Tips from an Experienced Tech Interviewer

Our current circumstances have impacted countless activities worldwide, and job interviews are no exception. However, even amidst chaotic times we can find new advancements and benefits that may not have been present previously.

Switching from onsite to online comes with improvements to general interview dynamic, such as candidates being more relaxed and more open to interaction. As a tech interviewer for the Cognizant Softvision Web community, I’ve also noticed that prospects are easier to reach and they seem to confirm participation in an interview faster than before. 

Going virtual has also opened opportunities for candidates located in different areas, where we don’t have a physical location. This has allowed for growth, as we are now reaching prospects from a wider radius. 

During my seven years as a tech interviewer and, more recently, Web Community Lead, I’ve gained many new skills, knowledge and insights. Why become an interviewer? How does one conduct an interview? And what tips would an experienced interviewer have? Read on to find out.

Why?

You’re probably wondering why you should participate in tech interviews. We all know it’s time consuming and may be inconvenient, but let’s look at what you gain during a tech interview.

  • The main thing you gain is experience. You will have to prepare for the tech interviews and in so doing, you will go through concepts over and over again. By repeating the concepts and seeing the examples frequently they will become second nature, instantly coming to mind during your everyday programming tasks.
  • One other important benefit is the confidence you will gain. The interviewer generally holds a position of power during the interview. Always remember that you are the one evaluating the candidate and not the other way around. Usually the skill level of the candidate will be matched or outmatched by the skill level of one or even both interviewers. This is very good for the interviewer that’s shadowing as it helps him or her gain confidence during the interview, knowing that they are always backed up by the more senior colleague. This allows them to ask specific, well-studied questions and validate the candidate’s responses. This also helps boost experience, constantly learning from the questions and the answers asked or given during interviews. Remember, you should always be in control.
  • Social interaction. You will have the opportunity to meet a large array of candidates, each with their own specific personality. This social interaction might be helpful in finding ways to connect with people that work in the same domain as you do. Based on these interactions you can study the behavior and apply certain aspects to your everyday encounters with colleagues, like how to stay calm and composed when faced with a tech debate.
  • Tech interviews give you valuable market insights, allowing you to compare and check your place in the overall programming field. Through your conversations with candidates you will be able to measure the current state of the market and discover emerging technologies. Based on these findings, you can establish a well-rounded personal growth plan by learning the concepts others mentioned and working with new emerging technologies that have started to penetrate the market.

How?

We conduct interviews structured into three main parts.

  1. The introduction. The interviewers should present themselves stating their role in the company, their general area(s) of interest in software and an overview of the projects they have worked on.  Then it’s time to meet the candidate. The interviewers ask the interviewee to talk a little bit about the companies and the projects he or she has worked on based on their resume. This is a critical step in evaluating the candidate because, based on their attitude toward the projects, you can determine if you are seeing a passionate individual or one that just does this for a living. Passionate individuals convey a sense of excitement when talking about their projects and achievements.
  2. The main technical interview is when the interviewers ask their questions and further discuss the technical topics with the candidate, based on his or her responses.
  3. The outro is when the candidate has the opportunity to ask the interviewers about any aspect of the company that they’re interested in with a couple of exceptions, including salary and the interviewers’ opinion on the success of the interview. Dealing with such situations will be explained in the next section.

What?

Now comes  down to what to actually do (and what to avoid) when conducting a tech interview:

  • For an in-person interview,you should start with a firm handshake when meeting the candidate, and then ask them if they need anything, such as water, coffee, etc. ). In the current virtual format, as we are using Zoom or similar applications, we start with a wave and a warm welcome, then spend a couple minutes talking about everyday life in general before we proceed.
    Try to be open and natural, not too rigid nor too outgoing. Observe the candidate’s demeanor  and try to emulate it. After the initial connection is open the interviewers should proceed with a discussion on presentations and projects. Interviewers should ask the candidate what parts of their past experience were interesting and why. It helps to ask which were frustrating and why in order to put things into context. Try to notice the passion and involvement factor explained before.
  • The questions should be clear and easy to understand, and main programming topics like Algorithms, OOP and security, as well as team collaboration topics like Git and CI/CD should be approached whenever applicable. Some candidates might know different definitions of the same concepts, so try to extract and score the main idea behind the explanation. Don’t emphasise the wrong answers that the candidate might express, as this can destroy confidence. Don’t be afraid to ask open-ended questions where the candidate has to think a little bit about the answer, even if the question itself seems wrong. One example would be, “Can I create a record using the HTTP DELETE verb?” These types of questions are used to determine how the candidate thinks. Take note of the arguments he or she brings to the table about why that’s a really bad way of doing things. The thought process and informed arguments can often distribute candidates into different skill brackets.
  • During the third part of the interview, try to answer the candidate’s questions without giving away sensitive information. If you are unsure if a piece of info is considered sensitive you should keep it out of the discussion. Things like tech stacks, for example, are pretty safe to disclose, whereas information such as clients’ names, client accounts, etc. are to be kept private. The two questions mentioned previously regarding salary and interviewer’s feedback on the likelihood of employment should be rejected with a standard response, such as: “You will be informed by our HR/Management team regarding the next steps.” The evaluation part should consist in a sync discussion between the evaluators and should be done after taking some time to digest the interview experience. Pay special attention to the types of projects in which your candidate would fit in, as well as strong and weak points. Notes about the candidate’s personality are also of great help. There are some candidates who seem great at the HR/Management interview, but turn out to be difficult to work with. As an interviewer, you should ask yourself,  “Would I like to work with this individual?” Finally, determine the tech level of the candidate, thinking about other evaluated candidates as well, and how the current one matches against them.

So, while much has changed in the world of tech interviews, the same general guidelines apply: both parties should be on time, establish a connection and learn about one another. As an interviewer, your participation has and always will be key to growing your team.

Onsite workshop for technical interviewers pre-pandemic talking about different technical levels and how to evaluate.

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