None of us enjoy the nerves and awkward little moments involved with job interviews. Here, Jon looks at some potential alternatives.
The psychology of a job interview is a very strange one. Sit down at a table and try to persuade a stranger, or a group of strangers, that you’re the best person for the job they’re trying to fill.
You’re handicapped though. You can’t just sit there and boast about your best achievements, or talk freely about the ideas you may have. Instead you are most likely going to be asked a series of rigid questions, often not even related specifically to the role.
Oddest of all, the task isn’t to answer honestly and represent who you are. Instead the task is to pull something together, maybe from actual experiences, that represents a person you think they want you to be.
It’s a strangely awkward game of poker where everyone is nervous and rarely do anyone’s clothes fit properly. Although I may just be projecting because my suit jacket wouldn’t do up at my last interview.
So, what else can be done instead? Let’s take a look at some of the alternatives.
What better way to find out if someone is capable of doing a job than by getting them to actually do the job? Inviting someone in for a day, or a half-day for them to actually do some testing would give you far more information about the person’s abilities than asking them to describe a time they worked as part of a team.
Sit them down at a computer and ask them to do the thing they’d likely be spending most of their time doing should they get the job. Ask them to find bugs, write some automated checks, find security weaknesses, whatever. Just get them doing what they are trying to convey to you that they are good at.
My partner was auditioned for her current role and although nervous going in, she found it enlightening for both the company and herself. They got to work with her for a morning and could see first-hand her strengths and weaknesses, and she got to experience the work they would be expecting her to carry out and meet people she’d be working with.
If you can’t afford to pay them for the time they provide, it’s a nice gesture to, at the very least, pay for their travel expenses and maybe even buy them lunch to thank them for their time.
Turn the Tables on Yourself
Instead of plodding through a bunch of predefined questions you feel you should be asking, give the applicant control of the meeting. Invite them in, but allow them to dictate what happens in the hour. Don’t lead them, just let them work it out. I guarantee that you’ll learn more about what kind of person you’re dealing with if it’s them running the show. Maybe they will give you a presentation, maybe they will just want to chat about testing, or maybe you’ll get an hour-long interpretive dance representing their testing philosophies.
It takes the pressure off you slightly too, as you have less pre-interview prep to carry out. You may also learn things from the applicant that you wouldn’t have done through conventional means.
Give them a length of time and inform them of what resources will be available (projector, size of room, etc.) and just let them work it out. You can always ask a couple questions at the end if you need, but try to limit it to just two or three.
Trial by Combat
If there is one thing any software tester or test manager should know, it’s that if a task is repetitive, automate said task! Using an automated interview tool like Sonru removes the repetition, and also has the added benefit of removing other unnecessary anxieties that come with job interviews like finding the place, figuring out how to use the intercom, and wearing trousers.
This solution likely won’t be the only step in your recruitment process; however, it could save you a lot of time, especially if you consider how often you may find yourself 4 minutes into a job interview already knowing this person isn’t a good fit.
I had my first experience of this approach recently, and from the applicant’s side, and I really liked it. I was shown a question, given a set amount of time to think about my answer, and then was recorded giving my answer within another pre-defined time period. It was daunting at first but I loved that I could do it in my own time, from anywhere, and that I didn’t have to watch someone cringe when I gave a bad answer.
Just Talk to Them
No-one is themselves when sat in a meeting room being grilled. So just talk to them normally. And by normal, I mean sat in comfortable chairs, wearing clothes you both feel comfortable in (if in person), and talking like human beings. Talk about you, them, the company, testing as a whole, in fact, whatever you both enjoy talking about. If you don’t have much to talk about, you’ll probably not work that well together.
If it has to be face-to-face then make it somewhere comfortable, maybe even neutral like a café or a pub. If it doesn’t, then there is no harm having a few talks on the phone, or even over email or instant messaging. The important thing is to see how well you get on with them, and how well you are able to interact. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you’ll learn a lot from seeing how they go about disagreeing.
We are lucky to live in an age where communication is so easy, so let’s stop forcing people into one of the most awkward formats imaginable. Use your common sense and make an effort to continually improve how you do things. Try different formats or approaches and see which work for you.