Finding Technical Talent: Candidate Experience and Interviews

Finding Technical Talent: Candidate Experience and Interviews
Candidate experience 2017

In Part 1 of our finding technical talent series, we introduced you to the concepts of hiring roadmaps and intake meetings — foundational elements to help you build out your new role, understand who would be a good fit for it, and strategize how you’ll attract applicants to apply. 

In Part 2, we covered what sourcing is, when you should consider sourcing external candidates for your hiring process, and how to conduct effective reach outs — important processes to ensure you’re bringing the best people into your recruiting process. 

Now, in our final chapter, we’ll walk you through:

  • Candidate experience — The little things you can do to make the hiring process mutually beneficial for both you, and your candidates.
  • Interviewing 101 — How to conduct impactful interviews that allow you to identify the best candidate for your open position.
  • Offers and rejections — Techniques and tips for giving candidates offers, and how to let other candidates down gently with thoughtful, constructive rejections.

What is candidate experience?

Candidate experience 2017: What is candidate experience
When someone is interviewing for your business, you want to make sure they have the best experience possible — from start to finish.

Let’s pick up where we left off in Part 2.

You’re about halfway through your hiring process, and you’ve probably received a healthy amount of applicants from your job posting, or you’ve used sourcing to reach out to a number of qualified candidates who are interested in the position.

But before you go ahead and start scheduling interviews, have you considered how you’ll make the interviewing process mutually beneficial (and pleasant) for both your team, and the candidates in question?

Have you considered how you’ll make the interviewing process mutually beneficial (and pleasant) for both your team, and the candidates in question?

After all, providing a positive candidate experience is an integral part of building lasting relationships with your candidates — and building a great reputation for your recruiting efforts within your industry. 

However, it’s not like businesses intentionally try to create bad experiences for candidates. Sometimes, it just happens. Put yourself in your candidate's shoes, and think of the small, unintentional actions that could leave a sour taste in your mouth during a hiring process:

  • The recruiter doesn’t get back to you — You had an interview that you thought went well, then you never heard back from the recruiter (even if you’re no longer in the running for a specific role). 
  • You feel rushed and unheard during the interview — You were invited to discuss a job opportunity further, but the recruiter was in such a hurry that the entire experience felt rushed — like you were being interrogated instead of interviewed.
  • You never got the opportunity to improve — You had a not-so-great interview, but your recruiter didn’t even provide you with actionable feedback that you could use to make your application stronger in the future.

Regardless of where you are in the interview process, one negative experience with a business can make or break your interest in further pursuing a career with them. And the candidates in your interview process will feel the same way if you don’t curate the best possible experience for them.

You might also like: What Brings All the Devs to the Yard? How to Find the Best Technical Talent for Your Agency.

Candidate experience and interviewing

Despite what you might think, creating a great candidate experience can be quite easy — you just need to be more thoughtful, and attentive, during each interaction you have with someone applying to work for your business.

Keep the following five considerations in mind throughout your hiring process, and your interview process, and you’re guaranteed to provide a pleasant, mutually beneficial experience for your candidates:

1. Set realistic expectations

If you’re going to reach out to everyone, regardless of whether you’re bringing them in for an interview or not, make sure to mention that in your job description.

Or, if you’re only going to approach qualified candidates, make sure to mention that, too.

By setting realistic expectations, and reinforcing these expectations throughout the interview process, you can influence whether or not a candidate will be upset if they don’t hear from you, or understand that it’s just a part of the hiring process.

2. Interviews aren’t barbecues, so don’t grill your candidates

The interview process isn’t your opportunity to back a candidate into a corner to get the information you’re interested in hearing. Instead, try having a casual conversation and set the standard that you’re just trying to learn from them.

The interview process isn’t your opportunity to back a candidate into a corner to get the information you’re interested in hearing. Instead, try having a casual conversation and set the standard that you’re just trying to learn from them.

When the opportunity arises, ask relevant questions — it’ll make the candidate feel more comfortable, and you’re more likely to find the answers you’re looking for when someone is relaxed, as opposed to on-guard.

3. Pay attention to your own behavior

Are you sitting with your arms crossed over your chest? Are you paying attention? Are you actively listening? Are you using a friendly, engaging tone of voice? Candidates can pick up on nonverbal behaviors, identify when you’re not listening, and determine whether or not you’re interested in what they have to say.

To create the best interviewing experience for your candidates, make sure you’re fully engaged in the conversation. Someone has taken the time out of their day to come in for an interview — the least you can do is be physically, mentally, and emotionally present for it.

4. Be timely and considerate

Whether you’re screening candidates, booking next steps, or sending out rejection notices, it’s important that you contact a candidate within a reasonable amount of time — you don’t want them to think you’ve disappeared, or even worse: that you’ve forgotten about them.

