On Interviewing

I have to admit that I find the process of interviewing prospective candidates for a job to be an odd mix of exciting and nerve-wracking. While I absolutely love getting to know people and thinking of the possibilities for them within my organization, I find I often worry about making candidates comfortable and not breaking any of the intricate set of HR laws surrounding interviews. Overall, though, I really enjoy it.

Interviewing geeks has its own challenges, as many of them come in to the interview extremely nervous and shy. Since I can hold a meaningful conversation with a coffee table, I usually talked to them until they would eventually stutter out a few replies from which I could get a decent read. If you’re not as ridiculously extroverted as I am, however, you may find interviewing geeks challenging.

If you’re interviewing geeks, you have to first define your goals. They should be in these general buckets:

  • Technical ability. Can they execute the geeky part of the job?
  • Personality requirements. Can they execute the non-geeky part of the job?
  • Team fit. Will they have credibility on both geeky and non-geeky levels with their fellow geeks and the company as a whole?

Once you’ve defined what belongs in those buckets, figure out how to get to them.

  • Technical ability: What kinds of situational or technical questions do you need to ask? Should you give a written or computerized test? Make sure that the questions are appropriate to the level of the position for which the candidate is interviewing.
  • Personality requirements: I love behavioral interviewing for this. Propose a situation to them and ask how they’ve handled similar situations in the past or would handle this situation in the future. Ask them to tell a story about the last time they got angry or made a mistake.
  • Team fit: You may be able to determine team fit from their answers to the above, but sometimes geeks don’t give much away in their personality even while telling behavioral stories. In that case, it’s time to schmooze. Ask how their weekend went or what they do for fun, and volunteer your own weekend stories and your hobbies. This piece has the most two-way conversation of the entire interview, and those of us who tend towards the quantitative often forget the value of this “useless” chatter.

I haven’t always been perfect in my interviewing (note to self: write blog post on terminations), but as I started defining my goals (“buckets”) and figured out how to get to them, I was able to much better identify good geeks.