Offshore Interviews: Basics

There are plenty of books, articles and various materials on the Net pertaining to technical interviewing. There are several substantial differences that need to be accounted for when dealing with offshore resources. The first one is a mindset.

Many people who outsource large scope IT initiatives outsource interviewing as well. They see sourcing (finding, interviewing, negotiating, etc.) activities as responsibility of vendor. In addition many vendors not only prefer but insist on keeping that activity internal to the vendor.

Depending on the scope of outsourcing initiative and your own bandwidth you my elect outsource the sourcing completely or to some degree. In my opinion that is the area where you need to stay involved. Quality of the resources is one of the highest risks for offshore outsourcing, and one of the factors that affects total cost of outsourcing at a very high degree. You should only outsource it if you believe that the vendor can do a very good job in sourcing, and how can you get there? – only by interviewing their resources. So interviewing is unavoidable, at least during the vendor selection process.

More so when you move into the first stage of engagement and your vendor puts together a team, how can you control the process and ensure that the team has quality resources? Amid of engagement when inevitable turnover kicks in how can you control that the quality of the resources is not going down? The uninspected deteriorates. [Dwight David Eisenhower] Only by getting involved in the interviewing.

I believe in the following interviewing schema:

  • Vendor selection stage. Interview a fair sampling of resources that are “softly” committed to the engagement. The size of the sampling depends on the size of the engagement and your bandwidth. The goal of this interview process is not to pick members for the team, it is to form your opinion of the vendor capability to build a team.
  • Kick off / Team Building stage. Interview all/subset of the team for the engagement. The scope of the interview depends on the size of the team and your bandwidth. For small teams, say under 20 people, “all” is the goal. For mid sized and large teams the leaders of the team and other key members must be interviewed. A fair sampling of the rest of the team must be interviewed as well.
  • On-going engagement. Interview replacements for all key team members. Do a spot-check interview for new members.

And for now just a few tips on interviewing process:

  • During Vendor Selection stage I typically use speed-dating style interviewing with individual interviews limited to 30 minutes covering ~20 people a day. It is important to have at least two people involved in the interview process working together, one of the main reason for that is a continues feedback and support they can provide to each other to stay on the top of the process and increase quality of discovery.
  • Interviews during the Kick off / Team Building stage and ongoing engagement should be substantially more involved, especially for the key members. That typically means multiple people involved in the interview on your side, several dimension of interviewing, e.g. technical, personality fit, etc. The investment in the interview process has a very high return, however it still need to be weighed against the contract terms and the scope of engagement.
  • The investment in interviewing process should be proportional to the expected value of the resources, e.g. technical lead for the project vs. black box tester. The process of selecting key members of the team deserves as much vigor and attention as if you are selecting full time employees. On a typical s/w development engagement the key members of the team include project manager, tech lead, QA lead, business analysts, and some senior engineering contributors.

The process of a full scale interview is similar to one for fulltime employees. It is easier to some degree as many non-technical issues, e.g. salary, do not need to be covered. It has its own challenges though, for example obvious issues of remote interviewing. I will cover interviewing in a separate post.

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