Lets be honest. It is hard to justify the time needed to interview people. It can be really hard to motivate yourself to interview potential new hires when project deadlines are looming. It is perfectly fair to ask yourself, “what’s in it for me?” I think there is a payoff for time spent on hiring. Here are my top five selfish reasons to spend time interviewing candidates.
#1 – Become a leader
You can choose your colleagues or you can have them chosen for you. If you would rather ‘light a candle than curse the darkness’ then get involved in the hiring process. Wouldn’t it be great to choose amazing understudies who will keep you sharp or superstar experts you could tap for great insights? Of course you’ll make hiring mistakes, but at least they’ll be your mistakes and hopefully you’ll learn from mis-hires and avoid a repeat visit.
Many junior engineers I talk to are afraid that they’re not qualified to interview people. Unfortunately there is no certification for interviews, you just have to accept the discomfort and get started. For example, you don’t need to be a CCIE to interview a CCIE. It would be nice to match the candidate’s skills, but “teach-me” questions are perfectly fine. You can be perfectly honest and say, “I’m not an expert on MPLS, can you teach me the basics of MPLS and L3VPNs?”. If they can’t make a reasonable attempt or seem unwilling to teach you, you can be confident that candidate would be a poor senior engineer.
#2 – Improve communications skills
The interview process really highlights how hard it can be to communicate effectively. When you interview on a regular basis you really learn how speak clearly, make eye contact, control, guide, challenge, explain, apologize, offer consolation etc. You learn how to quickly determine a candidate’s communication style and how to adapt quickly to their style.
You will also learn a huge amount about your own style. I have gradually adapted my communication and interview style over hundreds of interviews. Creating strong interview questions is an art, and you will get it wrong often. This is part of the process and you will learn from it.
#3 – Learn humility
You learn to spot patterns in your questions and reflect on them. When too many candidates can’t answer your opening ‘easy’ question then you have to accept that you’ve messed up. You need to ask a better question. Sometimes you create confusion with your language or syntax. You have to be humble and realise that you’ve explained your question badly. I can spot this quickly now and will say, “I’m sorry, I’ve done a bad job of explaining this question, lets move on.”
Of course the fun starts with the factual debates where the candidate replies, “you’re wrong, it’s X’. I’ll leave this one up to you but my standard response is, “I’m not sure I agree, can you explain a little more about your reasoning”. The response often clarifies where the fault lies and I’m prepared to admit it when I’m wrong. If the candidate persists, I’ll agree to differ and say “let’s move on, I’ll double-check my facts after the interview”. Note: I still expect the candidate to be sensible and not try to ‘defeat’ the interviewer. Being humble allows you to learn and can really increase rapport in an interview.
#4 – Improve technical skills
You can learn from your mistakes during the interview, but you can learn more from a candidates answers. I often ask a candidate to explain a recent design, similar to Ethan Banks’ draw a diagram question. The candidates will come from a huge variety of backgrounds, and will have new and unique requirements and designs. Every time someone steps up to the whiteboard you learn something new.
Sometimes, you’ll have to brush up on your skills prior to the interview. I do this to ensure I’m asking fair questions and also to go deeper on a topic with someone I expect to know a topic better than I do. This preparation process keeps me sharp and ensures that I exercise knowledge that would otherwise have atrophied. Note: Please don’t read a book and then immediately beat up a candidate because they haven’t just read the same five paragraphs as you.
#5 – Learn about the industry
I told you this was a selfish list. Most employees volunteer crazy amounts of information about their current employer. You most certainly should not share that information with anyone else. Please do not disclose private information. But, no matter how many times I say “I don’t want you to identify customers or companies”, I still hear a lot. The fact is that I cannot un-hear what I have heard. Why am I interviewing so many candidate from that major vendor I thought was awesome… hrrm? You will learn a huge amount from information volunteered to you by the candidate.
Be sure to place appropriate weight on this type of feedback. It’s just like browsing through Expedia, If you read enough you’ll eventually come to the conclusion that everything is crap. Then you’ll realise that some people are just unhappy and there’s no such thing as the perfect employer, employee or integrator.
I hope I’ve put forward some good reasons to get involved – you will learn loads about leadership, communication, humility, tech and the industry in general. The next time a volunteer is needed to interview, step forward and grasp the opportunity.
Are there other benefits I’ve missed, or points you don’t agree with? Please let me know in the comments.