Technical staff interview process

by newuser09876 10. April 2014 20:03

One of the strangest aspects of the IT industry is how poorly managed the hiring process is. There are a number of reasons for this.

Poor management
  • Instead of interviewing 4 or 6 weeks in advance of a position needing to be filled its done as an emergency measure to fix an immediate resourcing problem and thus only the smaller pool of unemployed developers is considered
  • Specialists are hired to solve a particular pain points as opposed to hiring a gun generalist and having them skill up
  • Company’s often wont vet staff from consulting companies which leads to project starting with the A team and then overtime them being backfilled with the B team
  • Being a good interviewer is a skill you can only learn by doing lots of interviews and in most organisations there isn’t a large turnover of staff to gain this skill
  • Interviews are time consuming so short interviews with gut feel valuations are preferred to slower move rigorous approaches
Poor quality questions
  • Development managers and project managers may no longer be close to the technology and so cannot properly evaluate someone’s skill level
  • Questions that can only be answered correctly by having been working on the project i.e. How would you integrate the Sprocket 23 with a green screen mainframe based order entry system?
  • Questions should be range from easy to extremely complex as you need to determine the limits of someone’s skills by working out where there knowledge base ends
  • Questions being asked are no longer relevant i.e. Asking how ADO.NET Data Tables work on an Entity Framework project
Lack of focus
  • Interview consists of having the project manager spend 30 minutes discussing the project and the technical interview consists of two questions about which version of Java the developer has used
  • Interviewers don’t have a pre-set list of questions and instead wing it during the session
  • Questions jump from technology to technology instead of deep diving

I have found that the best approach to finding good staff is to:

  • Interview at least ten to twelve people for each position
  • Have a defined structured approach so that it is easy to compare candidates
  • Have a phased approach so that candidates can be knocked out quickly which reduces the impact to project staff being tied up doing subsequent interviews
  • Hire generalists over product specialists
  • Make the interview process a rite of passage – it’s hard but everyone on the team has gone through it
  • Get each staff member to list the three smartest developers they have worked with and cold call them

Phase 1 – Technical Phone interview

The phone interview goes for around 30 minutes and is used to determine what the breadth and depth of the candidate’s skills are. The questions are grouped into technical areas such as Web, .NET, Database, Architecture, SDLC, Agile and Craftsmanship and the responses are marked as Fail, Pass or Expert. The questions complexity ranges from assumed knowledge up to expert level.

At this stage we are interesting in quickly culling the number of candidates and about seventy percent of candidates don’t go any further in the process.

Phase 2 – Take home development task

Next the candidate is provided with a shell Visual Studio project which includes a simple database, data entry screen and shell tests. The developer needs to “fill out” the solution so that the tests pass. It’s a reasonably simple task that should only take 4 hours.

Phase 3 – Architecture whiteboard session

The last two phases are on premise. The architecture whiteboard session consists of providing the candidate with a set of requirements for an application. They are left for 20 minutes to think about the problem and then they describe and defend their implementation.

Phase 4 – Soft skills and personality fit

Assuming they have reached the final phase the interview process is completed by the project manager and development lead where it focuses on determining whether they will be a good fit for the organisation.

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