Three Steps to Better Interviews

Improving your interviews is the first step to a better team

Though a real-time interview is just one part of a well-rounded hiring process, it's an important one. A good interview isn't about checking off a list of qualifications—there are more efficient ways to do that. Rather, a good interview gives a candidate a platform to show their unique skills and personality. I've had the privilege of being involved in interviews both at Lullabot and at previous companies, and I've picked up a few guidelines along the way that help me conduct and evaluate an interview.

The Reasonable Truth

Interviewing for a position is hard for both the applicant and the interviewers. Many interviews walk a fine line between what questions are asked and what answers are reasonable to expect from a candidate. Sharing work products (such as, project plans, marketing materials, or code) give a real insight into what a person is best at. For candidates, this can be difficult when they are subject to client NDAs. Some may work at restrictive organizations that don't allow code contributions. Communication and personal interaction questions can have the same issues, where too much detail could reveal identities that should be kept private.

When I feel like something is missing, my mind begins to race with uncertainty. Were details omitted because of NDAs, or is the story being modified at the compromise of honesty? I like to ask myself, "Did the person tell the truth with the right amount of truthiness?" I want any lessons learned to be communicated by the candidate with authority and integrity. I don't want all the details. In fact, I appreciate the candidate respecting the confidentiality of their prior engagements. But what I need is an authentic and sometimes vulnerable conversation to get a glimpse of their character and what defines them. A candidate should be able to tell an honesty story about work they've done in the past even if they have to redact some specifics. If they play the confidentiality card to the exclusion of any insight about them personally, I'm left with too much uncertainty to recommend them.

The Three E's of Interviewing

I want to know if the candidate shows empathy towards their coworkers and their clients. I can't emphasize just how important this is. Empathy is our first defense against stress and discord, especially when projects march toward fixed launch dates. It's too easy for agencies and clients to start blaming each other when timelines, budgets, or functionality start to change to meet launch deadlines. Hiring for empathy gives our entire team the ability to handle more projects with less burnout.

I also like to get a chance to evaluate how a candidate approaches education. I don't just mean education in the strict institutional sense, but how they learn day by day, apply new lessons to their work, and share their experiences with their colleagues and the world. Seeing how a candidate writes and shares their knowledge provides insight into how they will share the same knowledge when working with clients.

Finally, though perhaps a bit unconventional, I like to get an idea of how entertained a candidate is by the work they do. I don't mean that someone finds their work to be "fun", to the detriment of balance in their life. I want to know if a candidate finds the humor of the crazy client and technical situations we sometimes end up in to be a positive, entertaining part of the work we do. This value isn't just about immediate team and client interactions. I've found that people who have this quality can both break the ice in tense situations and are more resilient against burnout.

A place to grow

In the agency world, we often are hiring to fill a specific role on a specific project. Unlike other tech industries (like entertainment and video games) that go through boom and bust hiring cycles, our goal is to consistently have low turnover with our staff. When considering a candidate, I like to ask myself "Can this person be a contributor immediately, and a leader in 6 months?". Every person we hire should be immediately useful to the team so that they can feel valued and important. I feel like it's not fair to assume a new hire becomes a "leader" instantly. Every person needs to find their niche and to find what drives them when tackling a new job. But what I want to know when we hire someone they have the potential to become a leader in something. This is rarely about managerial roles and responsibilities; instead, it's about empowering everyone to become experts in their own way. Lullabot needs leaders because of the way we work. Most of the team works directly with our clients. As we're a distributed company, we need proactive and deliberate communication. You can't hide in a cubicle here. Hiring for leadership helps ensure that those we do hire have the best chance of succeeding.

Like coding, an interview process is never done or complete. I'm sure there are guidelines I've missed. What are yours?

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