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Our (mid-size) company (with 150 employees) has witnessed considerable growth since last year, and as a result we have been conducting lots of interviews to hire more and more engineers to bring new projects in motion.

To begin with, following is our interview process

  1. Screening resume by HR
  2. Telephone technical interview (conducted by senior engg)
  3. Final technical + HR interview (conducted by team-lead/PM)

After some analysis we found that telephone interviews are not really becoming effective, due to which we are not able to find good number of engineers in final interview. My analysis revealed that engineers don't consider interviewing as important/serious activity, since it's internal and non-billable. Also I see that engineers don't find it really prestigious to carry a label of "interviewer" (at-least telephone interviewer). We do have set of good experienced engineers in company who can take any interview very effectively, but since number of telephonic interviews is large, this pool is not sufficient. Hence we try to use other engineers as well.

What can be done to inspire engineers to conduct telephone interviews seriously and positively (not treating this as mundane job)?


[Update-2011/12/28]

Thanks for sharing your valuable opinions. It really helped me to look at problem from variety of different angles. Alongside I was discussing issues with few colleagues as well and I personally feel that there is no single silver bullet for such issue. I will need to think recruitment process as a whole unit and plan to improve different areas/stages in it.

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"Internal and non-billable" are likely a key problem. Depending on how engineers, and their management are incented, any time taken away from their core (read: billable) work could be seen as stealing from the company, or perhaps worse: having to work overtime to make it up. Work our your incentives / priorities. –  sdg Dec 12 '11 at 14:13
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"Telephonic" is distracting me while I read this. –  kirk.burleson Dec 13 '11 at 0:20

13 Answers 13

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I would say your interview process is at fault.

First, you need to train HR to do a better job of filtering resumes so that fewer bad ones get to the phone interview.

Next you need to sit down with the engineers who find good candidates and get them to create a standard list of questions that you use in every interview. The lists should be organized by the needs of different teams - you should have different questions for the group using C3 than for the database engineers, for instance.

Then you need to train everyone on how to interview and what to look for. People who have not had a lot of experience interviewing don't know how to find good candidates.

Create an interview checksheet that has the interviewer grade the interviewee on all the standard questions and add any notes.

Create a list of what is most important for different teams. We often interview for one position and recommend for a different one, but you can't do that unless you know what each group doing hiring needs.

Next assign the people to do the interviews that are most likely to be on the teams that get the new people. If team A is looking for a new engineer, current engineers on team A should be doing the phone screening. Now they have incentive to not hire a bozo as they personally will be working with him or her.

Pair up some of the more effective interviewers with some of the less effective so they can learn how it is done.

Management needs to put a priority on the activity. No one wants to work overtime because they had to do phone interviews. Just like engineers can get out of doing the laundry by deliberately turning shirts pink when forced to try, interviewers, who feel put upon because they have to make up the billable hours when faced with unbillable work, will do a bad job deliberately to avoid being reassigned that work. Make sure management knows that every engineer involved in interviewing is going to require some non-billable hours and should not be punished for not having 40 billable hours that week. Make sure employees know the job is important and they won't get hassled for spending time on it.

In the long run, no organization doing billable hours should assume that more than 32 hours a week will be billable (this is roughly the figure I used as a manpower specialist to calculate direct versus indirect time for all professions). If you are assuming more, you will miss deadlines and not be able to do work such as this which is critical to the long-term health of the organization. The truth is that there is always non-billable work and non-billable time for things such as vacation, sick leave, jury duty, bereavement leave, etc. If you don't allow at least two hours a day for that in planning, you will miss deadlines - guaranteed. So if your teams are currently incorrectly estimating the work based on a 40 hours billable week, they need to fix that before the fix of the interview process will be effective.

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you need to train HR to do a better job of filtering resumes so that fewer bad ones get to the phone interview This can be next to impossible in places like India, where lying on resumes is rampant. HR screening is mostly useless when the majority of candidates lie just to get a phone interview. –  maple_shaft Dec 12 '11 at 15:59
    
+1 on the checklist. Whether or not people follow it exactly, it at least provides some structure and focus to the interviewing process. –  Angelo Dec 12 '11 at 16:16
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@SnOrfus I will look for credible information, but I am just going by word of mouth based on a number of conversations I had with Indian coworkers about the job market for software developers in Bangalore. They are all looking to resume build because they have their eyes on the big corporations like IBM that pay golden wages of sometimes $14 an hour. They will lie to get in the door, and if they can fake it for 6 months or so at a few reputable companies then they might be considered for the prize job. –  maple_shaft Dec 12 '11 at 17:53
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I've seen that in US resumes as well given the total lack of understanding of things they claim to know I've seen in many interviews. –  HLGEM Dec 12 '11 at 19:20
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Just a note about making record of the interviewee's performance - in the UK, this runs into Data Protection Act issues as the interviewee can request the notes if they think they were unfairly rejected. "Proceed To Interview" or "Reject" are the safest options here. –  JBRWilkinson Dec 28 '11 at 23:24

<Angry_rant_against_the_Billable_Hours_mind_set>

Truth be told, your company doesn’t deserve good developers.

