out how to efficiently search an infinite space of possible solutions.”)

The set of interview results will come out in three ways:

  1. Everyone loved that candidate. Hire them.
  2. Everyone hated the candidate. Don’t hire them. Be polite!
  3. There’s a mix. Discuss. Potentially get more info.

Of course, options #1 and #2 are easy to deal with. Unfortunately, option #3 is where most candidates fall. The question is, what do you do with a candidate with mixed results? If you’re following the principle that it’s better to send a good candidate away then to hire a bad candidate, then you’ll pass on them. However, you’ll want to spend some extra time on candidates like these. Discuss it amongst the team. See how adamant the thumbs up voters are and why. See how adamant the thumbs down voters are and why. If the candidate is on the fence but leaning towards hire,” pick someone else to talk to them and/or get them into a different environment, e.g. the bar down the street or the bowling alley at the company Xmas party, and see how they do.

Ultimately, it boils down to one thing: does the team as a whole want to bring the candidate into the team? If so, great. If not, let them go. Certainly a senior member of the company or department can override the team and hire a candidate above their objections, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You’re much more likely to hurt a good team in those situations then to help it.

Where Are We?

Whether you agree with the specifics of this process or not, I encourage you to spend the time to really examine your process. You want the team you build to be more than the sum of the parts, but that kind of magic requires first that you have great parts.