Are Software Interviews Costing Your Company Money?

Software interview whiteboard

If you are responsible for recruiting, interviewing, and hiring software engineers and similar folks, this post is for you.
Everyone laments how difficult it is at the present time to recruit and attract good software engineers. Once you’ve managed to source a candidate into the interview process, the hiring bar at most software companies is high enough that the majority of candidates interviewed don’t succeed. Fair enough. But it’s a real shame when a company gets a candidate they like, and yet the candidate declines to pursue the opportunity because some aspect of the interview process turned them off.
If you have this problem, you’re costing your company big bucks in lost opportunity! The good news is that this is a problem that’s fixable with a little thought and preparation.
You, as the hiring person, are ultimately responsible for creating an interview process that not only screens and qualifies candidates, but also “sells” your company and the job opportunity in a way that will be attractive. Even if you’re still working on the selling aspect, at the very least you don’t want to be turning people off. When you’re designing the interview process, and deciding who will participate, here are some key factors to keep in mind:

  • The very first rule: does everyone you’re putting on the interview loop really WANT to interview candidates? This seems obvious, yet I regularly see evidence of interviewers who don’t like interviewing. For any number of reasons, they consider it a burdensome chore, and that negative attitude comes across very clearly to candidates. There’s no harm in someone not wanting to participate in interviewing, so unless for some reason they’re absolutely essential to a complete decision-making process, simply don’t include them. You can try to interest them, to convince them why it’s important, fun, whatever – but until you’ve achieved that, let them off the hook.
  • Has every interviewer had at least some simple training? It certainly doesn’t need to be fancy, but at the very least, people should be given some understanding of the basic flow of an interview, the lines of questioning that tend to elicit good and reliable information, and a warning about what kinds of questions are outright illegal to ask. Interviewing tends to be one of those things that people mistakenly assume everyone knows how to do. Not so, unfortunately.
  • Is each of your interviewers generally positive about the company, the products, about you as a manager? Are you sure? Of course no company is perfect, and I think that candidates find it refreshing when an interviewer is candid about challenges that the organization faces, but at the same time, when that happens, good candidates are simultaneously going to want to hear about some possible ways they can be addressed. No good candidate wants to work with a griper.
  • Is everyone on the same page about what you’re looking for in a candidate: what experience is essential, as differentiated from what is merely desirable? Does everyone have the same basic understanding of the position? It’s a huge turnoff when a candidate interviews with five people and hears five different versions of what the job is and what’s required.
  • Have you assigned a specific role to each interviewer, and does everyone understand his or her role? Are they there to uncover background details, to do a technical screen, to test for culture compatibility, to sell the candidate on why they should work at your company? There needs to be coordination about who is going to cover what. It’s fine to have multiple interviewers trying to uncover information about the same issue, but it’s usually best if they figure out different approaches and tactics, and then compare the results. Don’t just have everyone asking the exact same questions. In the worst cases, you don’t want to finish the interviews only to discover that each person basically covered the exact same ground, or that something crucial was left out because everyone thought someone else was handling that topic. Does each person know who else is on the loop, and what’s next after they finish their specific piece of the interview, so that the candidate can be moved along expeditiously?
  • Are technical interviews, code reviews, coding whiteboard sessions and the like introduced at the proper time? Everyone expects that these will be part of the process, but the timing and approach is important. Make sure that these types of interviews are preceded by, and interspersed with, more “human” personality, culture and background type interviews, as well as some selling of your opportunity. Don’t lead off with the technical gauntlet. Also, most candidates consider these types of performance-based interviews to be highly demanding and stress-inducing, so it’s important to conduct them in a way that’s respectful, and seeks to draw out information about technical competence in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary angst or make candidates feel belittled.
  • Lastly, does each interviewer have enough temporary relief from work pressures to be able to do the interview in a relaxed and thorough way? Of course, everyone in software has too much to do in too little time, but you want to avoid having an interviewer be physically present, but mentally absent, as they’re really thinking about the urgent production issue that’s waiting for them when they finish, or the presentation they have to finish before the flight they have to catch.

There’s no company that lands 100% of the candidates they make offers to. However, at your company, you can certainly take tangible steps to ensure that you are maximize your closing percentage, and one of the easiest things you can do is to make sure that your interview process isn’t turning people away.