During my past 7 years as a software engineering manager, I have found myself interviewing job candidates constantly. Finding good people for your organization is not an easy task — finding a bunch of good people is even harder!
To recruit at scale, you first need to scale your interviewing power. One of the challenges I’ve faced is scaling the pool of interviewers.
Adding new interviewers to your recruitment process is challenging, partly because of the unknowns hidden in the interviewer’s role. What would someone gain from interviewing? What would they have to sacrifice?
I wish somebody would’ve told me about both the good and the tricky parts beforehand. That’s why I’ve decided to share them here.
The great news is: you learn a lot!
You learn technology
You meet people that come from different backgrounds, organizations, solutions & architectures. It’s your chance to get a rare glance into the challenges other companies are facing and the solutions they use. You will hear about new technologies, and their pros and cons. You will discover how others handle challenges similar to yours or challenges you may face in the future. Seeing this cross section of what is currently popular in your industry — what’s worked and what hasn’t for others — is priceless. This is your real chance to learn from others’ experience.
You learn about your organization
Recruiting is much like dating: both parties analyze each other to see if there is a good match. Good candidates know that and will ask you questions about the role, technology, organizational structure, product vision, dynamics and the major challenges they will face. To have good answers you will have to come prepared.
In addition, since in most organizations these days it’s common practice to interview in pairs, the process offers a great chance to get to know the co-worker with whom you’re interviewing. You will hear about their needs, their challenges and what kind of a person they seek. Interviewing, and later discussing, the candidate is one of the greatest ways to strengthen your understanding and bindings at the company. Moreover, in this way you may hear about interesting opportunities that are out there in your company.
You learn about yourself
- You must know who you’re looking for in order to properly analyze candidates’ skills. You will need to understand what’s important to you, what’s a must in your future colleague, and what you can live without. Are you looking for a challenger? Somebody who gets things done? A team player. A can-do person? The way you weigh each of these qualities can tell you a lot about you and your needs.
- You discover your place in the industry. Does the average interviewee know how to face the same challenges as you do? How deep is their knowledge vs. yours? How wide is their knowledge vs. yours? What are your gaps? Which areas are your strengths? Knowing these things will help you focus and evolve in areas you may not have even realized needed improvement.
- Psychological projection is a concept in psychology that says that what we like and dislike in other people can be an interpretation of what we like and dislike in ourselves. Sometimes we dislike people because we recognize that they have characteristics we don’t like in ourselves. Knowing that helps analysing yourself after you have rejected or proceed with a candidate.
You learn to be interviewed
They say practice makes perfect. An interview is not an easy ceremony to take part in, both as interviewer and as interviewee. When I graduated from university, the interviews were really hard for me. I was so tense and insecure that I could hardly focus and think.
Guess what, after repeatedly practicing the situation, hearing candidates’ answers, hearing what my colleagues were asking and understanding how it is to be on the other side — the tension is gone! I am no longer in the unknown zone. I feel much more comfortable and aware of the situation.
You improve at managing a meeting
An interview is a short meeting, which has to be focused. You meet the candidate for 1–2 hours and you have to map their skills, their culture fit and their fit with the team. This is not an easy task, since you’ll have to learn to guide the conversation to the areas of your interest. You may even need to learn how to wrap up when you feel the conversation has taken a non productive/irrelevant direction. While interviewing you will practice these skills a lot, and the great part is they will help you manage other meetings you have in your organization.
You become a better storyteller
As an interviewer you will practice your story telling capabilities. First you will need to ask the hard questions in a simple understandable manner — it’s not an easy thing to do. Being able to introduce complex things in a simple manner is an art that takes time.
Another challenge you’ll face is the need to excite the candidate about their position, the company, its products and its challenges. Practicing the sales pitch will do an amazing job of turning you into a storyteller in general.
You improve as a manager
If you lead a group of people or plan to become a leader this is your chance to:
- Understand what people like or dislike in other companies/teams/leaders …
- Face the unexpected — you will need to improvise a lot: during interviews, when candidates ask you questions, and during the follow-up phone call, when you inform the candidate he/she didn’t pass.
- Map the team’s needs, current knowledge, and understand what is currently missing — which function is most in need of improvement or reinforcements.
- Enlarge your impact — people you have recruited will remember you as the one who believed in them and valued their skills. This is a nice start for great collaborations in the future.
You shape the future of your organization
An organization is its people. Once you are the gateway of the people, it’s your chance to impact what the future looks like.
There are a few, and I think knowing these in advance will greatly help you to be prepared and minimize the impact.
The number one thing to take into consideration when joining the recruitment process is it takes time. Even if you only join the interview sessions and don’t participate in any other recruitment routine, such as filtering CV’s, recruitment syncs, etc, it takes more time than you’d expect.
Let’s imagine you have 1 interview a week, and assume it lasts 1–1.5 hour, plus some time to prepare questions based on the CV and later analyze the candidate, and update the recruitment system. That’s about 2 hours for just 1 candidate. What happens when it becomes 3 a week? It easily takes a day from your week. The key is to be ready for it and plan your time right.
Rejections & saying no
Although you probably meet the candidate for a few hours at most, a mini relationship evolves between you. Now imagine the candidate is a perfect match for the position you are recruiting and you are sure you found the perfect match. You send your best offer, and they say no… It is not a pleasant moment, it feels the same as if you just started dating someone, but two, three dates later, they say it won’t work, just when you thought you had found the one.
The same goes for saying no to a candidate. Sometimes it’s even harder to reject a candidate than to get rejected. When you reject someone, you still need to do it gracefully and to leave a good impression — each candidate you’ve met now becomes an ambassador for your company and can impact its reputation.
Disagree & commit
One of the basic concepts in management is ‘disagree & commit’. The concept describes the expected behaviour from a manager when facing a decision they don’t believe in but have to engage their team to accept. Sometimes you will have to practice this behaviour during the recruitment process. There will be candidates that you’ll like that other interviewers do not. Sometimes the ones who don’t like them will be your managers, and unless you convince them, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you have to share a decision with the candidate that you do not believe in.
The key solution here is to understand what your managers care about in the people they meet, and check those things before their meeting.
Rejection mental models
After laying down the pros and cons of taking part in the recruitment process, I would like to address the “why not” mental models I have faced when suggesting to colleagues that they join the recruitment process.
The most popular argument I hear is the fear the candidates will be stronger than the interviewer. Commonly it’s a form of imposter syndrome. It can be threatening to see how your local knowledge and professional authority translates globally. Well, luckily you will indeed meet professionals that can challenge and raise the bar, but don’t be afraid of this situation since most of the people coming to the interview are interested in leaving a good impression and will not put you in an unpleasant situation.
The secret is asking “dumb” questions. If the candidate is stronger than you, make them try to explain concepts that you are not familiar with. It demonstrates how the person will be within the construct of a team — are they a mentor, a lone wolf?
The second popular rejection I’ve heard was “I don’t want to judge people”. The answer to this is the understanding that you are not expected to judge people — you are not deciding if this is a good or a bad person. You are there to understand the level of candidate expertise, knowledge, craftsmanship and passion for what is expected in the position for which you’re recruiting.
Recruiting is a profession on its own. It comes with pros and cons. The great aspect of it is that you will improve a lot at both your professional and soft skills. The challenging part is that it’s highly time consuming and probably will push you out of your comfort zone. Now that the mysterious part of the process has been clarified, I hope you’ll be more comfortable making the right choice when asked to join the interviewers’ pool in your organization. I know I did.