Build out email templates for all of your outreach efforts — text expanders are your best friend, and will make a big difference in the overall candidate experience you provide throughout your hiring process.

5. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated

Job hunting is a tough process, especially if a candidate is between positions — be considerate, and treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated. This will help you keep a down-to-earth perspective during all your interviews, and allow you to better connect with your candidates.

Interviewing 101

Candidate experience 2017: Interviewing 101
When trying to find the best technical talent for your business, it’s important to employ the right interviewing tactic.

Now that we’ve covered the importance of candidate experience, and how you can create a mutually beneficial interviewing process for your candidates — it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of interviewing. That is, what type of interviews you should conduct and what information you’re likely to pull from each.

Remember how, during your intake meeting, you made a list of skills that are required, and a list of skills that are nice to have? You should be measuring your candidates up against these skills throughout your interviewing process.

In order to find the best technical talent for your business, you should consider employing one of the four following interview styles:

  • Technical deep dives
  • Portfolio reviews
  • Paired programming
  • Problem solving

We’ll explain each one in further detail to ensure that your interviews are as productive as possible.

1. Technical deep dives

Choose your own topic, or pick one from your candidate’s previous work experience, and try to learn as much as you can about it throughout the interview. If, for example, you’ve gone through their work history and see that they’re an expert in a specific area of design — start with broad questions around the topic, then continue to ask open ended questions like, “how did you do that?” or “why did you choose to make that decision?”

You and the candidate will continue this back-and-forth until you stop learning — or until they can’t dive any deeper on the topic. Make it a fun game, and see if they truly understand their craft and can identify their personal limitations. The entire point of a technical deep dive is to see if the candidate can take a really complex problem, and simplify it to a point where anyone can understand it. This is really important because if you end up hiring them, you want to make sure that they're able to reiterate the problems, and solutions, to the rest of the team in a way that everyone can understand.

The entire point of a technical deep dive is to see if the candidate can take a really complex problem, and simplify it to a point where anyone can understand it.

Technical deep dives are a great way to identify thought leaders, especially if you’re looking for someone to bring an innovating mindset to your company, or to take a project to the next level. However, in order to build your team and ensure you have the best technical talent around, you’ll probably want to interview candidates who know more about a particular topic then you do. So, to make technical deep dives as effective as possible, it’s important that you check your biases at the door — that is, open up your mind to a new way of doing things, or looking at a problem.

2. Portfolio reviews 

If you’re looking for a new designer, conducting a portfolio review is a great way to see if they’d made a great fit for your team. Ask the candidate to bring in a range of design work — if you’re looking for a specific type of designer, like someone who will be working with product, or dabbling a little more in UX, encourage them to bring pieces that speak to their ability in those specific areas. 

If you’re looking to fill a very niche role, however, there may not be anyone out there with the type of experience you’re looking for. This is when you could ask a candidate to perform a certain task that aligns well with the job functionalities of the position you’re hiring for.

During a portfolio review, you want to see that the candidate has good range — that they’re not doing the same types of projects over and over again. Like a technical deep dive, you’ll want to ask prompting questions like, “why did you take this approach to that problem?” or “if you could go back and do things differently, how would you tackle this problem?”

During a portfolio review, you want to see that the candidate has good range — that they’re not doing the same types of projects over and over again.

The point of a portfolio review is to get the candidate to think critically about their work, and prove that they have the ability to communicate complex problems and solutions. Dig deep into what they were responsible for on specific projects, and what impact they had — as we mentioned in Part 1 of our finding technical talent series, if someone had an impact in their previous position, they’re likely to continue the pattern in their next role, too.

3. Paired programming 

You’d typically conduct a paired programming interview if you want to walk a candidate through a real-world problem, and test their competency in a particular area — it’s especially great if you have a team project that you’re stuck on, or want to see how a candidate works within your team’s existing framework.

These interviews are usually between 60-90 minutes long, and allow you to gauge how confident the candidate is in their front-end/backend development skills. You want to see if the person you’re considering hiring can talk through their experience with you while you build something together.

Going back to candidate experience, allow your interviewee to use whichever development environment makes them the most comfortable — this will make them shine, as opposed to having to familiarize themselves with a tool they may not be used to using. Remember, if someone has the fundamental skills, they can easily pick up your business' tools and workflows.

4. Problem solving

If paired programming isn’t a viable option for you during your interviewing process, solving a problem on a whiteboard is the next best thing. Combining both aspects of paired programming and a technical deep dive, you’ll provide the candidate with a problem that they’ll then have to solve.

The point of this type of interview is to see if the candidate can break down a problem to its core elements, and provide the most simple answer. Like with technical deep dives, you’ll have to check your bias at the door — because you’ll want someone for your business that isn’t afraid to think outside of the box and solve the problem in a unique way.

The point of this type of interview is to see if the candidate can break down a problem to its core elements, and provide the most simple answer.

