#88 - Providing interview questions in advance
Plus: How new managers fail their team; Looking for leadership jobs
So, two final aspects of our recent hiring situation that I haven’t had room to mention earlier: we’re giving out interview questions ahead of time, and interacting with peer teams is still hard in this hybrid/remote world.
The first of the two is likely more surprising and/or controversial. We’ve changed a bit how we’re hiring, including sending out some key interview questions ahead of time. This was initiated by a team member, interviewing co-op students. I was initially pretty skeptical, until I attended the resulting interviews; the discussions were so much better, and went so much deeper, that I wanted to keep trying it. Our initial attempts with interns went well enough that we’ve hired our first contract staff member using this approach too (and sent a pretty detailed candidate packet).
This seems so far like it works particularly well for behavioural type questions, or questions of a similar type (“Tell me about your ‘favourite’ bug you found and had to fix”, etc). By them knowing the questions that are coming they’ve had time to come up with good initial answers and have them fresh in mind; then, the followup questions - where the real work of the interview is done anyway - comes much faster and so can go much deeper in the same amount of time. It also feels (on both sides, seemingly) much more like a conversation than an interrogation.
We’ve talked in the newsletter about how useful it is to be explicit ahead of time with the candidate about the interviewing and hiring process (e.g. #75, talking about candidate packets); now the discussion is, for each bit of the process, given what we want to accomplish, how detailed should the explicit information be. Obviously there are some kinds of technical assessment that can’t be done with full up-front disclosure, but even there we can be more detailed than we’ve been in the past.
We’re still early on in this process, especially for permanent staff, but the results seem to be really promising for interns; they are so far succeeding at least as well as those hired the old way, the acceptance rate appears to be markedly improved, and everyone seems happier with the interview process (although of course candidates - maybe even especially successful candidates - are unlikely to tell us our process is terrible). Doubtless we’ll find situations where it doesn’t work; I suspect in particular that for leadership positions where the responsibilities are more wide-ranging and assessment criteria are less clear, doing this would be difficult.
Second, while we’ve pretty much got our own internal team communications down in this new remote/hybrid world, interacting with peer teams is still an unsolved problem for us. We were caught off guard by one of our peer teams wanting the same student - this would have come up much earlier when we were all sharing a work space.
I think in general, most successful teams have got the hang of remote and hybrid communications now in situations where (a) people work closely together - within teams, or between very closely collaborating teams; and (b) people interact seldom - external collaborators, or resources at other institutions, where “reaching out” always took a fair bit of effort.
What seems like an unsolved problem for us is the in between state - people who would interact occasionally and with relatively little effort going into it. Peer teams working nearby; groups giving colloquia that we occasionally attend. For the peer teams we’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to set up some internal events to help maintain the communication flows, and that hasn’t worked so far. I could expand my peer one-on-ones, but that would make the managers a bottleneck (and often the right topics wouldn’t come up). We can’t all just chatter on the same slack - that’d become an unwieldy number of people. Something like an all-of-organization donut kind of thing could work, but it seems like a big ask of team members when most of the time nothing would come of it.
What do you think - have you tried sharing interview questions or other aspects of interviews ahead of time, or are concerned that it’s a terrible idea? Have you found something that does work for replacing what used to be occasional interactions in the workplace? Let me know, and if you give permission I’ll share with the readers.
But now that’s the last, I promise, of stuff about our co-op hiring mini fiasco. On to the roundup!
How New Managers Fail Individual Contributors - Camille Fournier
Fournier has coached a lot of managers, and she shares some common failure modes of new managers:
Doing all the technical design work yourself
Doing all the project management yourself - your team members will need to learn those skills as they advance
Neglecting to give feedback
Hoarding information - intentionally or unintentionally
Focussing on the their own output and not that of the team
How to write (actually) good job descriptions - Aline Lerner
In an incredibly tech hot job market, it’s hard to even attract the attention of candidates who would be amazing additions to our team. That can be helped with active recruiting; your other tool is your job ad. Lerner reminds us about writing good job ads:
Focus on attracting good matches
Have an “about us” section
Have an “About you & what you’ll do here” section - including specific and memorable descriptions of what they’ll do.
Managing Your Own Career
How to find engineering leadership roles - Will Larson
Larson describes how to look for lead-of-lead type roles (20+ computing staff) in his world (tech industry), but I think it applies in our world, too:
Hearing from peers - part of what I want to do starting with this newsletter is create a community of practice of RCT managers where this can more readily happen
From listings - Ditto! - although Larson suggests here trying to find a referral of some sort rather than just a cold apply
Search firms - pretty unlikely in our line of work
Crowd-sourced searches - basicaly hearing from a broader range of peers
Sharing that you’re looking online - which obviously has downsides
You can play Doom on all sorts of things now, but what medium would really be the best pairing to the mindlessly violent, nuance-free game….. Oh, of course. You can now play Doom via twitter.
The perl community wants you to know it’s not dead, yet.
An app store - from the 80s. That sold software on diskettes.