Hiring software developers goes far beyond simply creating vacancies and looking for suitable candidates to fill them. They are highly targeted professionals in the technology market with many job opportunities. According to The U.S. Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2020 and 2030, there will be an average of 189,00 openings for developers each year. Currently in 2023, the top tech domains demanded by the market are: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, Full-Stack Development, Mobile App Development, Internet of Things (IoT), Data Science and Big Data, DevOps and Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD), Blockchain and Cryptocurrency, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
With this in mind, it is crucial that the recruitment process for these professionals be effective to the point of hiring the best talent and retaining them, forming, as a consequence, high-performing development teams that meet the needs of companies. The main actors to make this happen are technical recruiters, who are in charge of attracting developers by acting as a company's shop window. If the process advances, managers of the role's specific area will come to action. So, these interviewers must prepare themselves to take what is needed from the candidates and select the ones that are able to add value and work on the solutions needed.
Digital recruiting has been a reality in the past few years and established itself definitively during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bullhorn’s Global Recruitment Insights & Data (GRID) report, in 2020, a mere 25% of firms reported the use of a digital transformation strategy or plan. In 2022, this number increased to 84%. This way, the hiring process became easier and less stressful for candidates, as well as more efficient, dynamic, and cheaper for companies and agencies. In this context, betting on technology is mandatory. Innovations that automate stages of the selection process include selecting professionals based on their technical skills and experience, creating a communication flow of quick and effective responses, scheduling interviews, and even simplifying onboarding.
But there's one thing that those tools can't automate: the face-to-face interview between professionals, recruiters, or managers. In this strictly human moment, the interviewer needs to know how to conduct the conversation in a fluid and respectful way in order to absorb not only the technical skills that the candidate presents but also their soft skills. In this article, we will go through each step and aspect of interviewing software developers, explaining this process's importance in today's tech industry landscape.
Effectively Attracting Candidates
The first action to attract potential candidates is to create a proper description for the role, which is the first point of contact between them and the company or agency. This may sound simple, but don't underestimate creating job requirements since they are not a simple wish list. The desired qualifications should not be presented as limiting but as covering the possibilities in a flexible way. For example, if a professional with 5 years of experience is the main target but one with 3 years can also be hired according to other competences, the requirement should be presented as 3 to 5 years of experience.Thus, the job description will not deter qualified candidates with 3 or 4 years of experience from applying. There is no perfect candidate, and the requirements must attract the ones with the desire to learn and improve their skills more than just list fictional must-have competences that may repel suitable professionals.
An experienced recruiter knows that every public piece of content is an integral part of an employer branding strategy and is as important as a complete and well-structured resume in the candidate spotlight. Implementing employer branding creates a positive and compelling image of the company or agency, attracting and retaining top talent. Pointing out the key requirements on the job description using SEO optimization increases its visibility and improves the efficiency of the hiring process' first stages. By using relevant keywords and a clear job title through engaging content, the job description becomes more discoverable by search engines, working as a pre-selection tool to quickly screen the applicants and determine the preliminary ones that are the best fit for the role.
For some years now, social media has been the main medium for posting job descriptions and attracting potential candidates. It seems that traditional recruiting methods such as newspaper ads, on-site tests, or even group dynamics with all the candidates don't even exist anymore, since it all happens remotely.
Some important social media platforms for job seeking are Reddit, GitHub, Stack Overflow, and the most popular one, LinkedIn, which is used by 90% of recruiters and has over 50 million firms profiles. Also, according to a study by the Aberdeen Group, 73% of job seekers between the ages of 18 and 34 found their last job through social media. The younger generations are heavy users of them, and companies or agencies must put some effort into tracking engagement strategies by setting up effective drip campaigns.
Understanding the Screening Interview Process
We can say that the real recruitment work starts after a developer's resume arouses interest. It is not simple to hire a great professional, and without some actions on the recruiters' part, the process can become complex. Therefore, an effective screening interview facilitates the following steps, making the journey simpler and faster, which is positive for both the candidate and the company or agency. Focusing on the quality of the candidate's recruitment experience reduces costs and time by building relevant connections with the applicants as well as engaging the top ones.
In a broad sense, an interview consists of two individuals exchanging information. As we mentioned, not only should candidates prepare for screening interviews, but it's part of the recruiter's job to do the same. Preparing for it includes previously understanding their experience and skills in order to ask proper and relevant questions that may reveal their initial compatibility with the role. By gathering all this information, interviewing software developers has more chances to run smoothly, making the candidate as comfortable as possible (remember that many people feel a little bit nervous or insecure when being evaluated), and following these steps:
Recruiters are the shop window of the company, so showing respect for the candidate and their time will help them feel at ease. All can start with common topics, like the recruiter telling something about themselves and the company.
