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I did a few interviews in the last 3 months to expand our team of developers. I am a mid-level developer so I am always the second person present (+ PM or a senior dev). Until now, all candidates were men. I finally started to develop some routine and gain experience while doing those interviews. Today a request for another interview popped up in my calendar. This time though it is a woman.

I've learned and gotten feedback from my past experiences, which were interviewing men, so I'm wondering if there are specific things others may have learned interviewing a more diverse set of candidates that I haven't picked up yet.

She is from India, so she has perhaps a different mindset and cultural background.

It is the ultimate principle of course that the only thing we want to measure is fitness in terms of knowledge and skill and a few required personal traits. Anything else is irrelevant.

How should I adjust my questions to the candidate?

  • This post is referenced in this meta discussion on editing. – jmort253 Nov 19 '13 at 22:29
  • Kathy, the point of my question is to find out whether there is anything specific that needs to be accommodated so that female candidates are evaluated purely on merit, because this is the only thing that matters. Communication is not a linear equation with one variable, it is a complex process with many traps, and candidates are specific as individuals and as members of social groups. It is a fact. Adjusting for those differences so that fundamentally they got the same treatment (sounds like a paradox I admit) and are evaluated only on merit is a legitimate effort. – Earl Grey Nov 18 '14 at 23:03
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    @user87166 the use (not need) for diversity policies similarly doesn't imply a skill gap. These policies can be used to simply encourage people to go into certain fields. In this case, it is to make available roles for women in traditionally male-dominated areas. This has the primary benefit of driving women into career-roles, rather than, say, being housekeepers. As India is ramping up its focus on the business process outsourcing industry (especially within IT), it makes sense that the government would single this area out to encourage women to take career-enhancing roles. – bharal Jan 15 '15 at 14:08
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On the point of gender:

The interview itself shouldn't be any different, but not because you should just focus on getting the interviewee to know and check off the skills you are looking for if she's a woman like you would with a man.

It shouldn't be any different because no matter who you are interviewing, you should interact with men as you would with women.

  • Something's not appropriate to ask a woman? You probably shouldn't ask a man that, either. Works the other way around too.
  • Some joke wouldn't be 'cool' if a woman were around? Don't tell it. In fact, don't even deem it appropriate in any work setting if you really want to work with women. Or anybody but 'Brogrammers'.
  • There's a skill you wouldn't screen a man for? Don't look for it in a woman. This is not dating.

I could go on but you get the idea.

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    +1 "Something's not appropriate to ask a woman? You probably shouldn't ask a man that, either" This alone is worth getting the green tick. – user9158 Feb 26 '14 at 23:29
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    It's also worth noting you want to act in this manner regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, ect. Changing how you interview people based on any of these conditions would tread into murky and very dangerous waters legally speaking. – RualStorge Apr 23 '14 at 15:03
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    @user87166 did you write a Barbie comic recently where Barbie becomes a programmer? Also, do you have some sort of company HR hiring policy to share with us to back this claim up? – bharal Jan 15 '15 at 13:02
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    @user87166 Uh, i think the hiring bar for companies like Microsoft or Google is going to be higher regardless of diversity quotas - i deal with this more thoroughly in the question comments though. – bharal Jan 15 '15 at 14:19
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    @user87166 dude, if you cannot get into google and you blame women, then you're not even the craftsman blaming his tools. you're the craftsman being upset that there are now craftswomen, and you wanted a boy's club. Just stick that on your CV instead - it will effectively save you the bother of going to interviews which you'll never pass. – bharal Jan 18 '15 at 16:08
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I'm in total agreement with the idea that you should interview a woman the same way you interview a man. And look for the same skills and traits.

Women Engineers

If, however, this is first time ever that you've interviewed or worked with a woman in an engineering role, I'll offer a couple thoughts.

  • They don't fit the same "standard model" - I don't think most will disagree with me when I point out that there's a certain baseline for male engineers - quiet, thoughful, probably introverted and definitely analytical - they align startingly well to one or two Myers-Briggs types and have a certain flavor. Many other men in engineering don't fit this model and it works out fine, but you'll even here them described as "not your average engineer..."

  • In my experience, women engineers don't have such an obvious type. Most have the standard types of geek experiences in their life history (was any science/math/computer nerd really popular during puberty?), but in many ways they are different from their male counterparts in ambitions, ways of describing careers and their relational/communication skills. Be aware that if you stacking them up against an archetype that "different" does not equal "bad", really visualize what this personality will do within your team and decide whether that will be good.

  • Be aware of the "like attracts like" problem. The Loudest Duck is a good book for this, the theory on this is that people who are more similar tend to "click" and that connectedness leads to better options and opportunities and feedback for those who are "like" their bosses. There's a huge number of variations on this - gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, interest, etc. It's generally possible to overcome, but it's a thing to be cognizant of - the working mom, for example, will rarely ever hang for a beer. If you want to chat, grab some tea/coffee with her at lunch or in the early afternoon.

I don't want to get all female-preachy, but I will - there is a difference in a very general scale in how women and men put forth ideas, and how they ask questions. Women tend not to be as aggressive in putting forth ideas, and many times they will feel the need to qualify facts and opinions as if they are uncertain. This certainly varies from culture to culture, and person to person. But in general, when someone (even a man) seems tentative, decide whether you need an aggressive personality, and investigate whether tentativity is more of a personal style, or true lack of knowledge.

