Leland Teschler, Executive Editor
On Twitter @DW_LeeTeschler
Most engineers have probably been in a few job interviews that didn’t pan out for reasons that, afterward, seemed a bit ambiguous. In at least one corner of the tech employment industry, there is a move to eliminate some of the goofier outcomes that can arise in meetings between engineering job applicants and potential employers.
Meet Aline Lerner. She runs a site called interviewing.io that serves both as a platform for online job interviews and as a way for potential job candidates to practice interviewing. Her site has hosted numerous real and practice interviews over time, and she’s collected a lot of data about what has gone on there. All that data has led her to interesting conclusions about engineering resumes and the interviewing process.
For example, when it comes to resumes, Lerner thinks typos and grammatical errors matter more than anything else. Having attended a top school doesn’t matter, nor does your GPA. But at least for the software engineers she deals with, having worked at a top company matters a lot — working at places like Google and Facebook has become a proxy for aptitude, she thinks.
Similarly, Lerner has a low opinion of technical interviews. She says technical interviewing is a process with results that are nondeterministic and often arbitrary. “I started out as a software engineer and then became a recruiter. In both situations, I never felt good about the interviewing process,” she says. “What if the person we interviewed had an off day? What if the technical questions we asked required specialized knowledge the candidate didn’t have, or what if they’d seen a question before so they had a big edge? I didn’t really feel as though interviews got at the fundamental potential of someone to be a good engineer.”
As Lerner’s site collected more and more data about what went on during interviews, her misgivings crystalized. “We looked at how the same person did from one interview to the next and found the variance in performance was astonishing. You might see one individual who blew half their interviews out of the water and failed in the other half. And it wasn’t because some interviews were more difficult than others,” she says.
The thing that bugged Lerner the most was that successful job interviews seemed to have little to do with technical competence. “Sometimes it was rapport with the interviewer. Sometimes it was familiarity with some arbitrary piece of subject matter that doesn’t come up in anyone’s day to day work. Other times it was just something not clicking in the applicant’s head until too late. Especially in the software engineering market which is plagued with scarcity, it didn’t seem to be the right way to assess whether people should get a job or not,” she says.
Another realization to come out of Lerner’s interviewing data: Most people aren’t good at gauging how they perform in a specific job interview. “People routinely over and underestimate their own performance, but they underestimate twice as often as they overestimate,” she says. It’s easy to see why. “You’re typically given problems to solve during an interview. If you stumbled and didn’t finish before time ran out, you might feel you did poorly, though objectively, based on how far you got, you may have done better than most people,” she says.
Though Lerner deals specifically with software engineers, lessons learned through her site probably apply to finding jobs in other engineering disciplines as well. “Interviewing is a game,” she says. “People have to practice interviewing and accept that the interviewing process isn’t perfect. So don’t beat yourself up if you fail. A lot of it comes down to working problems that come up during interviews till you’re comfortable with them.”
Filed Under: Commentary • expert insight, Design World articles