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A colleague has suggested that the same 3 engineers out of our 5 FT engineers conduct all the interviews. In other words, each candidate would talk to those 3 engineers but not the other 2. His arguments are:

  1. The interviewers get better at interviewing.
  2. The interviewers can compare and contrast candidates (because they talk to all of them).
  3. There will be fewer distractions and less time spent ramping up for interviews for those who are not interviewing.

Has anyone tried this? Do you think it's a good idea? If not, do you think it would be better for all engineers to talk to every candidate, or to use a round-robin strategy, or something else?

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  • What are you gonna do if out of 3 engineers, one is sick, the second one is on vacation and the third one just gave two weeks' notice? Oct 10 '14 at 20:59
  • Obsessively large numbers of interviewers is a bad idea no more than 3 (one of whom should be from hr)is a good rule - and all interviewers must have been trained.
    – Pepone
    Oct 10 '14 at 21:14
  • @VietnhiPhuvan: Reschedule or just have the third engineer do the interview? Assuming of course he's leaving on good terms.
    – MSalters
    Oct 14 '14 at 20:49
  • @MSalters I prefer to work from a pool of 5 if I need a team of 3 to do the interviews. In a pinch, I'd go with 1 experienced plus 2 warm bodies. I'd reschedule if that 1 experienced interviewer is not available. Oct 14 '14 at 21:34
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I've done this both ways - using the same core group of people vs. mixing and matching.

1 & 2 are valid points, however here's my complete list

Small Group Does all Interviews:

Pros--

  • Group norms quickly and meetings to come to a general set of hiring objectives is fast
  • People learn each other's questions and usually buffer each other - one guy won't ask the other guy's favorite question.
  • Answers produced by the group are nicely consistent after a while, and you get it in terms of "not as good as the other guy..."

Cons --

  • Small group gets burned out very quickly. Engineers start to hide from interviews.
  • Productivity on regular work starts to diminish as people in small group are constantly tapped for interviews, which really breaks their flow if they are coders.
  • Productivity on rest of team may also diminish because you generally choose the smart, sensible, articulate people for the interview panel... these are also the people you rely on to keep the team humming and to clarify inter-engineer problems, you only find out how much things have gone nuts when you are done interviewing and the folks on your panel get a bunch of unpleasant surprises.
  • People who are not on the panel are completely left out of the process - what if they had good viewpoints?
  • Booking becomes a nightmare, as a very limited group of people have to be scheduled.

Wider Group does Interviews:

Pros:

  • The whole team builds a consensus on what a new hire should look like - which can also help people understand each other better.
  • People get slightly less burned out - they have to interview less.
  • The team as a whole doesn't loose it's key players to endless interviews.
  • More junior/less articulate people get more practice talking to people
  • No elite group - feels more fair.
  • More flexibility in booking for a candidate's schedule.

Cons:

  • Some people are really lousy interviewers, you have to suffer through that and have management judgement to balance out and coach this skill set.

  • It takes longer to get consensus as the focus changes with who is interviewing ...this time.

  • Process has to be more codified - there needs to be a normal system of meet and greet, hand off between interviewers, and goodbye and walk to the door process. And some emergency "what to do if there's a problem" things (example - someone has a crisis and can't make their slot). I once lost a candidate in the building because we lost a conference room, relocated and no one told me! :)

  • You can end up with some bad mashups. Both in how you show team personality to the candidate, and how you review and redact the candidate's responses - you want enough talented interviewers and charismatic people to make this a good use of everyone's time and leave a positive impression with candidate. Random selection won't get you that. You can also have a biased view point - for example if you have a mix of Strong Talent A and Strong Talent B, and only Strong Talent A covers the pool today, they will give you a slanted view point of the candidate w/ respect to A and give you no info on B.

  • Getting the feedback is more work as you have to remember who was on what interview round.


My take is that interviewing is a community event (even when it's done one on one) - if you have a good team, you want to make sure that you get someone the team can accept - not someone a few people on the team can accept.

That doesn't necessarily mean a free for all.

My strategy for a small team is:

  • Manager + Some one near the team + 2-3 people on the team.
  • Careful mashups - get a pool that will give you some diverse opinions while balancing out the odd ducks vs. charismatic people - for my 2-3 on the team slot, I often give the organizer a set of rules - one from column A, two from Column B, and never ever both Bob and Mary in one set. (note, sometimes that's because I find both Bob and Mary to be super chatty, and I know the interview will never end on time... other times it's because without Bob or Mary around to help the team, the progress of the team will sink into the sea)
  • Reasonably clear process - everyone knows how to greet, interview, handoff and say good bye. Everyone knows what I'll ask for for feedback and how the feedback process will work.
  • Be aware and adjust the load as you go - you may find someone is a hidden gem of an interviewer and want them more often... you may find someone can't get anything done while interviewing and need to decrease the load.

