July 29, 2014 interview

Future Proof Your Technical Interviewing Process: The Fit Interviews

If you just found yourself here, you’ve stumbled onto a multi-part series on the technical interviewing process. Part 1 covered the phone screen and part 2 covered the technical interview. Today we’re going to discuss the fit” interviews, that is, team and cultural fit.

The Team Fit Interview

Modern software development is done in teams. You want to be able to judge any candidate as a productive, positive member of your team. They don’t necessarily have to have experience doing things the way you do them, but they should show the ability to adapt when issues arise. Your job in the team fit interview is to break the important things that happen in your team into situations that you can ask your candidate about. The following are pretty standard examples:

  • What’s the right process for gathering requirements?
  • How do you convince someone that you’ve got a good idea?
  • What do you do when you can’t convince them?
  • How do you deal with vague requirements?
  • What happens if you’re asked to do something you don’t agree with?
  • etc.

However, you have to be careful here. Pretty much anyone can give you the right” answers to these questions, but you don’t want the right” answers — you want the real answers. How does a candidate actually behave in the face of these situations?

The best way I know of to get the real answers out of someone is something called Behavioral Interviewing. The idea is simple: instead of asking someone how they would act if faced with a certain situation, ask them to describe an example in their past when they’ve had to deal with that situation. Discuss it with them. How did their strategy work for them? What did they learn? What would they do differently?

Just this one shift from how would you deal with this situation” to how did you deal with this situation” will get you a much deeper look into how a candidate actually behaves, which allows you to decide if they’re a good fit for your team.

The Cultural Fit Interview

This goal of the cultural fit interview is to figure out if the candidate will like their new working environment and whether the team will be glad to have them. It’s enormously important and very difficult to access. One typical way to approach this type of interview is to ask the following kinds of questions, also in a Behavioral Interviewing style:

  • (You’re a startup) How do you like the idea of quick decisions, hard work on short deadlines, light process and tight purse strings?
  • (You’re an established company) How do you like the idea of getting buy-in with a set of stakeholders, making sure we don’t ship anything until it’s done, following an established process and sticking to a budget?
  • What’s more important: the customers or the business?
  • What kinds of activities are most important to you? Do you like to be focused on your set of tasks or do you like to do a lot of different things?
  • What makes you as productive as you can be?
  • Where do you see your career path taking you?
  • etc.

These questions are much more vague and really meant to start a conversation, but they’re also very hit-and-miss. If you happen to hit the right path, you can really crack a candidate open like a ripe nut.

Also, you want to be careful how you interpret the answers. If you don’t filter out people that aren’t a good fit for the culture of the company, they’ll be unhappy and you’ll be unhappy. On the other hand, if you filter too much, you’ll lose out on the benefits of diversity. It’s a hard line to walk.

Another way to approach a culture fit interview is to get creative. Maybe invite the person to a company event, perhaps a semi-public mixer or a Friday afternoon beer bash. Maybe sit down with the team over lunch and play a game together. Maybe sit in the café and grab lunch in a small group and see how the conversation goes.

I think the key to finding a good fit culturally is to spend time with the candidate that doesn’t center around the technology you’re using to build your products. For example, involving a candidate in something that the team does for fun can go a long way towards finding a great new member for your team.

Next Time

Tune in next time for when we wrap this series up and talk about how to make the hiring decision.