Hiring is a two-sided endeavor, and it’s important for a company to make sure the candidate has a positive experience regardless of how well they do in the interview. In my last post, I talked about how candidates should make sure they have something to show at the end of the interview. On that note, interviews should ensure candidates end the interview with some working solution, instead of a failed attempt.
The candidate’s perspective
Whether you’re giving an algorithm-based problem, or a project, there’s always the possibility the candidate will run up against the time limit. There are a few reasons you want to ensure they still feel like they ended up a reasonable stopping point:
First, you want to communicate to potential hires that your company treats failures as a learning experience and is capable of providing a welcoming experience for those who do pass the bar. This is useful branding for your company.
Secondly, if the candidate has more interviews coming up that day, you want them to feel relaxed for the subsequent sessions. Regardless of their performance in your session, you want to give them a fair chance for the rest of the interview in order to get an accurate signal of their capabilities.
Finally, if the candidate actually did well and they simply haven’t reached the end of a “stretch” problem, then it’s important for the candidate’s confidence to acknowledge they did well.
A strong finish
In the case the candidate is really struggling, especially near the end of the allotted time, it’s important to help them get to a logical stopping point:
If the candidate is writing code, guide them to write out the most important parts of the algorithm or solution. Depending on the amount of time left, tell them they don’t have to implement pieces you know are not core to the algorithm. The idea is to get a sketch of the algorithm, not something that needs to be executed.
If the candidate is finishing up their initial thought process, stop them after they have a viable solution instead of having them start writing code. The last thing you want to do is cut them off in the middle of writing code, when you can prevent them from starting to write code in the first place.
If the candidate hasn’t even come up with a viable solution, coach them toward the solution you’re thinking of. At five minutes before the end of the allotted time (accounting for time for their questions if applicable), you may know you’re not getting a solution out of them. But by guiding them to a solution you know, they learn something new and can focus on asking you questions or working on the next problem.
Whatever the situation, a logical stopping point is key to a sense of closure.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Suppose the interview did go well, and now you’re talking about some follow-up questions that really challenge the candidate. One example may be the candidate produced a working implementation of their project, and now you’re discussing potential optimizations.
It’s good to be clear you don’t expect an implementation of these optimizations. At the end of the interview, finish up the candidate’s thought process in order to communicate they succeeded in answering the follow-up. “I see, you would use the cache in front of this endpoint because it’s the highest traffic endpoint. Makes sense!”
Interviews are stressful enough for a candidate, even when they’re doing well. For those who run up to the time limit, it’s important to give them a strong finish that frees them to think about the next steps, instead of dwelling on an incomplete problem.