How to: Interview Developers to Find the Best Talent

Finding great developers isn’t easy. It’s difficult to determine whether or not they really know what they’re doing just from a few interviews, not to mention assess their interpersonal skills. The key is to first decide on the specific personal qualities you’re looking for, then how to properly evaluate them in a candidate. While the former may require thought but not pose a great challenge otherwise, the latter — the how — can be extremely difficult to discern. Without seeing them on the job, how can your team really know whether they’d be a good fit for the position? 

At Cook Systems, we understand that challenge. So we’ve done the research and the due diligence to figure out what actually works. Below are three tips on how to truly evaluate a candidate and determine which person has the qualities you need.

  1. Forget the resumé. An easy way to overlook talented candidates is to only focus on resumés that stack up. Past experience and specific educational backgrounds can be valuable for certain, but they are not the only indicators of skill, particularly for developers. Many developers are naturally skilled problem solvers or have developed their technical knowledge independent of formal training. (A helpful tool to evaluate skill regardless of experience is Hackerrank.) We don’t even evaluate mastery of specific languages, because in our program, FastTrack’D, they will learn them. What we need to determine is if they can solve problems and if they have the aptitude to learn the technical skills — not if they already know it. As long as you prove those abilities and have a basic coding knowledge, you could be a great fit for the position.
  2. Real-time problem solving. When we interview candidates, we have them solve problems in real time, in front of the interviewer(s). By doing that, we not only assess their technical abilities, we can assess their character traits. Do they get frustrated easily or tackle the challenge head-on? Are they creative? Do they show adaptability and a commitment to participation? Having candidates solve problems live is an effective way to determine whether or not they will be successful in the job long-term.
  3. Intentionally evaluate interpersonal skills. Candidates for FastTrack’D undergo technical interviews separately from interpersonal interviews. There we can ask specific questions about scenarios in which they demonstrated certain character traits we’re looking for — qualities like tenacity, authenticity, teamwork and participation. For example, during interpersonal interviews, we often ask the following questions: “Would you please tell me about a time you were not able to meet a deadline? How did you communicate the missed deadline? How did you feel about missing it?” Not only do questions like these give candidates the opportunity to explain how they’ve handled past situations in work and life, but we are able to observe the way they do it. We can assess body language, eye contact, communication skills, tone, vocabulary choice and more just by having conversations with them. Technical skills can often be taught, but natural interpersonal skills are much more difficult to impart. We believe they are as important, if not more important, than technical abilities, so we make it a priority to assess them as best we can.

These methods may be nontraditional and require some time and careful consideration to employ, but by using them in our interview process we have been highly successful in determining whether or not a candidate will actually be a good fit once hired (or accepted into FastTrack’D). 

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