Yahoo’s purchase last week of San Francisco startup Distill was about its team’s background in mobile advertising. To us, though, what’s interesting is the company’s most recent effort: a new online approach to technical interviews.
Distill, which is being shut down by Yahoo, was working on tools to combine video conferencing with coding challenges. Essentially, a manager could conduct a video interview and assign coding problems at the same time, watching and collaborating with the candidate as they worked through the problem. “Distill’s product paired the basic features of a video chat service like Skype, and put them alongside a text editor and file upload space so that an interviewer could walk a candidate through a collaborative coding session,” explains TechCrunch. The service was in private beta.
It does seem like such an approach would streamline the process of conducting these interviews, if only because they’d be easier to set up. With Distill’s approach, the key components of a technical interview remain in place — the ability of the manager to see how a candidate thinks things through, and the back and forth that goes on along the way.
Of course, it wouldn’t eliminate the downside of technical interviews: Some companies emphasize them over things like references, cultural fit, experience and the like. And some perfectly qualified people just don’t perform well on this kind of thing.
We should note that this approach differs from online technical assessments, which offer standardized or semi-customized multiple-choice tests. Hiring managers usually prefer to pose complex problems that need context and can show them how you interact and think. That can’t be conveyed through a canned test, which again argues to the value of a Distill-like approach.
This is one of those things that passes the logic test: It provides employers with a tool that can strengthen their recruitment process by allowing managers to conduct technical interviews more efficiently. It can also afford them an economical way to meet with candidates in remote locations. Even though Distill is going away, don’t expect the idea to die with it.