Your manager has asked you to assist in the interview process for a new employee. Are you up to the task?

Some developers enjoy the interview process, asking the insightful questions and giving the Roman thumbs-up or thumbs-down when it’s over. On the other hand, if you’re like me, interviews can range from being a little awkward to downright painful. Nevertheless, even though your heart may not be in it, your head tells you that you need to be involved in the process. You want to see the candidates and have a chance to form an initial impression. You want to make sure that the candidates are technically qualified and will get along with the other team members. And you realize that you need to help make a good choice, since you may be working with them for a long time (or at least 18 months or so).

Interviewing fundamentals we often forget
Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind when you get ready for an interview:

  • Understand the job opening. On a number of occasions, I have seen people interview a candidate and then afterward wonder what position the person was being interviewed for. You can best evaluate candidates if you have a mental picture of what they will be doing. Remember, the new hire may not have the same responsibilities as someone who held the job previously.
  • Understand your role. Are you interviewing to see whether a person would be a good personality fit? As a senior developer, should you be making sure he or she knows something about the development life cycle? Is it your responsibility to do a technical interview? I’ve seen too many instances where the feedback was that the candidate was a good person, but no one evaluated his or her development background or technical skills.
  • Be prepared. Make sure that you have reviewed the candidate’s resume ahead of time. Jot down some questions that will allow you to gain insight into the person’s background and ability. You may also have additional questions that your company requires you to ask as part of a standard review process.
  • Clear your mind. Don’t go into an interview thinking about the program that won’t execute or the production abend you need to fix. While you are in the interview, focus on the discussion at hand.
  • Ask and listen. I have been a candidate in interviews where the interviewer did all the talking. That’s not what you’re there for. Instead, ask questions and listen to the responses. Ask follow-up questions when possible to keep a dialogue going. Wait until you have finished your questions before you turn the tables and ask the candidate if he or she has questions you can answer.

Group interviews
It’s good if multiple members of your team are part of the interview process. In this case, there are two main formats. The first is the “Revolving Door,” where you get the candidate in a room and bring in the interviewers one at a time. This method gives everyone a chance to gain an independent opinion of the candidate from a different perspective and to ask different questions. However, this approach does require a longer time commitment from the candidate.

The second format is the “Spanish Inquisition.” Using this technique, you assemble the interview team in one room with the candidate. This lets everyone hear the same story simultaneously, and it offers the most efficient use of the candidate’s time. One drawback is that it can be very intimidating. So you need to go out of your way to maintain a friendly and casual atmosphere. My personal preference for a group interview is the Inquisition, since everyone hears the same story and it gives some indication of how well the candidate responds under some pressure.

A final note
Your company is relying on you to help ensure that qualified candidates are hired. This is an important job and should be taken seriously. These people will help build future value for your team and your company. Whether you interview one-on-one or in a group, make sure you ask thoughtful questions and listen carefully to the responses. Then be prepared to provide honest feedback during the interview debriefing process. This increases the value you contribute to the interview process and helps your company make good, long-term hires for the future.