Interviewer Tips

by Jeff Langr

June 27, 2011

About every other week, Monster or some portal publishes an article on how to interview properly–what kinds of questions to expect, what kinds of attitudes to carry, and so forth. You’ll also see articles on what sorts of questions to ask as an interviewer. What aren’t published as often are suggestions on how to avoid being a bad interviewer.

While I run a consultancy, I’ve held several full time positions intermittently. I believe in order to stay relevant when training or consulting, it helps dramatically to be part of a real team from time to time. I also find it wise to interview at least once a year–even if you like your current job, it’s always a good idea to find out what’s going on out there.

I’ve had some interesting interviews over my career. I’ve done well on most, and botched a handful too. I’ve also been subjected to “interviewer abuse” many a time. I personally have interviewed close to a couple hundred candidates in my career, and have tried hard to avoid making these candidates miserable.

Here is a short, not exhaustive, list of recommendations I wish my prior interviewers had read before interviewing me:

  • Don’t treat the interview as an opportunity to blather endlessly and show off your skills. Your candidate should be talking at least as much as you.

  • Don’t ask your candidate to “write code” at the whiteboard. Chances are you have at least one computer in your office that the candidate could use.

  • Don’t fixate on overly clever algorithms or puzzles. Insights needed to solve these may not come, particularly if it’s 3:30pm on a Friday and you’ve already subjected the candidate to hours of interviews. Better: Start with a reasonable problem, keep the discussions open-ended, and be willing to shift gears based on what you learn from the candidate.

  • If you think a candidate’s answer to a technical question is wrong, discuss it. There are often other ways to answer a question, and you might have also not done a good job of asking it. Initiate a discussion. You might even learn something yourself.

  • Don’t insist on any more than a half day’s interview. We all know that the important impressions are made or not in the first five minutes, so demanding significantly more time is inconsiderate and suggests vast room for improvement at interviewing.

  • Provide the candidate with a rough agenda, making sure to include what roles each interviewer has in the organization.

  • Ensure your candidate gets exposed to the culture of your company–make sure the interview process accurately reflects it! Make sure they get to see the team at work.

  • Don’t pigeonhole your candidate. Try having an open discussion and see where things lead, instead of forcing him or her through a predetermined interview sequence.

  • Don’t make a candidate slog through the interview process if it’s clear to all parties that he or she is not a good fit. If you think there’s a problem, have the courage to initiate a dialog with the candidate about the supposed mismatch. Ask them where their strengths lie, and look to take the discussions there. Chances are that you’re not doing a good enough job of asking questions.

  • Don’t deliberately make your candidate uncomfortable. Avoid intimidating behavior, such as staring angrily or morosely and refusing to utter more than a syllable or two. Don’t forget to ask them if they need water or a restroom break.

  • If you insist on “behavioral interviewing,” make it clear to the candidate how his or her answers correspond to your decisions.

  • If you are declining to extend an offer to the candidate, be honest with them about the reasons why.

  • Thank your candidate by phone or email within a day of the interview, and indicate when you will have an answer.


George Dinwiddie August 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Avoid intimidating behavior.

That reminds me of an interview years back where three interviewers surrounded me, so I couldn’t look at all of them at once. And while I was answering one, another would interrupt with a new question.

In a way, it was a good interview. I left that office with a sense of relief knowing I would never accept a job with that company.

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Jeff Langr

About the Author

Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.