Fixing the Tech Job Interview with Cold, Hard Cash

Although the job-interview process might seem lengthy to your typical candidate—especially if they have to go through round after round of interviews, interspersed with whiteboarding tests—it often doesn’t feel like quite enough for many hiring managers. Even if the candidate is subjected to five in-person meetings and a battery of tests, those managers may still question whether they know everything necessary to make a good hire.

That uncertainty has led some hiring experts to call for “job auditions,” in which candidates are asked to do something practical, such as build a working website. Ron Friedman, author of “The Best Place to Work,” advocated that very thing; in an Inc. column breaking down Friedman’s ideas, Marcel Schwantes suggested that replacing in-person interviews with these “auditions” would ultimately benefit hiring managers.

“Musicians and singers have to audition. Actors have to audition. The people employing them don’t sit down and dart scripted questions their way,” Schwantes wrote, echoing Friedman’s core argument. “They want to see them play, sing, perform. Doesn’t it make sense to audition a prospective employee for the same reasons, before they sign an offer letter?”

While a candidate could always lie about their skills during an interview, they’d have a much harder time faking their way through an audition.

But there’s one potential downside to the audition theory: tech pros don’t like working for free. And why should they? Within the tech community, there’s a persistent fear that the prospective employer will take and utilize any solution generated during the hiring process, without hiring the tech professional who provided it.

Fortunately, the answer to that conundrum is straightforward: pay the candidate for their time and work. Numerous companies are already experimenting with this technique.

“Paying candidates to work on a simple project and then discussing it with our team has almost single handedly eliminated any bad hiring decisions,” Amir Yasin, CTO and co-founder of June, wrote in a blog posting last year. “Paying a candidate that gives you a terrible solution (or no solution) is FAR cheaper (both financially and emotionally) than hiring the wrong person.”

In a recent video interview with Dice, talent-management expert John Sullivan also advocated paying candidates for their time (relevant clip starts at around the 11:45 mark). “Pay them. What’s the big deal? It’s been done before,” he said. “We used to pay people to apply for a job, $25 bucks, it wasn’t a whole lot… if I’m going to steal your ideas, pay for it.”

(To the earlier point above about companies using interviews just to siphon up candidates’ knowledge, Sullivan also discusses how firms leverage the hiring process for competitive intelligence—advance the video to around the 11:00 mark.)

The current hiring model is broken, Sullivan added: “We treat candidates like crap.” The solution? Go above and beyond what other companies do. Although not every tech firm has the time or funding to pay out every candidate who walks through the door, those willing to offer a fee to engage prospective employees with real-world problems may make fewer hiring mistakes in the long run. And those are exactly the sorts of auditions that talented tech pros would be willing to attend, provided the price and the job are right.

5 Responses to “Fixing the Tech Job Interview with Cold, Hard Cash”

  1. John Smith

    I did numerous projects for potential employers for free. For example Bloomberg asked to redesign part of it’s trading application. The company did not pay a penny for the exercise. Even though I successfully passed the exercise, next interview was interrogation like. It was really bad. There were at least 10 people who tried to cross examine me. The HR tried to to make lowball salary offer.
    It was just disgusting. Some companies try to solve their design problems by testing designers, some just use as a tool to entertain themselves.

  2. Jacques Gambu

    The idea has two added advantages.
    1 It can be used to select for higher IQs without using the controversial IQ test. High IQ people can usually do more than what their resume would suggest.
    2 It allows experienced IT people who have to reinvent themselves because their technology suddenly dies to prove that they can do it. Resumes are the past, you want to look at the future. Resumes were OK in the past. But things are much more dynamic today.
    The so-called skill shortage is in large part the result of not seeing value where there is value.