Hiring 101: Interviewing Candidates

🙋‍♀️ This is a cross-post from my newsletter, Leading by Design. If you liked the post below, consider subscribing! I post one issue per month.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

In the previous Hiring 101 newsletter issues, we examined how to prepare a structured, collaborative hiring process, write a compelling job description and attract diverse candidates.

In this LBD issue, we’ll talk about a process feared by candidates and hiring managers alike: interviewing 😬. Specifically, you’ll learn how to use interviewing efficiently to get the most out of your communication with the candidate, making an informed decision in the end.

This is the fourth of a series of writeups on the hiring process. In the following issues, we’ll examine offers, negotiating and pre-onboarding your new hire.

⏱ Interviewing takes time

The interviewing process is one of the most time-consuming phases of hiring. Each interview needs at least one hour of your hiring committee time, not to mention the time they’ll spend preparing beforehand, as well as writing down their thoughts after the interview. Don’t sabotage your hiring team by moving every applicant to the interview stage. Have an efficient, structured phone interview process in place that swiftly identifies promising candidates and pushes them down the pipeline.

Avoid interviewing people who won’t accept the job anyway by openly discussing timing and base salary before interviewing them. Give them the option to opt out of the hiring process early if the job specifics are not what they anticipated.

👩‍💻 Preparing for the interview

Let’s start with the basics: You want your candidates to feel as comfortable and prepared as possible for the interview, having a good idea about the process and what to expect.

To give them a headstart, email them before the interview with the information they’ll need. That can include:

  • the specific interview location and how to reach it by car or public transport,
  • the name and phone of their primary contact in the company (often a recruiter or HR person),
  • the names and titles of the interviewers,
  • the agenda and general format of the interview,
  • any material they have to read to prepare beforehand.

In addition to candidates, you should also prepare your hiring team. Create a candidate cheat sheet with their name, job application, meeting schedule and general discussion script. Moreover, provide them with any materials they might need (like markers, post-it notes) or software licenses (like Zoom or Miro). Inform them as well about which conference room is booked or invite them to the interview calendar event.

The most important thing to provide your hiring committee with is the interview scorecard, containing specific questions to ask every candidate. That creates an interview baseline and will make it easier to choose between several talented candidates in the offer stage.

👯‍♀️ During the interview

Regardless of your script, the interview itself should have two objectives: to guide your hiring team to a conclusion about the specific candidate and help the candidate bring their best self to the discussion.

Remember that small things can make or break the interview. Avoid looking at your cellphone or laptop while the candidate is talking. For online interviews, avoid opening a new browser tab “just to check something” unless that “something” has an important role to play in the discussion (e.g. a particular project on the candidate’s website). Especially for online interviews, as hard as it can be, avoid looking at yourself in the video call interface - stick a post-it note on the screen if needed.

Body language is critical as well. While discussing with a candidate, sit up and show that you are alert and friendly. Avoid frowning or crossing your arms on your chest, the telltale sign of emotional unavailability. Even if they’re going off-topic, avoid interrupting them - let them complete their train of thought and realign the discussion after they finish.

One thing I’ve learned from coaching people is that silence can help you learn more than keeping a light discussion going on at all times. Try to use your note-keeping as an excuse and stay silent for a while between questions. It can feel awkward at first, but people often need this time to collect their thoughts and augment their answers, so give them time.

An interviewing mistake I’ve often made was asking hyper-specific questions that already contained the answer I wanted to hear. For a designer example, instead of asking “what UX methodologies have you used? user interviews? user journeys?” try asking “what methods have you used to learn more about your users?”. Stick to open-ended questions as these will help you understand better the candidate’s thought process.

🤔 Assignments, riddles and challenges, oh my!

There are few subjects more polarizing in tech than whiteboard challenges and take-home exercises. No matter what your choice is, it would help if you took the effort to make them as helpful as possible.

To get starteds:

  • Create an exercise that reflects your work environment. If your engineers never have to think about a solution on the spot, don’t add a whiteboard exercise to your engineering interview.
  • Think of the exercise as a contained, straightforward problem that is easy to understand and solve.
  • Avoid creating an exercise related to your product or industry since this might seem disingenuous, making you look like you’re asking for free labour.

Take-home exercises require more time and focus from candidates, so it makes sense to compensate the applicants who make an effort. Instead of asking for a single, detailed deliverable like a finished codebase or a pixel-perfect mockup, encourage the candidates to share multiple deliverables that can help you map out the process they followed to get to the finished result. Be clear about how you’re scoring these exercises, and don’t leave them with a vague “we just want to see how you work”.

During the interview, it’s also tempting to challenge your candidates with a particularly tricky riddle, but don’t waste their time and yours with questions that lead nowhere. No one has an excellent answer to “why are manhole covers round”, and if they do, the answer probably won’t help you during your day-to-day.

Next up: Offers & negotiating compensation!

After the interviewing process is complete, feedback is collected, and scorecards are compared, it’s time to select one (or multiple) candidates and continue with an offer.

What should the offer package include? How to negotiate compensation with candidates? We’ll cover this in the next LBD issue.

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