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What does your interviewing process look like?

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.

‘Hi, Shannon, it’s been a while since our time together at New Relic, hope you’re well. I just realized you’re the head of solutions engineering at Karat. I’m actually interviewing for a backend SWE position on the interviewing cloud platform team. Any chance you can catch up over a Zoom coffee so I can pick your brain about what to prepare for ahead of my interview loop? Thanks in advance!’

(I’m guessing you have)

We all network. It’s silly not to; I know a ton of great engineers from my past teams and companies, and I would absolutely go out of my way to help the best ones get a foot in the door at my current gig (shameless plug – we’re hiring like crazy right now!).

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There’s nothing wrong with connecting great engineers to great jobs.

But there are a ton of great engineers out there that I don’t know. Maybe ones who are even better than my New Relic friend. Not having a transparent process sets them up to fail. This creates false negatives, leaves the door open for false positives, and makes it harder for you to reach your hiring targets.

Transparent interviews make every candidate an insider

Transparency is one way that the best engineering teams make sure candidates start off on a level playing field. It’s also one of the easiest steps you can take to make your hiring process more equitable.

Where do you send candidates for information about their interview loop? Many organizations use recruiting one-pagers or engineering blogs to share information about the process. But ask yourself, does a candidate who goes to one of those pages get the same level of detail as one who has an ‘in’ with someone on the team?

If there is information that you’d be willing to share with one of your friends or former colleagues, make sure it is included in the public-facing content, otherwise, you’re going to artificially strengthen people from similar backgrounds as your existing team.

Pinterest is one of the best examples of hiring transparency that I’ve come across. They lay out every step of the process in the company’s engineering blog. This makes it clear how candidates are being evaluated, what competencies they’re looking for, and how to prepare.

The Pinterest blog makes it clear that candidates should expect to solve programming questions involving data structures and algorithms that mirror what they might do in their day-to-day jobs. It also clarifies that candidates don’t need to brush up on seldom-used methods like dynamic programming.

Another best-in-class example is CircleCI. They even link their engineering competency matrix in one of their candidate blogs, which is fantastic. Both of these examples show how you can break down the barriers to entry on your team.

Transparent interviews are the best way to keep your process both predictive and fair. Consider designing interviewer training with an emphasis on transparency.

At a minimum, tell candidates:

  1. Which competencies are being assessed
  2. What success looks like
  3. That it's okay to ask clarifying questions during the interview

At an industry level, programs like Karat’s recently launched Brilliant Black Minds are working to close the opportunity gap by ensuring that underrepresented candidates have the same understanding of the interview and hiring process as anyone with an inside connection.

But transparency only helps level the playing field for candidates who are in your pipeline.

Pedigree bias hurts hiring efficiency and diversity

We hear a lot about how ‘culture fit’ is used to keep out engineering candidates from nontraditional or underestimated backgrounds. We hear much less about the exclusionary practices at the top of the recruiting funnel.

Pedigree bias is rampant in the resume screening phase. Resume screens often prioritize inbound applicants from certain schools and employers. This process automatically rejects candidates from nontraditional backgrounds before even getting to a technical assessment and understanding their skills.

Filtering candidates based on resumes by looking solely at pedigree indicators like previous employers or schools can introduce substantial noise and create false negatives.

According to Karat’s internal data from nearly 100,000 technical interviews, less than 10% of direct applicants end up getting interviews. There’s a distinct bias for proactively sourced candidates.

However, that bias isn’t backed up by the data.

My team compared the data from direct application sources with proactively recruited sources at dozens of companies. Not only did we find that the direct applicant pipeline is almost always more diverse than the proactive one, but we also found that it’s common for candidates from the direct applicant pools to outperform the ones your recruiters are sourcing.

By only letting in 10% of direct applications, the majority of companies are overlooking their most diverse software engineering candidate source.

This is another easy fix for your team to implement. Look at the technical interview pass-through rates for each of your recruiting sources. If your success rates are close, start expanding the number of direct applicants you let through. Loosen your pedigree requirements and send 15–20% of direct applicants to the interview.

This is not only significantly cheaper and more diverse than proactive recruiting, but it’s also more efficient. Our data shows that the close rates for direct applicants are more than 10% higher than proactively sourced candidates.

So, not only can expanding this talent pool help make your process more inclusive, but it can help you get more efficient at hiring as well.

More transparency and less pedigree

Ensuring that all of your candidates know exactly how they’re being evaluated will make your hiring process more equitable. Expanding your direct applicant sourcing will make it more inclusive.

Doing both will not help meet your hiring goals faster, but it will also boost your strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Your organization will be better for it, and if enough other organizations follow, so will the world of tech.

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