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Background Info

In the past year or so we have been scaling in team size and I am responsible together with our CTO for recruiting candidates of all types of technical background (Frontend, backend, operations, QA). I have not that much experience myself in doing the interviews (up till now I interviewed 20+ candidates).

We have some headhunters or recruitment offices help us with supplying candidates. I drill during the interviews into the soft skills, Cognitive ability and so on. The CTO drills deeper for the technical evaluation.

My focus point

I must say we do a quite well job in evaluating the candidates their technical skills. But technical skills is just, let's say 50-60% that makes a candidate a good candidate.

The other part is the soft skills and Cognitive ability like :

  • Can the candidate learn new stuff easily ?
  • Does the candidate stick to what (s)he knows or tries to find for new solutions or technologies?
  • Can the candidate explain himself in clear language?
  • Is the candidate structured or messy?
  • How pro active is the candidate?
  • How well is a team member a team player?
  • How much can the candidate think outside the box ?
  • How well can a candidate see the big picture ?
  • How active does the canidate see issues and tries to fix them (technically, about development process, ...)
  • Etc ...

I do understand it is impossible to have always a straight forward answer to all of these questions, and its a science itself to profile a candidate. I presume there is no utopia like that. So I am not asking for the impossible, but, at least the advice or experience of you guys. I have heard often, recruiting and interviewing is a skills that you improve by exercise, which is fine, but help is always useful. But rest assure, I understand this is no exact science ;)

My Question

How do you try to profile these soft skills and Cognitive abilities from technical candidates in an software development environment that you need to recruit for your team? Do you have any particular strategies or approaches that have been proven useful for yourself ? Please do share if you have any good question or approach.

I have been reading for example "How google works", it has a nice chapter on recruiting, but there isn't much other material that I found up till now. Most sources help the person on the other side of the table, the interviewee.

Note to the community

If this question is too open for a Q&A like this or not specific enough for Project Management space please let me know and I'll withdraw the this question.

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If your local laws allow, invite the candidate over for a day or two, work together on something, and you will learn if you can work with the candidate or not.

Personal notes: I don't particularly like this approach, but the HR echo system was not able to figure out the ultimate solution to this.

First, it puts the candidate into an unpleasant situation. They have to take vacation days for a job that they may not get. Second, they might violate their active agreement if it states that they cannot have other jobs than the current. On the other hand, it lowers the risk you take when you hire somebody you have never met.

  • Interesting approach, but might deem to be risky with the local laws. I'll have to investigate that with some lawyer, since I am myself not from Poland (The country I am employed right now). – Segers-Ian Aug 18 '15 at 12:52
  • We routinely invite candidates to have a working session on a morning. It is not "work" as such, since they are not contributing, but it does help them see how we work and is an effort towards transparently showing where we are in our company's journey. We get a chance to evaluate the candidates on being the same side of table looking at the same screen (as opposed to across from the table), and they get a chance to see our pace, our dev environment and everything else that goes with it (the kitchen and whatnot). – Amrinder Arora Oct 9 '15 at 15:33
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First, it depends on your business needs.

I would recommend keeping your current interview criteria set and initiate an unconventional interview format, and have the candidates solve a real-world problem, check how would they do about it, check those criteria in the checklist if they fit your standards.

Hope this helps.

  • Well that describes the direction I am looking into, just finding on the go any useful unconventional methods to throw people off balance and get a better insight of their personality. – Segers-Ian Aug 18 '15 at 12:53
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These questions are very diverse and may take multiple methods. Some questions you could ask them outright. You could also ask them how they would manage a hypothetical situation or ask them to explain a past experience in which they had to ______. Have a team member sit in on the interview to assess if they are a good match for the team.

Also, have atleast three people interview them to get a good analysis of how they associate with different people. This also gives insight from multiple sources.

  • Fact, we try to have multiple people to cross examine our opinions. The hypothetical questions are interesting always. Because to be honest, 70% of the candidates never really get the 'use' of anything hypothetical. They all think they have to give this one specific magical answer, while you just want to see how people break down any issue. – Segers-Ian Aug 18 '15 at 12:56
  • Yeah, those can be tricky. Sometimes the interviewer IS looking for a magical answer or atleast a few words. I've been in interviews that ask this and they were waiting for me to say something specific like "make decisions based on data". I doubt they even listened to the rest of my answer. – Acumen Simulator Aug 18 '15 at 17:23
  • Hahaha, "make decisions based on data", sounds like a sentence straight out of the "recruiting" chapter of "How Google Works". It has value, but looking for this exact answer.... I dunno, someone that adapts and learns well can learn from the company to make decisions based on data. – Segers-Ian Aug 19 '15 at 6:24

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