Should a technical interviewer read the candidate's resume/CV before performing an interview?

I regularly interview for data science positions. The particular context is that recruiters who are not technical themselves but who are very familiar with the requirements of the position have already read the CVs, performed an initial phone interview with the candidates, and passed them through.

Some of my colleagues argue that reading the resume leads to potential biases in how we approach the candidates. For example, we might be more predisposed to accept candidates with backgrounds similar to ours.

My intuitive sense is that it is disrespectful to the candidate to not read the CV. I also feel that it can be useful for focusing my interview questions on parts of the CV that seem thinner.

Some additional context in response to the comments:

  1. There are additional interview stages that are conducted by interviewers with a technical background, in which the focus is on the candidate's background and motivations. The CV is a key input here, of course, so it does get serious consideration in the larger process.

  2. In this "technical interview," we are not particularly interested in the specific details of technology that they may have used in the past (we don't even mandate that data scientists use any particular technologies once they come work here), but instead in candidates demonstrating that they can apply general analytical principles to specific business problems.

  3. Finally, we have several processes in place to reduce hiring bias, most importantly that our technical interviews and evaluation processes are consistent and structured.

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 13 at 5:30

Should a technical interviewer read the candidate's resume/CV before performing an interview?

Yes, anyone involved in the interviewing process should take the time to read the CV. Otherwise how will they ask intelligent questions when the time comes to interview the candidate?

My intuitive sense is that it is disrespectful to the candidate to not read the CV

I agree with you completely. It is very disrespectful and most candidates of any intelligence will know if the CV has been read in advance or not. And if the candidate notices and has multiple options, you may have eliminated yourself from contention of the candidate's services by insulting them.

I also feel that it can be useful for focusing my interview questions on parts of the CV that seem thinner.

This is also correct, based on my experience as a hiring manager. By reviewing the resume carefully, if you're looking for a key skill and do not see much of it mentioned, you can hone in on that and see how big the gap is between the candidate and your needs.

From a bias mitigation perspective, there are other ways to control this. Having multiple interviewers, asking same/similar questions to all candidates, agreeing on selection criteria prior to interviewing anyone, etc. - you can be very thorough at eliminating bias while still reading the CV.

  • 2
    Agreed. Additionally, resumes often provide other information that you can use to for a variety of purposes. I may ask a candidate about the weather in a previous city they worked in, or what they did with an outlying technology 3 jobs ago. Often their answers will do more to tell you about the candidate than the answers to the baseline job requirements. A recruiter isn't going to tell you that the candidate said they loved the weather in Seattle because it made cooking meth more comfortable, for example. – Eric Hauenstein Jun 11 at 15:50
  • 2
    I want to emphasize the "key skill" part of the last paragraph here. Keep in mind that your goal is to work with the candidate to determine if they're the best fit for the role you need, not to tear apart their perceived weaknesses. – Walt Jun 11 at 17:36
  • 2
    Re: focusing on thinner areas, it also help to focus on stronger areas: is the candidate really mastering the topics [s]he claims to, or is [s]he shallow even there. For technical interviews, this highlights is the ability to learn which might be a better indicator than actual knowledge. In any case, read the resume! – ptyx Jun 11 at 19:28
  • 3
    You have to know someone's background before asking them questions. If your project uses programming language A and B; and the candidate is being hired for expertise in B but does not claim any knowledge of A, then what good would it do to ask him about A? – kingledion Jun 12 at 2:29
  • 2
    Better not listen to any of the candidate's interview answers, either, just in case they cause any bias. Don't look at them, in case you are unconsciously biased against their habits of dress. Fundamentally, you must not know anything about them; that way no one can accuse you of bias. – Wildcard Jun 12 at 23:46

It depends on your exact role in the interview.

If your role is limited to assess the technical capabilities of the candidate, the "don't read" position can be understood. You just have to assess someone, and ignore anything else.

If, OTOH, you have to judge someone overall for a fit in your team, then the CV is mandatory. Knowing the path of the interviewee, asking him questions on how he did at a previoous place, are typical questions that will help you having a full overview of the candidate.

