The technical interview 101 – Part 1

I wanted to write down some thoughts and experiences with interviewing from both the interviewee and the interviewer perspective, which I will be sharing with you over the next few weeks.

Part 1

We should start with the Interviewer finding the right Candidate(s).
A good interview technique will not turn a BAD candidate into a GOOD one!
As the hiring manager, you should be in complete control over who enters the interview process. I wouldn’t advise leaving this to HR or another colleague to decide. I have always found that the more involved the hiring manager is, the better the quality of candidates.
Your ability to conduct a great interview will make it easy to find the skills that the candidate already possesses, but it will not inject skills that aren’t there.
Today I will share the 3 basic considerations that can improve the quality of candidates to interview.
1.    The Job Posting
The best job postings read like an actual human being wrote them. Not jargon-filled nonsense, with more oxymorons and hyperbole than a Daily Mail editorial.
Your job posting should include the spirit of your organization while expressing the personality of you – the hiring manager. A lot of people struggle to understand that this is your sales pitch to your perfect candidate.
A generic, “HR-speak” filled advert normally attracts generic candidate… BUT a Creative, Passionate and Smart advert will generate Creative, Passionate and Smart candidates.
2. It’s all about your brand.
Have you seen  This is a site that strikes the fear of god into most HR departments.
Here, employees have the chance to anonymously rate and review their past and current employers. We should all be encouraging our employees to use this site! What a fantastic way to gain a real insight to your employees.
Yes, there will be negatives, even if you gave your employees free Haribo and had Puppy Wednesdays. Of course, there would be someone who hates Puppies and Haribo (strange people)!
But this gives the potential candidate(s) a fantastic insight into your business through your current employees, and will only make your business stronger. Plus, the candidates that you then interview, will already feel like a small part of your business. There’s no point in deceiving candidates if internal issue(s) exist as they won’t stay, and that’s a costly hiring technique.
3. Do the legwork
Hiring is a costly and long process that most managers would rather pass onto somebody else. However, you are the key to your own success!
For this reason, work closely with your recruiter. Notice that I said recruiter and not multiple recruiters!
It may seem like a good idea to pass the job to 5 agencies in order to stand a better chance of finding that perfect candidate. When, in fact, it’s actually the opposite as you’re watering down your offering. You and your recruiter should have a symbiotic relationship.
You will have networks and connections that they don’t, and vice versa. Use the hiring process to develop a good relationship with your recruiter or HR department, which will make processes run smoothly while working with them.

The Interview

So, you have your 2, 3, 5 or 20 candidates to interview, all arranged and ready to go.
Now you and your co-interviewers’ task is to use that 60-minute window with the candidate in the most productive way possible. An hour is not a lot of time to decide on your company’s and the candidates’ fate. But it should be enough to get 80% of the way there. After all, hiring people is always going to be 10-20% luck.
I once read somewhere that the best interview format is 5 mins, 25 mins, 25 mins,5 mins with a 5 min buffer.

  • 5 minute warm up
  • 2/4 big questions or problems (25/12 minutes each)
  • 5 minute wrap up

An uncomfortable or defensive candidate will never show their true potential, and an uncomfortable interviewer will never ask the right questions.
Be nice!
An obvious gesture I know, but you would be surprised how few take on board this tactic.
For instance, say the servers have just fallen over, or your C.E.O has just berated you due to your department’s overspend. DO NOT TAKE THAT INTO THE INTERVIEW WITH YOU!
It’s not the candidates fault that you’re having a bad day; they could be the answer to your problems!
You could choose to take a confrontational edge as the interview progresses, but you will never recover a candidate if they are uncomfortable or defensive from the start.
Ask them about their journey, and then move on to a question about their CV. Alternatively, ask them to choose what they think is the best thing from their CV and get them to describe it to you. This is your chance to help them dominate the conversation and to get them pumped
A great interview is a great collaboration
If the job involves spending time with a team and collaborating together. Then it’s important that the interview is also a collaborative process.
An amazing developer that can only work at home on their own is always going to be less valuable to a business in the long run than a good developer who adds value to the entire team. One of my favorite poems was from my days in the army. My huge, angry and aggressive training corporal readout the following John Donne’s poem to us while we were in the water tank at Lympstone.
water tank at lympstone
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friends
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Being smart is not enough to build a successful team. 
The candidate has to be comfortable communicating their intellect, skill and knowledge to others by being able to take criticism on board and exchange ideas. Not by forcing colleagues in the direction that they perceive to be right.
The problems and questions you pose should include something about how the candidate will be WORKING WITH YOU on a particular project
E.g. “I need to reorganize the internal IT department, and I want to put you in charge. How would you start?”
It’s important that you act as a guide and to collaborate, but do so from a distance. Answer their questions (it’s a great sign if they ask great questions). But only help them to clarify assumptions. DO NOT answer the questions for them unless they are completely stuck or off-topic and need a little nudge to move on.
interview techniques
Know when to Shut IT
It can sometimes be irresistible to spend the 60 minutes talking, after all, you have a captive audience. I could easily talk at someone for 60 minutes, without even noticing. THE MORE TIME YOU SPEND TALKING, THE LESS TIME THEY SPEND DEMONSTRATING THEIR TALENT!
It’s OK to be chatty and tell stories, just have a reason for it.
Keep Notes
There’s no point in starting the interview process if you’re not clear on what you’re looking for.
I would suggest creating an ordered list of the traits you require. They should be in 2 sections.

  1. How they will fit into the Team/Organization – it would be great if you had input from your existing team.
  2. How they will fit into the role in order to succeed.

You should think of yourself as an integrator (a friendly one, let’s say “good cop”). Who is trying to create problems and questions that discover whether the desired skills/talent/traits exists.
Even if hidden, you will find out in that hour.
In my opinion, this is the only attitude that will maximize your chances in making that perfect hire. You do not need to be confrontational or give a tough interview to achieve this – the opposite, in fact. It should be the quality of your questions and your attitude that makes an interview tough.
In the next part, I will go into:

  • Interview questions
  • Concluding the interview
  • The feedback process