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Thoughts on interviewing

Hiring developers?

I recommend having two interviews, with the more technical interview coming last. This balances the need to be thorough while minimising the chance of missing out on talent.

However, a one-size-fits-all interview structure doesn’t exist so consider this a guide. Be flexible and tailor it to your own situation.

1) Phone screen (optional)
If you’re dealing with many candidates, a round of phone screening helps filter some out. Joel explains the phone screen brilliantly on his blog.


Working with Lookahead Search? You can skip this step as there are only one or two carefully chosen candidates to review. The shameless self promotion ends here :)

2) Face to face interview
Have a plan. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a long list of interview questions, but there should a rough guide of what you’d like to get through. An interview structure creates a level playing field for all candidates and allows you to substitute interviewers on short notice.

Have the decision makers present. That way, if a competitor makes an offer to your star candidate, the right people are motivated to move decisively.

Finally, remember that an interview goes both ways. Sell the role, explain your company culture and be honest about what’s not so great. Give them a chance to ask their own questions too.

3) In depth technical interview
Everyone is a little more familiar and a little less nervous on the second round. Do your technical grilling now, rather than at the start of the process (more on this below).

I personally like the idea of a senior engineer pairing with the candidate to fix bugs. It gives you a real idea of what they would be like on the job and also shows the candidate what they’re getting themselves into. You might not be able to do that, which is fine. Just keep in mind that every time someone sends me the FizzBuzz test I die a little inside.

Assorted notes:

Ask candidates for a detailed technical screening *after* meeting them.
A tough technical interview can actually be enjoyable for good candidates, but it’s unreasonable to expect people to go through rigorous testing before they’ve met you. Give them a chance to buy in to what you’re doing first, then ask them to spend an hour completing a technical assignment.

Companies who start with the technical test risk losing people in the process. One of those people could be a brilliant developer who had other less demanding opportunities.

Have as few stages as possible.
Talent gets snapped up so you need to move quickly. Apple, Google and Atlassian hire brilliant engineers despite their lengthy interview process, not because of it.

If you have a lot to get through, it’s better to pack more into each session. An 11:30am technical interview followed by a 12:30pm team lunch is a winner in my opinion.

Close each meeting with clear timeframes.
Momentum is extremely valuable and easy to lose. Close each meeting with a plan on what the next steps are going to be and keep the meetings as close to each other as possible. If you leave it a week between interviews, the candidate might lose interest or secure another role.

Be aware of your body clock
I found that late afternoon interviews aren’t ideal for me. I would hate for that to affect my decision making abilities so I instead aim for morning or early afternoon. Have a think about this next time you book an interview at the start or end of the day.

I hope this helps. As I get time to write more of my thoughts down, I will update the article. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts of your own, get in touch: steve@lookahead.com.au.