6 tips for conducting an effective technical interview

Nov 06, 2020 - 9 min read
Educative
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Conducting a technical interview can be tricky, especially when tech recruiters don’t have the expertise or skills that they’re trying to assess for the position.

Random coding or esoteric behavioral questions aren’t enough anymore. In fact, they can actually make interviewers and candidates more anxious and performative. Instead, your recruiters should focus on facilitating comfortable, honest conversations about experience and work habits.

Every company conducts tech interviews differently, but some best practices have emerged. At Educative, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of technical interviews. We’ve created a guideline for conducting a technical interview effectively.

Today we will discuss:



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Give your interviewees resources in advance

The key to conducting better tech interviews is to prepare candidates more efficiently. Candidates should already come prepared and have hopefully spent time practicing questions, but you can take this one step further by offering your own preparation material specific to the job description criteria.

Studies show that giving preparation materials, such as online courses or a list of questions, helps speed up interview processes and prevent anxiety for all parties. By utilizing pre-interview preparation, you’re more likely to assess candidates on past performance rather than presentation skills.

Companies can even use preparation material to preselect candidates. Unqualified candidates tend to opt-out of the interview process if extra preparation time is required. Candidates who agree to participate are demonstrating investment in the role.

Technical screening automation tools are also a great option. These help assess coding skills objectively and eliminate unconscious bias.

Similarly, interview prep courses and material can equip potential hires for interviewing success. Hiring managers will be more likely to ask the right questions that get to the heart of the job description.

In fact, at Educative, our FAANG recruiting partners have seen a 13% increase in interview-to-hire rate among candidates who’ve taken Educative courses before interviewing.

Educative has helped many companies like GitHub and CodeBreakers with their interview processes by offering top-notch courses like Grokking the Behavioral Interview and Grokking the Coding Interview.

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Study the interviewee before an interview

As an interviewer, you need to read up on every interviewee before you speak to them. It is not just the candidate’s responsibility to sell themselves. It is also the responsibility of HR and recruiters to match a candidate to the role.

A good technical interview should create a positive experience for both the interviewer and the candidate. A bad interview experience will reflect poorly on your company overall. Personalizing the interview can aid in a positive environment, making all parties more comfortable and confident.

Pre-interview research on the candidate demonstrates that you take the candidate seriously.

So, when preparing to interview a candidate, create a list of skills, attributes, and experiences required for the position. Then, read through their resume to see how those requirements match their experiences.

Questions like these can help an interviewer approach a candidate in a more narrow, focused way:

  • What makes them valuable for this position?
  • What similar accomplishments do they have before joining your company?
  • Do they show potential to learn on the job?
  • What other life experiences or hobbies are relevant to the job?

Discuss the job description together

In an interview, a good practice is to discuss the job description with the candidate. If the job description is flexible, ask the candidate about their expectations for the role. This ensures that they understand the position, so you can both narrow down your questions and answers.

A good interviewer should already have a sense if that candidate is a match for the role, so you need to learn how the candidate understands the role.

During the interview, go over the responsibilities outlined in the job description. A candidate likely has questions or misaligned expectations. This is a great opportunity to flesh them out and clarify on matters of importance.

Questions like the following can gauge a candidate’s investment in the job, critical thinking skills, and creativity with responsibilities.

  • Describe your expectations for this role.
  • What areas of this job description are unclear?
  • How do you think you can add value to this role?
  • What other responsibilities do you expect from this role?
  • If you could design your own job description, what would it look like?

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Demonstrate company culture throughout the interview

You are trying to hire someone who is a good match for your company’s culture. This is traditionally assessed through behavioral interviews in the later stages of interviews.

But the initial screenings are also an opportunity to assess these qualities. As an interviewer, it is your job to properly demonstrate company culture and employer branding.

Before an interview, it’s likely that a candidate’s only interaction with your company was through emails or social media. You may be the first employee that a candidate interacts with. Studies show that candidates make employment values-based decisions based on these initial opinions and interactions with current employees.

