You are an early stage founder who wants to run a seamless technical interview process. Not sure where to begin? The Homebrew Guide to Technical Interviews is here to help. We will break down the structure of interviews (remote and in person) as well as provide tools to help ensure a smooth process. Like all of our guides, this is a living guide and we welcome your feedback.
Where do I start?
Before you start interviewing, you need candidates. For advice on sourcing and evaluating candidates, check out these two Homebrew guides:
Every candidate should have a positive interview experience - regardless of whether they are a fit for the job. Getting positive feedback from a candidate who has gone through your interview process but doesn’t receive a job offer is a true testament to your interview process. Here are some simple tips to make sure the candidate has a positive experience.
For in-person interviewers
Greet the candidate as soon as they walk in. Do not leave them hanging in the hallway, entryway or doorway.
Most early stage companies don’t have a receptionist so it is the responsibility of the first interviewer to greet the candidate. Treat this as a priority.
Make sure they have a place to sit if they have to wait for a few minutes.
Offer them a drink and/or show them where the restroom is.
For Zoom interviewers
The goal here is to show up professionally, which can be more difficult over video. First impressions are very important.
Be a few minutes early and greet the candidate as soon as they join the call.
Silence your phone.
Look directly into the camera.
Make sure your room is well lit and distractions are limited.
Be patient if the candidate is having technical difficulties.
Record the interview when possible. There’s less of a chance of you being distracted if you aren’t taking notes. Listening is the priority.
Process, process, process.
Let’s outline the steps for a successful interview process. Process is important for several reasons.
A tight process will help drive consistency in the interview structure. If every interviewer and recruiter is following the same process, there is less chance of candidates having a poor experience and of interviewers not getting the info they need.
A consistent process will help reduce biases. If every interview has the same process and follows the same schedule, candidates will have similar experiences. Interviewers will be able to evaluate feedback more consistently since everyone followed the same process.
Process will help with the relationship between hiring managers and recruiting. Expectations will be set up front.
Hiring manager’s time is used more efficiently. Technical interviews that run seamlessly will help quicken the hiring process and minimize the time positions are open.
A structured, process driven approach to interviewing should provide the candidate with enough information to assess fit.
The Coffee Meeting
This is a more informal “get to know you” meeting or maybe a conversation with a passive candidate who is not actively looking for a job. Founders need to build a network of passive candidates. Put in the time to build a network even if you are not actively hiring. The purpose is to get to know who is out there, talk about what you are doing and build a pipeline for the time you are ready to hire. You don’t have to have any openings or be actively hiring to have a coffee meeting. A few pointers....
Be mindful about going into sales mode if the candidate is not looking for a job. Focus on building a relationship with the person -- not on selling the company or any potential roles.
Talk about what the company is building, your background and ask specific questions about the candidate’s background. Find out what motivates the candidate and what they love about their job. What are they not getting out of their current role?
Give the candidate plenty of time to talk and tell her story.
Make sure you are actively listening.
*Always schedule a follow up task in your calendar after you have a meeting with a passive candidate. It can be an email or phone check in but make sure you have a concrete next step.
Go into super sales mode. If the candidate moves from passive to active you will have a chance to sell.
Grill the candidate. Interviews are a two way conversation.
The 1st Phone Screen or Zoom
In addition to getting to know about the candidate’s background and what the candidate is looking for, the phone/zoom screen is your chance to sell the candidate on why your company is compelling. The goal of the first phone screen (regardless of function) is to:
Filter out candidates who do not meet the requirements
Identify strong candidates
Ignite the candidate’s curiosity so they want to know more about the company, the product, the executive team
Connect and build rapport with a candidate so you know what motivates them (compensation, working on challenging technical problems, a great team, recognition?)
Potential referrals. This may happen where you build rapport with someone who isn’t a fit for your role but offers up other names.
What should the first phone screen cover?
Introduction — Make sure to explain your role, how long you’ve been with the company and why you decided to build X.
Expectations — Explain the role and where the role fits into the organization.
Reiterate the “must haves”/deal breakers for the as defined by the job description (usually 4-6 skills).
Sample Questions/Technical phone screen
Tell me about an engineering project that you were a part of that had the most impact on your company.
When you don’t know the answer to something, what is the first thing you do? (helps assess self management).
How much coding were you doing in your last role? What languages are you most proficient in?
Who would follow you here from your previous companies?
How do you recruit other A players to join your team? Examples?
Tell me about a technical side project you’ve worked on outside of your job.
What have you done to work smarter with the product team and other non eng teams?
Why are you interested in an early stage company?
Give me an example of a time when you used analytical skills to solve a problem
Describe the process you use for writing a piece of code, from requirements to delivery. This helps the interviewer assess how an engineer can communicate a process.
