The consensus is that interviews usually suck. Whether you are an interviewer or an interviewee; interviews never seem to be regarded in the same light as Christmas.
In this article I’ll be focussing on the ‘interviewer’ side of things, as there are many tips and tricks to being a good candidate, but once we’re on the other side of the table, not only do the tips seem to dry up, we often seem to care less.
Interviewing is a skill, and it takes practice to get good at it. It requires empathy, time, patience and a level of understanding that we may not use in our day-to-day lives.
I’ve seen interviewers blame candidates for not being good enough, not being prepared or making ‘obvious’ mistakes. However, to me, in an interview the one conducting it has the most influence on its final perception.
Yes, a candidate could jump on their desk, screaming profanities while going over why they think llamas should be the sole inheritors of the earth, but an interviewer could ask if llamas are the sole inheritors of the earth and a candidate would probably rationalize that there was a reason for it.
In short, interviewers have the most power and influence within an interview, but how do you wield it effectively?
Tips for Conducting a Great Interview
I originally put this together for an interviewer pack I made at a previous company, but wanted to share it with others. I gathered these tips from a few seasoned interviewers (100+ interviews).
They were engineers/managers who conducted code/pairing interviews, so these tips may not apply to all cases.
Be on time!
You need to ensure you’re ready at least 10 minutes before the interview starts. A bad first impression can taint the entire interview. If you are late, apologize, explain why and reassure the candidate.
Interviews are nerve-wracking, by lightening the mood and making a candidate comfortable, they can perform at their best. Note: this doesn’t mean trying to crack jokes, it can be as simple as walking them through the process, letting them know that it's ok to make mistakes and maybe letting them know a bit about you.
Help Them If They Get Stuck
We've all had a point in our careers where we've missed something obvious, or gone down the wrong line of thinking. This does not define our ability as engineers. There is limited time during an interview. Lose time here, lose insights elsewhere. If there's a simple way to get a candidate moving again, let them know!
The way a candidate reacts to this can also be a valuable insight. If you’re going to be working together, having someone who is receptive to help could be a boon.
Give Them Your Full Attention
Respect works both ways in an interview. Each candidate has given up their own time to go through your process. It's important to show them the same courtesy.
Scout Their CV Beforehand
Not only is it good to know a bit about a candidate, some may require a bit of coaxing to really show their true colours. Showing interest in the things they've done can sometimes light that fire.
Use the candidate's code/answers to guide your questions
Ask about their approach, why they decided what they did, if there are other ways to do it. It can break up the formulaic nature of an interview.
However, this is dangerous if done incorrectly. Try to keep the questions relevant to what they've written/said, rather than random questions as that could distract the candidate from what they're doing.
Empathy, Empathy, Empathy
As dramatic as it may sound, each interview you do might change someone's life. Ok yes, that is dramatic, but you never really know who the candidate is, how nervous they feel and how much the opportunity could mean to them.
Try to see the interview from their perspective. As awkward as it can be, try to leave the candidate feeling as positive about their experience as they can, even if they don't perform well.
It's ok to make mistakes
Interviewing is a skill. It takes practice. There is no guarantee that every interview will go smoothly, that every candidate you approve will work out in the long run or that every candidate you reject should have been.
That's ok. Missteps happen, and they help with growth. What's important is that you tried and that you’re willing to learn from it.
Why Become An Interviewer?
If you’ve never conducted an interview, it's tricky to see the benefits of doing so. However, here’s a couple.
Experience the Other Side of the Table.
Before becoming an interviewer, the only experience you’re going to have of interviews is well, your own. For me, taking part in interviews broke the ‘mysticism’ of interviews.
No longer was an interviewer an infallible tech god, who knew everything and anything and whose sole purpose was to judge everything I do. They're just people. People who are sometimes even more afraid of messing up than you are. It humanized the process and allowed me to get a better idea of what a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ interview/interviewer is.
It helped me to see mistakes candidates can make as well as techniques I never would’ve thought of doing or questions I never would’ve thought of asking. Which was invaluable for the next time I was a candidate.
You could look at interviewing as doing public speaking at a smaller scale. There is a certain character-building element of being asked something that you don’t know and saying ‘you don’t know’ while in an interview as an interviewer. It’s one fear a new interviewer might have, because of how they perceived interviews as a candidate.
If you’re running an interview, not only are you in charge of the pace, the questions, the candidate, the mood, you’re also representing your company and are a key factor for whether a candidate accepts a position. Getting past those hurdles builds confidence.
If you know, you can run a great interview, and teach others how to interview, those skills are transferable to any position you work in, in the future. Every company needs to hire someone at some point.
The Importance of Process
Sometimes having a great interview can be out of your hands. If your company’s interview or interviewer training process isn’t great, you can end up with unprepared or annoyed candidates and a second interviewer, that actively ruins the tone of the interview.
Or worse, no-one has the desire to interview or train new interviewers so you’re stuck doing the bulk of them and recruitment hardly gives you notice. In those situations, it's tough to have the enthusiasm to run a good interview.
So in cases where you feel you are doing the best you can, it might be worth trying to look at the company’s entire interview process and seeing if it could be possible to improve. Though, I understand depending on where you work, that might be unfeasible.
In my view, when it comes to how well a candidate can perform in an interview, the order of importance is.
Interview Process > Interviewer > Candidate.
A terrible interview process can render the best interviewer useless just as a terrible interviewer can do the same to the best candidate. So, how does one improve their interview process? Well, that’s an article for another time.
Anywho, thanks for reading and if you’d like to share any more tips, do feel free to.