  • 18
    I disagree. Many times the CV will include descriptions of past positions, including specific toolsets, projects, and programming languages that were used. If you read the CV, you can ask better questions about a candidates prior experiences and how it will apply to your organization. – kuhl Jun 11 at 14:40
  • 5
    @kuhl - well, it means you judge more than the pure technical level. Let's imagine my firm wants a COBOL expert. That will work where I won't. All the recruiting will be done by its team - but they have noone who knows COBOL. So they ask me just to assess he knows COBOL as well as he proclaims. In this situation, I don't need to know what he did. I just need to know if his technical understanding of COBOL fits a global expectation. Of course, if I am asked anythign more about him, I need to read his CV. – gazzz0x2z Jun 11 at 14:47
  • 8
    @gazzz0x2z "to assess he knows COBOL as well as he proclaims" But how do you know how much he proclaims to know COBOL without seeing the CV? If you had written "...as well as the company needs him to know" that could be different, but even then, I would have thought (albeit having been involved in only a few interviews) that seeing their past record would help formulate the right questions. – TripeHound Jun 11 at 15:03
  • 3
    Fair. Though by ignoring the CV you are potentially ignoring a good tool for evaluating the candidate's COBOL knowledge. If it's a pure programming test then I guess the CV may not be necessary. – kuhl Jun 11 at 15:03
  • 2
    @kuhl : my point exactly. As soon as it goes beyond the pure technical test, CV becomes mandatory. – gazzz0x2z Jun 11 at 15:58

Yes, it is correct that you may be "biased" towards or against certain candidates due to the CV. To put it more positively, you "choose your questions to fit their bio". Especially for positions with a wide array of more or less soft requirements (in-depth knowledge in either X or Y or Z), it could be useful for you to know which tech someone originally comes from and which knowledge to expect.

I have interviewed a few people (technical part only), and, depending on their stated technology background and depth of knowledge, came up with different questions.

And then, if the tech staff that interviewed me for my next position had read my "cover letter" email, they could have followed the link to a public demo of the product that I am the sole frontend developer for, which would have answered some of their questions regarding my knowledge and could have helped them come up with more interesting follow-up questions than the ones I generally received. Only the one interviewer who did could ask in depth about my knowledge of testing frameworks, because he had seen the resulting application and, after two in-depth questions regarding underlying application design, was already satisfied with my knowledge of the main technology.

  • 1
    Anything on which you might be biased--the details of their education, the places they've worked--is likely to come out as you interview them anyhow. The only exception I can think of is if your role is to administer some specific quiz or test, to be evaluated strictly in isolation. Otherwise, I'd expect you to have reviewed the CV. – CCTO Jun 11 at 15:55

It sounds like you're the only person from a technical background with the opportunity to read the CV. You'd be doing everyone a disservice if you didn't read it -- the candidate and the company.

If two candidates both have a particular skill that's on the job spec, but one of those has learnt it in a closely related field, and one in something completely different, which one will get up to speed quicker? But does that offset a different skill the other person can bring on board?

You may well want to get them to open up about a project, perhaps to check that their claimed knowledge is honest. You can only do that if you've read the CV, rather than just a claim relayed by HR that they've ticked a box.

  • 1
    This is good advice. When I do interviewing, I often take the skills and previous projects the candidate advertises and ask lots of questions to drill into the details. We actually uncovered a really good candidate in the last round of hiring because we drilled into the details of one of the previous projects mentioned on his resume and we found that he was far more knowledgeable and skilled than we had realized at first. This would not have happened if we hadn't had the CV/resume to read. – Kevin Peter Jun 12 at 17:52

As a technical interviewer, you certainly need a significant amount of information from the resumé. You need to know if they're experienced in the field, what degree of expereince, what kind of projects they've worked on, etc. You will not find many candidates with 100% coverage of the exact area you need, so you'll need to know what areas to spend more time on.

However, the bias question is a very real one, especially for companies who either have had issues in the past (perhaps even with legal requirements for compliance) or really for any company who is attempting to avoid bias in hiring. Seeing names, locations, or even language can bias the interviewer subconsciously toward or against particular candidates, to the detriment of the company - not just relating to diversity, but simply toward finding the ideal candidate.

