It’s almost a fetish in the tech industry to hire “the best and the brightest,” but according to Neil Roseman, a former VP of engineering at Zynga and Amazon, most companies have no idea how to go about it. That’s particularly true when it comes to technical talent, he says in an interview with First Round Review.
The key, he argues, is breaking through people’s tendency to oversell and be vague in both interviews and resumes; for example, saying things like they “grew revenue 50%” without actually being able to explain how.
“You want to find out what somebody really did, as opposed to just being an observer or a participant,” Roseman says. “Even at the greatest companies, there’s a gap between those who get the most stuff done and those who don’t get much done. You need to try and figure that out during an interview.”
If people make a claim, you have to push them on it rather than taking it at face value just because there’s an impressive list of schools or companies on their resume. If there’s a long list of skills, ask more questions about them, not less.
Push them, and actually make them write some code. But don’t ask a question when you don’t know what a good answer looks like.
“One of the things that really pisses me off is people asking questions that they don’t even have a good handle on themselves,” Roseman said. “They don’t have a good distinction between a great answer and a crappy answer. They decide to try out a new question they heard from somebody or make something up themselves.”
Also, echoing the hiring practices at Google, which has moved away from brain teasers and towards behavioural interviews, Roseman likes to ask open-ended questions that prompt candidates to explain what they did in given situations and how they achieved and measured the outcome.
It’s all about taking an interview process that’s been based on gut feelings, or metrics like GPA or test scores that don’t necessarily correlate success, and connecting it to the behaviours that actually make employees help a company outperform.
The piece has a list of Roseman’s rules, distilling the philosophy he tries to bring to companies. Here are a few of the key ones that are most essential for technical hires:
- “Tell me about your background” is not a useful question for a tech interview.
- Dig into algorithms, data structures, code organisation, simplicity.
- Ask a design question. See how people think about a bigger picture problem.
- Make it tough but fun. Good developers want to know they’re talking to smart folks.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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