What I’ve learned interviewing 500 people: the interviewer skills ladder for high growth software companies

  • Attracting talent — making the candidate want to work with you
  • Spotting talent — accurately assessing whether you want the candidate to work with you

The Beginner

Reaching competency

Gaining proficiency

Becoming an expert

How does it all fit together?

  • Find a bullet point you’re not good at
  • Work at improving it, until you’ve mastered it
  • Find another bullet point to tackle
  • Collect all the bullets within a level and then move up!

The ladder

Attracting Talent

  • Learning how to create a neutral to positive candidate experience throughout the interview while evaluating the candidate — sometimes negative reactions may leak through
  • Handling the basic social graces of the interaction — physical comfort, greetings and candidate handoffs, eye contact, etc.
  • Learning how to talk about the company and the interviewer’s role in an engaging way — e.g. may get into too many details
  • Ability to create a neutral to positive candidate experience for most candidates
  • Keeping the interview on a schedule that allows the candidate to reach a sense of closure at the end, even if they struggled with the question
  • Able to convey an engaging description of the interviewer’s own role and reason for being at the company
  • Able to avoid sending out negative vibes to struggling candidates
  • Ability to create a consistently positive candidate experience
  • Able to connect with candidates over common interests or experiences
  • Can answer more challenging questions from candidates (e.g. about the negatives of a company) without improperly setting bad expectations for the candidate
  • Ability to consistently frame questions and probe the candidate on their knowledge in a non-confrontational way that feels engaged, collaborative or curious
  • Talent magnet — able to get candidates excited about the role, the company, and the potential to work with the interviewer
  • Often brings a great deal of positive energy to the interview
  • Usually good at sussing out a candidate’s interests and connecting with them on a personal level or using that knowledge to frame the role or company
  • Well aware of what does — or doesn’t — resonate with candidates and adjusting the pitch over time

Spotting Talent

  • Learning to create the conditions for an effective evaluation
  • Learning some core interview questions and the rubric for evaluating those questions
  • Able to set the right up-front expectations for the interview structure and expected nature of answers so that the candidate is set up to shine
  • May let candidate spend too much time in the wrong areas of a question
  • Able to capture high level notes and summarize the flow of the interview along with a tentative conclusion
  • Likely only peripherally aware of possible unconscious biases
  • Able to evaluate typical candidate responses effectively
  • Solid grasp of several core interview questions and ability to consistently apply the rubric to them
  • Effectively managing time by keeping the candidate from getting bogged down in the wrong places or for the wrong reasons
  • Knowing when to hint, and when not to, to set the candidate up for success
  • Taking thorough notes without detracting from interactions with the candidate
  • Summarizing the results of the interview into a clear, evidence-based write-up that explains the rationale for a yes or no
  • Awareness of own unconscious biases, and factoring into decision making
  • Able to evaluate non-standard candidate responses effectively
  • Strong grasp of a number of interview questions and their rubrics, as well as the ability to consistently apply a meta-rubric of general expectations across all interviews, and use it to evaluate candidates who go take unusual approaches to a question or who demonstrate patterns of behavior, either positive or negative, that aren’t captured by a formal question write-up
  • Dealing appropriately with struggling candidates or difficult candidates (e.g. who talk a lot, or go off-track)
  • Starting to shadow and reverse shadow interviews that require more subjective evaluation (e.g. behavioral interviews) or have a more open ended problem space
  • Detecting ambiguity and asking the right follow-up questions while also creating the appropriate amount of “space” for the candidate to show what they know
  • Consistently accounting for own unconscious biases
  • Keen sense of what skills the organization requires; able to explain hiring recommendations by putting the candidate’s abilities in the context of the organization or team’s needs
  • Able to evaluate a large range of candidates effectively, including senior roles or roles that the interviewer herself hasn’t held
  • Able to evaluate questions where there are no single clearly correct answers and subjective judgment is required on a case-by-case basis to assess whether the candidate did the right thing
  • Objectively evaluating subjective interviews and understanding how to separate a candidate’s presentation/speaking skills or environment from their actual job skills and personal contribution

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CTO+co-founder, U.S. Digital Response; ex-Eng Director @ Dropbox; Author: Jumping into C++; creator, Cprogramming.com

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Alex Allain

Alex Allain

CTO+co-founder, U.S. Digital Response; ex-Eng Director @ Dropbox; Author: Jumping into C++; creator, Cprogramming.com

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