Learning to Interview Someone
Lately I've gotten involved in the hiring process at my workplace, and with it comes several lessons.
Interviewing is an important skill for technical managers. Your hires are what eventually make or break teams, more often than not, and finding quality people takes a little bit of finesse and luck.
Ever since learning about the option, I've imagined that I'd take a technical management path through my career. This is instead of either a purely technical role or a purely managerial role.
It's therefore important to me to learn how to lead people, in addition to the technical skills I'm picking up in my current role.
Thus when I was presented with the opportunities to interview candidates, I happily hopped forward. It's a starting skill on the path to technical management.
My role as the diverse perspective
Quite simply, my role is to be the litmus test to see if there's any immediate and glaring red flags. If a candidate is sexist, it's best to weed them out as early as possible – and in my industry, that's probably the second largest problem among hires.
Of course, managers don't actually admit to that. To use the corporate euphemism, I'm trying to find a "culture fit" in addition to the technical fit. The managers "trust my empathy and intuition."
Power is power though, and I'll take any I can get. It's a net positive if we can stack more egalitarians and allies in the ranks.
Notes on how to actually interview candidates
Don't you love being thrown in the deep end and told to swim? Occasionally I do, but that's only because I'm a masochist who enjoys the challenge.
There is no way to get good at interviewing besides doing it for real.
With that in mind, here's some of the frantic lessons I've picked up from my first few interviews:
Use the same script between candidates to be fair; don't add or change questions after you've started interviewing! This is part of keeping a level playing field, and as tempting as it is to add a great question, it's unfair to the candidates to split who gets asked it and who skips it.
Use level of knowledge checks. These are questions that can be answered with different levels of granularity, and which level the candidate answers on immediately gives you an idea of where to meet them at. These types of questions are also very open-ended and easy to dive into more detail on.
Don't mix questions together. Ask one at a time. Nothing is more confusing than getting two or even three questions at once – how can you expect a candidate to recall all of them, whilst giving high-quality answers?
Only ask closed (yes/no) questions if you're following up with an open question. The closed question may be used as a segue or introduction to a new topic, then you want the candidate to be open to talk about the subject in more detail.
Avoid "tuning out" when listening to an answer, and avoid thinking about the next question before you get to it. This is a major distraction, and you should aim to be engaged with the candidate when they're talking. Your questions aren't just a checklist to plow through, but they should be the start of a dialogue between you and the candidate.
Learn to say no, and to pass on candidates. It's harder to do so when you're just starting out, but you're going to have to turn down some candidates. It's for the best that you figure out your recommendation at the earliest responsible moment. Especially in the case of a no-go.
Accept your mistakes in interviewing. You'll make plenty, but as long as you reflect on them and improve then they're tolerable. It's a natural thing to ruminate afterwards about how you could have phrased something better, or over small misunderstandings that were made. That's part of dealing with people instead of machines.
It's frightening to be in charge of an interview for the first time. I'm suddenly in charge of saying yes or no for someone's livelihood, and my only prior experience with such influence is over my dearheart.
It's quite a step to go from a consensual, personal bond of control to the broader world of influence amongst relative strangers.
However, power is what I want in this world. I need to learn to wield it carefully. There can be no room for thoughtless actions or accidental abuses. That way I can ensure all my power is turned towards making the world a better place for others.