Python for Engineers has a great post on how terrible technical interviews are for people on both sides of the table.
There is this idiotic myth online that the majority of programmers cannot program. That everyone else looking for a job is an idiot, and our job is to expose them, to teach them a lesson, to humiliate them till they quit.
Most programmers feel they are Gandalf holding back the darkness rather than just random people who happened to be on the other side of the interviewing table this time.
The average technical interview tends to be a terrible way to evaluate candidates. The setups don’t match the real world experience of coding and the interviewers are usually there because they are skilled at the technical aspects of that company, not because they are good at evaluating talent. Things have only gotten worse with COVID because now you have the same broken systems, but recruiters are freaking out that the hiring process is taking too long even though you’re hiring a well-paid scientist who will have the keys to your data.
The suggestions in this post are some of the same things I do after ~20 years of going through and conducting technical interviews. Here is my high-level plan of attack, but if I had to distill it down to a one-liner, it would be “Get them talking.”
- Talk about their resume. Let them walk through their work history.
- Give them a short problem to solve at home using whatever resource they want. The goal of this isn’t to take up a lot of their time, but a simple way to ensure that they can do the basics. You can learn a lot by looking at something someone worked on for a couple of hours.
- Ask them what their favorite thing they ever built was. Maybe it’s code, maybe it’s from work, maybe it was a personal project that was barely technical. Ask them why it was their favorite and what the biggest challenge was.
- Ask them about the hardest project they ever worked on. Why was it hard? How did they get through it?
- Ask them what they do when they finish a big project. How do you move on to the next thing?
- When they bring up new topics along the way, pause and go down that path for a bit before coming back to the primary thread.
After that do you know them completely? No, but if you can’t get a good sense of a person from a conversation like that you did it wrong. Don’t think of yourself as a host on a technology game show, think of yourself as a podcast interviewer with the primary question of “Do I want to work with this person on our list of projects?”
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