Some logistics before getting to today’s topic: I started a new LinkedIn group Better Hiring For Tech. The group is for any and all discussions on how to make hiring more effective and more equitable in the tech industry. If you’re interested in conversations with others who are passionate about improving hiring, come join the group!
Software engineers are well-positioned to evaluate a candidate’s technical ability, but conducting an interviews is much more than evaluating code. Non-technical skills like the ones I’ve been writing about, and even interview-specific technical skills, are crucial.
Unfortunately, many software engineers are thrust into interviewing candidates without proper training. Just like engineers need mentorship for their technical skills, new interviewers need hand-holding and feedback. When done right, pairing interviewers of different levels plays a huge role in up-leveling junior interviewers.
The apprenticeship model
The apprenticeship model transitions an engineer from a junior interviewer to an experienced one:
First, an engineer is considered an apprentice interviewer. Every interview is scheduled with an experienced interviewer and up to one apprentice. At no point does an apprentice interview on their own.
After a sufficient number of interviews, the apprentice is designated as an experienced interviewer. At this point, they can interview a candidate on their own, or even with a new apprentice.
However, any process is only as good as the culture that applies it.
Applying apprenticeship effectively
Companies need to focus on using the apprenticeship program as an opportunity to teach, not as a gate-keeping mechanism. To that end:
Interviewers need to apprentice for different interview areas individually. For example, if the company has an algorithm section and a system design section, both require different skills. One interviewer can be experienced in one area and an apprentice in another. However, general interview skills carry over, so the second apprenticeship can be shorter.
Similarly, an apprentice should be paired with different experienced interviews over time. The way I’ve seen this done is each interview is scheduled with a different pair (though sometimes people cross paths multiple times). This way, the apprentice can observe multiple interview styles.
Train experienced interviewers to mentor apprentices. It’s not enough for an experienced interviewer to conduct the interview while the apprentice watches. Instead, the two interviewers should prepare together before the interview and de-brief after.
On the note of mentorship, apprentice should ask questions after the interview. “Why did you ask that follow-up?” “What went well, and what could have gone better?” An apprentice is present to learn, not just to fill a requirement.
The apprentice can start by observing, but over time, they should spend more time driving the interview. Before graduating from their apprenticeship, they should be driving the entire interview like an experienced interviewer.
If this feels like a lot of work for an hour-long interview, realize that interviewing affects people’s lives. It’s important to take the job seriously.
Pairing an inexperienced interviewer with an experienced one allows engineers to slowly learn how to interview effectively. Best of all, this is done without the candidates being negatively affected, as the experienced interviewer is always present to take the reins.