Future Proof Your Technical Interviewing Process: The Phone Screen
In 30 years, I’ve done a lot of interviewing from both sides of the table. Because of my chosen profession, my interviewing has been for technical positions, e.g. designers, QA, support, docs, etc., but mostly for developers and program managers, both of which need to understand a system at the code level (actually, I think VPs and CTOs need to understand a system at the code level, too, but the interview process for those kinds of people is a superset of what I’ll be discussing in this series).
In this discussion, I’m going to assume you’ve got a team doing the interview, not just a person. Technical people need to work well in teams and you should have 3-4 people in the interview cycle when you’re picking someone to join the team.
The Most Important Thing!
Let me state another assumption: you care about building your team as much as you care about building your products. Apps come and go, but a functional team is something you want to cherish forever (if you can). If you just want to hire someone to fill a chair, then what I’m about to describe is not for you.
The principle I pull from this assumption is this: it’s better to let a good candidate go then to hire a bad one.
A bad hire can do more harm than a good hire can repair. Turning down a “pretty good” candidate is the hardest part of any good interview process, but this one principle is going to save you more heartache than any other.
The Phone Screen
So, with these assumptions in mind, the first thing you always want to do when you’ve got a candidate is to have someone you trust do a quick phone screen, e.g. 30 minutes. This can be an HR person or someone that knows the culture of the company and the kind of people you’re looking for. A phone screen has only one goal: to avoid wasting the team’s time. If there’s anything that’s an obvious mismatch, e.g. you require real web development experience, but the phone screen reveals that the candidate really doesn’t, then you say “thanks very much” and move on to the next person.
If it’s hard to get a person to come into your office — maybe they’re in a different city — you’ll also want to add another 30 minutes to do a technical phone screen, too, e.g.
- Describe the last app they built with Angular.
- Tell me how JVM garbage collection works.
- What’s the right data structure to hold the possible solutions to tic-tac-toe?
Whatever it is, you want to make reasonably sure that they’re going to be able to keep up with their duties technically before you bring them on site, or you’re just wasting the team’s time.
At this point, if you’re hiring a contractor, you may be done. Contractors are generally easy to fire, so you can bring them on and let them go easily. Some companies start all of their technical hires as contractors first for a period of 30-90 days and only hire them if that works out.
If you’re interviewing for an FTE position, once they’ve passed the phone screen, you’re going to bring them into the office.
You should take a candidate visit seriously; you’re looking for a new family member. Even before they show up, you make sure you have a representative sample of the team in the candidate’s interview schedule. At the very least, you need to make sure that you have someone to drill into their technical abilities, someone to deal with their ability to deliver as part of a team and someone to make sure that they’re going to be a cultural fit with the company as a whole. Each of these interview types is different and deserves it’s own description.
Future Posts in This Series
Tune in to future posts in this series where we’ll be discussing: