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Creating an Effective Developer Interview Process

Lesson 9 of 16

Self-Description Questions & Recommendations

Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Creating an Effective Developer Interview Process

Gayle Laakmann McDowell

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Lesson Info

9. Self-Description Questions & Recommendations

Lesson Info

Self-Description Questions & Recommendations

So third type is the question is what I call self descriptions. These are kind of where I'm lumping a lot of the cheesy questions and strengths and weaknesses. How do your teammates describe you? You know, what would your don't ask This, I think, is actually legal issue to with half. Unless, like, how would your roommates describe you? Don't ask that, uh, stuff like that, do you? Before the work. It's a you know, in a team or independently. All those kind of like cheesy things or something, just like asked, reflect on themselves. I have some pretty major concerns about these kind of questions. I think that they reflect poorly and companies, and you can argue that they're actually good questions. But can it's often don't like them. They feel like they're lazy questions that Ah, yeah, I can just walk away feeling feeling not great about these questions. Only so proceed with a lot of caution if you start going down this road. So the only reason actually, why I don't like these questions i...

s that I spend a lot of time coaching counts. So one of things I've seen is that the more that I can coating. So the look of the coaching side of my work and the like hiring stuff go hand in hand. Let the kind of opposites so the more than I can coach somebody to shift the performance of their their on certain types of questions. The worst, that is, is an interview question, because now you're looking for Was somebody coach not where you're evaluating? Ultimately, what was someone coach? Not Are they good on what I've seen? A lot of self descriptions that they're hugely, hugely coachable. So again, proceed with caution. That said, You know, I don't think strengths is the worst thing to ask. You know, it's I don't think it's amazing question. I don't think it's terrible. It is kind of coachable, but you'll usually get some sort of interest information out of it. Just don't don't set too high expectations that something was really, really gonna give you their top three strengths. They'll probably give you things that they are recently good at. Uh, you know, but evidently is pretty honest, gets decent information one of the ways I before to ask it. Rather than asking telling about your strengths, which is a bit cheesy, and it sounds like that very can question is asking, like what kind of attributes has helped make you more effective as a developer. So it's sent to getting out strength but frames in a little bit different way that also, I think, makes it in some ways clear what you're looking at. For eso. One concern with strength is that people don't know if is it. Is Java a strength like it's really hard to say. Like, I would argue that when someone asked about strengths they're asking about, I'm a You know, very. I'm a listener. I'm a risk taker. I'm hierarchy. People tend to be asking this kind stuff, but is a skill of strength. It's unclear so asking things like, You know what kind of activity or skills you can frame in the way that gets at more clearly the kind of information you're really looking for. But again, you know, people always thinks it's a little bit cheesy. Weaknesses is the one that I don't like, so people are very I want to like this question like I actually I am very sympathetic to the argument off like it matters. What accounts weaknesses are and you want to know that the candidate is aware of the weaknesses and can deal with them. And I totally agree with that. And I really, really wish this question were that. But I coach people on this all the time. People are picking the weaknesses that they think are fitting that sweet spot between, you know, not a you know something it's like can justify evil, justifiably be a weakness but doesn't actually look bad. People are picking the thing that makes him look good. They look the best. They're not giving the honest answers. Um, and people really don't like this question. It's, you know, they know that encourages dishonesty. They know that it's kind of cheesy, but additionally, it's it kind of sours and a few You start asking too many questions about weaknesses and failures and mistakes. People talk all about the bad stuff, and they could even feel like that was unfair them because they just got us about all the stuff I did wrong. So just sours interviewed a little way. So again, I really, really wish weaknesses was an effective question, because I do think it's useful. But the responses are not actually end up getting getting, getting you the kind of information you want. Okay, so some recommendations here, one they are going with behavior questions is try to stay more technical. When you talk about hiring software engineers try to have a lot more project questions about, you know, straight. No. For hardest project. Go to the white board, diagram this thing, keep it more technical. Rather than asking a whole bunch of developers to tell you about conflicts and things like that. I just think you're gonna get more relevant information. Ah, you go into a lot of details about the tradeoffs, the key decisions they made, why they made things. Why did they talk with these technologies? What other things did they get? You'll actually get, I think much better data about them and make sure when you're doing this that you really you can focus your really drawing out their personal accomplishments. We have a team project. It's very easy for people to attribute things their team in the way that the language we use when it's actually really about what they themselves did. Make sure you're really drawing out their own personal things and then also a lot of fun follow ups here and talk about how do you scale this system? Some point that. So I think they're kind of like my favorite questions, but you can ask mother of questions as well. I just say, Stay largely technical, not inclusively necessarily, but largely probe deeper. Be really nice and and friendly tassel this fall. Questions on Challenge Your assumptions. If you thought this candid is not somebody who moves quickly, why why did you think that if you thought that they were too quiet? Why what exactly made you feel like they can't defend a decision that decisions that they made not so really challenge those assumptions? And then this should be also a part of every interview. So, yes, you should have probably have some person who's really going to spend a lot having behavioral questions. But it should be something every interviewer does. You don't know I had this years ago when I was interviewing for Microsoft, literally walking, you know, I'm a candidate. Ah, walking to the interviewer's office, she introduces herself and then immediately throws out a technical question. Really not a good experience really is just those off gannets behavior questions should be in every part interview. It just, you know, every every part not, you know, 20 minutes behaviour stuff. But a few minutes warming up as also gets that little checks and balances thing. So make it part of every single interview. Okay, I'm so yeah, questions. I read in a couple places that there's sort of a philosophy where if the candidate is doing most of the talking, then something's probably gone wrong, either. From a perspective of ah, you're not asking the questions that you need to know about their responses or because if you just sort of let them go off and continue to ask questions on a microphone and you don't get a chance to response, I'm saying things that might not be valuable to you. So, you know, I think directionally I grew with that, that the more questions, the more talking candidate does that if it certainly gets to extremes, then I agree that it's you're not getting at. You might just let that be, like in the candid talk for ever. Never, ever agree that directionally, I wouldn't say actually like the 50% mark, right? I think of its 90 present the counted talking then you might not be getting. You may not be driving the discussion the right way, but it's just a general rule of thumb. I also think you want toe read the candidate and figure out what is more effective for them if they are actually giving you the information you want. And they haven't been doing 90% talking fine. Realistically, most cancers are not that good at being an intern at interviewing that you're gonna want to give him a little more direction. Cool. Well, Gil, we have some time now if we want to do, Ah, mock interview. We can. So I know we have some eager volunteers who want to get up on stage and be part of this. All right, so my just to kind of practice, uh, we have our interviewer encountered, picked out The candidate was told to not really be an awesome candidate. So, you know, you're so now you see them interviewing. Don't judge them for that. They're actually told to maybe not do things in the greatest way. Great. All right, well, make sure they're all set up And Gail while while the people are up here. You can feel free to take one of their seats as they go through the interview process. Hi, I'm Ellen. Hi. Nice to meet you. Stephen, can you tell me about a time that you worked on a project? Sure. We worked on this huge project that really touched a lot of aspects of our product. My team did a great job with just communicating across the company how those changes were gonna be made. And we kind of a team broke that up into different segments and work through that together. Okay. Can you be a little bit more specific, please? Yeah, sure. So the team gather the requirements, and then we basically split that up into three separate chunks of work, and then we slowly knocked off each one together. OK, um but what was your role? That led Teoh the This project success definitely says a part of love. The early design discussions on and then we basically broke that up into a trance of work on. Then together, we sort of figured out how we're gonna distribute that amongst ourselves and just worked on that. Okay, I'm hearing a lot about these chunks of work. But again, I'm not really getting any specifics. Yeah, What that entailed is in our to experience, we would just work on these pieces of work with that until this looking at the design and just seeing what that translated to into code for that week or for the two weeks. Okay. And what was the result of this project? Yeah, I think it was pretty successful. I think we broke up. What was a huge chunk of work into more manageable pieces? Okay, Um, what skills? What three skills would you say you contributed to this project? Sure. Um, I think just from earlier projects, I was able to see what work within work for larger and medium size his work, and then just contribute my my thoughts on that and how to make the successful. Okay. Thank you. All right, well done, interviewer. Candidate. We're not hired. Terrible. Okay, So what did we think? What we see going on there? The candidates certainly didn't get specific and up. Yeah, yeah, I mean, I can It was obviously not not articulating. Right? You know, I'm not sure how early on your nose, but it is very first thing was like, Oh, we did this. We did this. We do this, We do this and wasn't just He wasn't saying what exactly was happening, but it was. Even if he gave more civic details, it wouldn't have been clear. What was his role and what the rest of the team was doing as an interview did a great job. They're kind to really push back and drill in, and you respond to the fact that can it wasn't giving her the information she needed on what I really liked. I liked how you followed up. You kind of tried a bunch of different times. You're trying to be nice and a little push here and saying like, Oh, this is an issue, right? And I think that's appropriate, right? You want Teoh. You want candidates to feel comfortable. You don't want attack them off the back. But at some point, if the camp isn't sort of catching on to like you're being really big, um, you do want to sometimes say like him hearing a lot of weak. Can I hear more about your own role? God, I also like how you follow up with saying, OK, what you can try a different tactic. And that was really, really nice. You're like, OK, we try this other thing. What skills did you develop? I think that was That was a good way of saying, All right, I'm gonna back off here because if you keep if you keep pushing on the candidate, they can just get nervous, backed off a little and tried a different approach. I think that was I think that was a really great approach. So I think we're, um, protracted with behavior questions, a couple of questions that came in while we were doing this. And I guess I'll preface is 1st 1 by saying this is not reflective of our interviews that were just happening up there. You guys did a great job. But soon, Opal, I posted this question and want to know what is the best way to interrupt a candidate when their answers are way more elaborate than what you asked for without coming off as rude. So I think best way is to do with a smile. Okay. I think you can be a little bit and part. You have to have a sense of your own personality and how you come off to people if you come off as stern, you want Teoh be very going to be extra careful fatness, but interact with a smile What they can do, it can kind of say, and then like So you're about to interrupt and then let them kind of stop, and then hopefully they'll stop it. You could then proceed to interrupt them a little more clearly. Um, you have to do with a smile, Uh, and you can you much like our interview here did call it out a little bit that there's this issue orders to say, You know, you can take the personal responsibility a little, too, and say it might have might have been clear. This pulls up a little later and give it pulled up a level and give a higher level explanation and take that kind of personal responsibility. Great. We have another question here, and I know you gave some great tips on behavioral questions, but this one is still getting a number of votes. So maybe it's a good way to kind of wrap up this segment, but originally was posted by John Lark and he says, How do you do the best behavioral interviews possible, and specifically, we've had a lot of candidates tell us that our behavioral just weren't as good as they could be. I think it's something that a lot of companies struggle with and getting that feedback, any final thoughts as we wrap up this segment about take aways how you can make those better right away. So I think when can it say you know it wasn't good they could have been. What that's often there is that without often say that they felt like the interviewers either reading off a list of questions. And that's dont motivating and also doesn't respond well to the cannons experience. It's also often the candidates saying their stuff. I want to talk about that. You didn't give me. I didn't really get a chance to talk about. Generally speaking, I find developers tend to much more, much, much more highly performing, talking about a project they've worked on and really going into a lot of detail there. Then you getting asked conflicts and leadership things like that, so stay more technical and just dive into a lot of details. Get the candidate up on the white board and make it clear to the candidate that you that they should be up on the white board and actually start diagramming the systems and this and that that they felt I really just go into a lot of detail there.

Class Description

In this workshop led by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, former Google software engineer, interviewer and the author of the bestselling book Cracking the Coding Interview, you'll be hands-on, covering all the specifics you'll need to know about coding interviews. It will start with an overview of the hiring process and dive into more detail about types of interview questions (behavioral, knowledge, algorithms/coding, and design). You will learn how to create a hiring process that is efficient, sets a high and consistent bar, and attracts strong candidates.

Although sections of the workshop will be highly technical, non-technical people are encouraged to attend. You will learn:

  • Differences between assessing senior candidates and junior candidates
  • The goals and limitations of technology-specific questions
  • Selecting and asking appropriate algorithm questions
  • Mechanisms to evaluate coding skills, including whiteboards, laptops and code assessment tools
This class is your comprehensive guide to hiring the right developer for your company. 

In Partnership with Greylock Partners 



What an awesome opportunity to learn from one of the best on the topic! This course has value for anyone who's looking to hire or work with technical talent! I've attended tons of talent conferences and this course succinctly and tactically address how to effectively interview engineers. Highly recommended.

Kevin Scott

Terrific class with unique eye opening content. This class applies for any Dev. hiring team, whether startups or large, established companies. I recommend this training tool to anyone wanting to help others improve their own interviewing skill set and build dynamic hiring processes / plans.


This class was exactly as billed - I received in depth knowledge of how to create great developer interviews. Gayle was very organized and presented her info in a dynamic, inter-active environment. It was really great to be part of the studio audience.