Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

Interviewing: Communication

with 5 comments

I’ve been in India for around 4 months and in that time I think I’ve probably interviewed more people than I have in the last 4 years.

Over this time I’ve come to realise that the two main things I’m looking for in candidates are passion and ability to communicate effectively.

It’s relatively easy to pick up on whether someone is passionate about what they do in a conversation or while pairing with them but I find the communication aspect a bit more tricky.

I’m typically trying to see whether the candidate can explain things at various levels of abstraction, moving up and down the levels as appropriate to get their point across.

With some people it’s really easy for me because they’re able to do this flawlessly without much feedback from me about whether I understand what they’re talking about and if they need to reframe.

However, in the majority of interviews I end up in the situation where the candidate perhaps isn’t explaining something in a way that I can understand.

Either they’re giving way too much irrelevant technical detail or end up beating around the bush at a high level and not really answering the question.

If this situation happened on a team I was working on then I would certainly consider it my job to try and guide the conversation so that we could both get what we want out of it.

After all communication is very much a two way thing.

In the interview context I do the same thing but I would expect the candidate to pick up the hints that I’m not understanding them easily and adjust the way that they reply to future questions to take that into account.

If they don’t seem to take that feedback on board then it’s quite likely that I’ll make the judgement that they’re not able to communicate very clearly and we won’t proceed with the candidate.

I’d be intrigued to hear the approaches others take because it does feel a little bit like I’m doing it wrong in this respect.

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Written by Mark Needham

November 26th, 2010 at 3:50 am

Posted in Hiring

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  • sheva

    I don’t quite get your point.

  • I guess I didn’t explain it well then which is quite ironic seeing as this post is about communication 😀

    What I was wondering is if it’s fair to judge someone on something which is very much two way.

    For example if I’m not communicating well with the person I’m interviewing then I might get the impression that it’s them who’s not good at communicating when in fact it’s me.

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  • Chad

    I do 2-3 interviews per week and know exactly what you’re talking about. Some people just “get” what you’re asking for while others stumble through long-winded responses, requiring me to re-ask questions with increasingly more detail that they can simply regurgitate with a few flowery details. As the interviewer, it’s frustrating to talk with the latter type of person, as it seems that they have forgotten the purpose of the conversation (to display a deep level of understanding about their own experiences and a broader knowledge of the world around them).

    As for my part in the conversation, I try to follow a similar path through the interview process for all candidates, that way I can evaluate them on a relative scale. If I have to deviate too much from my path just to get some simple answers, the candidate is probably not going to move on.

    This is especially true if I’m interviewing for a position on my own team. If we can’t hold a 30-minute conversation during the interview, there’s no point in risking that same problem during a 6+ month project.

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