How to Interview the Technical Candidate
JIM KENNEDY • MARCH 2017
For technical hires, technical competence must be confirmed in the interviewing process, usually by a technical interviewer. No matter how these interviews are conducted, there are certain inherent risks in technical interviews. Standards might be set unreasonably high and no one gets hired, or the focus is narrowly aimed at technical skills so the interviewer misses evidence of other important qualities, such as, whether this candidate is a quick learner, resourceful, adaptable, etc. The question is how to assess technical skills while avoiding some of these risks.
Here are just three of the several approaches used by technical interviewers at our client companies to interview technical candidates and assess technical competence.
Project analysis. Candidates are asked to describe the most technically challenging project they have worked on in the past year. If the candidate is a student, it can be a school project. They are asked to "walk through" the project, describing in detail what they did, how they did it, with whom, etc. The interviewer probes for specific details and listens for evidence of technical knowledge and confidence as the candidate describes his/her work.
"If . . .Then" questions. The interviewer continually probes technical knowledge and competence by presenting problems and observing how the candidate solves them. For example: "If you were to have a code failure, then what would you do?" If that answer is satisfactory then a more challenging situation would be presented with another 'if . . .then' question.
Competency scales. The candidate is asked to rate his/her competency in a given area on a 1-10 scale. "In terms of applications software, how do you rate your competence in C++ on a 1-10 scale?" The interviewer then pegs his questions at whatever level is claimed by the candidate. Questions that are more or less challenging are used if it is apparent the candidate's self assessment is too high or too low. An alternative to the numbers is to use a continuum question, such as "where does your competence fall between entry level and superstar?"
These techniques offer a few ways to confirm technical competence. When other members of an interview team use behavior-based interviewing, the candidate's fit with the organization and his/her performance factors – intellectual ability, interpersonal skills and motivation will also be accurately assessed.