One approach to this is to remove identifying information from the resumé. The name likely will be there regardless (as the candidate will want to be addressed by name likely); but other information such as the location of the university or even the employers could be turned into more generic terms. Another person might summarize the candidate's resume, turning a normal resume into:

Candidate has 4 year degree from good school. Candidate has 4 jobs spanning 15 years, each at major technology companies, showing increasing responsibilities. Candidate's responsibilities show experience in SQL Server, Oracle, Hadoop, and Teradata. Candidate used SAS in two of the positions, R for one, and Matlab/Stata for one.

Etc.; someone doing this should be sufficiently technical to understand the needs of the position and also need to be able to translate it into something that's useful. This would add a lot of extra work, but also would give you a degree of distance that might avoid bias.

  • 3
    "This would add a lot of extra work" - it's worth pointing out that you should be putting a lot of work into the hiring process. No other part of business has a higher risk per unit time than hiring. A bad hire might take only a few hours and cost a company millions. A good hire might take those same few hours and make a company millions. When viewed in this perspective, it makes sense to spend a very, very significant amount of time on making sure every hire you make is a good one. – corsiKa Jun 11 at 21:04

Some of my colleagues argue that reading the resume leads to potential biases in how we approach the candidates.

Yes. And it should. You should approach an industry veteran differently than a fresher. You should approach someone with a Ph.D. different than a walk-in. You should be biased in favor of someone who went through the rigors of difficult schools. The purpose of the resume is to help shape your opinion and as long as the shaping is fair, this is good. The system is working as intended.

Now, you should not approach a German different than a Russian, or a man different than a woman, or an ESL different than a native speaker. However, most of the sorts of differences become readily apparent in the first few minutes before "let's dive in" anyway, so hiding them doesn't really help.

This really only seems like a problem if "Oh, U of M? I'm an Ohio fan, screw this guy." in which case you're probably also bad at interviews for thirty other reasons and should stop doing interviews. All the other reasons seem like you're just blindly throwing your personal experience away because of the perception of potential bias, which is silly. Experience is supposed to guide your decisions. That's why we value experience!

The avoidance of unfair bias in interviews is tricky, but the paper Are Highly Structured Job Interviews Resistance To Demographic Similarity Effects? gives a good overview of the sorts of things that you should be doing to allow you to be as objective as possible when interviewing candidates. One of the factors discussed is

control of ancillary information

such as CVs, Github repositories etc. The bottom line is that if you are looking at that sort of thing for one candidate, you should do the same for all candidates. This means that you need to plan in advance what sort of additional information you are going to ask for and how you are going to grade it.

You must read the CV to prepare yourself for the interview. IMO, you are forgetting the candidate is not the only one being interviewed, you two are being assessed as a suitable environment, colleagues and institution by the prospective candidates.

If an interviewer fails to address properly my experience, and I notice he has not read my CV, and the interview goes wrong (it happens), I wont want to work with you, and as extension, with the institution you are the face of.

I won´t also probably want to work with people that are more preoccupied with asserting some kind of bias than doing their job and choosing/assessing experienced candidates. That tells me a lot about your internal culture, and that I will not be properly evaluated by my work and technical achievements, and most probably that you won´t be able to help me grow further in my technical field.

In a more practical tone, if you do want to have an interviewer not reading the CV, than conduct interviews in pairs, were one interviewer has read the CV and the other not, and then cross-reference opinions. Otherwise, you run the risk of weeding out mature people/people that is not desperate for a job.

In my opinion if you get to the technical interview, your CV already did his task, open you the door to the next level and sit face to face with someone. Then just depends on yourself to convince by softskills and hard skills that you are the right person to the assignment. The interviewer always checks your CV but not more than 60 seconds, don't believe that they will read more than 2 pages of your CV. Be accurate and assertive in your answers, and the most important thing always reply to the questions, even if you don't show how you approach problems when you are faced with new problems.

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.