Recruitment can be a long and arduous process that is painfully draining in terms of both company resources and the recruiter’s own energy. It starts the moment a job listing is written and posted, and it ends the moment the potential employee finishes the onboarding process and has successfully integrated with the company.
For most companies, interviewing takes up a bulk of recruitment. It is, arguably, one of the more crucial parts. Anyone can look good on paper. Actually meeting them face to face is a completely different story and, for the most part, it’s the more important one. First impressions can hold as much weight as a lengthy list of accolades or a glowing recommendation.
As a technical recruiter, interviewing prospective software engineers is challenging. You’re meeting with competent, highly-intellectual individuals whose specific skillsets are in demand. In this day and age, with technology as advanced as it is, they have almost unlimited options in terms of building a career. They know this, and they know you know this, and this knowledge can color the way they conduct themselves throughout the interview.
So! Before jumping into an interview with potential candidates, here are a few things the modern technical recruiter should keep in mind.
Expect Rehearsed Answers …
… and do what you can to discourage them.
It’s very easy to get swayed by an impressive resume and hifalutin jargon, but keep in mind that a lot of the answers these candidates are giving you were probably rehearsed beforehand. It’s very possible that they (more or less) knew all the questions you could potentially ask them, and then proceeded to anticipate and prepare for several possible scenarios.
This doesn’t mean there’s a leak anywhere, and this isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just that most interview processes, regardless of position or industry, have become slightly predictable. If this isn’t their first job interview, they likely have a pretty good idea of what 80% of the questions will be (or variations of the questions). Here are a couple common ones:
- Why should we hire you?
- Where do you see yourself five years from now?
- What can you contribute to this company?
- So, tell us a little about yourself …
What does this all mean?
It means that what they’re telling you and what they’re actually going to do could be two vastly different things. Does this mean they’re lying intentionally? Not necessarily. They most likely aren’t even aware of the potential discrepancy between their response and their actual inclinations. They’re simply doing everything they possibly can to secure the position aka saying everything you want to hear.
As the technical recruiter, you need to be able to cut through the canned answers and illicit an actual raw response—that way, you know that the candidate is being truthful. That means breaking away from your prepared interview questions and getting creative.
Catch them off-guard by asking unusual questions that aren’t typical “tell us why we should hire you” standard, but will still give you a pretty good idea of the kind of person the candidate is. For example, ask them why they think they shouldn’t be hired, or if there are any corporate/company rules they believe should be broken. This way, you’ll get some real answers out of them rather than a template.
Get Candidates Comfortable
Another way to encourage open, honest communication—and honest answers—from your candidates is to get them comfortable. They’re nervous and intimidated. They want the job. They know their competition is probably fierce. They’re going to stay on their toes for the whole interview and their best foot is perpetually forward.
Nothing wrong with that, but again—you’re probably getting template replies from them. You’re also seeing a shiny, flawless version of them that may or may not last under pressure. To find out their real character, make them feel comfortable. Help them understand that you want to get to know them as people, not just new cogs in the corporate machine.
Part of being the technical recruiter is finding out what these people are beyond software engineers and developers so you can have a better understanding of how they’re going to fit with your team, how they’re going to adapt to company culture, and how they’re going to (potentially) handle unprecedented situations.
Encourage them to be open and honest (as much as they are able to) during the interview by doing the same thing. Introduce yourself, tell them right off the bat what you’re looking for, how long the interview is probably going to be, and what they can expect from you as the recruiter/interviewer.
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Brush Up On Engineering Terms
As the technical recruiter, you need to be able to keep up with the candidates. Just because you’re not on their level or you don’t share the same areas of interest, doesn’t mean you should just blindly nod along to whatever they’re saying the moment they bust out the tech speak.
Before the interviews officially start, take the time to research or refresh your knowledge regarding important engineering concepts. You can take quick online courses for beginners to get a feel of the scope and responsibilities of a software engineer. Alternatively, you can ask your existing development team to give you a crash course on the basics of engineering and software development, with emphasis on what candidates applying for the position should know as well.
If you need to, take crib notes with you during the interview so that you have something you can consult.
Possessing even the most basic knowledge of software engineering—from the concepts to the jargon—can change the way you communicate with the candidates. It will make you seem more informed, more credible, and it’ll make them think twice about trying to wow you with fancy technical language.
As the technical recruiter, you also need to have some way to judge the candidate’s aptitude, ability level, and familiarity with software engineering during the interview. Their resume will no doubt cover the extent of their knowledge, but never hurts to have a second opinion. After all, some people are sadly not above resume padding.