CXO

Throw out the whiteboard: 3 ways to improve the technical interview

The tech interview process is ineffective for employers and candidates, but there are ways to fix it, according to Josh Greenwood of Test Double.

How does your company search for new talent? Chances are you put up a job posting, people come in for interviews with different members of the team and completes a technical exercise, you decide who you want to hire, and send a polite rejection letter to those who don't make the cut.

This process is poorly thought out and in need of a revamp, according to Josh Greenwood, a software developer at consulting agency Test Double. "We're viewing interviewing as though it's binary, and there are only two things that could happen, when there's a lot more depth here we're not getting to," Greenwood said in a session at the recent Code PaLOUsa conference in Louisville, KY.

Interviews are designed to find the absolute perfect candidate, while the majority will not fit into that box, Greenwood said. Instead, you will have a lot of candidates take a look at the description and decide not to apply, or who go through the process and are left unsatisfied with how the company operates the search.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Programmer (Tech Pro Research)

"If we only think about the people we end up hiring, we're likely to create bad outcomes for everyone else," Greenwood said. "If we ask a lot of candidates and don't give much in return, they are likely to be unsatisfied with the process."

Ideally, you want job candidates who are not given an offer to still recommend your company to their friends and contacts, and spread the word that they had a good experience during the interview process, Greenwood said.

Here are three ways to improve the technical interview process, according to Greenwood:

1. Provide value

Value refers to the ratio between cost and benefit, and it is a high indicator of whether or not a candidate will be satisfied with the interview process, Greenwood said. If a candidate puts in a lot of time, effort, and money to apply and interview, and the company gives them no job offer or feedback, they will likely be unsatisfied.

Companies can increase the value of their hiring process first by making it easier for people to apply to the job, Greenwood said. Many companies now require a coding challenge in the initial part of the process, he added. "If someone takes four hours to go through your application process and never hears back, that's frustrating," he said. "But when you ask for very little, you don't have to provide much back."

Another way to add more value to the process is to eliminate the stock rejection email, Greenwood said. At Test Double, the company has rephrased "no" to "not yet." "We try to provide every candidate with really constructive feedback," Greenwood said. "We schedule a call with them, and tell them what we liked and what we'd like to see them improve in." They also offer resources for mentoring, and ask them to apply again once they've grown in a certain area, he added.

"It's much easier to picture yourself working with somebody if you enjoyed interviewing with them," Greenwood said. "By reframing 'no' to 'not yet,' giving constructive feedback, definitive answers, and a path forward, they're more likely to recommend your company to a friend, and to reapply in a couple years."

SEE: IT jobs 2018: Hiring priorities, growth areas, and strategies to fill open roles (Tech Pro Research)

2. Be honest

"Being open and honest with our candidates goes really far in building trust with them and making sure we receive positive outcomes," Greenwood said.

This first requires employees to be honest about their own biases, Greenwood said. To reduce biases in the interview process, companies should create templates for each interviewer to follow with specific characteristics they are looking for. Test Double also created a role called a "bridge agent," to act as the first person to interact with the candidate and advocate for them.

"If someone says 'I don't think they're a great fit,' it's their job to really ask why," Greenwood said. "Candidates really appreciate this, and feel like they have a friend in the process who is fighting for them."

Companies must also be honest about the job expectations in the job posting. Don't say that you're looking for someone skilled in every technology ever invented, Greenwood said—that's unrealistic, and pushes people away. "It's worth the investment to take time up front to describe what it's like to work for the job," he said. "Put all of the different facets and skills you're looking for, and not just a blanket statement of every technology you're looking for."

Before the interview process starts, you should give the candidate an understanding of what the process will look like and when they will hear back, Greenwood said. "Leaving candidates in limbo doesn't benefit anyone," he added. It also helps to start an interview by telling them exactly what they are looking for in the interview—for example, more about a candidate's skills with a specific technology, or how they would solve a certain problem and explain it to a coworker.

Being up front about the interview expectations helps candidates feel like they're shooting for a particular goal, rather than having to be everything, he added.

3. Collaborate

Building software is a team sport, and the interview process should reflect that, Greenwood said. One way to do this is to create a realistic environment for a coding test.

"The whiteboard interview is not realistic—it's not how we work day-to-day, and all we're doing is adding stress to the process," Greenwood said.

Instead, you should let employees use something like Google Docs to share their work, on a machine that they are familiar with, Greenwood said.

The interviewer should also encourage the interviewee to ask questions throughout the process, because that's how problems get solved, he added.

Finally, the interviewer should ask candidates to explain why they do certain things, to learn more about their problem solving process, Greenwood said. "That conversation gives you much more insight into how a candidate likes to work and think, more than if they can finish a coding exercise in 30 minutes in a high-pressure situation," he added.

Companies should also ask job candidates for feedback on the interview process, Greenwood said. While all of the changes may seem overwhelming, they can ultimately lead to a much better hiring process, Greenwood said. "This is a journey—it doesn't happen overnight," he added.

To learn more about what questions you should ask when conducting a technical interview, click here.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/nortonrsx

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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