What processes have you helped develop or created that enhanced engineering performance capabilities?
Red Flags/What would disqualify someone after a phone screen?
Lack of curiosity
Candidate didn't do prior research on the company, product or executive team.
“Must have” skills are reflected on a resume but the candidate can’t articulate what he was responsible for and what he delivered.
Unprofessional behavior (tardiness, wearing pajamas, eating/drinking on call).
Tips for founders:
Find a quiet place to speak with minimal distractions.
Give the candidate your undivided attention (no eating or pets on your lap).
Actively listen and take notes.
Consider your backdrop (no distracting posters or mess behind you).
Your goal after the phone screen is to convert the candidate to a qualified lead. Or simply, get to the next step which is either:
1) a technical screen (if remote) OR
2) onsite technical interviews
Technical Screen (aka coding challenge, take home test, use case)
For some [technical] roles, the best way to assess a candidate (outside of direct prior knowledge working with them) is to have them develop a work product as part of the interview. This could happen either onsite or as a take home. For example, an engineer could do a coding exercise, or a designer could be asked to do a quick set of wire frames or workflow for a hypothetical product. In general, it is good to avoid asking for work or output on an existing company product to avoid the perception of getting free labor out of a candidate.*
*Given the current hiring market where candidates are in high demand, the take home assignment is becoming less common. If testing is necessary, you can include it in the interview process on-site with candidates.
Pros of take home assignment
Reduce the risk of making a poor choice. Take-home assignments are a great way to filter out candidates who do poorly on the assignment or don’t do it at all.
Candidate experience. Candidates are more relaxed in their own environment using their own tools. They can work at a time of the day/night that suits them.
Cons of take home assignment
Pushback from candidates. Engineers working full time may not have the time or want to put in the time for a take home assignment. Candidates are in the driver’s seat and if they are interviewing for multiple jobs, it may be hard to prioritize.
Validity of test. Hiring managers have no way to confirm if someone received help on the assignment. A candidate may find aspects of the test hard and seek advice from a fellow engineer. Not everyone takes an honor code seriously
Prepare the candidate
Be transparent about what the interview will look like. Provide a schedule, bios of team members and time frames for interviews.
Sample onsite interview schedule:
*Below demonstrates a one day interview schedule. For onsite interviews, this is standard. Given the fact most interviews are done by Zoom now, this can be broken up into a few days depending on schedules. Best practice is to schedule the interviews within a few days of each other so feedback can be gathered and calibrated.
Every touch point is important. Greet the candidate warmly and offer them a place to sit. If you are running late and leave the candidate alone for more than 10 minutes, make sure you give them a heads up. Offer the candidate something to drink prior to the interview and make sure they are comfortable.
Prepare the interviewers.
Every interviewer should receive the resume and a note about where the candidate came from (direct sourced, from an internal referral, from a recruiter, etc) and any notes/feedback that are important to share with the interviewer (e.g., explanation for gap on resume or brief explanation of why they left a company after a short stint).
Every interviewer should take the time prior to the interview to familiarize themselves with the candidate’s background. The interviewers should always have solid knowledge on company history, company values and company benefits.
Each interviewer should focus on a different area while speaking with the candidate. This way the candidate does not get asked the same questions by every interviewer and allows any one interviewer to go deeper on certain subjects. “Walk me through your resume” is not a great use of anyone’s time. The interviewer should take the time prior to the interview to review the candidate’s background and have specific area(s) to cover when speaking to the candidate during the onsite.
What are these areas and who should cover them?
Coding skills/Technical acumen
If interviewing a back-end developer, I'll ask them to design an API to perform a task.
Walk me through the design of a grocery checkout system," or something equally vague. You will be able to assess how the candidate chooses to model the problem, break it down into manageable parts, and ask questions to help clarify the requirements.
General Problem solving skills
Test for coding ability with specific emphasis on complex algorithms.
Can she demonstrate the ability to work with existing team members and strong communications skills to solve problems?
How will the candidate decompose a problem into smaller pieces to solve it?
How big is their Toolbox to think "out of the box" to attack a problem?
Role Related knowledge
In which of your previous positions/past projects did you [insert appropriate task]?
How does your current skill set translate to the projects we need you to deliver?
How big is their Toolbox to think "out of the box" to attack a problem?
What did you learn from a specific project that will translate to the work we do here?
Empathy/Emotional Intelligence - here’s where behavioral interviewing (how you react in certain situations)comes in.
Tell me about a time you had a problem with a manager or colleague. How did you resolve the issue?
How did you influence change with (design/product team) in your previous role?
Describe a recent project where you had difficult challenges. What would you have done differently?
Where have you had to make an important decision in an ambiguous environment?
Our engineering team is distributed or remote. How should we handle interviews?
