Good Interviewing Doesn’t “Just Happen”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Eight people walk into a room, over the course of three or four hours, and ask a series of usually predictable, often repetitive, and possibly useless questions while the applicant on the other side of the table tries to decide whether they should answer honestly or lie like crazy to make themselves sound good. And somehow at the end of this, we expect to know whether the applicant is someone we should hire or not!

I used to hate interviewing people. I never felt prepared, I always felt like I was scrambling for ‘good questions’, and worse yet — I usually didn’t come out of an interview feeling confident about a hiring decision. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten some amazing direct reports and coworkers from my past interviews. But I always used to feel like that was mostly dumb luck.

At some point in a past job I did an “interview training” workshop. Aside from covering the obvious “don’t ask questions that are illegal”, it was useless in helping me become a better interviewer. It was valuable in one way, though — it made me realize that interviewing is not a skill that makes sense to learn in a vacuum.

We’re still iterating on our interview process, but it’s been working pretty effectively lately. And that’s because we’ve left almost nothing to chance. My team, as a team, did a ton of brainstorming and prioritizing and explicitly looking at what worked and didn’t.

The steps that have lead up to good, effective interview slates looked something like this:

  • If we’d already hired the perfect person for this job role, what would they be like? (technical skills, soft skills, perspectives looking at the world, ability to work well within our lightweight/fast processes , ability to round out the team)
  • Prioritize a list of “things we need to learn about this specific candidate” and write it out explicitly in a shared note
  • Work backwards to figure out how we’re going to learn that stuff
  • Explicitly divide up questions, exercises, and interview styles between interviewers
  • Towards the end, compare “what we know” against “what we hoped to learn about this candidate” so the final interviewer can tailor their session to getting those answers
  • Afterwards, discuss how effective the questions and exercises were — and adapt to make sure we’re giving candidates the best chance at shining

Each interview is different by necessity. We put together a new shared note for each candidate so we have a clear list of what we’re out to learn and a single place to consolidate feedback throughout the day.

Even with explicitly dividing up questions, we still end up repeating the same question sometimes. But it feels much, much closer to assessing a candidate on the right criteria vs. googling interview questions and hoping for dumb luck.