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Interviewing Engineers for Engineers

Ah, growth. Tis a beautiful thing. You’re working at a company and there’s more than you all can handle right now — that’s a great problem to have. Someone was put in charge of hiring, and you’re excited to grow the team.

But, oh …


Looks like someone at your company read Joel on Software. So now you’re on the hook for interviewing since they need a bunch of engineers for the process. Good thing you took all those classes … erm, no. No one told you how to interview people. They use vague terms like ‘fit’ and ‘culture’. Here’s some real advice for being a better interviewer — and a better asset to your growing team.

You Have Two Goals in the Interview

One of them will be obvious – see if they’re right for your company. But this is also your chance to show what it is like to do what you do. You need to pitch¬†your company. If you’re (hopefully) interviewing someone good, chances are they have a couple other companies chomping at the bit to hire them. They may have already turned down other offers. So while there are many approaches to interviewing, I don’t prefer the interrogation approach.


Interviewer: How many years did you work on X? What do you know about Y? Can you hit the ground running?


Interviewer: Hi [their name], I’m [insert your own name]. I [blank] here at [blank] and I spend most of my time [blank]ing. Here at [blank] we [then describe the structure of your team]…


Find Out Your Role in the Interview

Management didn’t pull your name out of a hat, hopefully, to conduct the interview. They obviously thought there was a reason you should talk to this person. Even if you think you know, ASK. It could be anywhere from “We hoped you’d spend 6 months mentoring them if we hire them” to “We want to hand them this really important feature that we needed the personnel power to accomplish.” If they say ‘fit’, ask ‘in what way?’

Spend Less Time on Wasted Questions

Sure, they can tell you about their last gig. But they’ve done that 10000 times (or, for even good people, at least a few). Asking good questions is hard, but getting more granular on a simple question isn’t. If you’re supposed to find out (based on the role you have) how they work with other developers, then ask “Tell me about a time at your last gig when you worked with other developers on a time-sensitive issue” Not the best question in the world, but surely not the worst.

An easy litmus test? If you can find out the answer by reading their resume, it’s a wasted question.

Like All Things, It Comes With Practice

I’ve surely not interviewed that much, but I have talked to more than a few people about their interviewing approaches and techniques (hence this post). But I think they’d agree that you get better at it over time — get a better BS sensor if someone’s trying to fake their way through a technical (or pseudo technical) interview, get better at making the candidate feel at ease, etc.

I’d love to hear feedback on how YOU do interviews, or your company’s approach.

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