Top Ten Mistakes in Offshore Interviews

I intended to put a bunch of illustrations in my book, but only four pics made it there. Space was the major limiting factor, but I guess one of the pictures, 3 monkeys, was not included because it did not pass the “political correctness” bar. Well, I can imagine that some people in the audience could be offended with the term “code monkey”. There was no derogatory indication there, like there was no intent to portray all managers, including myself, as gorillas ;) the main point was actually quite lucid – it’s difficult to find good engineers, especially when during interviews many of them refuse to listen, see what’s going on, or talk.

Finding good engineers is difficult, especially when you are trying to do that through a third party reaching across thousands of miles via poor VoIP connection. There are not too many really good engineers to begin with, so no surprise here. But the lack of talent is not the point of today’s discussion. What I’d like to touch upon is the mistakes we often make while interviewing developers, mistakes that can result in missing those needles in haystack / diamonds in the rough.

If you erroneously hire a poor developer, that could be an expensive mistake, but it can be easily fixed. If you miss on a star, that is an unfixable failure. So you owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes to minimize the chance of failure, and thus avoid these common mistakes:

1. Come unprepared. Do you have the following components in place?

  • a plan of attack (well, plan/agenda for the interview)
  • clear understanding of the role
  • technical requirements
  • personality requirements
  • must have / nice to have definitions
  • technical evaluation questions / tests
  • personality evaluation questions / tests

If not, if any of these items are missing your chances of failure to find a good engineer are pretty high, and if it’s more than one item is missing the probability of a failure skyrockets.

2. Do it alone. There are plenty of good reasons why most high importance tasks are typically performed by a team of at least two people (think pilots, cops, snipers, surgeons – they never work alone as the cost of mistake would be far to high).

3. Talk too much. It’s not your day in court or 45 minutes of fame. The goal is to listen what candidate can offer.

4. Let the candidate talk too much. As s/he speaks s/he inevitably presents more information for you to make a decision. But very quickly monologs come to a point of diminishing return giving you no new data but eating into valuable interview time.

5. Let candidate run the show. Starting interview with “tell me something about yourself” – would be an open invitation for the candidate to run the show. Answering to many candidate’s question is another shortcut to losing control. Focus on your objectives and stay within boundaries of your plan.

6. Get distracted. Answering phone, stepping out, responding to text and email while interviewing is not only utterly impolite, it radiates a bad impression and is detrimental to getting what you need out of the time allocated for the interview.

7. Let your gut decide. While your intuition is important it’s also unreliable. It’s easily affected by variety of factors ranging from inherit biases to what you had for lunch.

8. Underestimate the impact of cultural differences. Cross-cultural communications is a challenge to begin with, the interview environment – short time span, lack of knowledge about each other, inherit tension between “buyer” and “provider” – make establishing quality communication especially complex, practically unachievable. As a result mutual misunderstanding commonly accompanies offshore interviews.

9. Fail to sell. One of the goals of the interview process is to “sell” a candidate the position s/he is being interviewed for. Failing to do so is likely to result in missing on a good candidates.

10. Not take notes. Whether you are interviewing just a couple people a day or going through a marathon interview with 30+ people per day, chances are you will very quickly you will forget names, your ratings, supporting facts, etc. Take notes in a structured manner during interview or/and update them right after the meeting.

If interviewing offshore resources is a large part of your job, even if it’s just temporary, I strongly recommend that you convert this list above into a simple check list and keep it handy / look at it every time before you make that Skype call…

3 thoughts on “Top Ten Mistakes in Offshore Interviews

  1. Hi Nick, first I very much like your book. There are so few practical info on outsourcing, very informative.

    About the interview process for coders, can you recommend some online resources/services to setup/run the technical porting of the interview? I’ve been looking for an online quizz/test service to no avail.

  2. Thanks for good words about my book! One of the simplest way interview automated is to use tools provided by job boards. The tools they give you are quite limited though, and for a good reason – you do not want to combine candidate sourcing and interviewing as it is likely to drastically decrease number of candidates you will see. If you want to get some portion of interview automated to filter out candidates (that only makes sense if you are overwhelmed with number of applicants) you can get your candidates to take an online survey, use surveymonkey and questions you can define yourself or pull from the net (here are just a couple sources: http://www.techinterviews.com/, http://www.rileyguide.com/interview.html, or http://www.roseindia.net/interviewquestions/).

    – Nick

  3. I think employers should spend less time asking about what’s already in the candidate’s resume, and more on the skills in it that applies to the job. I’ve been through a lot of job interviews and many recruiters just ask what’s already there, which I already know like the back of my hand. Others come up with some weird Ms. Universe like questions.

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