Remote interviews: no more excuses

We’re the impetus for ~20 engineer-to-engineer interviews/week – either clients talking to candidates or internal technical screens to validate quality before the client sees the candidate. Some of our candidates are from out of town or out of state, and our consultants can’t leave their office for every interview they’re going to do – so we want to make remote interviews work.

The good part is that the technology is really there: I’m asked enough how we do it that I wanted to write it up quickly. You really just need two tools: Google Hangouts and Collabedit.

Google Hangouts: This is the first 1-1 or multi-user video chat that I’ve found just works almost 100% of the time – very little video stuttering, no terrible echoes just because your mike and your speaker are on the same piece of hardware (i.e. your laptop), and really easy to get going. We tell candidates we’re going to use this ahead of time and ask them to get it set up – and while some candidates don’t have webcams, that’s becoming rarer and rarer. We send out a Hangout link ahead of time when we can (as Google Apps users, we get access to those), but you can easily just use gmail chat and go right to video.

I can’t emphasize enough that Google Hangouts have demonstrated that the future is here – you can legitimately start these conversations on the fly and feel confident that they will work at least as often as your cell phone connection will. I’ve never been able to say this about skype or other solutions.

Also note that Hangouts have a one-click screen sharing option, so either the interviewer or the candidate can replace their face with a window at any point. But why do that when you have…

Collabedit: Collabedit is a real-time shared coding window: you create a link on the fly (and can share it via chat), pick the language for formatting, and then ask questions and see real typed-out answers. There are similar solutions, other EtherPad-based clones like Stypi – I’ve just been consistently happy with Collabedit. I’ll often start the interview with the question I want to ask in a comment that I can just paste into the collabedit window, so the candidate doesn’t have to remember what I said out loud.

Note that we’re using this to replace the traditional technical phone screen as often as we can – I’d like to be there 100% of the time soon. There are many problems with the typical phone screen – I’ve found at least two of them to be improved this way:

  • Interviewers focus better. It’s easy to get distracted by incoming email or a piece of code if nobody can really see what you’re doing, and information just disappears. The video requirement really does mean you get better feedback.
  • Fewer forgiven sins. Even with just a small amount of data, it’s clear that we’re passing fewer candidates with video/code than we did with phone screens. Since we go into every screen wanting the candidate to be successful, it’s easier to paper over flaws you think might be there when you’ve just heard voices – it’s harder to do that when you’ve really interacted.

That’s it: two tools that make hiring folks in other locations a more comfortable and confident experience.