📝 Tech Hiring Checklist (from an engineer)

JC

Jermaine Cheng /

The process of interviewing software engineering is controversial, and personally, many companies don’t execute or design it well. Now the tables have turned and I’ve got to play technical interviewer at CrowdAI; This is my checklist for designing future hiring processes (and hopefully provide a better experience) 😊:

  1. 📲 Hosting initial phone screen
  2. ✍️ Creating a coding challenge
  3. 🗣️ Running a coding interview

Well prepared interviewers are very important, it shows proper planning, communication and execution on the company’s part. The hiring process (from start to end) should close in 3 days if you’re hiring for a startup. When you creep up onto the large corp's timeline of 1 month, you’ve lost most eligible candidates (i.e assuming they are interviewing everywhere). Large corps (read FAANG) can easily beat your compensation and benefits in offers. 💸

📲 HOSTING INITIAL PHONE SCREEN#

When preparing for the first conversation, do homework on your own company. This translates into the following questions that should be provided in the initial company spiel/pitch:

  1. What is the agenda of the phone screen? Plan to slot in some time where the candidate can walk you through their background (ask specific questions if you’re technical enough)
  2. What does the company do in one sentence? This is a We sell X and we have a competitive edge because we do Y / nobody does Y statement.
  3. How does the company sell X? This is a good transition to talk about the product and how users might use them. If the company is out of stealth, throw in some business statistics to show product-market fit (i.e how many customers do you have, what are some prominent ones, what is the revenue?)
  4. What is the technical stack of the company and the team this position is for? I like mentioning we use X in the web’s frontend, Y as web’s backend and Z for miscellaneous micro-services; these are orchestrated by A and deployed on B before transitioning to what they will specifically be working on (i.e. frontend, backend or what product scope)
  5. How is the engineering team structured (i.e how many engineering teams are there / how are they divided) and what is the team sizes?
  6. What is the interviewing process? Usually, interviews follow the phone screen, code screen and onsite order. Be sure to call out what happens during the onsite to let candidates decide if this opportunity is worth their time.

This is a great way to link up the big picture / company mission and how the candidate will contribute to it. Anything less errs on a clumsy pitch which doesn’t convey enough excitement for someone else to join your company or team.

If you’re in charge of communication with candidates, keep the candidate fully aware of what’s to come (primarily via emails). This means always letting the candidate know:

  1. Who they are interviewing with; Sending over their names and LinkedIn profile is great.
  2. What is the rough agenda of the call; If it’s a code screen, walk them through what will happen (i.e what collaborative IDE or type of technical question to expect). You don’t want to surprise your unprepared candidates with a domain specific codescreen (i.e react / rails).

✍️ CREATING A CODING CHALLENGE#

Coding challenges aren’t the best way to estimate a candidate’s technical ability; but it can provide an estimate (read wild estimate 🤪). It is important to mention that there are other important facets of great engineers (i.e ability to take feedback / communicate clearly) that are hard to measure in just code (but should be evaluated for during the soft interviews).

Great engineers build great teams, bad engineers only flip binary trees 🌳

This is a good article by @lethain for what is an appropriate programming problem. A rule of thumb, good coding challenges should:

  1. Be straight forward and have a clear goal. The challenge and expected outcome should be concise enough to be read out loud by the interviewer. If the coding challenge starts by asking a candidate to read a README.md, it’s too complicated.
  2. Clearly provide a yes / no answer to moving the candidate forward. This involves getting all decision makers on board with the coding challenge.
  3. Not require too much code to solve. Aiming for about 2 lines per minute, this translates to about 60 lines of code for a 30 minute challenge.
  4. Not require knowledge of a specific trick to solve (unless initially explicitly communicated).
  5. Not to be worked on the whiteboard (period, we don’t code on the whiteboard)

Each challenge should have a scoring rubric (to synchronize expectations and scoring) and a guide for interviewers to follow (to ensure the interview experience is consistent). Before the challenge can be used in the hiring pipeline, be sure it's socialized with stakeholders and get a collective thumbup 👍.

All interviewers executing this challenge should experience it as an interviewee. This allows better understanding on how to guide future candidate through it.

There are the requirements for each document and resource:

  1. Codescreen scoring rubric (see an example by medium)
    • What are the different attributes to score the candidate on? For each attribute, there should be a -1 / 0 / +1 scale representing if the candidate does not have / maybe / has attribute respectively. Each scale should have a write up on what constitutes a -1 / 0 / +1.
    • Be sure to grade soft skills like awareness and communication.
    • I specifically chose the -1 / 0 / +1 range to makes scoring easy, having larger scale creates a blurring effect where a candidate might fall into 2 bands of the scale.
    • What constitutes a pass/fail? How can we aggregate the score above to create a passing score?
  2. Codescreen guide
    • What the agenda for the codescreen?
    • What is the intention of this codescreen? (i.e what the challenge is trying to achieve).
    • What should the interviewer do to prep for the interview? How to get the coding environment ready, test out the environment, get familiar with the challenge, etc
    • What should the interviewer point out during the interview? What parts of the environment to go through so the candidate is comfortable working there?
    • If there are technical questions to be asked, be sure to also fill in the possible directions answers can be made in (and not the answers).
  3. Collaborative coding environment

It's a nice fallback to provide a git repository for running the challenge locally if the collaborative coding environment fails.

🗣️ RUNNING A CODING CHALLENGE#

Coding challenges are easier to run than the initial phone screen with the context being setup. A caveat is that this portion of the interview is important for showcasing engineering culture. The best way to do this is being truly genuine (it's obvious when you say something you don't believe), entering the call with a positive outlook and assuming postitive intention.

Being an interviewer is being in a position of power. Use it to help interviewees build confidence in interviewing (even if they do not do well for your company's interview). ❤️

Typically, as an interviewer, you will:

  1. Introduce yourself (i.e my name is X and I'm a Y working on the Z team).
  2. Walk the candidate through the agenda of the call.
  3. Start screen sharing, orient the interviewee through the IDE setup and coding challenge.
  4. Allow the candidate to clear up doubt / questions regarding the intent / goal before explicitly starting the timer and mentioning when the challenge ends.
  5. While the challenge is running, keep an eye on what the candidate is doing and try to nudge them in the right direction if required.
  6. If you need to stop a candidate, be polite, don't emphasize any failure. I like to say Unfortunately, we ran out of time. Before we wrap up, is there any questions about the company I could answer? (and bring up some questions they could ask).
  7. Let the candidate know when they will hear about next steps and thank them for their time!

Be aware of micro-aggressive behaviour. This includes looking irritated / doing something else when someone else is coding OR using pointed language.

Interviewing is a large time commitment where candidates have to prepare and spend 5-7 hours doing technical challenges. It's part of our job to make sure this proccess is exciting, fun and painless. Iteration is the key to improvement! Hopefully, there is a light at the end of your hiring funnel 🥁 💥

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Made with ❤️ by Jermaine; Inspired by Lee Robinson