I’ve worked for many consulting firms. When management continually stresses the importance of billable hours at every meeting and on every year end review. When the top guy at the firm gets up in front of the entire company and says “THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS BILLABLE HOURS”. What do you expect from your developers? Bringing in good competition for billable hours will most likely reduce the consultant's (the one conducting the interview) billable hours. (By crowding the pool available hours)

Guess what else, and this is the part I hate most about this mind set: It rewards inefficacy and punishes efficacy. I have been told by a manager “Don’t you dare tell anyone you finished the project with only half the allotted hours, how can we bill for time not worked?”. (So yes, this is a time and material contract, where we basically stole from the client)

I say this will full confidence that the following is true: every single company that works with time and material contacts, are thieves. They will never give up more than a few hours of the allocated budget, yet will kick and scream, if they go over. (The only reason they give a few hours is so they can go back to the client proclaiming “Great News! We are under budget!”) It’s Thievery.

I say it again, your company doesn’t deserve good developers.

</Angry_rant_against_the_Billable_Hours_mind_set>


To answer the Question (per the comment below) : He simply needs to find someone who cares more about the well being of the firm, then his billable hours bonus to conduct the interview


Edit 12/17/11 - Saw this Dilbert and decided to added to add it here:

enter image description here

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-1, doesn't answer the question and is really just a rant about some consulting firms. –  whatsisname Dec 12 '11 at 14:49
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This is kind of harsh and I don't completely agree with everything you said. Billable hours contracts are a legitimate way to protect the company in the event of project overruns. With that being said, it still sums up a major problem in relation to the OP's direct question and a major issue with billable hour projects. +1 –  maple_shaft Dec 12 '11 at 14:55
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Hmm... tempted to -1 this on principle. You never opened that XML tag and the tag name is not well-formed either. –  cwallenpoole Dec 12 '11 at 15:53
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The result of billable hours contracts: "If you're not expensible, you're expendable." It's inevitable. +1 –  Steve Evers Dec 12 '11 at 16:56
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@Morons is correct. The answer is in your question. Your company is treating engineers as hourly workers, as if you were a fast food outfit. You are punishing them for making the telephone calls you want to 'inspire' them to do. The people you need to 'inspire', is your brain dead management! Somebody needs to get some crayolas and a Big Chief tablet, and explain to them that by trying to get free telephone screens from their burger-flippers ^H^H^H^H 'engineers' they are really costing the company many thousands of dollars by hiring the wrong people. –  Jim In Texas Dec 12 '11 at 18:51

My analysis revealed that engineers don't consider interviewing as important/serious activity, since it's internal and non-billable.

If that's the problem, then the solution is simple: make interviews billable. If you want to make phone interviews a top priority, make them billable at a higher rate. The customer is the company itself, of course. No real money changes hands, but engineers get credit for the time they spend performing interviews. Make sure that the engineers understand that even though the hours are billed internally, you really do consider such hours to have been billed, and there's no stigma attached to such hours.

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Then they will simply prolong the interview for no good reason, and Bypass perfectly good candidates so they can get more "Billable interviewing time". .. Again i say it : THE insensitive ARE the problem. –  Morons Dec 12 '11 at 23:19
    
+1 There are still the underlying problems of people gaming the billable hours system, but this is by far the simplest suggestion so far and it will probably make things better. –  maple_shaft Dec 13 '11 at 12:20
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@Morons There's this little thing called ethics. Overbilling is unethical, period. Hourly billing is routine in many fields and evidently works well enough that we continue to use it. There's no reason it can't work for developers, too. If a manager told you to overbill, that's unethical. If you've complied, that's unethical too. As long as the engineers in question operate in an environment of honesty, integrity, and earned trust, there's no reason that hourly billing can't work if used thoughtfully. –  Caleb Dec 13 '11 at 13:00
    
@Caleb -- I understand that its unethical. That's my issues with it! It rewards and encourages this kind of unethical behavior. –  Morons Dec 13 '11 at 13:47
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@Morons, if there is no trust between the manager and the engineer, that is going hurt the company more than any overbilling on internal projects. In the situation of the OP, engineers that do what the OP wants (conduct interviews) are punished because these hours are not billable. Making them billable solves this by acknowleging that these interviews are needed. +1 for this answer. –  Paul Hiemstra Dec 28 '11 at 11:14

The single best way to inspire your engineers to not only be okay with interviewing but get them to actively wish for interviews is to communicate to them how it is in their best interest to interview others.

