Interviews are part and parcel of the hiring process, and there are libraries filled with advice for hopeful jobseekers looking to ace their next interview. However, focusing on presenting your best self during an interview is no longer something that only applicants should worry about. To hire well, interviewers need to know how to interview well – what questions to ask; how to ask them effectively; and how to make a positive, lasting impression on interviewees.
This is because, ultimately, what happens in the interview room – and during your interview process – doesn’t only affect the applicant’s chances of being hired; it affects your chances of hiring too. On average, applicants will read six reviews of a company before forming an opinion about it – and, according to Glassdoor, 69% of jobseekers would not accept a job offer from a company that had a bad reputation.
For this Research Byte, we spoke to a range of technology professionals from five different verticals to find out what their most memorable interview experiences were and what made them stick out.
"One interview experience I had was particularly bad because the interviewer didn't seem to know what questions to ask. They were quizzing me about principles of OOP, but you wouldn't have known from the confusing way they framed the questions."
– Open Source Developer
Bad preparation on the part of the interviewer can lead to tricky situations like this. They may have been unprepared to carry on a line of questioning as the conversation organically progressed beyond their scripted questions, or perhaps lacked prepared questions at all and were unable to frame their inquiries in a way that was comprehensible to the applicant. Either way, the result is a confused interviewee who won’t put their best foot forward and may even leave feeling that the interviewing company didn’t know what they were talking about.
"It's a bit embarrassing, but I did once go into an interview and have my brain stall on me for a simple question that I should've been able to answer easily. It was a senior role, and I had prepared myself for all sorts of tough questions and more sophisticated tech... only for them to focus on the basics!"
– .NET Developer
"I had two interviews last year where I was told Node wasn't a part of the role… only to find out it was a requirement in both! It's very frustrating when things like that are miscommunicated – in the end, it just wastes both my time and the companies' time."
– Front-End Developer
Another symptom of a bad hiring process is when applicants are caught by surprise when faced with core requirements of the role. This shows that the brief given was either wrong or did not accurately reflect what the interview would cover. When the pre-interview preparation is done correctly, applicants should go into the interview knowing what to expect and which skills they’ll need to prove. The hirer’s job then is to check whether their experience or capabilities match the skillsets given – not to try and catch the applicant out with unexpected questions or last-minute stack requirements!
"The worst interview I had sticks out for me because the process was so long and drawn out, and the interviewers were so rude. Overall, I just got a really bad vibe from the whole process; it doesn't help that the feedback given after the process was minimal. It just left a really bad impression on me."
– Java Developer
"Bad ones usually stick in your memory. I remember one I had just after leaving university, for a graduate role. I got a real grilling from the interviewer, and it left me really demotivated and crushed for a long time after. I'll never forget that interview, or that company."
– Open Source Developer
As an interviewer, you are essentially the face of your company. As far as the applicant is concerned, how you act and treat them is representative of the company culture – which is why bad manners and hostile attitudes during interviews can be so detrimental to your company brand.
"The most recent role I applied for was not a nice experience – it was very intense. I was in front of three people, and the interview was very long with no breaks. They were asking questions like 'how would you handle someone yelling at you', and insinuating that I would HAVE to work late, regardless of the situation. They were also 30 minutes late, weren’t friendly, and didn’t offer a drink or do anything to make me feel welcome. It was just horrid."
– Product Manager
Leading on from the last point, you have to respect your applicant’s time. As much as you expect them not to be late, you must ensure that you – and anyone else involved in the interview – do not keep the applicant waiting. It’s also a red flag about your company culture, which could see that applicant run for the hills!
After all, the interview stage is essentially a period where you are courting the applicant, so any questions around their ability to sacrifice a work-life balance or withstand antisocial behaviour can be – and arguably should be – quite off-putting.
It's not all doom and gloom, though! Here are some of the things we heard about good interviews, and what made them so:
"I actually had a really good interview experience a couple of weeks back! The interviewer was really nice, and they made it a point to make me feel very welcomed – I was given a tour of the office, and everyone was really friendly. It really made them stand out for me as a company I'd want to work for."
– Front-End Developer
"The best interview I had barely felt like an interview after the initial basic questions! We got on really well, and I actually really enjoyed the pair programming session that we had. It gave me a really good feel for what it would be like working in the team."
– Open Source Developer
Greeting people and offering gestures such as a drink or a quick tour around the office are such small things, but they can have a huge impact on your employer brand. Done correctly, applicants should not only come out of the interview process already capable of imagining themselves as part of your team, but be actively looking forward to making that scenario a reality.
"In the last interview I had, I didn't have to do any tech test. We just spoke about previous projects that I'd done in depth, along with my specific contributions, the specific features I worked on, and a couple of the implementations that I did – and that was enough for them. I thought that was a really fresh approach to interviewing, and it definitely gave me the sense that the interviewers knew what to look for."
– Java Developer
Making applicants jump through countless hoops – such as by requiring multiple interview stages and technical tests – can be off-putting and may discourage them from applying for your role (or cause them to drop out or ghost you during that process). Whilst the tech industry has a bad reputation in this area, that can provide you with an opportunity to subvert expectations and leave the applicant pleasantly surprised
What all of this goes to show is that applicants do place a lot of stock in how they’re treated during interviews. In an industry characterised by a scarcity of talent and a growing number of roles, employers can no longer afford to leave their applicants’ experiences up to chance.
Our Head of People and Development, Daniel Wells, sums it up best:
“Ten years ago, the power of hiring rested with employers. It’s very different now. Tech professionals are in high demand, and they tend to have multiple roles on offer – so you’re not only fighting to find the right talent, but also to stand out among other companies looking to hire.
As a hirer, you need to be able to offer applicants a consistently good experience – one that ensures they can do the job you’re hiring for, but that also makes them excited and eager to join your team.
I guess you just need to ask yourself if you want to be known as an old-fashioned employer that tries to cling to old-school, hostile hiring, or if you want to be that dynamic company that every developer wants to work for.”
Proactively take control of the applicant experience & manage your employer brand
Whether or not you hire an applicant, you want them to leave feeling like your company would be a positive place to work in. Be sure to extend standard courtesies such as offering a drink, clearly outlining timeliness, and generally being well-prepared and friendly during interviews. You may also choose to give a brief tour of the workspace or facilities, to give them a taste of life in your office.
It’s important to manage your applicants’ experience post-interview too. If they do not quite make the cut, be sure to give them workable feedback that they can come back stronger with, as applicants consider responsiveness an important part of the rejection process. Remember, they’ve made time to go through the interview process with you, so be sure to make time to wrap it up properly.
Learn how to frame questions in a way that will encourage answers
During the interview, pose your questions in a way that encourages extensive answers and enables applicants to show themselves at their best. Probe for proof of skills and capabilities by asking questions such as, ‘tell us about a time when you…’ or ‘tell us how you would…’. If a question falls flat or an answer underperforms, try and rephrase it or come at the topic from a different angle; sometimes the way a question is asked can give an applicant the wrong idea of what they should be discussing. Again, your aim is to get as rounded and clear a picture of the applicant as possible!
Remember that interviews should not pit you against the applicant
Many old-school interviewers make the mistake of treating the interview as a battleground between them and the potential hire, trying to psych out applicants to test their nerve, or trying to catch the applicant out with sly questions.
Doing this doesn’t help. You want the applicant to feel relaxed and interested in your company. Employing hostile interviewing techniques does the opposite, turning applicants away and hurting your employer brand.