On Hiring Techies – Hire For Cultural Fit

This is a part of a series on Hiring Techies.

Hire For Cultural Fit

I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: I can teach someone a new technology. I cannot teach someone how to fit into our culture.

A lot of technical interviewers are laser focused on a candidate’s skill set. I’ve been asked to explain how clustered indexes work in SQL server and I’ve analyzed algorithm run times. Heck, I’ve been asked to provide a high level system design for a hypothetical application. Maybe it’s due to our industry’s disproportionally high percentage of introverts (myself included), but I’ve personally been through many interviews where I haven’t been asked a single question about how I work with others or what kind of environment I thrive in.

It is unfortunately rare that any behavioral questions are included when interviewing techies. This is a big problem that leads to poor performing teams and high turnover. Professional interview training would undoubtedly help. But in the absence of that, my advice is to ask questions that force the candidate to reveal how they’ve handled specific situations in the past. Get a feel for the teams and organizations where they have been most and least successful.

Maybe you know that your team can get trapped in design debates. Maybe your team rotates through presenters in bi-weekly brown bag sessions. You know what makes your team special and you know what challenges your team faces. You know the personalities and quirks of your teammates. Ask questions that reveal how the candidate fits in.

Avoid questions with binary responses. You know, dead end questions like “Do you like the new thingamabob framework?”. Focus on questions that invite the candidate to illustrate a past situation that they’ve been a part of. Ask them to describe a situation that they are likely to encounter at your organization. Ask clarifying questions. Listen to responses and build your subsequent questions upon each other. Circle back to an earlier part of the interview and dig deeper. Again, you need make sure that the candidate that you are interviewing is going to fit in with your team and with the larger organization.

All this culture and team chemistry talk may lead you to believe that the candidate’s tech skills shouldn’t matter. They do, of course, but I’d rather hire a good developer who is a great cultural fit than a brilliant developer who clashes with our culture. If the candidate has some experience that other team members do not then I want to make sure that knowledge will be spread.

The right hire will improve your team, your product and your organization. The right mix of interview questions you should have a feeling whether or not this candidate will do so. Spend the time to develop your interview process. You’ll be glad you did.

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