Why do technical interviews still involve theoretical questions, [virtual?] whiteboards, time constraints, an audience, and often multiple rounds of the same charade repeated over and over again?
This interview format is good at determining who is excellent at performing during an interview: people who thrive with an audience, study hiring articles and visit the ubiquitous websites that present common interview questions and ideal responses.
Ask most software engineers; they’ll tell you the interview experience sucks – particularly for introverts – and shows little of their capability to solve complex real-world technical issues within a team and with resources at their disposal.
Malcolm Gladwell highlights a similar issue in an episode of his podcast “Revisionist History.” He uses the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) as his example. Gladwell’s theory is that the LSAT is good at measuring who is best at taking time-limited LSAT-type tests and bad at measuring who will turn out to be an effective lawyer.
At Commit, many of us remember being on the other side of that interview table. We want to make the hiring experience better for our engineers while also understanding their strengths at a deeper level before we hire them and before we consider introducing them to a startup.
Our approach aims to make technical interviews a better experience and closer to real work situations.
First, we introduce them to Commit Engineers who have experience working with a similar tech stack who conduct a technical assessment that involves inquiry-based conversations. In the discussions, we cover the actual projects they’ve worked on. What was the project all about? What role did you play on the team? What tools did you use? How did you build it? What challenges did you run into? How did you work through these issues? What would you do differently, and why? Etc.
We believe that it’s relatively easy to gauge an Engineer’s level of understanding about a language or framework by having them explain it. The bonus is that this approach gets candidates who might be nervous and introverted to open up by talking proudly about code they’ve written, projects they’ve contributed to, issues they’ve resolved. It’s not uncommon for our one-hour meetings to stretch to 90 minutes, as candidates get excited talking about their experiences.
These casual conversations have to have substance because we take responsibility for vetting Engineers seriously; that’s our job. Everyone’s reputation is on the line when we suggest potential matches to our startup partners.
Second, an engineer will speak with someone from our Support Team to give them a chance to ask more detailed questions about how they contribute to our business and discuss their learning goals, teaching capabilities, and other information.
Finally, we propose an Engineer for a startup, based on experience and technical expertise. We can advocate for our engineers because of our vetting, so our startup partners don’t have to. A conversation takes place between the parties to make sure there’s mutual interest. Our Engineers then join the new company for a three-month pilot project to see if their working style and personality match the startup.
If the fit isn’t right during or after the trial period, the Engineer can remain an Engineering Partner with Commit, their salary intact. And the startup is welcome to connect with a different Engineer. The startup hasn’t sunk cost into the recruiting process since Commit has done the technical interviewing and vetting. There is also less emotion involved because both parties know that each party has a suitable fallback option if things don’t work out. In other words, there’s little risk for either the startup or the Engineer.
Our aim is always to find a long-term fit and think that our engineers and startups will benefit from this process. Our data reveals that 85% of our engineers who begin a pilot project end up joining that startup full-time.
We’ve found that engineers appreciate an approach that evaluates them for their ability on the job, not their talent at cramming for technical interviews. The data shows that the outcome benefits them and our startup partners.
We always like to learn, so if you’re an engineer reading this, I’d love to hear about your most memorable technical interview experience.
Thank you to Noel Pullen for writing this article.
Noel Pullen is Commit’s Chief Experience Officer.