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What if Cinderella couldn’t try on her glass slipper?

April 13 – June 22, 2021 Event series
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One of the most important jobs a manager has is hiring, and it’s easy to see why. According to Tuckman‘s team formation model, there are four stages of group formation: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

By this model, every time a new individual joins your team, it really means you have a new team and all four stages have to happen all over again. This, compounded by the fact that so much has been written about how we hire in tech, and the forced remoteness of our existence at the moment, means an efficient hiring process can be difficult to execute.

Hiring is also one of my favorite parts of being a manager. I love the ability to chat with amazing people, hear their answers to questions, and see the potential in what they could bring to the team and what we’re trying to build. As a career changer, I’ve been through a lot of interviews – some good, many pretty awful. As a result, I’ve been determined to build an interview process that people find interesting and, to the fullest possible extent, enjoyable. Something that gives me, as a hiring manager, a sense of the individual, but also allows candidates to shine in a variety of ways.

While no interview process is foolproof, the questions and rubrics in my framework make sure you’re getting the right information from a candidate at any experience level.

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Everyone’s invited to the ball

Hiring remotely and designing an effective interview process starts with assessing your goal of this hire. What kind of person are you looking for? What does your team need? And what does your team absolutely not need? Try thinking of both technical and non-technical characteristics this hire would have. These attributes can be a skillset, a level of technical proficiency, an approach to problem-solving, a skill needed for the team, or a mix. Make a list of your top ten and then further determine your top three items.

Once you have these skills determined, you can weigh various questions or aspects of your interview process more heavily. While it’s important to ask a variety of questions to get a full picture of the individuals you are interviewing, you want to keep your most-needed skills in mind. If you’re looking for someone who excels at working with different personalities on a team, it doesn’t really matter if they answer a question about bug sleuthing excellently if their answer to the teamwork question was 💩 .

Key question to ask yourself: What are the top three characteristics I need this hire to bring to my company, department, and team on day one?

The midnight pumpkin constraint

We all know the tech interview process is pretty broken. There are so many rounds and so many hoops to jump through. Additionally, for many companies, much of the process does not reflect what the day-to-day job will actually entail. In a previous job search, I even found companies whose processes and interview rounds had nothing to do with what they were actually looking for in a candidate. After interviewing, I circled back to a few of these companies and asked, ‘from X round, or from this take-home, what do you learn about candidates and how does it help you decide if they will be a good hire?’ For the majority of them, there was no good answer, and many said they didn’t learn much that was useful for deciding on a candidate.

Cut out the parts of your interview process that are not informative. Even if you are moving as fast as possible, interview rounds take a while to schedule – especially if the candidate is actively looking and balancing a current full-time job with interviews at other companies as well. And while full-day interviews may be time-efficient, they are difficult for candidates. It’s hard to be “on” for that many hours, and imagine if they’re having an off day? Or, speaking as a proud, working mom, what if they have young children who were just awake (because why not?) for hours the night before? 

If you know what you’re looking for, make sure that your questions, technical exercises, and every aspect of the interview process focus on getting that information.

Key question to ask yourself: Does every part of your interview process give you critical information to assess whether or not to hire this candidate?

A virtual glass slipper fitting

I’m not going to debate the merits of how a process assesses technical acumen, but I will say that the most effective process will allow the candidate to shine. And for any option, please consider the amount of time. For example, those providing take-home assignments should recognize that individuals have different abilities to block off chunks of time, and providing a recommended amount of time will lead to assessing wildly different submissions solely based on circumstances. For pairing exercises, send a bit of information in advance to allow a candidate to prepare a bit, schedule in a few short breaks for stretching, collecting oneself, and ensuring that you’re not putting unrealistic expectations on to a candidate.

Regardless of the interview type (including take-homes), there should be a rubric. An excellent rubric technique I learned from Neha Batra for technical interviews is to have a list of options you hope the candidate covers (or touches upon) and outline a threshold. For example, ‘A candidate should hit five of these eight potential items to move forward’. Some of these items could be extremely technical, but others could be things like, ‘The candidate responds well to prompts, questions, and suggestions’. There is also a red flag section of the rubric, and any of these red flags should immediately qualify the person as a “no hire”.

For behavior-focused interviews, the rubric can be example-focused. For each question, provide information or examples for a good answer, as well as what bad answers may be. Each question can then be evaluated to determine an overall decision from the interview round. Asking questions about specific examples or situations they have encountered in the past are incredibly helpful. An important note is that these experiences and their answers shouldn’t have to be work-related. Sometimes out-of-work instances provide the best answers to behavioral questions.

When interviewing folks with less experience, look for potential. You may want to ask more questions about learning, feedback, and growth. For technical takehomes or pairing, asking things like, ‘How would you find the answer to this question?’ or ‘What would your approach be to breaking this down so you could make progress if you’re feeling stuck?’ These questions, asked to less or more experienced folks, are incredibly insightful for remote interviewing and working at remote companies. How likely are they to seek someone out? At what point will they do that? What is their approach? For example, working with a distributed team where only a portion of the day may overlap shouldn’t be scary, but a person should know what they would do if they happened to be the only person online. What would they do to set themselves up to get unstuck? This may be writing a comment on an issue and pinging the team so they can get an answer asynchronously, or making sure to schedule pairing time the next day. There are a variety of approaches. 

Finally, leave time for the candidate to ask questions. Remember, every interview is as much for them to get information about whether your company is a place they want to work at, as it is for you to assess them.

Key question to ask yourself: Does everyone interviewing understand what we’re looking for in order for us to assess them appropriately?

How to be your own fairy godmother

Like trying to craft a diverse hiring funnel or ensuring your process is designed in an equitable way, having an effective remote interview doesn’t happen overnight. Depending on how often you are hiring, pause periodically (at least quarterly, but potentially monthly if you are in a high-growth company) to assess what hiring you would do next. I recommend that as a manager, you should know at all times who your next hire would be. If you were given a headcount, what are the three roles you would hire for? And what type of people would you be looking for? It’s also helpful to have a pool of questions. You can break these into various topics or subsections i.e. technical, teamwork, handling conflict, etc. 

This way you have your set questions and when you go to hire, you can take the list of characteristics you’re looking for and your questions, and determine the right “set” to use for that role.

Key question to ask yourself: Who would my next hire be and why?

Cinderella picks an alternate adventure

Much of this post has been on how to hire when interviewing different levels of experience and interviewing remotely, but as a job seeker, how do you know if a remote role is right for you?

Here are a few things you can look for and ask in an interview.

  • Before the current state of affairs, what was really great about your remote culture, and what was the aspect that needed to be most improved?
  • What has been the most difficult part of the entire company going remote (if they have)? And what part of remote culture got significantly stronger?
  • What does a successful company-wide event look like?
  • How often does the team check in with one another, and how often does your manager check in?
  • Do most conversations happen in public channels or private DMs?
  • When there is a written disagreement between teammates  e.g. in code review, an issue, or Slack, what happens next?
  • Tell me about a time when being remote was really difficult for your team?

Furthermore, pick a subset of these questions and ask them to multiple people in multiple rounds to get a sense of more opinions, and how a variety of folks feel.

Key question to ask yourself: What questions will allow me to gather the necessary information I need to make an informed decision about whether or not a company is a good fit for me?

Cinderella’s choice

Interviewing and hiring remotely does not need to be a long and arduous process. It does not need to have many rounds or hoops to jump through. Remote interviewing and interviewing in general should always have a plan; each step of the process should drive towards the goal of enabling informed decision-making for both the hiring manager and the candidate.

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