How I interview and like to be interviewed

A decade has passed and I have experienced hundreds of interviews, some as an interviewer and some as an interviewee. There are both pleasant and horrific memories!

A basic understanding of English allows one to interpret the literal meaning of interview. It is a mutual exchange of views. It all starts with a shoddy copy paste job description from a template job description for product manager, a template job description for full stack developer, a template job description for data scientist, so-on and so forth. This is already a step gone wrong. Then, there are some hiring managers who put their heart and mind in creating a job description that clearly states the specific requirements for that role. This role requirement does not happen in a silo. The hiring is happening for a purpose. The hired person will have to play a role and contribute to a particular part or all parts of the product roadmap, if you are hiring for a product manager. What is the emphasis that you must provide on leadership skills if the role has ten members reporting versus none reporting (individual contributor)?

Once the job description is out, candidates are being sourced through various channels. There will be some lucky folks whose resume will be blessed by the almighty ATS (Applicant Tracking System). The human resources team usually does a first round of screening and then surfaces only certain high potential candidates to the hiring manager. The hiring manager now selects some for the interview.

This article is about what I feel are best practices for the interview.

Be on time. This applies both to the interviewer and the interviewee. As an interviewee, I have always made it a point to be four to five minutes earlier in the virtual meeting room. For an on site interview, this depends on the distance between your location and the office location, transport options, etc. Again, being an interviewer does not place one on a high pedestal. The interviewer must also be on time.

Things happen. For some reason, if one cannot make it to the interview on time, reach out to the other person and inform. The other person will understand and if he or she does not, then probably there is already a misfit.

A humane interviewer will make the interviewee comfortable with a smile, uses a soft tone of voice, greets with a greeting, engages in some informal talk about the weather or some other event, etc. Note that the interviewer was also an interviewee at some point of time in his or her career.

I hate the first question to be ‘Tell me about yourself’. You have gone through my resume and you already know a bit about me. The interviewer must make some efforts to first lay down the expectations about the structure of the interview and ideally the time limits also, because interviews are time boxed events. Once the structure is laid down, it is also a nice courtesy to ask if it sounds good for the interviewee and if the interviewee has any questions.

I usually like the following structure in general. There can be exceptions

  • Reiterate the job description
  • Add some context about why this hiring is taking place
  • Pick questions that intersect between the skills mentioned in the resume and what is needed by the role
  • Ask scenario based questions; follow up with what-if questions if relevant and needed
  • Assess team player personality and personality in general
  • Try to add some discomfort and see how the interviewee responds
  • Provide logistic information like range of compensation, work culture, relocation, etc.
  • Provide a timeline for next steps – what can be expected by when

Questions can start with something like ‘I see that you have this skill or this accomplishment’. Can you tell me more about that? Once you get an answer, you can then add something from the role expectation. This role requires this skill in this context. What will you do when you are faced with this situation? Throw in a scenario. You can see how the conversation can seamlessly flow from a statement in the resume to a scenario.

I also have come across many situations as an interviewee when out of the blue, the interviewer asks the question ‘Tell me about a time……’. I hate these kind of questions and have made up my mind that I will humbly ask the interviewer not to ask such questions. As part of interview preparation, I can make some notes and prepare for such questions in advance. Add some exaggerated statements, etc. But, does one need to ‘prepare’ for an interview? You can revise some concepts, brush up some of your knowledge, etc. The problem with ‘Tell me about a time….’ for me is that it is difficult to recollect details and this already kind of diverts my focus and energy on recollecting. The interview is already de-railed. Also, I cannot divulge details that are necessary to give enough meaning by virtue of some ethical considerations about previous employers, non disclosure agreements, severance agreements, intellectual property protection agreements, etc.

I like scenario based questions the most as there is a genuine attempt to simulate the conditions at work and assess the interviewee’s response. There can also be other kinds of hands on assessments. In one of my interviews, I was being given a scenario and asked to write a user story and acceptance criteria. As an interviewee, one must always ask questions if the scenario does not provide enough information. This can also be a stealth assessment that the interviewer can plan by not providing some information on purpose. The expectation here is the interviewee will ask relevant questions needed to complete the task.

In the end, exchange greetings. Thank each other and hope that the interviewer or someone gets back to you either with a positive or a negative response. For me, it does not hurt as much when the result is negative as when there is no response. No response is a response only on dating sites!

I have had some horrific experiences where interviewers with big titles and very high academic credentials mentioned that they will get back by so and so date and never got back. I am now mentally prepared that some people usually do not mean what they say. Pray that you did not end up in such an organization where communication courtesies are at such a low and carry on with your life.

Whether you are an interviewee or an interviewer, please note one thing. Be a good human being! Jobs come and go. Being nice does not cost much.

About guptasudhir

Sudhir is a product leader with a decade of experience creating economic value using innovative products and services through a human-centered design process. He has proven experience working with teams of all sizes, from startups to large enterprises. Sudhir has the perfect blend of engineering and managerial skills arising out of his research in computer science around machine learning and image processing and entrepreneurial experience of founding an e-learning company. Find out more on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/product-strategist-sudhir-gupta/ or visit my personal website: https://guptasudhir.com/
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