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For the first time in my life I am involved in a hiring process for a new employee. This time I don't know the candidate. Other employees we have hired before were known to me before. That was easy. After the interview with the candidate I have to tell the decision-makers if I believe the candidate has to right skills for this job. (So they might get invited to a second round.)

How do I know if a candidate has an idea of administration of hundreds of webservers (frontend, backend, SSL offloader, loadbalancer), scripting (perl, python), container, network trouble shoot etc...)? Or has the skills to learn that in a reasonable time...

A simple question like 'On which port is a webserver listening?' seems to be too easy... I think a written test is (at least) for a first talk too much overkill. Maybe it's an option for the second round...

So the question is: How do I realize that he does not say the whole truth or his application does not quite correspond to the truth...

Are there some sites/lists/tips with some hints/questions?

How do you solve this problem?

Best regards, PV

closed as too broad by gnat, Dukeling, jcmack, motosubatsu, solarflare Feb 25 at 0:58

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Is the question only about technical skills, or more general about hiring? The title says "first interview", but the question sounds like you're the sole person in charge. Could you clarify a bit the context, how your hiring process works, and what is your role in it? What is your background, are you an engineer? – BKE Feb 23 at 11:00
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    Check his qualifications for a start. Anyone doing all that will have certifications. – Kilisi Feb 23 at 11:05
  • Have someone with the technical skills present with some "searching" questions, valid across platforms... – Solar Mike Feb 23 at 12:46
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The simplest way to go about this is not to try to test the validity of an applicant's claims to experience. Instead, I recommend you use the opportunity to get clear on what extent of directly relevant claimed experience the applicant has, and then go into more detail about specific problems they have handled before (effectively exploring stories of experience). This isn't perfect, as not all applicants are prepared to talk about their prior work problems in this way, but it has become so generally accepted as an interview strategy that not being able to talk about your work in this way would be considered a bad sign anyway.

In the context of your particular case, I'd suggest a line of questioning along these lines:

  • "Have you administered servers before?"
  • "Tell me about that experience - how many servers were there, what were they used for, etc?"
  • "Who was responsible for the server on a day-to-day basis? Did you set them up, configure them, repair/replace them? Software configuration, networking?"
  • "Can you tell me about a time you had to deal with a problem with the servers, especially one that was challenging? Tell me about how you diagnosed it...mitigated it...solved it..."

The goal is not to test them on their knowledge, but rather to specifically map out what experience they are supposed to have, without the need to verify it with some kind of test. Specifics are key. "I was a server administrator" is easy to say on a resume, but when you push for details does that mean they were basically running a server cluster for their last company or they once figured out how to host a website on their laptop?

In 9/10 cases, I've found that I learned all I needed to know from these conversations, because you get the story of what they really claim to have done and been responsible for. And as you get into the details, most people aren't clever enough to have invented detailed stories of problems and solutions out of nowhere.

I also found that a lot of title/brand name inflation disappears at this stage. Someone working in a famous neuroscience lab turns out to have been responsible for putting the caps on people or handling phone calls, someone who had a job for a famous company's machine learning division just hand-labeled images (image tagging), or a new student has had one class in Java so they were told to put it down as a skill because they are willing to learn it. Sometimes this is great and these are the honest people you want to hire - sometimes it just means they aren't right for the current position.

If you find someone who seems to talk the talk and claims to have the experience you care about and think of moving forward with hiring, then that is a great time to identify or recruit someone who already has the skills you want to hire to talk with the candidate in a second interview. Unfortunately the majority of people with technical skills don't also have any experience in interviewing. But how to conduct in-depth technical interviews is a separate question entirely :)

In summary, don't try even try to test a candidate in the first interview, because it is far more important you get the full story on what experience they claim to have and how they obtained that experience. This is where you throw away job titles and companies they've worked for and find out what they say they really did in their job - what they worked with, what level of responsibility they had, scale, what the specific technologies were, etc. This information should be noted by you, and then it perfectly sets up an in-depth technical interview with people who have the skills you are hiring for so they can better determine if this candidate is one who should get an offer (or I guess yet another interview). This could technically be an interview with you, or stage 2 of the same interview - but I've never found I had time for that on a first interview. You have more important things to determine at this stage, which helps to take the stress off both you and the candidate and focus on learning about if this might potentially be a good fit - rather than trying to seal the deal in one go.

  • While the other answers are also interesting I found this reply very helpful! Thank you for this point of view! That helped a lot! – Petra Verheim Feb 25 at 9:29
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How do I know if a candidate has an idea of administration of hundreds of webservers (frontend, backend, SSL offloader, loadbalancer), scripting (perl, python), container, network trouble shoot etc...)? Or has the skills to learn that in a reasonable time...

Find somebody with your company that has those skills. Ask them to put together a handful of questions that they will use to evaluate the technical skills, or the candidates potential to learn those skills.

Technical evaluation needs to be done by people who have the technical skills, or something close to the required skills. The best way is to have them develop the questions and then participate in the interviews.

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First, you need to have an understanding yourself to accurately judge the technical skills. There's really no substitute for this. If you don't possess this knowledge and are asked for your thoughts, make it clear that you're only able to provide feedback in other areas (soft skills, etc). Someone else will need to fill this gap.

As for the interview, you're correct that asking specific questions isn't typically the best way to evaluate a candidate. You're limiting yourself by the questions you choose to ask, and missing out on a ton of other useful information.

The best thing you can do at this stage is to ask leading, open ended questions. The questions themselves are not actually that important, you're simply prompting the person to speak on their experiences, etc. You'll gain valuable information on their level of knowledge and experience, while also getting a feel for their personality and ability to communicate clearly. The only thing I will say about the questions themselves is to have a list of things you expect the person to know/be able to do and make sure you hit on these topics.

The next step you may want to consider is a simple, real world exercise designed to test the ability to actually perform these skills. Ideally you'd allow them to complete this on their own time and review together.

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How do I determine the technical skills of a candidate at the first interview?

You don't. Technical skills is not something which must be determined at the first interview. It something you want to determine, with a reasonable confidence at the end of the interview process, and before you make an offer.

At my current employment, the interview process for IT staff is something like

  1. Judge resume
  2. Phone interview with recruitment
  3. Online coding test (you make some exercises which will then be judged)
  4. Phone interview with peers
  5. Interactive online coding test (you make exercises with kibitzers)
  6. Multiple on-site interviews with peers
  7. On-site interview with IT management

After each step an assessment is made whether the candidates moves forward. You can fail on technical skills on each step except 2 (although failing on the last step due to lack of technical skills would be exceptional as that part typically isn't about technical skills). But it's the entire process which determines whether a candidate has the right technical skills, and which level they are (junior, regular, senior, lead, principle, etc).

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