We have all worked on projects with an idiot who somehow made it through the screening process. It sucks. The person is less than useless and actually creates more work for the entire team. In the end because the person in not dependable, everybody pulls more weight to try and take the work away from that person.

After being through this experience so many times, I not only wanted to do interviews, I would fight for the chance to do them because I wanted to make sure that unqualified candidates didn't make it through the screening process.

If you communicate to the engineers that if they interview, they are helping to make sure that unqualified engineers do not make it onto their project teams and give them grief.

This of course only works in a company that works towards building long term working relationships with their engineer employees. The engineers must feel vested in the company in the beginning or they will simply not care. If all of your engineers are just biding their time to the next contract or the next big offer then nothing you do will get them enthusiastic about interviewing.

This may not be your company, but could also just be an aspect of the culture in your country.

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You mentioned that it takes engineers away from billable hours. Therefore, make this time more valuable by adding incentives for conducting interviews. There could be a base value for simply taking the time to conduct the interview. This could be followed up with an additional bonus for bringing well qualified candidates in for the final interview.

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I completely disagree, the insensitive ARE the problem. He simply need to find someone who cares more bout the well being of the firm, then his billable hours bonus to conduct the interview –  Morons Dec 12 '11 at 14:40
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@Morons Fantasy. Most employees are aware that their employers would gleefully throw them over a bridge if it made financial sense for them to do so. I choose not to pollute my mind with antiquated notions like company loyalty where it is not deserved, warranted or justified. The employee needs to feel incentivized to committing to the long term health of the company and bringing in good talent. This is impossible if they don't have the notion of appreciation, ample compensation, and long-term stability of their job. Loyalty doesn't just happen, it must be earned. –  maple_shaft Dec 12 '11 at 15:01
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@maple I said nothing about how to get\find that Employee, just that, That is who he needs. –  Morons Dec 12 '11 at 15:04
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Interviewing is not a skill which comes naturally to a lot of us engineering types. Compound that with the fact that many of us do have performance metrics based on project performance, billable hours, etc., and most engineers are incentivised NOT to waste their time on these activities. Make an incentive to participate at all and compound that with a followup incentive for the results and you can help to break this cycle. I was not implying the employees were insincere or insensitive, but rather that the typical model discourages the desired behavior regarding interviewing. –  Tevo D Dec 12 '11 at 15:33
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@maple_shaft: Detailed incentives actively discourage loyalty and demoralize workers. Plenty of studies have shown that when you give employees more power (instead of micromanaging and giving incentives for every little thing), they do become more loyal. (Of course, if a given employer really is willing to throw its employees over a bridge, then sure, loyalty is impossible, might as well try incentives as a Plan B. But why encourage that?) –  ruakh Dec 12 '11 at 18:09

The first thing I would look into is whether or not the interviewers KNOW HOW TO PERFORM INTERVIEWS and that the interviewers are following a coherent methodology.

A lot of orgs simply throw people into an interviewer seat without any effort to train the person for this task. It DOES takes some experience to learn interviewing. It is definitely a skill and you should not rely strictly on informal impressions (although they are important too).

Consider having the most skilled and experienced interviewers spend time demonstrating how they perform interviews to others.

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  1. Screening resume by HR DON'T have HR pre-screen resumes! Have the hiring manager pre-screen. This ensures the hiring manager gets to see all possible candidates and screen using his or her own bias, not hr.

  2. Telephonic technical interview (conducted by senior engg) DON'T perform telephone interviews! If you can meet the candidate in person then do that instead. Phone interviews are only acceptable when you can't meet the candidate in person, such as if you are interviewing overseas candidates for an off shore position.

  3. Final technical + HR interview (conducted by team-lead/PM) Pick through the resumes and throw out any that have obvious deficiencies such as grammatical errors or they contain unrelated experience. Continue until you have about 10 candidates, then STOP! Pass around the 10 resumes to the team and get them to pick the top 5 to interview. Interview with the whole team, anyone gets a thumbs down from anyone on the team gets a "NO HIRE" mark. Make a list of questions and ask the candidate to perform a simple programming task as part of the interview. I like to hand the candidate a blank sheet of paper, show them the PUBS database and say "write me the Books class. Just get started for a few minutes, then we'll talk". You can get a pretty good idea of how someone is by this alone. Anyone who makes the grade gets a "HIRE" mark. Have the team vote for the one they want out of the hire column. Repeat as necessary. Finally, realize that you aren't always going to make correct hiring decisions and you must be willing to let poor performers go if they can't make the grade. Good luck!

