Get the best out of your candidates in the hiring process

I am a passionate engineering leader with a focus on people, learning, and continuous improvement. Previously (and still in the spirit) passionate functional programmer.

Finding the right talent relies on the efficiency of your interview process. You need to ask the right questions to identify the best person for the job: someone who fits your culture has an always-learning mindset and brings value to the company.

Moreover, it’s important to conduct the interviews in a way that makes candidates feel comfortable instead of being quizzed or judged while uncovering as much as you can about them. Many candidates tend to give shallow answers or throw around buzzwords, so it can be challenging to extract insight at a deeper level.

Beyond looking for a strictly technical fit, you must identify a match in values and infer people’s learning potential. Because technical skills can be gained through training, but there’s nothing you can do about a culture misalignment.

I like to take several unorthodox approaches during interviews to best understand if someone is the right addition to my team.

6 Ways to Lead Fruitful Discussions With Your Candidates

Identify and double down on risky matters

Every candidate poses a certain risk factor that can mean they’re unfit for the role. For some, this risk is bigger than for others. But no matter how big or small, something always exists in their profile that makes you wonder, “Can this be an obstacle?”

Here’s an extreme example of that: I became a manager at the early age of twenty and had to hire people for my team. One candidate had thirty years more experience than me, his future boss. In that situation, it was best for me to ask point-blank whether they’d mind this age gap. Because while some people don’t think of age as an issue in the workplace, others have a serious problem reporting to someone younger.

The worst outcome of an interview is feeling uncertain if a candidate is a right choice after they’ve left because you didn’t ask the right questions. So don’t shy away from inquiring about these matters. Clear the waters at the very beginning – even if it feels uncomfortable – to avoid wasting both of your time.

Prompt candidates with open-ended topics

Instead of asking questions, come up with topics – or even better, let your candidates pick. I like to allow people to share experiences, insights, and opinions, instead of looking for one specific answer. I listen to paint a picture of who they are: their thought processes, unique abilities, and what they care about.

A simple yet powerful scenario is telling candidates that they have to present a topic in front of the team for 15 minutes. What will they choose to talk about?

Do you think you may be the right addition to Josef’s team?

Don’t keep him waiting!

Witnessing the ease with which a candidate picks a topic really illustrates if someone cares about their area, or is limited with just their job description. This shows a lot about the candidates’ characters. Are they curious? Are they hungry learners? Which topics are they reading about, investigating, or experiencing?

There’s also a comforting aspect for the interviewees when they choose their own discussion points.

Less is more when covering talking points

I found it’s always more revealing to cover fewer topics in detail when interviewing someone. You don’t get past a superficial discussion when you talk about many things in shorter periods. Candidates can get by throwing around buzzwords and generic ideas.

So focus on one or two topics and dig deeper by following up with probing questions. Ask for examples. Ask for strategies. This will enable you to understand if they have real experience on the matter or if they’re just repeating second-hand information.

Ask, how would they hire for this role?

When conducting an interview, you may ask candidates how they would assess someone interviewing for the same position. This will make them go into deeper detail on how they see this role, their profession, and the industry.

What requirements would they have for candidates? How would they assess these requirements? What exercises would they prepare?

Moreover, you will witness which aspects an individual cares about. Do they put an emphasis on hard or soft skills? What hard skills do they value? The aspects they bring up will give a good idea of their level of seniority.

Encourage candidates to come up with a question

I like to tell candidates to ask me a question. Sometimes, a simple question will reveal more than an answer. It shows where candidates are centered.

Will they ask about their compensation or the company’s revenue first? Or will they inquire about which technologies we use?

Ask for feedback

I aim for continuous improvement and make sure to tell this to the interviewees. I don’t shy away from asking for feedback: “How did you enjoy the interview process? What notes would you like to give?” Each interview is an opportunity to better your processes and get better at creating an open and comfortable environment for your interviewees.

Final Quick Tips for Interviewers

  • During interviews, candidates should do most of the speaking. You want them to reveal who they are as individuals.
  • Avoid questions with straightforward answers and opt for open-ended questions instead.
  • Dig deeper into your questions to obtain more detailed answers– if necessary, specify the context in more detail or let the candidate specify it for you.
  • Balance theory with real examples from their past.

This blog post was originally published on platohq.com on June 23, 2022.

I am a passionate engineering leader with a focus on people, learning, and continuous improvement. Previously (and still in the spirit) passionate functional programmer.
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