Asking the right questions

The interview questions we use to screen applicants

Let’s make a good news / bad news / good news sandwich. 🍔

The good news is… the job post I wrote about a few weeks ago worked. We’ve had 47 candidates apply to our job! 🎉While this isn’t on par with the hundreds of applicants that some companies get, I consider it a huge success for our first job post.

The bad news is… three weeks ago I had no idea how to interview somebody.

The good news is... we built an interview process that helped us identify awesome candidates and I’m sharing everything we learned along the way.

We couldn’t stop billing hours while we interview #

Since I haven’t written production code in a year, 👨💻 we needed to involve Kevin and Austin in the interview process. But we’re also a team of three, and Kevin and Austin are the only ones billing hours. We couldn’t afford to bog then down with 20+ hours of interviews.

Instead, we decided on two interview stages. First, I would screen candidates with a phone interview. Then, we would invite select candidates to a longer technical interview.

We tracked 🛤 everything using Homerun, ⚾️ which was awesome. Although their tracking post-application isn’t super robust yet, so we used Google Docs as well.

We ended up with 13 candidates who qualified for a phone interview. For the rest of the issue, I’m going to focus on how we conducted the initial phone interview. You’ll hear about the technical interview in a later issue.

Setting up the screen 🏈 #

The screening call would be 30 minutes long. That’s not much time at all when you’re trying to get to know someone. To help things move efficiently, I created a schedule:

  • 3 minutes - Introductions

  • 5 minutes - My spiel about Krit/the job

  • 12 minutes - Interview questions

  • 10 minutes - Candidate questions

There’s some debate about whether or not to have an introduction period. At the end of the day, we didn’t want to sound like a robot. 🤖 This is an interview for us too, we want these people to join our company after all. So we settled on having an introduction time period, but asking the same basic questions to make it as fair as possible. Here’s the rough template I used:

“Hey [NAME], how’s it going? Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Are you from [CURRENT CITY]? What’s it like there? How’d you end up there?

How’d you get into programming?”

The 8 questions we actually asked ⁉️ #

Our original list included 15 questions from our heads and around the web. We needed to get this down to <10 questions to fit the time slot. ⏱

The final 8 questions we landed on were:

  1. How do you think this job fits in to your career goals?

  2. When was the last time you wrote automated tests? Walk me through how you’d write a test for a new endpoint.

  3. Tell me about [PROJECT]? How did you contribute?

  4. Why are you leaving your current role?

  5. What are the typical mistakes other candidates make in this role?

  6. Are you currently working? If so, what period of notice do you need to give to your employer before resigning?

  7. Do you mind sharing your current salary? It won’t affect our offer, we just want to know if you’d be taking a major pay cut.

  8. The starting salary for this position is $70,200 per year, is that acceptable?

As we picked these questions, we reminded ourselves that this was a screening call.  The goal wasn’t to know who we were going to hire by the end of the phone interview. ☎️ The goal was to avoid going through a technical interview with anyone we definitely wouldn’t hire.

Scoring applicants #

When we conducted the interviews, we created a file for each applicant and their responses.

You can find the exact template we used here:

During the interview, I tried to record the specific language the applicant used. Afterwards, we scored candidates from 1-3. In retrospect, I should have used a 1-5 scale, because I recorded a lot of half scores. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Once we completed all of the interviews, I used the scores and my gut feelings to group candidates into tiers:

Tier 1 - Has the technical skills and seems like a strong cultural fit (definitely moves forward)

Tier 2 - Questions about technical skills or cultural fit (might move forward)

Tier 3 - Lack of technical skills, but could be a cultural fit (would be better for a junior role)

Tier 4 - Lack of both technical and communication skills

We wound up with 3 candidates 👤👤👤 that initially qualified for the technical interview. Thanks to the process we used to screen them, I’m really excited about the potential I see in every one of those candidates. 🧠🙂 More info on that and the technical interview in a later issue!

"Great vision without great people is irrelevant."
-Jim Collins

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