Lastly, when problem solving, you want to make sure the candidate can provide a well-rounded solution, and that they understand the limitations of it. You can even take the interview a step further and ask them how their limitations could possibly affect projects and solutions outside of the one they’re currently solving for, to see if they have the ability to think for the long term.

You might also like: What Keeps All the Devs in Your Yard? How to Retain Technical Talent for Your Agency.

Continuing the candidate experience: providing feedback

Like we mentioned earlier in this article, one of the experiences that could leave a sour taste in a candidate's mouth during your interview process is the lack of feedback. Without feedback, a candidate that’s not selected to move forward in your hiring process may not understand why they didn’t get the position — and think the decision is unfair, or unfounded.

Like we mentioned earlier in this article, one of the experiences that could leave a sour taste in a candidate's mouth during your interview process is the lack of feedback.

 However, if you provide useful, constructive feedback — like telling the candidate which skills they’re lacking, or what type of experience they’re missing — they could work towards addressing it, and potentially reapplying for another position with your business down the line.

Feedback is also a great tool if you end up in a scenario where there are two great candidates for a position, but you only have the financial bandwidth to hire one of them.

Because, let’s be honest, these types of rejections are the most painful.

To soften the blow, tell the candidate you won’t be moving forward with them, but that you’ll keep in touch, and that you went with someone who better aligns with your business’ needs. At this point, you may have even developed a relationship with this candidate given how many interviews you’ve had with them.

Provide the candidate with some feedback that they can use to improve their portfolio, expertise, etc., so that they’re an even stronger contender the next time they apply for a position with your organization. Make sure to give them the best candidate experience that you can, because every interaction you have with them reflects on your business as a whole, and they’re likely going to tell their friends, and professional network, what their experience was like. 

Provide the candidate with some feedback that they can use to improve their portfolio, expertise, etc., so that they’re an even stronger contender the next time they apply for a position with your organization.

And you really don’t want to have a reputation for giving an awful interview experience.

Offers

Candidate experience 2017: Job offers
Hiring someone new for your company can be very exciting, but you want to make sure you have everything sorted out before you formally extend an offer.

This is the exciting part of the hiring process for both you and the candidate — hopefully, by this point, they’re already sold on the opportunity and excited to get started with your business.

Sometime during the last interview, the recruiter/hiring manager should have inquired about the candidate’s current level of compensation, and/or what they’re expecting to earn with your business. The earlier you can establish what this number looks like, the higher the probability that you can avoid negotiating during the offer phase. 

From here, you can start to build an offer.

When you present the offer to the candidate, make sure you explain everything: working hours, communications tools, perks and benefits (if you have them), payment structure, salary, and personal/professional growth opportunities. 

Next, you can start formulating an onboarding plan — understanding who your new hire will shadow when they start, how’ll they’ll be trained, etc. Going back to the intake meeting, and understanding the structure of your business, will help you determine how these processes roll out in the future.

Do you have handover documents? Do you have plans to have them created? What does that look like. It’s great when companies take the time to explain what their onboarding plan looks like, so that everyone at your business is aligned, and knows what to expect, when the new hire shows up on their first day.

Additional resources

You might also like: How We're Scaling From 10 to 25 Employees in 7 Months.

Rejections

Remember, just because you found someone to fill your position, doesn’t mean your hiring process is completely over. You’ll still have to tell the other candidates that, unfortunately, you won’t be going with them. 

To even the most seasoned candidate, rejections are hard — and letting the candidate know that you haven’t chosen them can be even more difficult. You want to give someone the best experience that you can, but sometimes there’s no way to lighten up disappointing news.

If someone has taken more than an hour of their time to either meet with you in person, or have gone through a couple rounds of interviews — call them. Give them constructive feedback, as we mentioned earlier in the article, and let them know that they’re welcome to apply to any open position in the future.

If someone has taken more than an hour of their time to either meet with you in person, or have gone through a couple rounds of interviews — call them.

For the best candidate experience, you should get back to everyone that applies for a position with your business. They took the effort to apply, and it’s best to not leave them in limbo.

 Additional resources

Completing the hiring process 🏁

In this series, we covered how to:

  • Track your growth and figure out when it’s time to add another team member.
  • Run productive intake meetings to build out the context and requirements of your new role.
  • Source candidates using a variety of free and paid tools.
  • Reach out to candidates in a productive, personalized way.
  • Create great candidate experiences.
  • Conduct impactful interviews.
  • Handle candidate offers and rejections.

We hope that whether you’re taking the first step to hiring a new employee, or looking to improve your existing hiring process, that you found these resources helpful.

Are there any other areas of hiring that you’re interested in learning more about? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author

Sara is a Content Marketer with the Shopify Partner Program. If she isn’t trying to wrap her mind around the expansiveness of the universe, you can find her catching-up on the latest web design & UX news. Oh, and reality television. She likes that a lot.

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