You’re Interviewing Wrong: Telling the Talented from the Talkers

Originally posted to LinkedIn on March 25, 2015

Slim Pickings

A recent Forbes posting blew up the age old question, “Why don’t more people work as programmers?” (

Forbes claims that we have plenty of programmers, just a shortage of qualified ones. Most hiring managers I know would agree. We see tons of good resumes, but few good candidates. With stiff competition for a few good candidates, how do you make sure you are getting the good developers and not just the good interviewers?
You’re Doing It Wrong

From what I have seen, most of you are doing it wrong. It isn’t a numbers game. It isn’t about pushing as many candidates as you can through the gauntlet of Google style interview puzzles. It isn’t about recruiters who can find the most buzz worded resumes. It isn’t about funny job postings advertising positions for “rockstars” and “gurus.”

Finding good candidates is about the people. It is about finding good people who will be a good fit for your team. An interview is still the best way to engage candidates and tell the good fits from the good talkers. It is also your chance to make a first impression and leave the candidate excited to be part of your team.
Know What You Are Looking For

You and your hiring team need to get on the same page about your criteria. What are you looking for? As obvious as it sounds, too many people ignore the basics. Sit down with your interviewing team and create a checklist of the things you want. Be honest, not practical. You are looking for someone as cool as you are. You are looking for your fifth Beatle!

For my team, we listed that we want people who are smart and creative problem solvers; people who have a strong work ethic and integrity; people who like being part of a team, not arsonists who start fires so they can be the hero and put it out.

Some of these things may sound abstract or impossible to interview for. Yes, we are also looking for practical solid work experience and expertise, but those things are the easy to validate.
Behavioral Interviews

Interviewing is hard. Instead of digging into if the person is creative, has integrity, or plays well with others; too often we fall back on simple questions that don’t scratch what we really want to know. Most interviews, especially tests and puzzles, ask the candidate about some hypothetical situation or problem, which is like those old dating shows where you ask the candidate to describe their ideal date.

Sure, when bachelor #1 is telling you about his perfect date, he sounds like a dream, but the real question is have he ever done anything like that before? It is simple psychology. When you ask a person a leading question about what they will do in a situation, people are naturally good at telling you what you want to hear.

Behavioral interviewing is asking people to describe real situations where they have actually demonstrated a behavior in the past. People are more honest when talking about an actual events rather than about a hypothetical things that could happen.

More so, this allows you too ask about those abstract qualities.
Digging into the Intangibles

Ask your candidates, “Can you describe a time in your career when you discovered you had made an important mistake in a product that you delivered? How did you deal with it?”

That tells us a lot about team play and integrity. Have you ever worked with a great team? What things make the team great? How did you contribute to the camaraderie?

A quick Google search will lead you to tons of resources about how Behavioral Interviewing. The basic formula is simple: STAR: (

  • Situation: Ask the candidate about a situation which would demonstrate or challenge the area you want to explore.
  • Task: What goals was the candidate working towards? What was their intention? What reasoning or motivations will they bring to your team?
  • Action: What actions did the candidate take to reach these goals? What steps? Get specific, these are the types of actions you can expect to see in the future.
  • Result: What were the results? How did it turn out?

Work as a team

We are managers and developers, not FBI profilers. Work as a team to get coverage and a better picture. Take your checklist of behaviors and divide up the qualities between your team.

Nothing bores a candidate more than to have the same conversation over and over again with each interviewer as they all try to dig into their tech background and find some flaw in their skill set. It also leaves you with narrow picture after all the expensive man hours you invested. A checklist and a pre-interview divide and conquer gives you a broader scope and makes sure that you have checked all the crucial behavioral boxes.
You Are Being Interviewed Too!

One of the best pieces of advice I received was while at Disney, “Just because you wouldn’t hire they guy doesn’t mean he still isn’t our customer!” As an employee, you are representing your company and your brand. An interview is probably the most interment a non-coworker will be with you and your team. Are they leaving as impressed as you are? Are they excited to get the call back? Would they want to buy your products because they were pleased with the people they saw behind them? Would they tell their equally talented friends to interview too?

You will know your good candidates, because it should be obvious to both of you when the interview is done.

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