3 Things Managers Need to Stop Doing When Interviewing Tech Pros

Interviewing for tech roles is almost always terrible. Hiring managers try to stump developers and engineers, and there seems to be an endless line of interviewers to talk to. It’s bad.

But it doesn’t have to be! We spend a lot of time receiving feedback from tech pros about the interview process. In a Dice survey, 42 percent of respondents said that whiteboards terrified them most about that process, while 30 percent said the time spent interviewing was their biggest headache, and 22 percent said “feeling dumb” was their largest concern.

These issues have one thing in common: hiring managers can fix them! And they should. Here are the three things we’d like to see changed about the tech interview process.

Stop Playing ‘Gotcha’

Do you know how many ping-pong balls fit into a standard Boeing 737 airplane? Wanna watch a seven minute video to learn how to solve that problem?

No, you don’t. You’re an adult, and you care about clean code and writing unit tests. Kudos to Google for coming up with weird interview questions that the rest of the industry adopted, but we need to see this trend die a quick and painful death. (Fortunately, Google has reportedly eliminated many of its brain-teasers, which means that other firms will hopefully follow suit.)

The reason these questions exist is to gauge your problem-solving skills, but the linked video above highlights why they need to go away. In a real working situation, online data will show you how to find solutions to these problems. Maybe hiring managers and interviewers should stick to things that matter, like coding skills and past projects – unless their startup is going to disrupt the aggressively expanding ping-pong-balls-on-a-plane industry.

Stop Looking for the ‘Perfect’ Candidate

You know JavaScript. You’re interviewing for a job that needs a solid JS developer. You’ve got this.

Then the interviewer asks if you have experience with some random framework you’ve never heard of. Suddenly, your seven years of dedicated JavaScript experience is meaningless in the context of this interview. And that sucks.

It’s understandable that a hiring manager will want someone who does know their stack top-to-bottom, but we’ve seen the above scenario play out all too often. A candidate is a sensational fit, culturally and technically, but one small, esoteric hiccup derails the entire process.

We’d like to see hiring managers start hiring talented people who have the capacity to learn a framework or platform, rather than disqualify candidates for little (or no) reason.

Let Candidates Work in Their Element

Walk into the interview room, and there’s a whiteboard waiting for you. Stroll through the sea of cubicles and offices, and you probably won’t see a single whiteboard outside of that meeting room.

The whiteboard is a means to an end, but it’s a dead form factor in our eyes. Recruiters and hiring managers want to know tech pros can work a problem out, but the whiteboard is daunting. Instead, we’d like to see interviewers offer up more ways for tech pros to show their work.

And hey, the whiteboard might be what the candidate chooses, but we’d still like options. If you want me to sketch out a sorting algorithm, that’s fine, but maybe I prefer to do it on an iPad, or paper. You might have read our article about that website that styles algorithms like IKEA instruction manuals, and simply want to look that up as a reference (and let’s be honest: outside of the interview, you’ll be Googling everything anyway).

We’d much rather interviewers tell candidates what they want to see, then let tech pros choose how they want to show their work. Whether it’s algorithms or small coding projects, we say let developers and engineers shine in whichever way is best for them.

When Interviewing, You’re Still in Control

If you get the sense an interviewer is just playing games, put a stop to it. Tell them you’re happy to discuss your knowledge and work history, but figuring out how many manhole covers are in Manhattan seems like a waste of time (because it is).

And if you don’t like whiteboards, say so. If you have your computer with you, and feel better working on it, offer that up as an alternative. Or sketch things out on paper, as we mentioned above.

Should you get the sense the interview is anything less than productive, try to steer it back towards what a good interview should be: a conversation about your skills, your working history, what the company needs, and how you can help. Anything beyond qualifying you as a solid candidate for the open position is a waste of everyone’s time.

4 Responses to “3 Things Managers Need to Stop Doing When Interviewing Tech Pros”

  1. ReVeLaTeD

    Disagree on the whiteboard.

    A “tech pro” has to be able to conduct meetings, which means you’re in front of the business. The business will expect you to be able to whiteboard things you’re trying to explain, because they’re visual people. So a good exercise is to diagram out a basic business process flow based on a sample scenario. What questions would you ask, what outputs would you suggest, how do you recommend approaching it from a project perspective, etc. These are all valuable things to know about a person. If you’re coming in with an idea that you’ll never be in front of the business, your value as an employee isn’t as high.

    What you SHOULDN’T do is ask someone to write code on the board. That’s stupid.

    • BillC

      Most ‘tech pros’ sit at a monitor all day long and work on software. They may attend meetings and even run some internal meetings but they are not writing code on a whiteboard. And in fact, with modern agile programming you aren’t likely to ever be writing business flows either. You get some Jira tickets at the morning standup and then you spend the day working on them.

  2. Paul Hawkins

    I believe those hiring managers that use “gotchas” and specific experience to derail, are Really looking to hire internally and they’re just having to go through the motions of interviewing to satisfy regulatory requirements. I could be wrong, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interviewed only to find out they’ve decided to proceed with a candidate from within their company. Or, that’s what they say, anyway.

  3. I agree that whiteboard interviews are counter productive. I have hired over 150 engineers during my career and I have never used a whiteboard exercise to hire any of them. In fact, I have hired individuals who are not proficient with the current language or stack the company may be using at the time. Interview questions or conversations can involve logic regarding how a developer handles situations or coding assignments but most of the interview should really be to understand the person’s journey as a developer and to see if the person is a good fit for the culture and values of the company. I have given some individuals small POCs to take home and deliver in 24-48 hrs. at times but that isn’t a must. When you are interviewing, it is a good idea to understand that you are talking to a human being and try to treat the person with respect and think if you would want to be “gotcha’d” in an interview. That seems pretty unprofessional IMO.