For Your Company because not everyone is the best everywhere, and it’s impossible for every company to hire “the best”. Largely market competitive rates, skills, etc.
Interviewed every developer and tester at local Playdom studio and Novel Inc. Did nearly 300 interviews over 3 years at Amazon.com, with a rating of 0.02 off standard. Amazon Bar Raisers must be +-0.1
Agenda. Feel free to ask questions at any time. Going to discuss interview questions and loop techniques. Will leave people management up to another talk if there’s interest.
I am not an attorney. Consult an attorney or HR expert for actual guidance. This is based on my experience. I am not liable if you break the law. Things you can’t ask: Anything pertaining to race, religion, background, economic level, relationship status, sexual orientation… anything not pertaining to the job that could be construed as discriminatory. Don’t ask where they live. Don’t ask if they have a car. You can ask “can you make it to work on time every day?” If the candidate offers something up, you can discuss it, but don’t probe.
Have a script. Write everything down. Useful for reviewing everything later, also want to keep notes on each candidate interview in case of a challenge.
1 bad person can ruin a company of 20. Saw it happen. Escape Factory.
Bad hires can lead to team toxicity. Underperformers will kill morale, annoying people will drive good people away. Want to ensure a good cultural fit as well as job performance ability. Netflix: No Difficult Geniuses.
Bad hires are expensive. Lots of time and money is spent in the interview process, the offer process, and there are opportunity costs for not filling a role. However, once someone is onboard, it is very difficult to get rid of them, especially at a larger company. Requires documentation, process, termination/severance can be expensive, employee might challenge the term and incur legal costs/larger severance. Better to miss on a great candidate than to hire a bad one by mistake.
Review resumes. Look for spelling/grammar errors. Look for accomplishments (numbers are great!). Prescreen with a phone call. Figure out ahead of time if you really want to bring a person in for a full loop/on-site interview. Amazon ratio was something like 1 hire for every 100 phone screens. (100 PS1 -> 50 PS2 -> 10 On Site Interviews -> 1 Hire). Initial Phone Screen: Ask about availability/start date, compensation expectations, non-competes, etc. Easiest time to reject candidates is in the first conversation. Also explain process, that hiring will be dependent on background checks, reference checks, etc. Want to background check everyone you intend to hire.
Up to each company to determine how to interview for the role. What are the skills you’re looking for?
Don’t ask “Googleable” questions (unless it’s a law firm, or a doctor, or another role where snap recall of facts is a life & death situation). Puzzle questions tend to not be reflective of a candidate’s job performance. “How many manholes are there in NY?” Don’t ask questions from interview books. There are interview books, read them so you know what’s in them. Start with a super simple technical question, validate that they have the base skills, then move on.
Dive Deep. Keep asking questions. Test the limits of their knowledge and abilities.
Ask situational questions: Tell me about a time when you had to solve a difficult problem. What was the problem? How did you solve it?… These are more difficult for a candidate to lie about. Take note of hand-wavy explanations, or “in that situation I would…” Sure, but what did you actually do? Have you been in that situation?
Dive Really Deep. You want to get them to the point where they say “I don’t know” and see how they handle that. “I don’t know” is okay. Plenty of us don’t know things. We want to understand how the candidate learns, and how they commit to come up with a solution. “I don’t know, but here’s how I’d find out, and I’d keep you updated daily.” Great, let’s move on.
Design Questions are fine if you think there are base skills that should be applicable to the job that can be applied to a fresh design. Does the candidate start by asking clarifying questions? Do they cover all the bases? I ask the KeyCard question, or the Sports Announcer question.
Tailor questions to job level. Expect different levels of detail from entry level developer vs. Director of Technology.
Overall, should leave interview with high level of confidence that the candidate can do the actual job for which you’re hiring.
Every employee needs to mesh with and embrace your company culture. Know what your company culture, values are. Ask situational questions around that. Amazon, Leadership Principles were in every interview. Also, Bar Raiser process, ensure that each employee was better than 50% of other employees already in role.
Nothing worse than a bad fit. Will be toxic at your company. Be careful of hiring from your competitors, or hiring large amounts of people quickly from the same external company. These people will bring that culture with them. Fire Phone – lots of people from Blackberry, Motorola, Windows Phone… not a success, in rest of Amazon, team is known as “not Amazonian.”
