Friday, September 13, 2013

My interviewing start and the changes I've made.

tldr: Changes in how you interview is inevitable.

I started interviewing at my first job. It was a gig with a small company (<20 people) and I was the Engineering Intern. No, I still don't know what that meant, I just did everything anyone asked me to from hardware to software to fetching donuts. I was included in interviews there, but not as a participant, I was asked to only be an observer. They were very traditional. What tech do you know? Do you know this specific tool? And not much more then that. If everyone got along with the person, and they had decent answers, they were hired.

I'm moved through several companies now and moved from observing to influencing to being the final say about who gets hired. Initially, I started with the traditional questions, but they resulted in people that didn't always work out. Then I started to experiment with hiring. What questions should we ask? What answers should we expect? I'm grateful to the employer at the time who allowed me the freedom to experiment with how to judge what people to hire.

While this data doesn't cover all of my hiring, it is an 18 month period where I kept fairly detailed records while I was experimenting heavily with interviewing.

  - 250-300 phone screenings (don't remember an exact number, as there were untold tons of them)
  - 50 people made it to a physical interview
  - 1 person disappeared during the interview process (moved to Texas I found out)
  - 25 people made it to a second interview, 2 of those people jumped straight to 2nd interviews as they came from recommends of people I trusted, or I had already directly worked with them.
  - 19 people got offers
  - 3 people declined
  - which means after interviewing ~300 people, we hired 16 people.
  - 4 of those people didn't work out.

I'm not giving you this data to tell you how bad or good I was at interviewing, but to allow you to see what the process was like for me. I had to phone screen every resume (300, ~150 hours), talk with 50 people once (minimum 25 hours), setup a team of 3 people to talk with another 25 (minimum 150 hours, I count prep time and debriefing time), then extend offers, then worry and wait. 325 hours to get 12 people that worked out. That's three quarters of a week to find each person. 

What is the point of an interview? To find the most qualified candidate for a given job. Or at least for now that's what I'm going to use.

So at first I started with question like I had observed. Why do you want to leave your current employer? Do you know Agile? Do you know C#? Write me an algorithm in some language. Plus a host of other tech skill questions. Over the course of an interview I'd get a feel about someone from body language, terms and sentences they used, and then extrapolate information from the way they answered.  This system worked semi-okay for 1-2 years, but about that time I noticed that I really didn't care 'what' they answered, I wanted to hear 'how' they answered. I was just asking questions to get them talking, trying to get them to talk long enough to understand how they thought.

That's roughly when I started to change up the game. It took about 6 months of on and off introspection to come to the next level. Why was I using these questions? What was I really looking for in these people? After reading several books (Strengths Finder and Good to Great) I had a more solid idea of the traits I wanted to see in people: character, work ethic, intelligence, responsibility and values. Observing people I knew that were good testers, and people I knew that were bad, I clarified my definitions of those traits. Then I tried to design questions about those traits that I wanted to investigate in each interviewee. 

It's not that I don't ask tech questions anymore. Merely that tech questions are not my first level weed-out questions. I have found over and over again that personality and mentality are the most important parts. It's nice if you have tech skills, but I can judge your ability to learn tech skills independent of your personality and mentality at a second interview. And I'm more likely to hire someone with the right mindset and little skills, than I am someone with the wrong mindset but the the right tech skills.

As an example of how I would change up interviews (occurred just today):

As I was sitting in the bathroom, I noticed that this plastic piece had shimmied down the hinge pin and the lock was wiggly. I pulled out my swiss army knife and moved the plastic piece back into position and tightened the 2 screws holding the lock. After I did this it occurred to me, is that normal behavior? Do people just fix things when they notice them broken, or do they just complain to someone else?

So my new thought on how to change my current test interview. Put something in the room that anyone would want to fix. Something easy to fix, but not so weird that someone in an interview wouldn't want to do it for fear of looking strange. A marker with a cap off is my first thought. Do they notice it? Do they fix it? Does that make them proactive?

So I brought this test to my crew of testers. They of course shot me down, like all good testers would. What does being proactive prove? That they have OCD?
Probably the best rebuttal of this was Wayne, "talents and(sic) patterns of thought ... you(sic) can't determine a pattern from one event". 

Then JCD piped in with "Is that as much cultural behavior(sic) as otherwise? Some people think it is better to be polite, or maybe that is some sort of test tool you will use later?"

I'll still be using the marker test in my next couple of interviews. However, I won't use the data I collect from it. It might end up being useless, it might be an indicator of something I wasn't looking for, who knows.

Lastly, I'd like to point out, this interview thing is a constantly evolving subject. Finding good people is difficult and making it easier is a goal of mine (short of just opening a training school). Lately, I've dived into blogs about hiring and have 2 new books, by Lou Adler, I want to read on the subject. Stay tuned...

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