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Getting someone on site is usually costly in everyone's time. If you can sift through candidates via a phone interview, you're using maybe 45-60 minutes per candidate (plus up to 1-2h to complete interview feedback). No travel, no chasing meeting rooms. If you bring people on site, you need to ensure you have a room for the interview, there's travel time, there's some pre- and post-interview walking the candidate around, plus some to lots of travel for the candidate. Better to drop the 10%-20% that are clearly not suited fast, spend time and money on the rest. –  Vatine Dec 13 '11 at 10:51
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+1 - For recognizing that telephone interviews are just a very rudimentary rejection mechanism but are completely and totally inadequate for determining if someone is even a good candidate or not. To many times it seems like the person showing up in-person is a totally different person than the one we talked with on the telephone. So often we talk to a genious on the phone only to find out that gomer pyle showed up for the face-to-face. I really don't think it is a company specific issue because this happens at every company I've worked at. Just treat the phone interview as weed out step 1. –  Dunk Jan 3 '12 at 15:12

If there are any formations of teams on projects, those members should have an interest in getting qualified people to fill a vacant position.

You may want to start some sort of mentorship program where people who conduct these interviews have some responsibility for the person they recommended to actually become a productive employee. There should be consequences to recommending unqualified candidates as well as incentives when they recommend good ones.

A growing company needs to make this an activce responsibility and give people time to do this. You can't expect the same amount of billable hours for the people who have to conduct interviews as those who don't. Sounds like doing interviews is a form of working over-time and you wonder why no one wants to do it.

Edit: This reminds me of pro bono work done by attorneys.

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Keep it simple. Do not inspire them, respect them. Pay them up front. Acknowledge their contribution in shaping your organization. Tomorrow, your company is going to be what they hire today.

Btw, would you mind dropping 'Best Practices' from the tags? -- no offense meant.

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Make sure to communicate appreciation when people do a good job on interviews. There are a variety of ways to do this, already explained at length in various articles about management, but the important thing is that people want to be appreciated so make this a way to be appreciated.

So if you have some good candidates in the final interview then thank the telephone interviewers for passing along good candidates, and note it down to bring up as showing leadership skills in their next evaluation.

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While the number of telephonic interviews is large, how else is this seen in the company? Is it just another thing to do or is it something recognized and valued highly? I'd question how well is management and the engineers that can do the interviews well communicating to those developing skills to do telephonic interviews as that could well be a big deal.

It may be worthwhile to consider pairing up those good experienced engineers with others to try to pass on their knowledge and develop the skills in others. I do get that this may not be a liked solution but the alternative is consider what support are you giving to those developing the skills to do this kind of interview well?

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For the phone screen, you really only need to ask a few questions to see whether the candidate is capable of being a productive team member. I'm assuming that you are not looking for junior developers that can be trained (I would argue this is the best approach in the long run, but not all companies are setup to take advantage of it).

Pick three questions that only an experienced developer would know for your given framework/language. For example in C#, I like to lead off with "what's the difference between a struct and a class" or "What's the appropriate way to handle unmanaged resources?"

These are questions that you can't really fake through unless you understand the framework well. Sometimes, it requires digging beyond what you might even need to do on a day to day basis. They are good indicators that the candidate is a self-starter, meaning they try to learn on their own above and beyond the call of duty.

Granted, they also might weed out a good candidate who just happened not to have discovered that particular area of C# (that's why I ask three questions...missing one or even two might not be so bad, missing all three probably means the candidate isn't up to snuff).

Provide the phone screener with a list of 3 questions to ask (along with the general, tell me about your experience). Make sure the questions are good screeners and not necessarily detailed "how well have you memorized the framework" questions.

Your job is to fail fast on a bad candidate so you don't waste time on a face to face.

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People like to feel important.

If you want them to take interviewing more seriously, you need to convince your interviewers that this is a pivotal and important role. They are the gatekeepers for the next generation of employees in your company. This is clearly an important job, and it shouldn't be hard to sell it as such. If you give your interviewers a deserved sense of importance towards this responsibility, they will likely try to do it to their best ability.

Example pitch: "Since you have shown yourself to be a valuable asset to this company and you have a keen eye for quality, I could use your help in hiring the best employees. Would you be willing to lend your help in conducting phone interviews with applicants?" Ok, maybe that's a little exaggerated but you get the idea.

In essence, don't just dish it to your employees as an extra responsibility.

Hype it up.

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