If you're working in the tech market, this is a marathon, not a sprint these days. If you have 1 open position and you fill it in a week... let me know where you live so I can recruit there!

Many interview rounds can go on for 3+ months. Think about the drain on the team needed for that level of effort and plan accordingly.

Also realize that with a job that can take 3 months to fill - you will likely have to turn down a first pool of candidates while waiting to see what else you get. Comparing and contrasting is a myth - you can only compare against a long term set of experiences, you can't pick people like you are picking produce - they won't wait quietly for you to decide if you are also waiting to see what else comes in.

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  • Thanks for the detailed reply. You mention that interview rounds can go on for 3+ months. In fact, we are always recruiting, interviewing, hiring. Would this lack of a finite goal that allows us to stop interviewing change your answer? In other words, would you do anything differently than what you describe above if you knew that your team would be perpetually interviewing candidates without a break? Oct 14 '14 at 14:42
  • Nope, not really. I work industries where what you mention is the reality, even if the position with the budget item is more like 3 months. Don't get hung up on the 3 months- my point is that a dedicated small group may manage a burst of interview feedback for a week or two, but if you are constantly interviewing, the marathon-like quality will drain that few people people far worse than if the load is shared. Oct 16 '14 at 13:28
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I've worked on a team where we did this: the two senior engineers (including myself) did the majority of the interviewing. Bottom line is that we did this because it worked - the people that we hired based on those interviews ranged from "good" to "exceptional". There were a number of factors which led to this arrangement:

  • In this case, we were doing technical software development interviews - that's something which is going to be pretty hard to do if you're an entry level engineer interviewing for a senior role.
  • The two of us doing the interviewing were (I believe) also good at selling the company to the candidate - an interview is a two-way process, and you want to be offering your best sales pitch to the candidate in an interview, because the good candidates will probably have more than one job offer.
  • The two of us were actively interested in building a strong team, so didn't in any way resent the time spent doing the "soft stuff" of interviewing.

That all said, none of this was a hard and fast arrangement - for example, when another member of the team expressed an interest at being involved in the interview process, he joined either one or both of the regular interviewers when doing interviews. Similarly, if either of the regular interviewers were unavailable for a particular interview, we were lucky enough to have another team in the same office who were both working on similar technology and had a similar enough team dynamic that we could just "borrow" one of their engineers for a day to do an interview if necessary without feeling that we'd need to re-interview the candidate.

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  • If you are a senior dev/software manager then building the team is possibly the most important part of your job. It's certainly the part that can have the biggest long term effect on the business Oct 13 '14 at 18:59
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Is this a good idea?

Well it's not a bad one per se, but there are both pros and cons with this approach you should consider.

The Pros

  • Interviewers get better at interviewing
  • Interviewers can better compare candidates
  • Interviews are a easier to organize and schedule
  • The interview process is more consistent

The Cons

  • Your other employees interviewing skill are not maintained
  • The not interviewers might feel their opinions aren't important
  • Your team dynamic will likely shift strongly side with your interviewers than those not interviewing (this can be really bad)

I did not include the ramp up time because I don't think it will be that significant.

The big concern is that you have conflicting opinions, stances, and methods to approaching work represented. Effective teams need balance, such as people who try and push new ideas, and people who try to resist new ideas. That way only the new ideas with merit survive.

If you have one view but not the other there it's likely over time the team's perspective will go from balanced to heavily reflecting one view over the other. Having a rotation helps this, or making sure a certain balance is maintained.

(If it were me, I'd rotate who interviews, but their are justifiable arguments for both strategies.)

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I have tried this.

It can be a good idea.

Point 1 is not really a good argument. People don't just get better by doing things, they need to do things while also analyzing what they did and working to improve. Just doing it is not magically going to make you better.

Point 2 on the other hand is very solid. You work as a group to figure out what you're looking for, and can compare/contrast previous candidates to narrow towards your ideal (or at least acceptable) candidate.

There are two main considerations in my experience:

  1. The interviewing skill of your team - if 2 of your team are horrible interviewers, then it can make sense to have them not interview.

  2. Politics - there are certainly people who will be miffed if you don't let them interview people. They think their voice isn't being heard, or they're second class employees, or...

The "right" choice will vary depend on your particular team and needs.

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  • On the other hand, there may well be certain people who will be delighted if you don't make them interview people. It's not an activity that I've seen many engineers enjoy. Oct 10 '14 at 22:18
  • @carson63000 - indeed, I had meant to imply that, but perhaps should have been more explicit.
    – Telastyn
    Oct 10 '14 at 22:34

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