So, HR Teams and recruiters should spend time figuring out how to present a company consistently through screenings and interviews.

For example, if you are interviewing a candidate with marginalized or underrepresented identities, it is crucial to present your company culture in a thoughtful, inclusive way.

Coming prepared with research on the candidate and narrow, thoughtful questions is a great place to start. You also want to gather information you need to present your organization’s strategy, culture, and structure. For example, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I understand my company’s culture and hierarchical structure?
  • Do I know what perks and benefits we offer for this position?
  • Have I checked with HR that my interview questions align with our laws and policies?

Ask intentional questions

Phone screening and in-person interviews are often conducted by non-technical recruiters who are given a set of outdated, even esoteric coding questions that require lengthy answers. Remember that candidates will usually have prepared by studying lists of coding questions, so if you rely on random coding questions, you’re likely to get a rote-memory answer.

A great way to combat this is to come prepared with an intentional, narrow list of one-of-a-kind questions specific to the job and the company. Questions about scaling are very useful, for example. Of course, you will need to run these questions through HR and other parties, but you can save yourself time by focusing on specifics.

The most common reason that candidates don’t land an engineering position is because they don’t have the skills for the job at hand. A recruiter needs to ask specific, intentional questions that get to the root of the job position, not scattered or random coding questions.

It’s important to come prepared with solid expectations for a very good, good, poor, and very poor answer to the question. You need a distinction between great answers and less favorable answers. Many recruiters aren’t familiar with computer science terminology needed to gauge a good answer.

Recruiters should use tools and online dictionaries like Edpresso to brush up on terminology before conducting interviews.

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Leave time for interviewee to ask questions

A good candidate will be curious about things like the job responsibilities and how a company prioritizes employee satisfaction, but few are given adequate time to ask questions. Or they may be too nervous to bring them up on their own. It’s important to leave plenty of time for a candidate to ask good questions.

This creates a more personalized tone during the interview and opens the door for important conversations that you may not have thought of.

An interview isn’t just about assessing skill. It is also a chance for all parties to determine if this role at this company is a good fit. Opening the space for genuine questions and answers can help to assess a candidate’s potential from the kinds of questions they ask.

It is generally a bad sign if a candidate does not follow up with specific questions for you.

It’s important to frame this time properly. You don’t want to pressure a candidate into asking questions or insinuate that their questions will reflect poorly on them. Open the space carefully, and maybe even consider offering them examples of good questions. For example, say, “You can ask me questions like:"

  • How would you describe the company’s culture?
  • How do you see this company evolving over the next five years?
  • What’s your staff turnover rate and how are you trying to reduce it?

Consider reading through common questions that candidates may ask. You certainly wouldn’t want to come across unprepared. Ask HR for any data you might need (i.e. staff turnover, pay increases). Keep your answers short and concise.

Be sure to frame any of your opinions as your personal feelings and experiences rather than universal or company-wide. If you don’t know the answer, tell them that you want to provide the best response and will follow up later with accurate information.


Wrapping up

To summarize our above points, here are our six tips for conducting an effective technical interview:

  • Give your interviewees resources in advance
  • Study the interviewee before an interview
  • Discuss the job description
  • Demonstrate company culture throughout the interview
  • Ask intentional questions
  • Leave time for interviewee to ask questions

Conducting a technical interview is tough, especially during these unprecedented times. As a recruiter, your goal is to assess a candidate’s skills, fit in your company’s culture, and potential for future growth. You are also an advocate for your company and need to demonstrate the values of your organization.

We hope that these six tips will help you and your teams conduct effective technical interviews, no matter your requirements or goals.

If you are interested in learning more about what Educative can do for your technical interviews, please contact Educative for Business. Educative can do more than just upskill your current team members. Our best-in-class interview prep courses can also equip potential hires for interviewing success.


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WRITTEN BYEducative

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