Tech Manager—Interviewing

Interviewing? Really? Is this still the way we hire people???

We have 20 minutes to an hour or so with a person and we have to decide if they are a good fit for the job. That is a tough assignment. Last time I talked about reviewing resumes. Assuming the persons resume has them at the top of your list for possible new hires, next comes the interviewing process. Now you try and analyze someone’s personality, approach, perspective and character in about an hour. And with the pandemic, it might even be all virtual (aren’t we passed that yet). If you have a better way of doing all of this – let me know.

But it is not all done in the interview. There are a lot of signs that can be read prior to talking to someone. My perspective is that everything says something about a person. Prior to the conversation, begin vetting the person the minute you start a resume review. The resume is really the first interview… it is just done in written form with no Q/A. Go back and read the resume. Does the resume have misspellings? Do they have an unprofessional email address (I mean something really goofy)? Are they prompt in returning emails or phone calls? Do they show up for the interview on time (face to face or phone)? Do they seem prepared? Just make note of anything that might cause concern.

I like to use a series of interviews. I move through them as fast as possible. In today’s tight job market, people accept offers quickly and I do not want to delay. I have had candidates pull out of the process at very late stages, even when we were moving fast. Good candidates are gobbled up quick. You need to be quicker.

First Interview

The first interview is just with me on the phone. A quick intro from me to the company, a quick intro from them about themselves and an outline of the process. Keep it short, maybe 15 minutes. This is just an opener. Pay attention to what they say and look for anything that might sound strange. This is not a disqualifying conversation, just a first encounter, but watch for flags and circle back as needed. I have had applicants get the company name wrong. I am not talking about mispronunciation; I mean, they totally had the wrong name. Or they asked, “What company is this?” Be energetic and inviting… remember, they’re vetting you also.

Second Interview

The second interview may be with me or one of my team to vet the technical side of things. This can be a phone interview also. It can also be merged with the first interview. No need to wait if you have a good applicant and promising resume. I like having another team member do this if I have staff. This allows for another perspective on the applicant. We ask deeper dive questions related to the skills needed to be successful on the job. I ask them to tell me exactly what they did on a given topic from the resume. It may sound like “Tell me what your roll was on the migration and exactly what your tasks were.” We ask for detailed information about what they did themselves (versions, configurations, processes, documents, etc.). I dig deeper if they say things like, “We did this…” or “The firm changed from this to that.” I encourage them to use “I” and speak in the first person. I am looking to find out their technical depth. What I do not want to hear is an overuse of jargon, useless tech speech or acronyms. I do not want to hear a totally wrong technical answer. If I get a wrong answer, I may ask the same question in a different way. Or just repeat back to them what they said, “You did XYZ, and it worked well?” If it sounds like they are blowing smoke, you need to tie it down with details. If they are blowing smoke, move on. They are not the one.

Third Interview

If they make it past the tech filtering conversation, they move from applicant to candidate, and I move to a face-to-face meeting (or virtual if you have to). Again, I make a note of any delay in communication, postponement of dates/times, or whatever prior to the meeting. Also note the positive things that stand out, like cordial conversations, prompt return of information requested, eagerness, etc.

This interview can be a panel interview with other staff and stakeholders. Keep it around four to five persons. You don’t want to overwhelm a candidate with the panel and make them more nervous than they might already be. You can develop a list of question and have each person take a turn at asking each one. Or one person can take the lead and others chiming in as the conversation progresses. You do want to keep the questions mostly the same from one candidate to the next. That way you can compare or rate responses.

That is a Great Question

Are there any zinger questions? Is there one question that will uncover the perfect candidate and weed out the bad ones? I am not sure about that, but I do know that you want to ask enough questions that there are fewer doubts in your mind as to the next step. On the technical side, I try to ask really easy and really hard questions. I see the technical side of the interviews as an assessment, not a test to pass or fail. You are trying to gauge where the candidate is on the tech skills. You need some questions designed to really challenge the candidate and they may not get them right. That is okay. When they stumble, you have a demonstrated limit on their knowledge. Anyone can Google anything and find answers. You want to know what the person knows off the top of their head. I sometimes even tell them that we do not expect them to get every question perfectly right. No one knows it all, so don’t expect to find someone who does.  As you assess their tech knowledge, you will know where they may need some bolstering if they end up getting hired.

There are some questions you should never ask and are unlawful. Check with HR to get a list of areas that are off limits. They generally include questions related to mental or physical health, disabilities, ethnicity, salary/benefit history, and questions about age. I once had an interview panel and one person said, “You have a rather lengthy resume, how old are you?” I immediately jumped in and told the candidate not to answer that question, then turned to the panel member and said you cannot ask that question. After a brief pause… we moved on.

Possible Interview Questions:

  • If they are still employed: Why are you thinking of leaving your current position?
  • If they are no longer with the last firm listed on the resume: Why did you leave your last position?
  • Why do you love technology work and why do you think you are good at it?
  • What about this position made you apply?
  • What did you like about our firm when you applied?
  • What does good customer service mean to you? Use examples.
  • Tell us about something you improved.
  • Which do you consider the most crucial duties of this position?
  • Tell me about a procedure you have for quality assurance.
  • What questions do you have for us?

Checking References

Next time we will look into making the decision on extending an offer of employment. But before you do that, you may want to check references. I put that last, because I usually use reference checks as a hunt for deal breakers. If someone makes it to the point of checking references, you are likely to be offering them a job. Deal breakers can be information gathered that uncovers a bad departure at a prior employee, or it might be fraudulent credentials. One firm I worked for hired an engineer and later found that they did not have the advanced degree they claimed, and the employee was terminated. Make sure you check a few references.

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