I don’t write much these days, either on Medium or on my blog. I find that when I do I am usually at a loss. It’s like the ability to write creatively, to think of words that flow has atrophied. I notice that with music too. When I don’t play or compose for a while, it feels like I’ve taken a couple of steps back. Perhaps that’s what separates the experts from the amateurs, the gifted from the hacks. So I figured that I should write something.
In fact I started writing this in early August and the words didn’t came. Let’s see if I manage to finish this today. The first words came days after Scott Liska reminded me that I had completed 1000 interviews at Amazon. As is customary for any self-respecting heavy Twitter user this resulted in a tweet.
Usually just a handful of people like or respond of any of these. Not the case with this one. A few people started asking me what I had learnt from all those years of interviewing. Rather than making this about what it takes to be successful at an Amazon interview I thought I’d write about how my interviewing style has evolved.
First things first. I don’t do coding interviews. While I interview for a broad range of roles there have been only a handful where code was written, and that was when the candidate chose to do so. The vast majority (every one in the last 5–6 years) have been behavioral interviews. And that leads to the first point.
- Interviews are a two way street. Back in the day, I used to focus on making sure I got my questions answered and looked for specific keywords and responses. Very early on, it became clear that it wasn’t just enough to be respectful and mindful of the person at the other side of the desk (or video) but you had to remember that candidates have many options and part of my role as an interviewer was to also answer their questions. It is part of the reason I prefer longer interview times. The shorter times are sufficient to collect the data I usually look for, but with an additional 10–15 minutes I can have a really good conversation with the candidate. It helps that the questions they ask are often as telling about them as the answers to my own questions.
- If you see something on a resume that looks too good to be true, it probably is. The obvious ones are the easy ones, but as people progress in their careers two things happen. Resumes sometimes become embellished, and sometimes people start believing their own embellishments. I believe a lot of the latter is subconscious and one of the things I have become much better at is identifying things in resumes to follow up on. As someone told me once, follow your nose.
- Always look around corners. It is very easy for people to answer questions they have prepared for, but they don’t always do as good a job thinking 2 or 3 levels deeper. At least for more senior candidates, that ability to look around corners is critical. Have the evaluated all the options? Considered one-way doors? Though through the possible outcomes of their decisions?
Interviewing is fundamentally flawed. You can put in mechanisms to minimize false positives. To do that you must be willing to cede some false negatives. But it is important, and it remains an activity that I enjoy even after 1000+ interviews in 11 years.