doing technical phone screens

Related to a previous post on career development, I thought it could be interesting to look at one approach to the technical screen that I have used over the past few years when interviewing candidates.

  1. for folks with no “real” experience yet, I ask them to rank themselves on a few key technologies on the “Google scale”
    • the range is 0..10 where a 0 is no knowledge, 1 is some, 10 is “you wrote the book”, 9 is you could’ve written the book, or you edited/contributed
    • on a few occasions, I have had folks ask to change their ranking from their initial [overconfident] statement to one that is much closer to inline with their true experience/comfort/knowledge level – and that’s OK in my book – honesty is always the best policy here
  2. a couple quick “about us” questions – open-ended inquiries that let the candidate tell me what they’ve done for work
    • this verifies their resume
    • gets them warmed-up for the rest of the call
    • allows the candidate to brag on something
  3. perhaps a couple quick probes to find out more about a specific experience
  4. a few basic / intermediate questions to assess candidate’s technical chops (ie, verify that their resume is accurate)
    • this goes along with my personal rule of “never put anything on a resume you don’t want to be asked about”
  5. open-ended, intentionally-vague questions to gauge problem solving ability, and methodologies
    • see how they go about refining the problem statement (if at all)
    • gauge estimation skills
    • gauge teamwork and delegation aptitude
  6. a few intermediate/advanced questions about an area they *don’t* know anything about – to gauge their response to unfamiliar/stressful situations
    • in my field in particular, it is impossible to know every new technology or even (probably) to be truly 100% aware of those that you do use every single day
  7. a few intermediate/advanced questions in their now-articulated fields of expertise (presuming I have any)
    • this verifies more of their stated (and unstated) job experience, and helps determine at what title/work level they should start
  8. lifestyle/workstyle questions
    • how much they enjoy travel
    • how they handle last-minute demands and “requests” by customers and management
  9. a few questions to gauge flexibility of response to changing requirements
    • for example, switching a project from being Solaris-based to Windows-based part way into implementation because a new CIO has come in, or new licensing is available, etc
  10. open time for them to ask me whatever they may wish to know that I can tell them
    • this usually ends-up being very short because the candidate was stressed-out over the interview, and can’t think of anything about the company they want to know on the spot

What I try to NEVER ask:

  • “trivia” questions – I bet there are C questions even K&R couldn’t answer :)
  • I guarantee I can ask you a question about your area of expertise you cannot answer…just like I guarantee you could do the same to me
  • since that is the case, trivia questions are pretty pointless, and more of an ego stroke to the asker than anything else
  • pointless “MindTrap“, lateral-thinking questions
  • riddles are fun – but only add to the stress of the interview
  • pointless problem-solving and estimation problems
  • for example, “how would you move Mt Fuji”, “why are manhole covers round”, or “how many gallons of water flow into New York Harbor from the Hudson River per hour”
  • estimation problems are wonderful tools and games to play, but not in an interview
  • illegal questions
  • sometimes they slip out, but it’s never intentional :)

I adjust my questioning to fit the situation, timing, and candidate responses – so it’s [somewhat] different every time.

When the interview is done, I write-up my evaluation of the candidate and send it on to the hiring manager. In line with Joel Spolsky‘s “Guerilla Guide to Interviewing“, I make sure to put my firm conclusion of Hire/No-Hire near the top, and again at the bottom – with my reasoning in between.

One thing I have noticed about almost every interview I have ever taken or given is that I end up learning something in the process – and not just about the candidate (or company). It’s important to listen to both how and the candidates responds to questions, and what they say.

So, if you ever get the chance to interview with me, you have an idea of how I’m going to run the show :)

October 3, 2011 · antipaucity · One Comment
Tags:  · Posted in: education, ideas, insights, interview, personal, technical, work

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