What's Wrong With Tech Hiring

Reviewed by Greg Wilson / 2021-09-13
Keywords: Hiring

I went through a lot of interviews after being laid off by RStudio earlier this year. Some really impressed me---in particular, I think Automattic's hiring process was excellent---but many were haphazard, confusing, or misguided. I'm not alone in feeling this way: Behroozi2019 found that the questions asked in technical interviews are often seen as irrelevant to actual work, frequently depend on knowledge of trivia, cause a lot of anxiety (which means the results aren't representative of on-job performance), and bias the process in favor of people with lots of free time (i.e., who don't have kids or are affluent enough to be able to quit one job before getting the next).

These complaints are as common as the bad practices that inspire them. What makes Behroozi2020 stand out is that it goes beyond complaining to analyze what exactly goes wrong and how it could be fixed. It breaks the process down into five stages: contact, preparation, interviews, hearing back, and offer & negotiation. The guidelines it presents probably won't surprise you, but few companies actually implement all of them. I think our industry would be healthier if more did.

Behroozi2019 Mahnaz Behroozi, Chris Parnin, and Titus Barik: "Hiring is Broken: What Do Developers Say About Technical Interviews?". 2019 IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC), 10.1109/vlhcc.2019.8818836.

Technical interviews—a problem-solving form of interview in which candidates write code—are commonplace in the software industry, and are used by several well-known companies including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. These interviews are intended to objectively assess candidates and determine fit within the company. But what do developers say about them?To understand developer perceptions about technical interviews, we conducted a qualitative study using the online social news website, Hacker News—a venue for software practitioners. Hacker News posters report several concerns and negative perceptions about interviews, including their lack of real-world relevance, bias towards younger developers, and demanding time commitment. Posters report that these interviews cause unnecessary anxiety and frustration, requiring them to learn arbitrary, implicit, and obscure norms. The findings from our study inform inclusive hiring guidelines for technical interviews, such as collaborative problem-solving sessions.

Behroozi2020 Mahnaz Behroozi, Shivani Shirolkar, Titus Barik, and Chris Parnin: "Debugging Hiring: What Went Right and What Went Wrong in the Technical Interview Process". International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2020), 10.1145/3377815.3381372.

The typical hiring pipeline for software engineering occurs over several stages—from phone screening and technical on-site interviews, to offer and negotiation. When these hiring pipelines are "leaky," otherwise qualified candidates are lost at some stage of the pipeline. These leaky pipelines impact companies in several ways, including hindering a company's ability to recruit competitive candidates and build diverse software teams.To understand where candidates become disengaged in the hiring pipeline—and what companies can do to prevent it—we conducted a qualitative study on over 10,000 reviews on 19 companies from Glassdoor, a website where candidates can leave reviews about their hiring process experiences. We identified several poor practices which prematurely sabotage the hiring process—for example, not adequately communicating hiring criteria, conducting interviews with inexperienced interviewers, and ghosting candidates. Our findings provide a set of guidelines to help companies improve their hiring pipeline practices—such as being deliberate about phrasing and language during initial contact with the candidate, providing candidates with constructive feedback after their interviews, and bringing salary transparency and long-term career discussions into offers and negotiations. Operationalizing these guidelines helps make the hiring pipeline more transparent, fair, and inclusive.