Part 1: Have tech giants nailed the interview process? Not quite…



Building a brand – that’s the massive thing right now. You’ll see articles across the internet explaining how to ‘build a brand’ and be recognised as an employer of choice. Day to day in my line of work, I see a frequent problem for successful start-ups, a problem that can easily lead to their premature demise. Small businesses are unable to build their brand and scale their business due to an inefficient hiring processes.

Rapidly scaling start-ups can sometimes be (mis)guided by following the mentality of hiring like the big tech giants – think Facebook, Google, Amazon. Their convoluted, seemingly cunning and lengthy interview process can be a real inhibitor to scaling and growing a company.

These giants boast a constant supply of top talent knocking at their door, waiting for an opportunity. For your growing business, understanding what these giants are doing is important, but they don’t necessarily have the interview tactics that you should be employing. I’ve examined some of their interview practices and assess their actual importance…

  1. Obscure Logical questions – Everyone has read stories about how Google will ask how many Piano Tuners there are in London (102 if you are interested), this is all to do with logical thought and to see how the applicant can break down a large problem into lots of smaller ones, something commonly referred to as First Principles Thinking.

    If the applicant in question cannot demonstrate First Principles Thinking does this mean they are a bad engineer, the answer is no. All Software Engineers should be able to demonstrate an ability for critical thinking and problem solving but in the high pressure of an interview where everyone is desperate to impress is that really the best time to bring out the piano tuners question?
  1. “The Bar Raiser” – This is part of Jeff Bezos’ hiring mentality. For those unfamiliar with his theory it is as follows: Every employee hired must be better than 50% already employed. This ensures the bar is constantly raised across the company, in order to ensure this there is a “bar setter” who sits in on every interview and will assess this, if the bar setter does not believe the person is better than 50% then a hire will not be made regardless of other decision makers.

    The fundamental problem with this mentality is that it is all assessed by one person. In one case, an ex-hiring manager conducted over 80 engineering interviews in his time at Amazon. He never made a hire due to the bar setter. It was later revealed that the hiring manager felt many of the applicants turned away were perfectly good engineers, who would have been a great company fit. Surely this isn't an outcome start-ups are looking to achieve?
  1. Interview processes with 3+ stages – This is all part of not making the wrong decision and making applicants meet as many people in the business as possible.

    The impact of this on a smaller business would be astronomical it leads to applicants asking the questions whether a hiring manager can make a decision. The reason these technical giants can get away with these ambitiously long interview processes is simply due to the apparent power they have over the market.
  1. “We need comparisons” – This is something all tech businesses, especially the larger ones, fall victim to, needing to see comparisons between applicants to make sure they are making an informed decision and getting the best person for the job.

    Surely if an engineer passes your criteria they are good enough for your job, regardless if there are no other comparisons it’s all around being objective and comfortable to decide. This can again have massive impact on smaller businesses, as applicants are left waiting for feedback and will most likely find another job in the meantime.
  1. “If you do not hear from us within X time please assume you are unsuccessful” – surely no need to explain this one.

    This frustrates me to no end. Any applicant that took the time to go through your interview process deserves proper constructive feedback. It’s all part of how your company and brand will be relayed to the wider audience. If generic feedback or none whatsoever, is given, how are you meant to improve on your interview technique?

If you’re a smaller brand, looking to make yourself an employer of choice, you may need to consider maximising applicant experience throughout the interview process rather than following the same tactics the giants use.

Focusing more on a streamlined, minimalist interview process, making sure hiring managers are engaged with the interviewees and maintaining the view it is a two-way process throughout. This is what will really allow your brand to grow, any positive applicant interview experience, culminating in great recommendations - this is what your growing business needs.

Stay tuned. In Part 2 I go into detail around actionable ways to master your small business tech interview process.


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