It is important to explain to the candidate what will happen during the interview and what steps and topics will be covered. In addition, it is also worth noting that the recruiter's behavior will guide the tone of the conversation and demonstrate the internal culture of the company. In an ideal interview, the software developer feels free to answer the questions in a natural way.
Reviewing job aspects and responsibilities
It's necessary to explain the job in detail by providing information on the main tasks and responsibilities, as well as the working conditions, so that the candidate can be sure it is suitable for them. All these aspects must be clear at the beginning of the conversation. If the software developer does not match the requirements of the position, it is better to end the interview earlier and apologize sincerely. This shows respect for their time.
Starting with standardized questions
A good practice is to start by asking a few questions about the candidate's previous experience and interest in the position. How do they see themselves in relation to the position? What are their possible contributions? The recruiter should formulate standardized questions that allow the professional to talk a lot and thus demonstrate in detail their experiences and skills. These details may be the difference between which software developer is more suitable for the vacancy. Asking standardized questions of every candidate also guarantees consistency and fairness during the hiring process. This way, all the candidates will be evaluated based on the same set of criteria, helping with the comparison between the interviewees and bringing more reliable results. Overall, they are a fundamental measure for creating a structured, fair, and effective hiring process to hire the best candidates.
Reviewing the applicant's resume
Interviewing a software developer demands a thorough analysis of the candidate's experience. The recruiter should formulate specific questions on their resume related to the position so they can provide specific information such as responsibilities, achievements, pressure situations, or challenges they have encountered. Be aware of any inconsistencies or gaps in employment or education.
It's also important to ask questions about skills specifically related to the duties and responsibilities of the position. This will help uncover the candidates' strengths and weaknesses. Open-ended questions are best during interviews, such as "what was the most difficult challenge during your career?" or "what project have you participated in that you're most proud of?"
Questions from the candidate
The recruiter should answer any questions from the candidate with confidence, so they learn in-depth about the aspects of the job and have the ability to clarify their expectations as well as list the advantages of working for the company or agency. The candidate's questions determine whether the position and the firm are suitable for them. They also help the recruiter assess their level of interest and whether they have prepared adequately for the interview.
Many selection processes also require the software developer to perform a task that demonstrates their specific technical skills. If this is the case, it is best if the formulated test can be completed within 2 hours. Developers do not like to feel that they are working for free. This is also a form of respect.
Evaluating soft skills
Talking about assignments, let's highlight that technical skills are not everything. A software developer may be great at coding, but what about their soft skills? This type of professional should have an analytical, detail-oriented, and proactive profile. Going beyond the resume, prioritizing soft skills and personality, and not undervaluing them, builds a holistic approach. When applicants are invited to display their soft skills, they tend to loosen up and make the interview flow smoothly.
Providing a timeline
It's recommended to always indicate the expected time for the selection process, when the candidate will receive feedback, and when the final result will be available. Ideally, it shouldn't take more than 3–4 weeks because 66% of applicants give up if selection procedures last too long.
Behavioral Assessment Techniques
There are some techniques that recruiters and managers can use to better comprehend the candidates' experience and behavior when interviewing software developers. One of them is called the STAR Method, an acronym for its steps: Situation, Task, Action, and Results. Structuring the questions by following these stages of the answer makes it easier to better understand the candidate's experience and to obtain valuable details that may influence the final decision. These are situational and hypothetical scenarios of something the candidate had to deal with, and they complete the context by telling when or where it happened. So, you can structure the question more or less like this:
- Tell me about a situation when…
- Describe an experience in which you had to deal with…
- Could you share an example of a situation in which…
- What needed to be done?
- What changes were needed?
- What challenges arose from this?
- What was the expected outcome?
- What did you do?
- How did you do it?
- Why did they choose that approach?
- Were there alternatives they rejected, and why?
- What was the outcome?
- Are you proud of the achievements?
If the software developer is able to concisely explain what their experiences and accomplishments were in a quantitative and qualitative manner, this will also tell you something about their values and behavior, as well as their ability for evaluation and analysis. The STAR Method also provides enough information for the recruiter or manager to understand if there is a cultural fit and if the candidate's core values align with the company's culture, providing a comprehensive answer that highlights their problem-solving skills, teamwork, and ability to achieve successful outcomes. Here's an example of its use in a hypothetical interview with a developer:
Interview Question: Could you tell me about a situation in which you had to troubleshoot a complex technical issue?
Situation: In my previous experience, we were nearing a critical project deadline for a major client. The client reported a critical bug that was causing the application to crash intermittently.
Task: We had to identify the root cause of the bug and implement a solution to ensure the application's stability before the deadline.
