Interviewing for a software engineer is hard. Not only for interviewees but for interviewers as well. The whole process is a 2-way interaction:
- The candidate is supposed to demonstrate technical capabilities and inter-personal skills
- The interviewer should provide insights about the company and the day to day work
Although this is a simplified point of view it still holds true. Leaving a bad impression on the candidate might make them skeptical about the company. Unfortunately that is not always taken into account from interviewers. I’ve been in all sorts of positions and had many different experiences. This time around I want to present a few surprisingly good ones as the interviewer!
There are two instances that I remember very well. One happened a few years ago when we would provide candidates with a small project. They could take up to a week to send it back, it generally took 1 or 2 hours to finish.
I remember creating this mini project with one thing in mind: make it relevant to the actual day to day work!
If you assign a take-home project, make it relevant to the position and the company
It was a challenging enough sub-task of a bigger project that would also give the candidate the chance to shine. What I was expecting was NOT a fully functioning, all features covered and tested type of project. Just a simulation of being assigned a task, working on it and submitting a PR.
Some people were all over the place. They did not follow coherent patterns or straight up missed major features. Sometimes they would just use many different approaches to do the same thing.
The attention to details
This one candidate had everything well organized, even the commit messages in her repo! It was a breath of fresh air. The project was completely finished and styled. Everything about her code was in the right place, following organized patterns. Needless to say she was brought in for an onsite and was hired quickly after!
What impressed me was not only the task completion, but the attention to details. It really felt like she kept in mind her future self and coworkers as well. Following specific patterns helped understanding where to find anything very quickly 🎉
Showing off your attention to details can make the difference
In another occasion we were interviewing for a Unity developer position. This time around we did not have a take-home ready. As you can image we went for the always-dreaded coding exercise 😦 .
She was a junior and a bit nervous, as soon as I mentioned the coding exercise I saw the horror look in her eyes. She was very upfront and said: “I’m sorry I’m not very good at this type of things”.
I do my best to make sure the person on the other side of the table understands their whole career will not be judged by one coding exercise. I always mention a few things:
- It doesn’t matter if you solve it perfectly
- Time complexity does not matter
- We just want you to do a little coding
- We just want you to tell us how you approach it
- Ask as many questions as you want! We’re here to help you!
- This is not Google!
She was still very skeptical and while I was trying my best to make her feel comfortable, I was starting to be skeptical as well. She then started getting into what a solution could be, coded something simple but effective. Sometimes she would take longer pauses and I had to ask her questions. At some point she was very discouraged.
That’s when I changed approach a bit and was proactively cheering for her. Letting her take a minute and convincing her that she could do it with almost no help. It worked like magic! She went through with it and got to a solution she thought was just ok.
Little did she know that it was actually the optimal solution! She just needed a little push and a bit more confidence. We ended up offering her the position and she sadly had to turn it down, some life changes required her to move to a different city unfortunately.
At times you need to encourage and support the interviewee. Some don’t perform well under pressure but you should try your best to make sure it doesn’t disqualify them!
I have many more examples of good and bad experiences but these two were the ones where I learned the most. On one side the attention to detail from a candidate really put her ahead of anyone else. Showing off how much you care about quality and coherence is never an issue! On the other side we need to keep in mind that interviewing is hard. Sometimes after we haven’t interviewed for a long time we tend to forget how stressful it can be. As an interviewer always remember that you should try your best to make the interviewee comfortable. Encourage them, sometimes even with a little help!