Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Viraj's Guide to Interviews - Conducting an Interview

Over the last few years, I've done a bunch of interviewing - both as the interviewer and the interviewee. However, things had slowed down on the interviewing front for the last year while I was primarily focused on getting the Live Mesh Tech Preview out the door. I conducted an interview yesterday after a long while, and thought of posting about my own list of interviewing best practices. Interviewing ranks as one of the more critical functions for the success of a team/company, so I work hard at giving it my best.

I am not, by any means, an expert here but I have been interviewed by some excellent interviewers (primarily at Microsoft, but in quite a few other companies too) and I made it a point to keep mental notes of things they did well so I could apply them to interviews I conduct. While all my experiences have been in computer science related interviews, the list below likely applies to other fields too.

1. Spend at least 10+ minutes before an interview to plan what set of specific skills you intend to assess. It's naive to think that you can cover more than 2 skills in any sort of detail for each hour of interview time. Use part of this prep time to read the candidate's resume and understand his/her previous experience.

2. Make sure the candidate is comfortable, and the environment is conducive to conversation. Conduct the interview and manage interactions the way you would want them to be if roles were reversed. There are times when you want to simulate high pressure situations, but this should be rare and I recommend avoiding it if possible.

3. Ask questions that will help you assess skills needed for the job, and keep conversations relevant. Puzzles and teasers are fun to ask and often even to answer, but that don't tell you much about the candidate's skills. Problem solving, on the other hand, is a great exercise to assess the candidate's analytical skills.

4. Don't let the candidate drive the meeting. Often, candidates get into a safe zone (talking about resume items, for instance) and tend to not let you proceed with your agenda. Respectfully driving the conversation back on track, even if it means cutting off the candidate, is the right thing to do.

5. Don't try to prove you're smarter than the candidate. Remember that the goal is to gauge the candidate's skills and not to prove that you deserve to be interviewing them or are smarter than them. Many times you actually might not be, and that's OK!

6. Pay attention when the candidate is talking. Checking email or generally being distracted shows lack of respect.

7. If the candidate is struggling with something for over 4/5 minutes, help steer the candidate to a solution. Assess how the candidate reacts to hints and whether they're able to regain their composure.

8. Gauge the candidate for team fit and other non technical skills. Is he/she someone you would enjoy working and interacting with? How can he/she help you grow your own certain skills? How organized and methodical is his/her approach to problems?

9. Leave the last 5/7 minutes of the interview to answer the candidate's questions, and be as honest as possible. False sales pitches are often easy to detect and say a lot about your character (and that of the company). Try to determine whether the questions asked are genuine, or mundane and uninteresting. Often, what they ask says a lot about them.

10. End an interview with concrete information about what the next steps are for the candidate. If you don't know, make sure you refer the candidate to someone who does.

Any other interviewing best practices you've experienced that aren't covered above?

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