That said - I'm a big fan of both parties adapting. As a woman in the workplace, I've learned to put forth my ideas in a way that is strong and yet comfortable for me, personally. So I'd say to anyone - if you find you're bending over backwards you've bent too far - they have to be able enough to volunteer ideas to be a viable part of a team, and it's fair that if you have a culture of aggressive promotion of ideas, you need team members who can rise to the occasion.

Indian Women Engineers

I'd agree with the archetype that most foreigners working in the US are willing to either clearly describe any necessary accommodations (I'm vegetarian, so if you're getting me lunch, please get me a salad with cheese but no meat). Of course people vary remarkably, so there's always a spectrum.

India is particularly hard to categorize in that it's a big country with a lot of different cultures and religions within it. So there's no great generality. Most Hindus don't eat beef. Many Southern Indians eat very little meat at all. Muslims don't eat pork. Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs all have other dietary restrictions. So.. at the very least, make an inquiry if you are serving food before assuming, because many different foods can be off limits.

Handshakes are fine and pretty common. After that, I'd default to no touching. Different groups have different rules, mileage varies considerably, but it's much easier to stay of trouble if you keep your hands to yourself. That said - normal stuff like catching someone about to fall down a flight of stairs, or helping with rough terrain or peculiar situations is always fine.

Don't make assumptions. There are certain other norms about behavior and mindset, but they are as variable as India itself. Not to mention that the evolution of industry with a great deal of technical work being done in India has changed urban culture dramatically in last 10 years. In many cases, those with a history of technical work on their resumes are quite comfortable within your average Western environment and won't have any problems making themselves clear or blending with a team. Even if her last job was in India, she may well be coming from a nice, air conditioned office, with roller chairs, keyboard trays, and the general issue of overbooked conference rooms.

I won't say everything is the same - relationships between bosses and employees are different, but they are evolving at a pace where it's not easy to make any real generalization.

(I'll qualify all that with the fact that I'm a long time lover of India and Indian culture - I've studied traditional dance and martial arts of India for 12 years and visited twice and lived with friends both times. That said, I'm born and raised and trained entirely in the US.)

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    One reason to have consistent questions for all interviews. – user8365 Nov 15 '13 at 20:57
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    FWIW, some women become tentative about putting forth their ideas because women who are very forthright are seen negatively by some teams. That being said, at some point hopefully most of us will decide if you're having to bend over backwards that's too far. Also, +1 for acknowledging a woman is not a man in a skirt. – Amy Blankenship Nov 15 '13 at 21:06
  • I think this is very helpful. I'm a SWM who's worked with all sorts of people, and the Indian women haven't seemed like a homogeneous group. One picky thing: many engineers and scientists of any makeup with caveat everything. I work with 3-4 SWM engineers right now and management regularly complain that we say stuff like "it seems to work, none of the obvious tests have failed recently" when they want to hear "Yes. It Works!". – Móż Nov 16 '13 at 10:39
  • @Amy Blankenship - I totally agree - I've actually seen both. Be tentative, and you get classified as not engaged enough or not sure enough of yourself. Be forthcoming and you get classified as too aggressive. I figure the bend over backwards applies both ways - I neither want the interviewer to go nuts accommodating me, nor do I want to have to bend so far outside my comfort zone that I'll never be happy doing it on a daily basis. – bethlakshmi Nov 17 '13 at 1:24
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    @Ӎσᶎ - Agreed, but I've seen that gap too between engineering and business. But the one I'm referring to is really the "do you know how to do that?" type stuff. Some will say "yes" meaning "I read an article, I can probably do this" and others will say "no" meaning "I've read an article, but I've never done it before, so it's quite possible I don't know how to do this in a reasonable amount of time". If you stop at "yes" or "no" you get a very different read on the person. There's some articles out there suggesting that women are more likely to say "no" and men more likely to say "yes". – bethlakshmi Nov 17 '13 at 1:28
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One other thing to be aware of in interviewing women in technology is that many male interviewers expect programmers to do a lot of programming on personal projects outside of work. Women rarely have the time to do so because they spend their nonwork hours in childcare and household tasks to a far greater extent than men do. After you work an 8-10 hour day and then go home and spend another 5-6 hours on domestic tasks, you don't have the energy to work on an open source or personal programming project even if that is something you would like to do.

So please evaluate them (and men too for that matter) on what they accomplish at work and what work skills they have and not on some arbitrary geek credit from doing personal stuff.

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On the Indian aspect:

Some Indian people are a bit too keen to say "yes", or reluctant to say "no". It's a cultural thing. It's possible that this effect could be stronger among Indian women, I don't know.

Of course, let's not forget that in an interview situation, many people of whatever nationality (including myself) might be a little over-keen to say yes or at least to "accentuate the positive" - in order to try to get the job!

Not really sure what one can do about this.

Also, there's a potential for confusion with body language in that they may nod for "no", shake their head for "yes", although they may reverse this to match English conventions when speaking in English. There is also the "head bobble".

Some Indian people speak English at home, whereas some have very poor English, and some are inbetween. Do not make the mistake I made and assume that just because you have met Indians with perfect English, that all Indians have perfect English. Again, because they can sometimes be a little reluctant to say "no" or "I don't know" or "I have not understood", you may not find out they have not understood something in the interview until later.

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I interviewed a couple of women for dev roles, One was from India as well. So:

Still, is there something I should be careful, or I should avoid? Are there any risks which I am not aware of?

I used the same format I use for the men. In the end what matters is how much the person knows about a given subject. Soft skills are also important, as it was a consultancy company, so of course those are evaluated as well: communication, posture. Just get to know the person and get a feeling of what she can do for your company, gender should never matter.

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