A year ago I took part in a few interview processes for managerial role in IT. Most of the interviews I had looked similar. A discussion with other managers, directors, product owners, technical team leaders etc. And after some time, I came to a (surprising) conclusion that
…all of the interviews but ONE were pretty useless for my wannabe-employers.
Interviews – questions, questions, questions, …
I mean, I’m a manager. To a large extent, I earn my living by talking, persuading, presenting and explaining. I also have experience from the other side of the interview desk.
Taking this into account, what do you think is the chance that you ask me a question that
- I’m not able to respond to in a reasonable way,
- and/or with humor,
- and/or redirecting it to what allows me to present myself in a good light?
Even if the question is hard (because I don’t have experience in a certain area) after I acknowledge my shortcomings I always have something to say, some reference to make to another, similar topic or issue, something that proved my experience. Years of experience in the IT world is what allows me to do this.
All my interviewers were in general well prepared, they asked reasonable questions trying to figure out my value. I can expect they discovered a few of my flaws even if I tried hard to hide them. I’m a professional and so are they. But still, I believe that after all their efforts they still had very little clue if I’m worth hiring or not.
A Cat in a Bag
In Poland we have this proverb about “buying a cat in a bag” (I’ve checked that the English equivalent is “buying a pig in the poke”). I feel that after all the questions about my experience (STAR model & co) and hypothetical situations my future employees were still buying a cat in a bag.
I don’t say the whole “traditional” interview process is totally useless. I rather look at it as a form of a game – similar to the one you play with merchants in Marrakech. There is a set of expected behaviours that you should be familiar with. Of course, in the case of interviews this set is much broader than when bargaining the price of a carved wooden camel figure. By taking part in the process we can prove that we belong to a camaraderie, to a certain social group who knows how to play a game. And that is all.
Trial By Fire
And what about the ONE interview that I find valuable? Ah, this one was different from any other I had.
I was applying then for a Scrum Master role. And after the initial set of traditional interviews (“what is your experience in X? Have you ever experienced Y? How would you approach Z?”) they wanted to see me in action. I had to run a remote retrospective for one of their teams. They didn’t want to buy a cat in the bag. They wanted to see how I hunt mice and hear me meow. And meow I did. 🙂
All of this makes me think: “how to improve my own interview process so I hear the cats meow before I buy them”? Don’t have an answer yet, but will figure it out somehow.
I’ll end with this quote. It applies to code and also to non-technical interviews.
Talk is cheap. Show me the code.Linus Torvalds