Interviews are tricky. You're supposed to spend a few hours with someone, and determine how they're going to do for the next several years of their professional life. Getting that process to be successful can be pretty tough to get right.
Luckily, humans have been doing it for a long time. As the hiring manager, you know a lot about what you expect someone in this role to do and to be good at. This guide will cover some do's and don'ts to make your interview process rival the very best.
Keep in mind that an interview is a balancing act. You want to be slow enough to get a good profile of the candidate, fast enough to capture good candidates before the competition: inviting, but thorough. Exciting, but honest.
This is a process that requires experimentation and iteration, so don't be afraid to try new things. We have a few tips and ToDos we cross off our list when it comes to interviews — check them out!
Tip #1: Use the vision of a successful hire as your guide
It may be tempting to use existing playbooks or recall interview processes you've been a part of to structure the interviews you'll run. We recommend starting with a blank slate — the interview process' most important input should be your vision of this new hire's contributions to the company. This will require you to do some measure of job analysis upfront: Who will this person report to? Which stakeholders will they be working with most closely? What projects or KPIs will they have ownership over? What skills will benefit them? What are we willing to train on, and what should this person be knowledgeable about from the jump?
Each skill or competency should have a corresponding set of questions that get at whether or not the candidate demonstrates competency in it - here are a few examples of competencies and corresponding questions.
This helps frame your hiring strategy in a way that helps ensure you've been thinking about how this individual will add value to your team, which makes it easy for them to speak to their strengths and relevant experiences or skills throughout the interview process — a win-win. It also helps you avoid having a candidate spend a ton of time with the wrong set of folks, which may be more costly than it looks at first glance: you may end up hiring someone based on impartial or incorrect information or may be missing out on the right person because the right questions weren't asked.
It may take some trial and error and some time on the job for your recent hires for you to be sure of how well your interview processes map to your desired results, but it's a safe bet to start with the end goal in mind.
Tip #2: Communicate with candidates early and often
Being able to communicate expectations to a candidate early and often presupposes that you'll know what the process is upfront — this is exactly the ideal state you want to be in! Few things create more frustration and hesitation for a candidate during interviews than a sense that the process is unclear or being made up on the spot.
Once a candidate has entered the interview loop, try to set them up for success — reiterate the next steps in the process, timelines, and send the names and positions of interviewers they will be speaking to ahead of time. Communicate with them as soon as you can about any changes that need to be made.
Always let candidates know where they stand — ghosting should be especially avoided after an onsite. Some hiring managers or talent teams may avoid conversations with candidates because they're afraid their feedback will go awry. Even if the outcome is a no, be thankful for candidate's time and share the good feedback the team had for them — this can go a long way, especially if you think you'll ramp up hiring again or across other functions down the line.
Tip #3: Interviews, but make it fashion
You and your team have fun — feel free to let that shine through your interview process, as well! Candidates are looking for signals on what it would be like to work with you and your team, and what the culture is like. Remember to bake in time for socialization (i.e. lunch/coffee breaks) into the process.
My colleague, Brittany, sent me this note after we discussed opera recommendations over a lunch break during my onsite.
Here are the tactical steps (let's call them ToDos) we suggest for creating enjoyable and thorough interview processes, and ways to do this in a quick, lightweight fashion:
ToDo #1: Build your interview steps and process
Many people think the best way to reach the requisite level of confidence for a candidate is to add in interview slots with additional teammates "just to be on the safe side." If you've made an investment in your job analysis and interview process design upfront, you should be able to design a process that is fairly quick — Google researched their interview processes and found that 4 interviews was the magic number. Additional interviews didn't amount to better signal.
Here's how Dover limits our interview process to 4 discrete phases:
Phase 1: The phone screen
Goal: The goal of the phone screen is to ensure you talk to all of the candidates you're confident about and don't advance those who are very obviously not a great fit right now.
Strategy: Dover hiring managers and Dover Interviewers use the first phone screen to assess whether or not the candidate is a match on the following:
Candidate motivation i.e. What are you looking for in your next opportunity?
Candidate interest i.e. What do you know about our company so far?
Role-specific details i.e. What is your experience with X [insert: project type, tech language, stakeholder relationship]?
Logistical questions i.e. compensation and timelines
Phase 2: Second conversation
Goal: Deep dive into their experience and sell them on the role.
Confirm: Dig deeper into previous experience and focus on role alignment.
Provide a more high-level conversation about the role, business goals, and potential role trajectory.
Give the candidate finer details about what the day-to-day of the role would look like, what surface area this person's work would help cover, the current structure of the team, more information about you and the onsite.
Phase 3: An assessment
Goal: Assess how a candidate might approach a project or assignment on the job.
Decide how you want to run it: The assessment can be in the form of a take-home, a live pairing or an exercise done together on a call.
