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Interviewing developers

Interviewing developers

I hear it a lot in Kansas City: “We can’t find good engineering talent,” followed by some excuse.

“Engineers are spoiled by the high salaries at big companies.” “Programmers have so many options that it’s hard to compete.” “Great developers are drawn to the “coasts” and not the Midwest.”

These premises are false.

The real reason developers aren’t taking offers from your company is the draining interview process.

In a market full of job opportunities, applicants don’t have the time to research your company thoroughly. We rely on the interview process to give us a sense of how working at the company will be like.

For this reason so many developers ignore potentially great fits because the company fails to put forth any sort of effort during the interview process.

The technical phone screen

The biggest mistakes happen during the initial “phone screen.”

This phase typically consists of rapid fire questions pulled from the first result found on Google. “Top 100 C# interview questions.”

Did you realize that the applicant read that same article last night in preparation?

Prefer home-grown questions. Prompt your developers to come up with a small handful of technical questions that apply directly to the work the new developer will be doing.

The nature of the questions is often problematic. An applicant’s ability to define an abstract class does not indicate their ability to actually implement it. Favor questions that display critical thinking rather than recall ability.

Consider a conversational approach. Ask which technologies interest the applicant and why. This answer will be genuine. You can get a great sense of their comfort level based on how they answer.

Give them a reason to care

It’s true that the applicant applied to work for your company, but that does not mean they will take your written offer blindly.

Give them a reason to join the company. That initial phone screen is your only opportunity to make the applicant excited about continuing the process.

Explain the company’s vision, values, the work/life balance and the interesting problems you are solving. If any of these are missing, consider why you think you can hire a developer in the first place.

This will naturally bring out the applicant’s curiosity. Be prepared to answer their questions and hold a deep conversation.

If you have to prompt them, “now do you have any questions for me?” you’ve failed.

Represent your culture

The interview demonstrates your company’s culture. If an hour-long interrogation is representative, then prepare to bid farewell to the applicant.

Have developers from the team to meet the applicant. Include future coworkers in on the call or allow them to meet in the privacy of a conference room.

Allow the developer to solve an interesting problem either during the interview or at home. Don’t burden them. It should be light yet insightful, fun yet challenging. Leave them craving for more. The best developers will stay just for that.

It isn’t difficult to hire new team members if you display effort and interest. Drop the culture of cross examination and aim to be inclusive.

The right talent will come to find you.

Published on September 24, 2016 by Serge Nevsky.