How to evaluate and interview candidates – 10 tips

An accurate interview process is the key to hiring the best candidates. Interviews are an excellent way to get to know your candidates, but if you are reading this, you also understand that it isn’t always easy distinguishing between amazing candidates that will excel at your company , and those who may become a problem.

In this article, I want to share my personal hiring experience from several companies, both large corporations and small startups, and a few tips that helped me do it right.

Some of these tips may sound trivial, but are still not implemented by many interviewers whom I talked with while writing this article.

1. It all starts with resumes

You probably have a list of job applicants, but you don’t want or have the resources to interview them all. In the typical scenario, you read the resumes, and choose potential candidates based on previous experience, years worked, education and mostly —  your intuition. In many companies, usually enterprises, the one responsible for reading the resumes, don’t have the right background knowledge to analyze technical skills. They are trained to look for titles and other magic words. 

The problem is – resumes are unreliable and simply an inaccurate assessment tool. I interviewed a lot of good candidates with poor resumes, and saw candidates that lied about their past work experience to get a job. When writing this article, I asked dozens of interviewers – how many candidates did you reject because of their resumes? Are you absolutely sure these candidates can’t succeed in your company? And they reply –  what other options do we have.

The other options are – assess your candidates’ skills with online challenges, that doesn’t require effort from your side. There are a lot of nice online tests and simulations almost for every role. During Covid-19 their use has increased so you have a good chance in finding a site that matches your requirements. Everybody has a bias, but online testing is an unbiased hiring tool,  which should be given a chance.

Specific in coding and other technical roles, we created https://www.interway.ai after we had bad experiences with 5 other familiar sites.

2. Make a list of questions you want to ask, with defined scores

The goal of your interview is to find great developers and other technical roles. You want to identify when one candidate is better than the other. It becomes more challenging when there are several interviewers that tend to pass different kind of candidates, there are interviewers that tends to accept more candidates and vice versa.

The tip here is to ask yourself – how many solutions are there to your questions? How easy is to distinguish between good and bad ones? how much time does it take from the interview? You also must ensure you create an interview process that is fair and equitable to a diverse set of candidates. When a question is undefined or has an unclear solution, the interviewer may make decisions based on intuition and may be biased.

I suggest dividing those questions to sub-questions, from easy to hard, with time limit. Each sub-question (and the expected solution) should be easily understood by all interviewers with defined scoring method.

3. Cheating

I once interviewed a candidate who was answered perfect solutions to every question. Everything was too good to be true. I was suspicious and decided to improvise: I asked another question that popped in my head, which was very similar and easier than the others. Surprisingly – the candidate didn’t know how to solve it.

There are also candidates that know how to “cheat”. For example, I interviewed a candidate that made multiple small mistakes just to mislead me. The probability that a candidate has your question before the interview is might be small, but if it happens – then you may find yourself hiring a candidate that can do more bad than good. Yesterday my co-worker told me about a candidate that sent another person to do the interview for him, that’s really a new record.

My short suggestion here – be aware. You can use the same question, but at least have a hidden sub-question that can be used only on candidates that perfectly passed your interview. This sub-question should be replaced often.

4. Make your candidate feel comfortable during the interview

One time I had an interesting experience with a polygraph for a high security clearances job. It was a standard procedure. A polygraph tests whether a person is lying or not by tracking breathing rate, blood pressure, perspiration and heart rate. If the person is too stressed, the results may be inaccurate.  To make sure it doesn’t happen, and also for other reasons like tuning the machine,  the first questions were – “What is your name? What day is today?”

Do it with your candidates. Start with a simple technical question just to be sure he is ready for your test. I had an experience with a very good candidates, that was the worst one during the first 5 minutes of the interview. This simple trick saved him. Another trick is space – give your candidates some space and leave them alone. Not everyone can think when you are watching.

5. Make sure the candidate knows what you are asking.

Amazing candidates can come from different backgrounds and countries, and sometimes their English is below average. Below average for the interview, but sufficient for the day-to-day job. During covid-19, it happens more often.

If a candidate doesn’t understand your question, that’s not a critical problem. However, If he doesn’t know that he doesn’t understand you, and you don’t know either – than, you lost a good candidate.

Story time – I had a candidate from a foreign country that didn’t know to solve a problem. He gave me wrong solutions and I was close to failing him. I asked the question again, and he insisted that he understood the question , but still gave me strange answers. Something didn’t add up, and I asked him to repeat my question in his own words – and that’s when I realized he didn’t understand the question and was able to correctly answer my question.

Since that encounter, I aske every interviewee to repeat the question so I can ensure they understand the task. In 99% of the cases the candidates understand, but in the off chance they didn’t, I can make sure I’m not dismissing a great candidate! It also makes them appreciate the fair process and the company, so why not.

That’s all for now, I will publish part 2 with additional 5 tips next week.

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