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Technical Interviewing: 3 Actionable Tips to Hire Well

Introduction

In 2020, we saw many things about our world change, from the financial markets through sports and up to retail and leisure activities. The HR field and hiring are no exceptions to this trend. To hire well in 2021 and beyond, organizations need to optimize their hiring process—to be able to adapt to the challenges that a remote workforce and a remote hiring process bring. This post lists three actionable tips to hire good technical candidates in this new world. 

Tip #1: Precisely Define What You’re Looking For

Do You Really Need to Hire?

As a recruiter, you need to clearly define (first and foremost for yourself) what and whom you’re looking for. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, the chances are that you won’t find it. Clearly define the tasks and duties that you feel are underserved in your team or department; then look at the data to determine whether you really need to recruit someone. For instance, if you’re managing a back-end department and you feel that your processes and the development speed are the bottlenecks for your group to move faster, hiring another DevOps expert is only one option. As an alternative, you can train some of your software engineers to be more “DevOps aware.” Provide them with basic skills and training to do common tasks, thus reducing the workload of your DevOps team. 

Clear and Conscious Job Description

If, after analyzing the data, you do see that there’s enough work to justify hiring a new employee, you need to clearly communicate the following: 

  • What will be the duties of the new employee?
  • What should the employee bring to the new role?
  • How will the employee’s work integrate into the general scheme of the department?

In other words, you should clearly communicate in the job description the requirements, the duties, and the expected output of the employee you’d like to hire for this role. For instance, if you’re looking for a developer to do front-end development, can you make it with a full stack developer who has less expertise in the front end and is more of a jack-of-all-trades type? Or do you specifically need a front-end expert? Being unable to answer this will end in wasted time on screening and can potentially lead to hiring the wrong person. The latter is way more costly than just wasting time on screening. Following this tip will dramatically lower the number of irrelevant résumés and wasted hours on screening candidates who don’t fit. Especially in this day and age of economic recession, it’s vital to streamline this process. This way, you won’t waste precious hours asking your top developers to interview the wrong people and instead will keep them busy in adding value to the organization. 

Tip #2: Get the Right Tools for Interviewing

The Importance of Communication

As most hiring today is done remotely, it’s vital to adapt our technical hiring process to this reality. Previously, you could meet the candidate face-to-face and get some sense of their personality via informal communication. Sitting in the same room, making sure that you’re on the same page and that you understand each other, was much easier than today. However, even as you interview remotely, you have to make sure that you and the candidate understand each other clearly. 

Candidate Experience

When you’re conducting a technical interview, you need a tool that will allow you to foster this kind of communication with the candidate. The candidate should have the best interviewing experience possible, for several reasons: 

  • A great interview experience increases the chances that they’ll accept the offer and won’t go somewhere else.
  • Additionally, a great interview experience can make them agree on an offer that’s lower than their original expectations.
  • Finally, a great experience will make them a brand ambassador for your company even if you eventually don’t hire them.

To create this kind of experience, the candidate should first and foremost feel comfortable with the situation. Being interviewed is stressful enough. There’s no need to create added stress by making them answer questions that are extremely hard or not directly related to their job or making them use tools they’re not familiar with during the process. For instance, asking a developer that works on Linux to code on a Mac. 

The Right Tool

The right tool for the job will place the candidate in an environment that resembles their day-to-day job as closely as possible. In the case of technical interviews, an IDE-like tool with code completion, libraries, and real-world code execution is the ideal environment to make the candidate feel at ease and “at home.” In addition, the closer the interview environment is to the candidate’s “real-world” experience, the better the results will reflect their real abilities. 

Tip #3: Cultural Fit

Having great technical skills is a must-have. If a candidate can talk the talk but can’t walk the walk, though, they’re a great beer companion—but not a great coder. However, assessing the “hard skills” (the technical experience and proving their ability to solve tech problems) alone isn’t enough. You need to aim for a cultural fit as well. 

Why Cultural Fit Matters

Cultural fit is in no way less important than technical skills. A poor cultural fit can make even the best coder ineffective. Once you interview someone, you need to check that they can get along with their peers and their direct manager. In addition, there should be a fit in terms of how the company operates and what their habits and style of work are. For instance, if they come from start-up companies and you’re managing a department in a large enterprise, here are the things you need to check: 

  • They can work with structured and formal procedures.
  • They understand and accept the fact that processes can take time.
  • They’re able to work in a clearly defined domain and accept a heretical approach to management.

On the other hand, say you’re hiring for a start-up but an engineer has worked for conservative enterprises. Here’s what you should look for: 

  • Can they take initiative into their own hands?
  • Are they comfortable working and collaborating directly with multiple stakeholders?
  • Can they work in a fast-changing environment?
  • Can they adapt easily to new technologies and frameworks?

Lastly, the ideal candidate should relate to and even preferably embrace your company’s values and mission. We spend most of our waking hours with our coworkers. It’s much easier and more productive to work with someone who actually enjoys what they do and embraces the long-term mission of the product. 

Conclusion

Hiring has always been challenging. Even more so with recent increases in remote work and remote hiring processes. In this article, we’ve looked at some tips to help you adapt to this brave new world. As discussed, you should always ask yourself a few questions first: Why do you want to hire? Whom should you hire? What will that person do? And after answering those questions, communicate the conclusions clearly. Next, to make the process more effective, you should pick the right tools for the job. The ideal tool will allow the candidate to feel at ease and comfortable by providing a technical testing environment as equivalent to the one they have at their day-to-day job as possible. Last but not least, it’s important to check for cultural fit as well. A person can be a great coder, but a cultural fit is critical for them to become an effective employee. 

This post was written by Alexander Fridman. Alexander is a veteran in the software industry with over 11 years of experience. He worked his way up the corporate ladder and has held the positions of Senior Software Developer, Team Leader, Software Architect, and CTO. Alexander is experienced in frontend development and DevOps, but he specializes in backend development.