Today's interview candidates go through a rollercoaster ride when it comes to online technical interviews.
A typical round lasts for about 60 minutes while the candidate tackles hot and cold questions from the interviewer. While growing my team ten times its size in the last few months, I realized a lot of great candidates get rejected in interviews not because of their technical ability, but because of their inability to correlate the answers with the interviewer's context, and understand what companies are looking for.
Thanks to the pandemic, offices have gone remote, we have fluid working hours, and the demand for top engineering talent is at its peak. As a result, today's enterprise organizations are looking for a very specific set of skills in candidates. These skills can be visualized as a pyramid, with the technical skills (programming, domain knowledge, system design, etc.) forming the top and the non-technical skills forming the base. Many candidates try to show the golden tip of their pyramid but forget about the strength of the base. And this full picture is what companies are looking for in their next best hire.
If you’re applying for a new remote role, what qualities should you be demonstrating in your technical interview? Or, if you’re an interviewer, what should you be looking for in your next candidate? Either way, you should be focusing on the ABCs of great engineering candidates:
A is for attitude
An average job description could be between 300 to 660 words, but almost every hiring organization looks for the candidate's attitude over the aptitude. It has become even more important to hire candidates with a positive attitude now we’re in a remote setting. Companies have realized that if you hire someone for their skills alone and they can’t fit in with the culture and represent the company, it’s unlikely to work out for long. 89% of new hires fail after 18 months for reasons related to attitude and only 11% due to a lack of skill.
When people have the right attitude, they’re both motivated and adaptable which makes them more open to learning new skills. With the right attitude and enough effort, most new skills can be mastered quickly. Improving attitude, on the other hand, is often about changing behaviors which is always much more difficult. People need to want to change, and without the right attitude that’s unlikely to happen.
They don’t say ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ for nothing. A lot of companies even have a culture fit interview round (also known as a bar raiser) specifically to test a candidate's attitude. In a distributed setup, companies are looking for candidates who fit the culture like a hand in the glove. They want folks who’ll fit in with the existing team and learn to do things their way. This helps to ease out the delivery process, increase the chances of career growth, and improve stakeholder communications.
People might try to fake a positive attitude in the technical interview. To get around this, interviewers keep a close eye on whether the candidate is answering in the past tense, if they have specific examples, and if they can go into details. If they can't, they probably don't have the right attitude for the job.
B is for boldness
Even in entry-level positions, most employers look for evidence of boldness and leadership qualities. Successful companies need self-starters who aren’t afraid to take responsibility. They need folks who want to experiment and learn from their failures.
Today's engineering teams need to be agile and able to manage a lot of moving parts. This is especially true in distributed teams where folks have to make things happen without the safety net of an in-person office. The speed at which agile engineering teams move can make it difficult to slow down and ask hard questions. Therefore, candor is expected from the engineers to foster openness and speed up feedback loops.
Boldness isn’t the same as aggression. Organizations are looking for candidates who can care emotionally about their team members as individuals and valued contributors, while also expressing honesty about their efforts and the results achieved by those efforts. This quality is especially critical in managers and product owners who need to be able to constantly manage stakeholder expectations, below, above, and at the peer levels.
C is for comprehension, communication skills, and creativity
The ability to break complicated features into workable tasks is the backbone of engineering and a priority for all companies during technical interviews. When an interviewer is asking an algorithmic programming question, they aren’t just gauging the candidate's technical coding abilities, they’re also calibrating their comprehension ability. You’ll get extra points for breaking a chunky problem into its solvable components and asking questions about edge cases.
The ability to create order from a little chaos will be paramount in any engineering role, from individual contributor to manager. If a candidate can’t display clarity of thought in the first ten minutes of an interview, chances are the interviewer will bend towards rejecting them. Comprehension brings confidence and competence, a combination that generally leads to conquest.
In a remote-first world, the ability to communicate effectively with others and get along with a variety of personalities are two of the most desirable qualities in job candidates. When most of our meetings, design discussions, and project plans are discussed in a virtual setting, being great at active listening, understanding everyone's viewpoint, and communicating to achieve a common goal is a huge advantage.
Companies need engineers and leaders who can inspire teams of humans to perform. Business leaders know that teams with great communication skills significantly outperform their competitors. So the competition for communication skills is fierce. Remote technical interviews are important opportunities to assess candidates' ability to express themselves verbally.
Of course, in a world where emails have overtaken in-person meetings and slack has overtaken emails, companies are also looking for candidates with excellent written communication skills. While you may not have a chance to demonstrate these skills in your technical interview, you should be aware of their importance in other stages of the process.
Last but definitely not least is the ability to think creatively. This quality can trump any of the above. Companies adore candidates who have a gift for solving problems ‘differently’. Ultimately, creativity comes from curiosity; curious people naturally research lots of information and as a result, find different ways to solve problems. They also bring a fresh perspective to conversations and usually don’t wait around to be told what to do.
There’s only one thing we know about the future of work: it will involve more changes and more disruption than we see today. The top companies know that embracing creativity is the best way to ‘future proof’ themselves against changes they can’t predict. Jobs change, companies change, and markets are changing faster than ever. Organizations need people who can adjust to these changes, learn new skills, and apply them quickly. It's increasingly difficult for companies to forecast what skills they’ll need, so they’re defaulting to hiring talent that can solve ambiguous problems with a dash of creativity.
In addition to the above, it generally helps to have a decent home-work setup (broadband, audio, video) and a drawing pad. It definitely also helps to have a minimalistic resume, updated Linkedin profile, and a star-studded Github repository.
Today's organizations want to attract, align, develop, and inspire top talent around the world. To do so, they’re looking for engineers who aren’t just top coders but are also accountable for their work. They’re looking for senior engineers who can’t only lead small initiatives but also display candor. And they’re looking for engineering managers who won’t just focus on technology, but also on growing and supporting their teams through change and uncertainty.
To learn more about the tech job search as a remote candidate, register for the Hired Summit. This one-day virtual event exists to help tech candidates connect with the world’s leading companies hiring remote tech talent.