The Interview Process at Most Tech Startups is Broken

Everyone complains about how hard it is to find and hire great engineering talent yet almost no one spends the time required to build out an exceptional and efficient hiring & interviewing process.  To clarify, the HR / Recruiter portion is usually pretty good, but once it gets into the engineering hiring manager and team interviews it goes downhill fast.

Most companies on Glassdoor have less than a 50% positive experience rating.

Interview experience

Remember that negative reviews tend to be more powerful than positive reviews.  

The most common reasons related to a poor interviewing experience are listed below (in no particular order):

  • Disorganized
  • Disengaged interviewers
  • Interviewers not prepared
  • Duplicate questions
  • Hostile environment / attitude
  • Not knowing the role the candidate is interviewing for
  • Unprofessional
  • Showing up late (and not adjusting the time)

Finding and hiring good talent is hard.  Here are some tips on how to improve the interviewing process at your company:

  1. Make it a priority.  Do you have quarterly goals?  Company strategy?  Improving your interviewing process should be a first-class-citizen and be on top of the list.  Get buy-in from HR and the executive management team.  Communicate this to the entire company and track interview satisfaction as a metric.
  2. Provide appropriate training.  Have you ever had formal training on how to interview?  Probably not.  Include some form of interview training in your on-boarding process for new engineers.  New software engineers should “pair interview” with one of your experienced employees for their first interview.
  3.  Include interviewing time in your product planning.  This is where most companies get in trouble.  Interviewing takes time, but hardly anyone ever includes that time when doing sprint planning.  Figure out how much time your engineers spend doing interviewing and subtract  that from their available story points for each sprint.  Adjust as needed.
  4. Your best engineers should go first.  They are in the best position to quickly assess a candidates abilities.  Use them as a filter for the rest of the group.  Which leads to my next point…
  5. Don’t be afraid to end an interview early.  You should have a quick check-in process after your second power interviewer.  If they both agree that this person is absolutely not going to work out – end the interview there, but remember to do it properly and respectfully.  It would be best to have the hiring manager or HR / Recruiter talk to the candidate.  Remember you want them to leave feeling as positive as possible.
  6. Be Prepared!  This should probably be #1.  The candidate has (hopefully) spent a great deal of time and energy preparing for this interview.  You should show them the appropriate respect by being properly prepared as well.  You can do all the following in ten minutes or less:  Read their resume, know the position they are applying for and be able to answer questions about the position, do a quick Google search and look at their recent Tweets, Github check-ins, LinkedIn posts, etc.
  7. Work as a team.  For each position that you are hiring for, the hiring manager should prepare an interview plan.  This should include the appropriate questions that each engineer should ask.  Who is focusing on culture fit vs. database skills vs. algorithm design, etc.
  8. Be consistent.  It is hard to evaluate multiple candidates if every one is asked a different set of questions.  You want to be able to give consistent quantitative feedback on each candidate.  Use a candidate tracking system such as Greenhouse or equivalent (even Google Docs would work) and have your engineers provide written feedback as soon as the interview is over!  Make sure their schedule includes time after the interview to provide this feedback.
  9. Try to impress the candidate.  In reality it is a two way interview.  The candidate is interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them.  Treat them like a genuine human being.  Be compassionate and come off like you actually do not mind interviewing them.  Help them to be less nervous.  Remember you want them to have as good experience as possible – especially if they do not get the job.
  10.  Ask for feedback.  The hiring manager or HR/recruiter should ask the candidate for feedback.  Use this feedback to continually improve the process.

As a parting exercise, I highly recommend watching this video from Moishe Lettvin, ” What I Learned from Doing 250 Interviews at Google.”

If you happen to work for a company with a truly enlightened engineering interview process, please leave a comment below with your company name (so people can apply!) and tips on how it works so well.

This originally appeared on my LinkedIn Pulse: The Interview Process at Most Tech Startups is Broken

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