Action: It began with the error log analysis and reviewing the codebase to understand the context. I worked with the QA team to reproduce the problem and gather new input. So, we realized that the bug was related to a memory leak that was triggered under specific conditions. To solve the issue, I conducted a super-detailed code review as well as used debugging tools to trace the flow of the application and identify the specific code segment responsible for the memory leak. I asked a senior developer for guidance and researched similar cases and their potential solutions. After identifying the problematic code, I realized that fixing it would involve optimizing memory management and implementing a more efficient data structure. I worked extra hours to implement the solution that was reached through thorough testing to ensure the application's stability.
Result: The bug was successfully resolved before the project deadline. I could also significantly improve the application's performance and stability. The project was delivered on time, meeting all requirements. Finally, the client was impressed with our quick response and agility, which exceeded their expectations.
In this example, using the STAR Method helps the developer simplify the description of complex technical issues, providing the interviewer with the possibility of a thorough analysis of teamwork, implementing a well-researched solution, and achieving a successful outcome for both the project and the client.
Technical Interview Strategies
Normally, a manager or other subject matter expert (SME) will be technically interviewing software developers in order to assess the candidate's hard skills in a more rigorous way, trying to assess the candidate's approach to IT-related situations. Also, in the majority of cases, it's more important to understand the thought processes of the developer than the proper solution for the problem presented.
This way, the manager or SME must prepare themselves as much as the developer, showing interest in their resume and experience by taking a look at the projects they have participated in and their skill set in detail. This already creates the opportunity to ask about real-world projects in such a high degree of detail that it is too good to pass up. It's also interesting to conduct a practical test since the closer an interview is to real-world experience, the better. This may be the implementation of a small feature, looking at existing code to find bugs and improvements, or talking through some design choices.
When conducting practical tests, it's essential to provide a clear problem statement, ensuring that candidates understand the task in depth to effectively demonstrate their skills. There are some steps for that: defining the problem, specifying the requirements, providing sample input and output, clarifying use cases, stipulating a time limit as well as the evaluation criteria, and most importantly, allowing the developer to use their creativity during the process without limiting their possible innovative solutions.
A technical assignment to be delivered in the next few days is a good way to find out more about the developer's knowledge and skills. But, remember, this task should not take more than 2 hours (developers don't like to feel they are working for free), so it should be very well planned. A short technical test can provide a lot of extra content to discuss and build on during the process. To summarize, to make the most out of every minute available, a technical interview with software developers can be planned like this, considering it lasts about an hour:
- 10 minutes discussing relevant experience and previous roles
- 15 minutes talking about the candidate's main programming language and its features
- 20 minutes for the coding exercise, including time to discuss the solution
- 15 minutes to address questions from the candidate, discuss the role, and the take-home assignment
While this moment is to openly assess the software developer's technical knowledge, it's mandatory to pay close attention to their communication and interpersonal skills. Soft skills can not only be assessed in initial meetings but also play an important role in the success of a team when combined with the hard ones as well as with programming experience.
Overcoming Interview Biases
When interviewing software developers or professionals from other areas, there are subconscious or unconscious prejudices that may affect the hiring process, leading to a candidate's unfair and inaccurate evaluation. These are called interview biases, important things related to the interviewer's behavior that must be recognized and addressed to ensure a fair selection process. Some common ones are:
- Confirmation bias: interviewers tend to focus on information that confirms their initial impression of a candidate and overlook evidence that contradicts it.
- The halo/horn effect: occurs when a single positive or negative trait of a candidate influences the interviewer's overall perception of them.
- Similarity bias: the act of favoring candidates who share similar backgrounds, interests, or experiences, leading to a lack of diversity in hiring.
- Stereotyping: preconceived notions based on gender, race, age, or other characteristics that can influence judgments about a candidate's abilities
- Contrast effect: evaluating a candidate based on the qualities of the previously interviewed ones.
- First impression bias: forming initial judgments within the first few minutes that heavily influence the interviewer's assessment.
- Affinity bias: interviewers may unconsciously favor candidates they personally like or feel comfortable with.
- Anchoring bias: an interviewer's first impression of a candidate can "anchor" subsequent evaluations, influencing how to assess their whole performance.
- Beauty bias: attractive candidates might receive more favorable evaluations based on physical appearance rather than skills.
- Status quo bias: preferring candidates who resemble current employees, potentially limiting diversity and innovation.
- Availability heuristic: basing judgments on recent experiences or readily available information rather than a comprehensive assessment.
- Overconfidence bias: the interviewer overestimates their ability to accurately judge a candidate's potential.
