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Recruitment, replacing the technical interview?

By Bruno 12-09-2013

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Bruno Michel, af83 CTO, shares his vision of developers’ recruitment, and his opinion on alternative solutions to the technical interview…

 At af83, our recruitment process is, all in all, quite classic… A part of it is an interview where we assess the candidate’s technical level, and check if it’s good enough to join our team. As we set ourselves very high standards, we don’t hesitate to ask tricky questions to push some of the candidates out of their comfort zone.

The technical interview isn’t perfect but it plays its part. Then why would you want to replace it? Several opinions were voiced on Internet recently to put forward the technical interview weaknesses and offer alternative solutions. I recommend you read I will not do your tech interview, for example.

To sum up their criticisms, they mainly say technical interview:

  • Are intimidating, and prevent some developers, though really skilled, from having their chance
  • Favor knowledge piling to any practical hands-on
  • Aren’t interested at all in team work

For them, in the end, the technical interview seems quite artificial and doesn’t reflect real daily life work conditions. The idea is hence to replace the interview with a real work in real environment. So the candidate would come and spend a day inside the company, and do pair programming with an experienced developer on true tasks. It would help the company being aware of the candidate contribution to the team if he were hired.

This sounds really great, let’s do that! Hey, not so fast, it also has its drawbacks. First, making a candidate work on a company project is legal only if he has an employment contract… You can always do a one-day employment contract, but let’s face it it’s complicated in France. What’s more, most of the candidates are still employed by another company, and their contracts just forbid them to sign another contract.

Second, this method is expensive… You have to pay the candidate for its day. And you also need a senior developer to play along during this time. If the candidate is good, it’s not a problem; but if not, your developer is going to be far less efficient than usually.

Finally, choosing a project can reveal itself complicated. It’s best to avoid confidential projects. If the project is complex, the candidate risks spending all the day just on the installation – but on the other hand if it’s too simple, it will be hard to judge the candidate real level.

For all these reasons, plus the fact that our current process is working quite well, we’re not going to abandon the technical interview at af83. But it’s not impossible that in the future we’ll add an extra short code test (30 to 45 minutes) to the interview. The Stripe CTO has some nice ideas on this matter, written in What is the engineering interview process like at Stripe?. But nothing’s decided yet, and the technical interview still has a bright future ahead at af83.

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