5 essential tips for conducting successful technical interviews

Sep 02, 2021 - 8 min read
Joshua Ahn
editor-page-cover

Conducting technical interviews can feel like a mess at times. Leetcode and obscure algorithmic questions help you filter out candidates during the first round of interviews, but these questions sometimes inadvertently favor fresh college graduates and fail veteran developers holding valuable job skills.

It’s not uncommon that tech startups adopt interview practices developed by FAANG companies when these practices were explicitly designed for large companies. As a recruiter, you sit at the driver’s seat for how technical interviews at your company should change, and you shape the mold for future interview practices.

I sat down with Educative’s senior technical recruiter, Sarah Manwill, to share the best technical interview practices with you. She has three years of experience conducting interviews at Amazon and Facebook before moving to Educative. I’ve compiled the best practices she’s gleaned over those years of experience.




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Research the interviewee before an interview

Before any interview, you should research your interviewee to create a personalized interview experience and better understand your interviewee’s online presence. You can start with LinkedIn to see where your interviewee has worked in the past, then work your way around other social media platforms.

Often, research into an interviewee’s online presence holds a negative connotation, so keep in mind that you’re not just looking for red flags. For example, you should look for an individual’s active and thoughtful engagement in relevant online communities. Their engagement in these relevant communities tells you about their passions and persona in a more casual setting. As you’re looking through various mediums, keep an eye out for the following details:

  1. Any positive or negative comments about previous employers or co-workers.
  2. Professionalism
  3. Tagged and posted photos
  4. Content that provides details about the interviewee’s personality
  5. Comments that reveal how they interact with other people

As you prescreen your candidate, keep in mind that every candidate’s online presence can serve to diminish or uphold your company’s reputation.


Prepare the interviewee (as best as you can)

As a technical recruiter, you balance helping your interviewee get the job and providing your company with high-quality candidates. What does preparing your interviewee look like? For technical aspects of the interview, you can provide technical resources to help the interviewee answer questions. Based on data from our FAANG partnerships, successful interview prep courses increase candidate pass through rate, improve diversity, and enhance employer brand.

In addition, provide your interviewee with data supporting the average time that interviewees study for technical screening and interviews. If you work at a smaller company, you probably won’t have this data, but you can provide as much insight as possible based on your experience. If you can’t give the technical resources or study time data, give your interviewee adequate time to learn. If you’re looking for a quick solution to provide adequate technical support, take a look at how we’ve partnered with GitHub to provide students with in-demand developer tools for interview success.

Summary, To help the interviewee prepare for your interview, provide them with:

  • technical interview prep resources
  • data supporting hours needed to prep
  • adequate time to study

More often than not, even exceptional developers need help responding to behavioral questions more than technical questions. Your job is 90% with the candidate, so prepare them by providing your email, phone number, and as much contact information as possible. Spend time with your interviewee and help them practice answering behavioral questions. In addition, make it clear to your interviewee that they can reach out to you at any time with any questions they may have.

Summary,

To help your interviewee prepare for behavioral questions, you can offer:

  • A phone or Zoom call to rehearse behavioral questions
  • Links to resources that may help with behavioral questions
  • Your email address, phone number, and availability


Know the answers to your questions

You can find countless resources online that provide hundreds of interview questions. Finding questions online saves you time and opens up your toolkit for more insightful questions. However, it may lead you to adopt an ill-defined question, which lacks any qualitative or quantitative metric to separate “good” and “bad" answers. Preparing well-defined questions help you quickly judge the quality of your interviewee’s answers while avoiding any post-interview biases. Here are the questions you can ask yourself to differentiate “ill-defined” and “well-defined” questions.

  • What are you trying to learn about the interviewee from the question, and how does it relate to what’s needed for the job role?

  • What are the specific qualities of a “good” vs. “bad” answer? Write down a sample answer for each question to set your expectations early.

  • Does the question you’re asking give a particular social group an advantage? How can you adjust your query to avoid any bias?


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Probe for the truth in resumes

Part of your screening process should be to investigate the truth in your interviewee’s resume. Follow-up questions are a great way to probe for this truth. As you prepare a line of follow-up questions, keep in mind that you’re asking these questions to gain a more holistic understanding of your candidate.

Try to draw out information about how your candidate works with other individuals and the extent to which they understand the entire project. This process will help you understand how your candidate has worked in their previous team and how they might fit in with your team. If you feel like the candidate’s answers continue to seem vague, move on to a different topic to keep the candidate calm. Everyone will feel uncomfortable if the candidate feels pinned.

Here is a sequence of follow-up questions that might help you get started:

  1. I saw on your resume that you engineered an automated test suite from scratch for your company. Can you tell me more about how you started on that project?

  2. What were the most important steps you took?

  3. Oh, that’s interesting. Can you explain that step with as much detail as possible?

  4. What made your project important to you and the company?

The more details you’re able to reveal, the more truthful your candidate’s experiences will seem.


Demonstrate enthusiasm throughout the interview

Starting with the interview, you’ll never know if your interviewee will display the qualities of a strong candidate by the end of the interview. You should demonstrate enthusiasm for the open position and your company throughout the interview. Remember that you’re the company’s face in the interview process, and you want the candidate to feel comfortable and excited about joining your company.

On the other hand, even if your interviewee may not display strong qualities, leave them with a good impression of your company. Company reputation and branding can open or close doors for future recruiting. Remind yourself that it’s a small world out there, and people talk with one another about their interview experiences. You want your interviewee to leave satisfied even if they could not get the job.

You probably know this already, but it’s a good reminder that people are a work in progress. You never know when a weak candidate from today’s interview will become a stronger candidate in the future. Developer skills are constantly in-demand, so maintaining a strong relationship with the interviewee keeps doors open for your future recruitment.

Ask yourself the questions:

  • What are my company’s values, and how do I plan to showcase them during the interview?

  • How will I continue to show enthusiasm towards candidates who don’t seem like a good fit for the company?

  • What perks or benefits can I offer for this position?


Wrapping up

To summarize, here are the 5 essential tips for effective technical recruitment:

Technical recruiting is rapidly evolving and becoming more competitive than ever. 2020’s adversities reshaped the talent acquisition landscape and you may already feel the burden of adapting to new trends, desired skills, and processes. As a recruiter, you’re tasked with demonstrating the values of your organization and recruiting top talents during unprecedented times.

We hope that these 5 tips will help you and your teams effectively navigate technical recruitment, no matter today’s talent acquisition landscape.

Happy learning!


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WRITTEN BYJoshua Ahn

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