These are some measures to mitigate these biases and conduct fair interviews:
- Preparing structured Interviews using a standardized list of questions for all candidates to ensure consistency.
- Training interviewers to recognize and counteract biases, emphasizing the importance of objective evaluations.
- Creating diverse interview panels, including a diverse group of interviewers, to bring varied perspectives and reduce bias.
- Blinding evaluation with redacting identifying information (for example name or gender) from resumes and applications before review.
- Using scorecards and rubrics for objective evaluation criteria and scoring systems to assess candidates consistently.
- Outlining feedback consensus by discussing candidate evaluations as a panel to prevent individual biases from influencing decisions.
- Regularly review the interview process, identifying areas of bias and implementing changes to address them.
Creating an inclusive and fair interview process is crucial to building a diverse and talented team and ensuring fair opportunities for all candidates. Another consequence of this is encouraging diversity and inclusion, which are essential to fostering a positive working environment and driving innovation. A wide range of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds builds a diverse workforce that not only drives business success but also contributes to a more inclusive and equitable society.
Post-Interview Evaluation and Decision-Making
So, the hardest part is the final evaluation of the candidates and the decision-making process. The first measure for this, obviously, is to collect feedback from all the interviewers involved in the selection. Inputs from the recruiter and the manager or SME regarding the candidate's skills, cultural fit, and potential should be placed on the table to be analyzed by following structured evaluation criteria. A standardized evaluation form for assessing abilities, behaviors, and qualifications ensures consistency in scoring and ranking candidates, as well as comparing them objectively. They provide a range of benefits that contribute to fair, consistent, and effective assessment processes. If all candidates are evaluated using the same clear criteria, questions, and rating scales, biases are reduced, ensuring fairness based on specific and measurable factors.
To ensure the efficiency of the decision-making process, it is necessary to hold a debriefing meeting with all interviewers to discuss their assessments. This collaborative discussion can help uncover different perspectives and provide new insights. Subsequently, a consensus can be reached on whether to move forward with one candidate and not do the same with the others, addressing any disagreements or concerns. The debriefing will bring together all the standardized assessments of the interviewers and objectively determine the final outcome.
Taking up these measures makes it possible to establish data-driven hiring decisions using objective criteria to base them on quantifiable data, such as skills assessments, technical test results, and behavioral observations. It's important to assign different weights to evaluation criteria based on their importance to the role, ensuring a balanced assessment. Analytics tools may also help analyze interview performance across candidates and interviewers. Effective decision-making is a collaborative effort that requires input from multiple perspectives.
Once the decision has been made, it is time to provide feedback to all candidates, regardless of whether or not they move forward in the process. Building a structured and consistent feedback format that highlights strengths, areas for improvement, and specific examples from the interview is a user-friendly presentation that can add value to the candidates by helping them better understand their performance. It is also recommended that this feedback be provided soon after the interview to ensure that candidates receive timely information regardless of the outcome.
Nevertheless, feedback is not just a one-hand way road when closing a selection process. Asking candidates to evaluate how it has worked for them helps recruiters, managers, and SMEs understand possible improvements to be implemented in the future.
Interviewing software developers should be a strategically thought-out process so that it becomes simple and brings the expected results. For this, it is necessary to keep in mind the following phases and the solutions that fit into each of them:
- Attract great talent with job descriptions presented as limiting but covering the possibilities in a flexible way.
- Effectively plan the screening interview by structuring the conversation into specific steps while providing a good candidate experience.
- Use techniques for the analysis of behavior from the formulation of questions in hypothetical situations, such as the STAR Method.
- Plan a dynamic technical interview to openly assess the software developer's technical knowledge while still taking into account their interpersonal skills and personality.
- Be aware of possible biases towards candidates during the interview based on subjective perceptions or cultural and structural preconceptions.
- Organize the post-interview assessment in the most efficient way for decision-making, bringing together all interviewers involved in the process and objectively quantifying soft and hard skills.
- Provide appropriate feedback that adds value to candidates, regardless of the outcome. At the same time, ask them for constructive feedback that will help improve the conduct of future selection processes.
Mastering the art of interviewing software developers leads to a better and fairer selection of candidates. When interviewers are able to assess candidates' qualifications, technical and personal skills, and cultural values, they are more likely to hire candidates who excel in their roles and contribute to the business' success. Hiring professionals who fit in with their teams contribute to a positive team dynamic and greater collaboration. This, in turn, improves the team's overall performance and productivity. As we mentioned earlier, the job vacancy landscape for software developers is quite vast, and the best talent will be attracted not only by the possibilities offered by the company or agency but also by the impression they make through their hiring process. Investing in it has a direct impact on the company and is an excellent indicator of its cultural values and ability to develop talent throughout its growth path.