Design the assessment: The exercise should closely map to the work this person would complete as part of their role or skills needed to do well in it — see below for more tips on designing your assessments.
Phase 4: Onsite (Virtual or In Person)
Goal: Get a full sense of the candidate's background, showcase your company culture, and close the candidate!
Have a mix of behavioral/situational questions, and create a bank of questions or question guide that interviewers can pull from.
Behavioral questions: learn about how a candidate has completed projects or demonstrated the skills you're looking for in the past.
Situational questions: use situational questions, i.e. "Suppose our bug count increases and we can't keep up given our current team size — how would you help create a process around tackling this issue?"
Taking a significant chunk of the day off to attend an offsite may not be doable for a lot of folks, and fairly anxiety-inducing for others. Offer to spread the onsite across a few days — this might help candidates get in the door quicker, as well!
Make sure key stakeholders are included in the panels: the candidate should have a chance to speak with their hiring manager, teammates, other people already in the role, and important stakeholders should be included.
Check out one of our blog posts on interviews for tips to reduce your time-to-onsite in half.
ToDo #2: Structure a fair and relevant assessment
If you choose to include an assessment in your interview loop, it's important that it wouldn't require an unreasonable amount of time and effort (more than ~2 hours of a candidate's time) and that it doesn't come off as "free work" the candidate is doing on your company's behalf. If the work does fall into these traps, you're likely to see a large amount of candidate drop-off at this point in time.
Here are some tips we consider when creating the assessment portion of our interview loops:
Give the candidate an interesting project to solve or a chance to demonstrate skills they would need to leverage successfully in their role — for example, researching players in your market, writing a short blog post, or completing a modeling exercise. Clearly articulate what it is you are looking to see, i.e. "We would love to see how you would approach solving this problem if you were currently on the team, and had X, Y, Z resources at your disposal."
While the take-home assignment with no due date in sight may seem like a good idea — after all, candidates can choose to do it on their own time and don't have to experience the stress of a whiteboarding exercise, there is a happy medium: our engineering team opts to do a live pairing challenge with a candidate. We've seen hiring managers opt for this, as well, because it allows you to test the fundamentals and critical thinking skills involved in a challenge, rather than the candidate's ability to independently solve a problem with little context or the ability to ask for feedback.
Lastly, we've seen great success in offering candidates a quick 15-minute call to answer clarifying questions as they relate to the assessment - it's a great way to get candidates "unstuck" and offer an additional quick touchpoint to assuage any concerns.
If you're looking for support with technical take-home assessments, Karat offers candidates 60-minute technical interview assessments with a trained interviewer and CodeSubmit offers take-home assessments, as well.
Code2040 shared their thoughts on how to improve the technical interview process here.
ToDo #3: Create relevant and comprehensive interview scorecards for each interviewer
Based on the job analysis you've done and the questions you've identified, it's time to document the questions asked, responses given, as well as the observable candidate actions gave during an interview.
Your scorecard helps you score the candidate for your need-to-haves. You'll probably test and align on a method after a few interviews, which is to be expected — what's important is that you make sure your scorecard method is applied consistently.
Scoring can be done in a few ways:
Greenhouse outlines a leveling score method - using an OPM interview as an example:
Level 1- Low: Handles interpersonal situations involving little or no tension or discomfort and requires close guidance
Level 3- Average: Handles interpersonal situations involving a moderate degree of tension or discomfort and requires occasional guidance
Level 5- Outstanding: Handles interpersonal situations involving a high degree of tension or discomfort and advises others
LinkedIn's product team produces the following scorecard to assess whether or not a candidate performed well in an interview:
Yes/No answer to whether they would hire the candidate
The questions they asked
Their evaluation of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses
Encourage hiring managers to keep their thoughts on candidates and their feedback confidential until your scheduled debrief session (tip: schedule the debrief session while you are scheduling the actual onsite. This way, you don't delay extending an offer because of internal scheduling difficulties after the onsite).
The following is an example of an interview loop for an Customer Success Manager here at Dover, with a few goals in mind for each phase:
Phase 1: Phone Screen (30 minutes)
Learning more information about the candidate
Asking role-specific questions and testing for EQ and data analysis competencies
Pitching the candidate on Dover
Tying up logistical questions and communicating next steps (2nd screen is a live case study exercise)
Phase 2: Live technical assessment (30 minutes)
Remind candidate of the case study structure
Question 1: Analytical ability and strategic communication: Can the candidate understand the strategic levers a customer can pull in order to be a successful user of Dover?
Question 2: Analytical and creative ability (client-facing): Can the candidate describe steps taken to assess and address an issue for a customer?
Question 3: Analyzing data: Can the candidate review and form hypotheses around a set of data?
Scoring and pass/fail
Phase 3: Virtual Onsite (4 hours)
Client engagement role play session
Additional resource - our guide to Product/PM interview questions: Product/PM Interview Questions