How to enable engineers to run great interviews

Shahriar Tajbakhsh

Shahriar Tajbakhsh

30 Sep 2022 • 3 min read

We recently hosted a panel discussion with the LeadDev community on a topic we spend a lot of time thinking about—how to enable engineers to run great interviews. I enjoyed hearing the perspectives of my fellow panelists who are all super thoughtful about their hiring processes: Chuck Groom (Software Engineer, Meta), Karthik Hariharan (Senior EM, Roblox), and Shawna Martell (Staff Engineer, Carta). There were lots of helpful insights and practical tips covered in the conversation, so I wanted to share key takeaways to help guide anyone looking to champion a quality hiring process in their engineering org.

1. Separate the signal from the noise

The panel agreed that interviewing can be distilled to one primary goal—gathering the right signal. To put it in Chuck’s words, “Everything you ask should be actionable on generating signal to know ‘is this person good or are they not going to be a fit?’”. In order to get this signal, you need to align on what good looks like upfront. As Shawna suggests, create a clear rubric that outlines the competencies and skills you’re looking for in a role so interviewers can more confidently identify whether a candidate meets the bar. It’s also important to make sure interviewers know their role in the process. Their job is not to make a hiring decision—it’s to contribute to the pool of knowledge to paint a picture of the candidate and make sure the group has the right signal to make a decision.

2. Empower interviewers with intentional training

Everyone on the panel stressed the importance of running a robust training process to make sure that interviewers—whether new to your company or new to interviewing—can internalize what a good process looks like. I shared what this three-phase process looks like at Metaview. First, we start with onboarding with virtual shadow paths (we use our own product to do this). Trainees listen to a series of hand-picked interview recordings so they can observe real-life examples of strong interviews. Then, we do reverse shadowing. This is essentially like a pull request on your interview, where an experienced interviewer reviews an interview you’ve led and spends time thoughtfully commenting on it. Finally, we move into continuous improvement where we monitor consistency and quality metrics across interviews ongoing. As Karthik said, “you’re never done learning as an interviewer”.

Once interviewers are trained and have graduated to running actual interviews, it can be helpful to start by having them focus on one facet at a time. For example, at Metaview, we let someone get deliberate reps running one particular interview type, say System Design, so they can build up confidence and expertise on that before trying to run something like an Impact interview. Another approach is to have new interviewers start with interview types that are more “science than art”. Karthik recommends for new interviewers to start with Coding interviews, where there’s less room for interpretation than System Design, for example.

3. Know how to test for non-technical skills

Evaluating a candidate’s non-technical skills can be trickier, though just as important, as testing for technical ones—especially for newer interviewers. For behavioral-style questions, Chuck suggests establishing what a bad answer looks like, which can sometimes help more with calibration than trying to identify a good one. For example, being a poor communicator or glossing over important details can both be easily-identifiable red flags to look out for. I think the key to testing for these more nebulous traits starts well before the interview process. You need to have a set of operating principles or values that the company has agreed to live by. Without these principles, it’s impossible to assess whether a candidate is a good fit or not. Arming interviewers with commonly-held principles to evaluate against can help take the guesswork out of what can otherwise feel like an imprecise process.

4. Remember that interviewing is a two-way street

The final key theme from the conversation was that interviewing is not just about figuring out whether a candidate is a good fit for your org. Especially at earlier-stage companies, making a candidate want to work with you can be equally important. By the same token, uncovering that a candidate doesn’t want to work at your company or wouldn’t be a good fit is also a successful outcome. The same is true for setting up a strong process—it doesn’t just benefit your team, but candidates too. A well-organized process where interviewers know how to lead a productive, efficient conversation is more likely to give the candidate a positive experience and the signal they need to make an informed decision. To quote Shawna, “even if an interview was a towering dumpster fire, you want a candidate to leave feeling like they had a good experience”.

If you found these takeaways helpful, you can check out the full conversation below for more insight into how expert-level engineering hiring leaders approach the challenges of interviewing.

Watch the full event here.

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