The Technical Interview – Scratch the Paper !!

Technical Interviews, be it .NET, Java, SQL or any other software area, most of the time do NOT always evaluate a candidate’s true technical Knowledge or acumen.

My Question is, as to what exactly should a technical interview asses?

  1. Should it asses the Candidates over their past technical experience, as in, what all technologies they have worked on and to what extent.
  2. Should it asses the  candidate based on how interested a candidate is in Technology currently. Is he/she learning about  and aware of the new an emerging technologies relevant to his/her field?
  3. Is the candidate having the necessary theoretical(Ahem! Bookish) knowledge about the the technologies he/she has worked on?

More often than NOT the interviewer ends up evaluating the candidate based on Points 1 and 3.

Actually, more on Point 3, because it is easier. And honestly I find that very unfair.

Why would an interviewer evaluate a candidate just on Point #3 ?

  • Because the interviewer himself/herself does not have sufficient Hands-on knowledge about the subject.
  • Because its easier to search for questions on the subject on MSDN or pure googling!!
  • Because the questions have a very narrow scope of the answers, so it is easier to evaluate a candidate response.

So,

If you do NOT  qualify in a technical interview, don’t lose your Heart. More often than NOT it would be because the Interviewer was NOT competent enough to interview You in the First Place. 🙂

But, of course the above is NOT always true.

Candidates do get rejected, because of a lot of other reasons. But this post is NOT about the candidate, BUT about the interviewer. So we’ll focus on that!

So, what should we ideally be looking for in a candidate in a technical interview?

Should we NOT asses his/her basic(Ahem! theoretical) knowledge  on a subject?

Well, in my opinion, we should be more concerned about Point #2 in above more than anything else.

A candidate may have immense Technical Experience in the past and might have worked very close to technology, BUT the question is :

Does the candidate still have the appetite to learn new technologies or is he/she happy with the “way things are” ?

The answer to the above question is very important and yes, interviewers do take this point into consideration at times, BUT they end up asking theoretical Questions about emerging technologies. Again. 🙁

Why!! Well, for obvious reasons of course 😉 !

So, to round up what I am trying to say here, here are a few tips to “The technical interviewer” :

  1. Always come prepared. And by prepared I don’t mean “Google Prepared!”. 
  2. Never ever start a technical interview without a Pen and a Paper. It helps in gauging how much a candidate wants to put his/her point through. If the candidate is NOT comfortable with drawing boxes and lines and just orally airs his/her view then I guess we might have a “Theoretical Programmer” at our hand. Alarm!!
  3. Be a little kind to candidates. Candidates are a little edgy on some things they have worked in the past. Try to give them subtle hints about on how to get to the answer (Not always though).
  4. Try to ask questions which require the candidate to Scratch the Paper and NOT necessarily Scratch his/her Head. 🙂 i.e. try to ask more Hands-on and scenario based questions.
  5. Don’t be afraid to scratch questions/problem statements yourself on the paper. After all, You need to let the candidate know what is your methodology for evaluating a candidate.
  6. Try to evaluate how interested a candidate is in learning new technologies relevant to his/her field. Is he/she happy with happy with the way things are are they actively making effort to learn new technologies. Again, encourage them to scratch the paper.

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So interviewers and Candidates, Happy Scratching!!

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