3 Ways to Make Your Technical Interviews Work in a Virtual Hiring World

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Done well, technical interviews follow a consistent process to identify the most qualified candidates for your team and leave candidates with a positive impression of your company. Done poorly, technical interviews can negatively impact candidate experience, produce inconsistent results, and even raise compliance issues for your company.

For companies that have well-established processes for conducting technical interviews in person, the transition to remote interviewing in the time of COVID-19 might be rocky. This switch to remote interviewing can disrupt the structure and consistency established in your in-person interviews, thereby increasing the likelihood of mistakes and bad hiring outcomes.

To help you optimize your technical interviews for a virtual world, I offer these three tips — and some common pitfalls to avoid. 

Do: Conduct Structured Interviews

“Structured interview” has become a bit of a buzz phrase in Silicon Valley, and for good reason. Years of research on hiring practices have shown that structured interviews — interviews that use the same set of questions, structures, and evaluation metrics to assess each and every candidate — are the best at successfully predicting how candidates will perform on the job. They also help reduce bias in hiring by making the interview process more objective and consistent.

Structured interviews are broken down into three stages:

1. Pre-brief: Dedicated time for your hiring team to get on the same page about the role, the interview structure, and each team member’s responsibilities during the interview. 

2. Interview: The first rule is to ask the same questions of each candidate. This ensures that each candidate has the same opportunities to share their knowledge, and it also facilitates more accurate comparisons among candidates. The second rule is to ask the questions in a consistent order.

3. Debrief: When planning a debrief, the more structure, the better. A great way to find that structure is through rubrics. Providing interviewers with a rubric that touches on each of the job requirements keeps their feedback focused and relevant. 

Don’t: Improvise 

When conducting technical interviews, you should never show up without a consistent set of questions prepared. In other words: Don’t wing it.

Not even the most experienced recruiting professionals are immune to bias and irrational decision-making. Bringing consistency to interviews is hard even when you have a structured set of questions to follow. External factors like the interviewer’s mood, whether or not they’ve eaten lunch, and the outcomes of earlier meetings can all impact how the interviewer ask questions and evaluates a candidate. Without structure in place, these extraneous factors can influence the hiring process more than you might realize.

Do: Use the Right Techniques

Most software engineers work in a Git-based environment. They are used to committing their code, receiving feedback, and then making changes in a back-and-forth process. Unfortunately, reenacting this process exactly during the interview stage would take several days — too much time for a hiring process.

Instead, use a pair programming review activity in your coding interview. Have your candidate write some code, and then have the interviewer provide feedback and ask questions. Here, you can see how the candidate responds. Do they take feedback well? Do they listen to what the interviewer said? All of this should be taken into consideration alongside their raw coding skills.

Don’t: Use a Whiteboard or Text Editor

Asking developers to write code on a whiteboard or in a text editor is the No. 1 practice to avoid in technical interviews. While many companies have moved away from this practice, it is still standard for some prominent employers — even in remote interviews.

There are a number of problems with asking candidates to code on a whiteboard or in a text editor. First, it’s awkward. If candidates are writing JavaScript code by hand, for example, it can be difficult to accurately represent curly braces and correct spacing. Asking candidates to use a whiteboard or a text editor also provides a less realistic coding experience and makes a technical interview unnecessarily difficult and stressful.

Check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine for more career advice and recruiting trends:

Do: Give Candidates a Take-Home Assessment

Asking a candidate to complete a long and complex coding task during the interview may not be the best way to assess their skills. For one, this can be a nerve-racking experience. More importantly, this scenario does not realistically simulate the job of a software engineer.

A lot of great candidates get unnecessarily filtered out because they get nervous when someone is watching them. With a take-home assessment, however, the candidate can showcase their skills in a setting that more accurately reflects the job itself. The hiring team can review the candidate’s work on their own time, and then discuss the assessment with the candidate during a later interview.

Don’t: Ask Candidates to Share Their Screens

At first glance, asking a candidate to share their screen during a remote interview (or bring their own laptop for an in-person interview) seems like a good idea. Using the device and development environment most familiar to the candidate creates a more positive interview experience, right? The problem is that this could open up a Pandora’s box of risks for your company.

From a consistency, legal, and bias perspective, screen sharing is a huge red flag. When candidates share their screens, it’s all too likely that interviewers will see information they shouldn’t see. This opens up new potential for bias. Even if a candidate shares just their browser window, an interviewer can see their bookmarks, browser extensions, and even search history (when a candidate starts typing in the address bar, for instance). 

Optimizing Your Technical Interviews for Candidate Experience

Avoiding these pitfalls ultimately comes down to preparedness. Being prepared for technical interviews means having the right tools for conducting remote interviews and a detailed plan for the questions you’ll ask. By taking the steps outlined above, you and your hiring team will be on your way to an unbiased process that reliably surfaces the most qualified candidates for your positions.

Tigran Sloyan is the cofounder and CEO at CodeSignal, as well as the founder of the #GoBeyondResumes nonprofit movement.

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Tigran Sloyan is the cofounder and CEO at CodeSignal, the first company to develop a fair, automated skills-based assessment platform used as a standard for technical recruiters and employers. Tigran is also the founder of the #GoBeyondResumes nonprofit movement. As an active member of the Forbes Technology Council, Tigran contributes regularly as a thought leader in the technical hiring industry, commenting on trends in software development, diversity, and innovation. Prior to his role at CodeSignal, Tigran worked in technology management at Google, where he led projects such as Google Hangouts in the education sector and Google Login for the travel and publishing industries. Prior to Google, he was an applications engineer at Oracle. Tigran received BS degrees in both mathematics and computer science with a minor in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).