Reverse Technical Interviews

One of the things I’ve had to do quite often in the last few years is conduct technical interviews.

It’s always a challenge as of course, if you want to make sure that a resource is technically competent in specific tasks or role for which you are resourcing, that’s pretty easy; just ask questions oriented around those tasks that they will be responsible for.  But what if you want to assess an individual’s broader technical competency of and experience with a platform?

As a technically oriented guy myself, it’s very easy to inject my bias and my core knowledge into the equation and I think that typically makes for a bad interview.  There are always many things that I know well and many things that I don’t know well for any given platform.  So how can I go about measuring a candidate’s competency without injecting my own knowledge and experience bias?

As an addendum, for technical interviews, it’s sometimes difficult to come up with a good set of questions that are “fair”.   I don’t think it’s fair to ask obscure questions for which few folks would know off the top of their head, but would have no problem solving with Google and StackExchange, for example.  I also don’t like to ask brain-bender type questions as I don’t find the outcome of those questions to be generally useful in evaluating technical expertise.

One approach is to ask open-ended design type questions.  “Given this platform, how would you design a solution to meet requirement X?” “What are the benefits of approach U versus approach V for modeling this data?”  These are okay, but I find that I often get clouded by situational bias.  What I mean by that is that I tend to think of problems I’ve solved in the recent past or problems that I’m working on now.  But I know that many of these design issues took me days if not weeks of research, prototyping, experimenting, and discussion to settle upon — it simply doesn’t seem fair to ask a candidate to produce a response on the spot.  It’s worth something, I guess, if they are able to come up with the same solution (or a better one!), but if they can’t, does one hold that against them?

So in thinking about these issues, I think one good approach is to go with a reverse technical interview.  What this means is that I ask the candidate to produce a list of technical and design questions for me for the interview.  My thought is that this allows me to turn the bias that I would otherwise have into a tool because they will have the same biases.  They will tend to ask questions around what they’ve worked on, what hard problems they’ve solved, and what experience they have.  This seems like a much more dynamic approach and would seem to provide more valuable insight…I think.  It’s one thing to list a skill or a technology on your resume, but it’s another thing to be able to ask deep, challenging, technical questions around it.

As a bonus, being able to come up with and ask good questions is itself a valuable skill.

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    I like the approach…

    As you know I am not technical like yourself Charles, but what I look for is confidence, articualation, problem solving capabilites, and wit.

    I dont a factory type answer and I myself as general based questions where I am looking for them to fill in several dots.

    Great picture with your daughter.
    Stay in touch

  2. Tai says:

    “to ask questions around what they’ve worked on, what hard problems they’ve solved, and what experience they have” –> this is true for me. I normally look through the candidate’s Resume, look for their experience / pass projects. Then form the questions around those.

    and just recently, it is the technique called STAR

    For new grad, I tend to focus more on basic questions such as Object Oriented programming, basic .net framework knowledge, basic “design patterns” the candidate might know.