Interviewing Offshore Resources

The first set of interviews is typically performed during vendor selection stage. The goal of this interview process is not to pick members for the team; instead it is to form your opinion of the vendor capability to build a team. I typically use a speed-dating style interviewing with individual interviews limited to 20 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.

During this speed-interviewing marathon I am not particular interested in individual performance of the team members. I do make a note of people I really like, in case if the vendor is selected these people would make good prospects for the team.

In order to prepare for the interview and perform it with decent productivity you need to go through the following steps:

  • Define make up of the group you’d like to interview and communicate it to the vendor. For example:

5 Project Managers
5 Tech Leads
5 Business Analysts
10 Java Developers
5 QA Leads
5 QA Black Box Testers
5 QA Automation Engineers

For each of the position you would need to outline rough requirement s, for example Tech Lead may mean 7+ years in SW Development, 5+ years in Java, 5+ years in managing a team for 5+, etc. That list should keep you busy for a couple of days.

  • Communicate to the vendor interview process, goals and objectives
  • Create list of questions for each position. There are a plenty of websites offering tech interview questions and answers. I recommend creating cheat sheets with Q & A and printing them for the interview sessions.
  • Keep track of interview progress with a simple spreadsheet. Below is an example of table. I use 1 – 10 rating.
  • Name / Skill Role Exp, Yrs PM Lead QA BB QA A SQL Oracle MS SQL Java Hbrn Spring J2EE
    Ravi Krishnamurthy TL 8/6 6 7 8 6 8 9 5 0 6
    Srini Randhawa JD 8/6 6 3 5 5 0 0 3
    Lala Caitul QAL 5 8 8 10 6
    Rajiv Shah QA 3 6 4
  • Sharing the results with me vendor is a good idea, especially if the vendor is one of the winners of the race. Chances are that would be a humbling experience for the vendor.

When it comes to interviewing people for specific roles on the team during team ramp up or when replacing the team members speed-dating style is not going to produce the results you are looking for. You will need more close and personal interviewing style with substantially higher investment on both sides.
For each of the positions you will need a position description, very similar to the one you would use for captive resources, consider the following sections for the document:

  • Position challenges & rewards
  • Typical Duties and Responsibilities
  • Required Skills, Experience and Background
  • Desired Skills, Experience and Background
  • Desired Personal Qualities

The document should cater to several audiences: internal, vendor and potentially the candidate. The better is the document the higher the chances of finding the right match; share as much of the details with the vendor as you can possibly gather at the point of recruitment.

Next step involves securing and organizing Interview Squad – the team that will be involved in the process of resource selection. Make sure to clearly define roles and responsibilities of the team members, communicate job requirements, outline the process, and agree on techniques.

Prepare interview questions and tests. Your materials will save you from waste of time so often common for ad hoc interviewing and will keep your team focused and productive. The questions / tests should cover the following objectives:

  • Validate Skills
  • Discover Talents
  • Validate Experience
  • Asses Personality
  • Asses Abilities

During interview you will need to accomplish three basic tasks: gather information, provide information and radiate good will. It’s a common misconception that last two items apply only to full time / captive resources. In reality they are possibly even more important in offshore scenario as resources come from the same pool. If you fall short on radiating good will it is likely to backfire in later stage of the project, a mistake I made a few times and paid for dearly.

In every interview I typically highlight three components whether these are internal or external / offshore interviews:

  • Set the Stage

o Courtesy questions / break the ice
o Introduce the process / agenda
o Establish expectations
o Sale on the company
o Sale on the position

  • Perform

o Questions & Answers
o Tests
o Discussions

  • Clean Up / Closure

o Discussion / Q & A
o Sale reinforcement
o Next steps / expectations

Questions, test and interviewing techniques are similar to those you’d use in a regular interviewing process; I won’t go in details on those here. There are a few factors that you need to keep in mind while performing the interview / evaluating results related to the offshore nature of the resources:

  • Your candidates have two masters to please. That affects everything in the way they present themselves from speech patterns to content of the answers.
  • Time differences / lack of clarity / procedural hurdles will work against the candidate as well.
  • Remote nature of the interview work against both parties.

So the likelihood is the candidate won’t do their best and you need to account for it when evaluating results. You also should consider mitigating risk of incorrect assessment by some simple steps:

  • Go there and interview your candidates face to face; if that’s cost prohibitive consider solid conferencing tools, at least webcam on both sides.
  • Invest diligently in the interviewing process and ensure that your vendor buys into it.
  • Make sure that the vendor does good job in sourcing the candidates and communicating the job requirements as well as promoting the good will.
  • Make sure that vendor representatives are involved in the interview process and not only at administrative level. As you select team members get them involved in following interviewing activities.
  • After each interview run a quick retrospective concentrating on process and candidate quality improvement.

Of course this is just a superficial overview of the subject. Interviewing in general is a very complex task, requires lifetime learning, and is one of the most important factors in managing successful offshore engagements. The good part about it is we get a plenty of chances to learn it.

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