As a preface, I am not professionally an interviewer but life in small companies has meant that sometimes I had to be. With the disclaimer that I have no training in this field, these are some of my thoughts and observations after several years in the tech industry. They most likely span other industries too but I only really have experience in this one.
I write this for younger me – and younger others – who have to take on this role temporarily to find their next colleagues and peers.
When you are in a position of interviewing, you hold power. This is obvious. Your thoughts will hold some sway when it comes to offering a candidate a position. But it is also important that you, and the company, are also being interviewed. Both parties are looking for a match. My mode of operation is to establish and maintain good relationships with all shortlisted candidates.
On a basic, general level, this means you should behave with integrity and honour your commitments and agreements. For example, if you say you will respond in less than one week, respond in one week or earlier. Simply, it is better to over-communicate rather than under-communicate.
I do not talk about anything related to take-home assignments or technical interviews here. That’s another post. :)
Be clear and open in your communications. Be conscious and respectful of time. Be upfront about the expectations of the role and the expected compensation range.
If an excellent candidate enters the pipeline, start communicating with them as soon as possible with respect to any of your fixed time processes. Don’t let these applications sit unanswered for more than a week.
Depending on the scheduling of the hiring team, you might be able to invite them to an initial interview already. Personally, I would reject this in favour of a screening call. It’s like an interview but the purpose is to make sure both parties are aligned on expectations.
You don’t need to ask them about their strengths and weaknesses — ask them what they’re looking for and discuss the compensation range available for the role. (You don’t need to give a fixed number, but it’s extremely useful for the candidate to understand the range you can work with. Don’t underestimate this.)
The point of this is to settle the basic expectations. If there’s a clear mismatch – like the candidate doesn’t enjoy working with other people and you’re looking for team players, or the candidate’s salary indication is much, much higher than you’re able to work with – then you can stop the process. Don’t waste your time, and the candidate’s, going further.
If there is a match at this stage then give them feedback in the form of a formal invitation to interview. After the candidate accepts, send them basic information like what the format will be, what to expect, and how to attend. If it’s a call, make sure you have the correct contact details. If it’s an on-site interview, tell them how to get to you. Consider how the candidate will physically get to you – what is the process for covering travel expenses? Let them know.
Before the initial interview, it’s also good to send the candidate any brief documents, videos, and articles about the company for their benefit. If they don’t, then it’s also okay. The initial interview should fill in the gaps.
I have often found it best to give candidates fixed dates, and ask them which time works best for them. If this sounds terrible, and you are a busy person or are scheduling it for somebody else like the hiring manager, then I would suggest offering a choice of time slots over one to three days. Ask them to get back to you as soon as possible so you can reserve the time for them.
If the company is small enough that the hiring process is mostly conducted by the team in question, then be clear about your role in your communications. For example, when I started to interview at an under-resourced company, I was tasked with scheduling. Some candidates thought I was from the human resources department or I was the personal assistant to the team lead. To avoid embarrassment, I started to sign off my communications with my role title.
Related to this, during on-site interviews, I was often the person asking if the candidate wanted something to drink. (If you’re not naturally a host, write down on a sticky note to remember to offer guests something to drink. Then stick it on your head.) This usually happened when they first entered the threshold after we swapped names. Again, good chance I would be misidentified. Sometimes the email signature doesn’t stick, so I started to introduce myself and my role straight away: “Hi, I’m Lucy van Pelt. I’m a back-end developer with the product team.”
Here, the main issue was that a lot of people assumed that I was there to take notes and be the HR-arm of the interview. If you are a woman in this industry, this is very common. I reduced a lot of comments (“Oh! I didn’t know you were part of the team.“) by stating clearly my role and writing that I would be part of the interview, not “helping” with it.
Allow room for the candidate to ask questions about the company, team, and role — they are looking for fit just as much as you are.
I have three golden tips:
Let the candidate speak. Don’t cut them off.
Limit distractions. If it’s an in-person affair, don’t bring your laptop, or keep it closed. Use a notebook and pen to take notes, and only use the laptop if you need it to show the candidate something.
Gauge what they’re looking for. Ask what they’re looking for.
No matter how many interviews the candidate attends, I’ve found it good at each stage to ask what they’re looking for. Hopefully, you will hear the same thing. You need to be on the same page if you’re going to make this work relationship a success. Can you give them what they want? If you can’t, can they adjust their expectations? Give them all of the information for them to make the call.
Closing it up
At the end, thank them for their time and tell them what the next steps are in the hiring process. Give them an estimate of when they should expect to hear from you. It’s better to overestimate when they think they should hear from you, rather than underestimate. Take into account things like interviews with other candidates, getting sick, scheduling time to meet up with the rest of the hiring team to make a decision etc. If you hope to email them within two days, for example, tell them to expect a response within four. It’s better to receive a message earlier than later. :)
This goes beyond the scope of this post, though I want to emphasise how important it is for your hiring team to have an understanding of implicit bias and actively work against them. Methods of standardisation is also recommended where each member of the hiring team is able to give objective and constructive feedback on a candidate.
In my experience, most teams will also stress how important fit is. (Team fit and culture fit is not always the same thing, although they will inform each other.) This is why I think it is important for at least one interview to involve a member of the team – pick the friendliest person who can champion the team and company – so they and the candidate can get a feel for each other. If you pick the asshole, bold move and good luck.
This is not fool-proof but it’s a helluva lot better than management hiring someone who ends up a complete misfit. How can your team crush their goals when there is no united front?
Hiring is hard. And it should be. There is an investment in both sides when going through this process – at the end of the day, both parties want to find a good fit. If one side doesn’t see a fit, then the process finishes.
Good rejections come on time and are self-aware. Thank the candidate for their time and show appreciation. Maybe they’re not a good fit now but could they be in the future?
The most common reason for being rejected is that there were other candidates with more experience. This shuts down further communication because the underlying statement is that someone with more experienced was hired. If this is true, great. If this is false, though, imagine how it feels for a rejected candidate to see the same job posting stay open or even re-listed after a certain number of weeks or months.
My friend once applied to a promising company, they rejected them giving this excuse. I later asked the hiring manager about it and they said they were still looking desperately. It still gives me bad feelings thinking about it.
I would change this canned response to something focussed on the candidate themselves and the lack of fit. If they then request more specific feedback, I would prepare 1-2 sentences indicating what the hiring team liked about them and what made the hiring team decide against them.
We felt your passion for developing mobile apps, but we do not, at this moment, have the capacity to train someone without production experience in this area.
We liked your personal career ambitions, but felt that the current company structure would not suit your motivations at this point in time.
We felt that our environment would not make you happy — we are mostly a distributed team and we recognised that you wanted to move away from this.
We enjoyed hearing about your work in migrating to microservices, but think the gap between your previous roles and this role is too large for us to accommodate at this time.
Of course, if the actual reason is that you would have hired them but there was another candidate who hit the nail better — then you can also just say that. The one thing you don’t want to happen is to be misconstrued. And definitely nothing that can be used as part of a discrimination lawsuit. The exercise of this to practice enough honesty that the candidate doesn’t feel like their time was wasted.
I’ve heard multiple times that recruitment and talent acquisition is just a numbers game. That doesn’t mean it has to be cold and devoid of feeling. I think my final thoughts are to organise yourself well (time is always going to be an issue), and prioritise consideration. Consider the candidate’s ambitions, skills, experiences, and the value they will bring to the company and to the team. Most of all, consider their time and be truthful about that.
If anything, remember that people talk. You don’t want to be known as the company with a shitty hiring process.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Respect people’s time and energy;
You are also being interviewed so put on your best face;
Maintain a cordial relationship with this person.