Assuming you have a HQ office, have the candidate do the interviews there. If you are distributed or if the hiring manager is not at HQ, the candidate can do the interview from their home. If the interviewers are remote, you can use a tool like
that allow the candidate to look at pre-written questions and start coding in the same browser window. These tools allow interviewers to even run the code written by the candidate, so there is real-time feedback on whether the code actually works or not. It also makes the candidate feel more comfortable during the session because being able to run code & see where it fails is how we work day-to-day.
One of the best tools you can provide for interviewers post interview is a hiring rubric (often referred to as an interview scorecard). Here is a sample of Google’s
. What exactly is a “rubric?” It is a tool that outlines specific expectations for varying levels of competency. If all candidates are evaluating a candidate the same way, there is less room for bias. You are evaluating them on the same things and this makes it easier to compare and contrast feedback.
Now you have all this feedback but what do you do with it? Some companies have adopted the Google model of a “hiring committee.” The Hiring Committee or “HC” method involves gathering a group of people made up of both interviewers and non interviewers to evaluate interview feedback and make a hiring decision (hire, no hire, or needs more information).
Some of the advantages of a hiring committee include:
Making less biased decisions
Not reviewing feedback in isolation
If there is a fluke interview, this can be ruled out. Extreme scores cancel each other out.
Who makes up the hiring committee?
The hiring manager
1-2 non interviewers from the department where candidate is interviewing
Try to have an odd number of people on the hiring committee where possible to break ties or to achieve required consensus.
*In the early stages, this HC makeup might not be possible so work with what you have. Even if you have 3 people, stick to the same process.
Hiring committees can meet weekly or biweekly depending on the hiring volume. All candidate feedback should be submitted through the company’s applicant tracking system.
You might be a great interviewer but do you really know how to provide written feedback? Why is the written feedback so important in the overall hiring process?In order to calibrate and evaluate a candidate, the interviewers need to understand what makes up good, helpful feedback.
Meaty feedback will help fill in gaps (questions/concerns) for someone who didn’t interview the candidate but may be working with this person. They have a vested interest in making sure this person is the right fit. If they haven’t met them in person or remotely, they are relying on others for information.
We recommend writing feedback within 1 day of the interview. Your thoughts will be fresh. Take the time to reflect and process right after the interview. Some interviewers book an extra block of time after the interview to write feedback.
What makes good feedback?
Private feedback. Do not share your feedback until your interview panel is ready to discuss and calibrate. Sharing feedback prior leaves room for biases. If you know your co-founder had a terrible interview, don’t let this reflect on your experience. Although it may be tempting to share excitement over a candidate as soon as you meet her, hold it for a time when everyone is ready to discuss.
Structured/Concise feedback. Keep to the facts and refer to your hiring rubric. For more info on creating a structured interview process, please see
A score and a summary based on consistent criteria. Every interviewer should hone in a specific area such as:
General Problem Solving Skills
Role Related Knowledge
Description of interviewers experience with the candidate.
Hire/No hire decision.
Interview Feedback DON’Ts
Rambling thoughts that are not organized .
Vague feedback such as “She is really strong technically but a bad manager.” Make it more specific. What are her specific technical strengths? What are some examples of poor management?
Your feedback should be objective and fair. Keep your personal biases in check.
It is crucial for hiring managers to move quickly. Given the current hiring landscape, the candidate is in the driver’s seat and may have several offers by the time you decide to move forward. Establish best practices for submitting feedback on candidates so the decision makers have all the data needed to quickly make a hire/no hire decision. 1-2 days is fair. If you decide not to move forward with a candidate, it is important to let him know asap so they can pursue other options. Don’t keep people in the “
By establishing a consistent, structured technical interview process, you should be able to move candidates through the process relatively seamlessly. A solid, scalable process will increase your chances of a positive candidate and employee experience leading to a positive hiring outcome.
Helps hiring-managers and recruiters surface candidates' practical engineering skills faster and more objectively. Byteboard's project-based interview is identity-blind and assesses for engineering skills that are actually used on the job while helping companies reduce the time they spend in conducting technical interviews.
This technical interview platform helps candidates easily share their skills – and ensure you understand how they work. Through technical assessments, take-home projects and live collaborative coding, it’s with you at every step of the interview process.
HackerRank for Work provides detailed Test Reports which help you view your Candidates' performance in a Test. The Test Reports are generated after the Candidates' have submitted a Test, and their answers are evaluated and assigned scores based on the scoring mechanism.
Provides technical challenges in a real-world coding environment. This information then goes into their Predictive Coding Score, which is kind of like a credit score. The site also gives users the opportunity to apply directly to jobs directly through their Certified Assessments.
*Special thanks to Hank Pham and Jin Lim for contributions to this document.