Highlights from “Debugging the Technical Interview” at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Golden Rules of the Technical Interview

All too often, the technical interview is used to find flaws in candidates. When in fact finding their strengths is actually more effective in identifying their potential. This is core to the Karat approach.

Karat Director of Interview Engineering, Lus Mendel, recently presented a workshop revealing the best practices of technical interviewing for software engineering roles. Co-hosted by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, this workshop covered best practices used by Karat to deliver a consistent technical interview and exceptional candidate experience at scale. Lus, who themselves started at Karat as an interview engineer, has developed a team of professional interview engineers that have conducted tens of thousands of technical interviews to date on behalf of Karat clients.

We believe the technical interview should make a candidate shine and predict their potential. To do this accurately, it is important to be thoughtful and consistent about in-interview communication and the technical interview itself. Here are a few tips to get started.

Lus Mendel, Director of Interview Engineering.

Be thoughtful about in-interview communication

Team members conducting technical interviews should be equipped, trained, and accountable for proper in-interview communication. This means offering clarity in questions, encouragement when needed, and guidance when it’s called for.

  • Clarity: Judge candidates by what they do, not what they don’t do. After all, they may not have been aware of something they should have been doing, because it could be irrelevant to the role. Instead, be clear about the behavior that you’re assessing. The technical interview is about problem solving, not mind reading.
  • Encouragement: Don’t enable poor candidate performance by being combative or aggressive (this happens more than you might imagine). Believe that the candidate can succeed and meet your expectations.
  • Guidance (or hints): Don’t give harmful guidance that might confuse more than clarify. Contrary to popular belief, it can actually be okay to give hints. A technical interview isn’t a game of trivia, after all.

Deliver a consistent and structured technical interview

Who you hire is a big deal. It will shape your team and your company. It’s important to let candidates be human and treat them with fairness, but also to be rigorous in the technical interview. That’s why professional interview engineers at Karat are equipped with a structured approach that relies on shared indicators of success and technology that uses interviewer feedback to programmatically create a recommendation of how the company should proceed with the candidate.

  • Avoid the “Yelp Review”: Candidates’ skills warrant more input than a simple star rating. Their abilities are multi-faceted. Instead, use shared language and guideposts that describe candidates’ abilities.
  • Separate scoring from the recommendation: Interviewers’ feedback, if structured and using a shared language, should drive the recommendation without an interviewer explicitly stating “hire” or “don’t hire.” This makes it possible for others to review the feedback and identify aberrations that may be indicators of bias.
  • Quality control: The entire interview should be reviewed by a fellow interviewer to ensure that aberrations in the interview process haven’t compromised its accuracy.

Getting technical interviewing right is hard, but the benefits are substantial. Those who do get it right will achieve more of their hiring goal, more quickly than competitors, while knowing that they gave candidates a truly exceptional experience.

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