Know, Embrace, Demonstrate your Values. Have questions that pertain to those values. Amazon: Dive Deep, Frugality, Customer Obsession, Ownership, Hire and Develop The Best, Insist on Highest Standards, Earn Trust of Others, Deliver Results, Invent and Simplify, Are Right A Lot. SyncBuildRun: Still working on ours, but so far we have: Focus On The User, Be Relentlessly Transparent, Deliver Excellence, Progress Over Motion, No Difficult Geniuses, Always Be All In. If you don’t represent these values during the interview (and at the company), candidates will sniff it out. Candidates are smart.
Sample Questions: Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty to achieve a stretch goal. Describe a situation where you acted as a leader and an owner of a new project. Tell me about a time you had an idea to improve the way things work. Was this idea implemented? Why or why not?STAR: Situation/Task, Action, Result. Assign different Values to each person on your loop, so you don’t have overlap.
Extra special care here. These people will be captain of their team, and they have to embrace culture and lead in a professional manner. Always ask questions about people management, ability to negotiate office politics. Not political people, but must be able to influence others to get the right stuff done. Ask about their experience, team size, time in role. “When you’re on the other side of the phone, what characteristics are you looking for in a candidate?” “Once you hire a person with X/Y/Z, how do you keep them motivated?” How long term are they thinking? How broad are their skills in evaluating candidates? How to they manage performance? How do they ensure that someone isn’t bullshitting them?
“Tell me about a time when someone disagreed with your decision. How did you handle that?” “Have you ever had to deal with an underperforming employee?” Look for a manager who has termed someone. More than one, depending on their time-in-role. No one likes terming, but it will happen at some point, and having one who understands the legal and procedural issues with is of great value. Be wary of managers who have never had difficult situations or difficult employees. If someone hasn’t had a performance problem, they’re either incredibly lucky, or a pushover. Probably the latter. Personal term/promo stories. Managers get special attention. Really need to make sure they’re top notch. Executive Leaders should go through a special vetting process, background/credit/financial checks, and psych evaluations. There are services for this. Pay for them, they’re worth it. Be aware that you’ll probably also deal with attorneys here, especially if there is serious financial upside for the exec roles. Almost always a Contract.
Every company has a different process. MSFT: Phone Screen, 4-5 In Person, As App. Novel: Technical, Team Fit, Character. Playdom: 3 Technical, 1 Team Fit. Amazon: 2 Phone Screens, 5-6 In Person (HM & BR). Figure out your process, document it, organize it ahead of time. Understand who will ask what. Don’t talk to each other in between interviews (will taint feedback).
Once you scale to enough people, don’t have your HM be the person who makes the final decision. Every system can be gamed, and HMs are incentivized to fill a role. You want someone else (at least two keys to launch the nuke) to have an equal or greater say for the good of the company. MSFT: As App, Amazon: Bar Raiser. High Standards, think about long term fit for company. Hire, or No Hire. No “Would Hire but not for my team”. If you’re on the fence, that’s a No Hire.
Have a discussion, weigh what everyone saw in their interview. Look for commonalities, outliers. Owe this to the candidate to take it seriously, regardless of feedback. Mixed Group: Come to a consensus, understand what concerns are, if they’re mitigatable, or if they’re too serious to move ahead. All Nos: Have a serious discussion about how the candidate made it in the door in the first place. Do you need to raise standards on prescreening? What was missed? All Yes: Still talk for at least 15 minutes! Did you mis-level the candidate? Should they be in a more challenging role? What problems did they have, and what is your action plan for setting them up for success once they’re onboard?
File and store your feedback. If no offer is extended, want to keep that for legal reasons.
Make sure your process is challenging. It doesn’t have to be impossible, but good candidates are also interviewing you. If your process/questions were too easy, your candidate may have doubts about the peers they will be working with. “If it was that easy, maybe the other people there aren’t that bright…” Candidates should leave impressed. Even if you know in your interview session that you’re a solid No-Hire, spend time at the end selling the company. The candidate may know someone excellent to whom they can recommend this company.
Always end interview with three questions: What do you admire in a Leader? What Characteristic about Yourself is most frequently misinterpreted by others? If you could have any superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?
Hiring the Best People (for your Company)
How to Hire The Best People
(for your Company)
Who is this guy?
Current: CEO & Founder of SyncBuildRun
Lead Developer @ Playdom Seattle (4 reports)
Director of Technology @ Novel Incorporated
Software Development Manager @
Amazon.com (5 Teams, 21 reports)
What to Discuss
Legal & Liability Issues
Why Hiring is so Important
Interviewing for the Role
Interviewing for the Company
Interviewing other Managers
Interview Loop & Process
My Special Interview Questions