Hiring managers are under constant (and enormous) pressure to find the right tech candidates to fill particular jobs. At the same time, they’d rather leave a spot empty than hire a talented candidate who won’t get along with the existing team.
Most tech candidates think that showing off their technical skills during an interview is enough to nab the job. But hiring managers, tasked with ensuring that both product development and group dynamics run smoothly, will tell you that perception is wrong: The hiring process is often fraught with politics, and “gut feel” matters as much as the candidate’s ability to program or manage tasks.
So what are hiring managers thinking about when they talk to you?
They’re Not Just Focused on Skills
While your technical expertise is a critical consideration, so is your ability to put it into practice. If you’re a great coder but have trouble communicating or working with others, chances are the manager is going to pass you by. “Software development is a contact sport,” said Alex Balazs, chief architect for Intuit’s TurboTax. “If you can’t work with others and communicate well, things tend not to work out so well.”
When he’s interviewing a candidate, Balazs probes for a certain amount of flexibility in the candidate’s approach, as well as his or her potential fit with his team. Companies, he observed, “are living, breathing things,” and both their business and their technical stacks are likely to evolve over time.
That reality makes him favor candidates who can be positioned for success over the long term. “Sometimes it’s, ‘Let’s hire a great engineer even if they don’t have everything we’re looking for, if they’re inquisitive and likely to keep learning,’” he said. “You have to be open to the fact that you need someone who can always learn and grow and adapt. Technology moves quickly, and you want to hire people who can move with it.”
They’re Under Pressure to Fill the Job
Although hiring managers want to hire someone, they don’t want to move too quickly. “There’s definitely pressure. You need that body on the team,” observed Mai Nakamura, lead Web developer at the recruiting-platform provider JobVite. “Interviews are time-consuming, and then once you’ve hired someone, you have to ramp them up.”
In addition, the longer a job requisition remains open, the more likely it’ll end up pulled for reasons beyond the manager’s control, Balazs added. That layers in additional pressure, because managers can suddenly find themselves without a needed solution.
Despite those factors, Balazs resists the idea of moving too quickly: “Pressured as it is, you want to wait and hire the right person… It’s worse to hire the wrong person.”
Their Relationship With HR is Close and Fluid
Hiring managers work closely with HR and recruiting staffs to define the job opening and identify qualified candidates. “There’s a lot of back and forth,” Nakamura said.
Oftentimes, job requirements aren’t simply dictated by the hiring manager, who then leaves HR to handle the paperwork. At Intuit, Balazs describes HR, Talent Acquisition and the technical team as acting like a “triumvirate” that collaborates to ensure the role makes sense from an organizational point of view, before creating a job description that is realistic and marketable. “You don’t want to create an unhireable role,” he said.
As recruiters identify candidates, there’s a lot of discussion to ensure the pipeline is filled with the right kind of people. And once a finalist has been decided upon, HR, the recruiters and the hiring manager collaborate on an offer. “We want to put together a competitive offer from the beginning,” Balazs added.
They Expect You to Ask Questions
A candidate who isn’t inquisitive is waving “a huge black flag,” Balazs said. He thinks one of an interview’s most important moments comes when the candidate begins asking questions. The queries you pose, and the conversations you have about everything from the company’s business to its technical approach, all help the manager form an impression of you as a potential colleague. That’s in addition to giving him or her a sense of your technical skills and business abilities.
The lesson here is to arrive with a list of questions that go beyond the mechanics of the job. Remember that this is your chance to get a sense of the hiring manager, whether you want to work for him or her, and whether you like the way the company operates.
They Want You to Understand the Business
It’s important to understand the problems the company wants to solve; hiring managers are always surprised by candidates who come to an interview with zero idea of their potential employer’s mission. By reading the company’s website, government filings, and media coverage, you can avoid this particular pitfall.
“The interview process can be grueling,” Nakamura acknowledged. “But I just want to have a conversation, not be intimidating. In the end, they can do the work or they can’t, and we’ll work well together or we won’t.”
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