This is one of the more difficult columns I have ever written, and one that I know will bring with it a considerable amount of disagreement and controversy. GOOD! (I warn you it is long, but totally insightful).
While writing this article, my thoughts kept blooming, in essence germinating, from years of listening to both sides, (company/candidate) of the pre and post interview results. It became incredibly apparent that someone needed to address the pitfalls associated with interviewing, because “clearly”, the problem seems to be so widespread, especially in EDA. The sprouting of the problem comes from virtually every company thinking they are perfect at conducting interviews, and thus the concluding yea or nay-ultimate decisions resulting therein. Quite simply, bad questions, poor communication and engagement in, bad results and poor conclusions out! That is simply, the reality, and why good guys are sometimes judged unfairly.
I felt compelled to write this column because I am firmly convinced that the good pairing of candidates with companies, is substantially reduced because of inaccurate summations, and way too quick judgments. Simply put, I think an inconsistent criterion is all too often applied when making decisions on hiring a candidate. Let me explain (and just for the record, I am not talking about clearly unqualified candidates here).
My goal in writing this article is to focus some serious attention on the hiring/interviewing process. It is incredibly clear to me that a serious disconnect exists in how companies interview, and thus the conclusions made as a result of their supposed findings. I know companies can do better qualifying candidates, thus giving them the proper chance to prove their worthiness and abilities.
So, how about if we start the interviewing process with a different attitude; perhaps a new perspective? Instead of doing all you can to “NOT” qualify a candidate, try doing all you can to “HELP” the candidate qualify them self. Just think about how different the interview process and ambiance would be, and hopefully the results as well. In the end you would still have the needed detailed information to make a worthy decision, less the intimidation, and stress. Simply by changing your approach, the information would be even more qualified due to your engaging, rather than (what some might call) interrogating. Even the frequent feeling of a contest between interviewer and interviewee both diminishes. Keep this thought in mind as you read on.
I am doing EDA recruiting a long time (last year alone counts as 3 years). Over the past MANY years, I have conducted hundreds, probably thousands of both pre and post interviews. I am known for being very thorough, with both company and candidate, always trying to attain the best information I can about how the interview (or even the resume review) was perceived. I always want to hear the two sides thoughts, impressions, and conclusions following the interview. During that time, I have heard almost every response imaginable.
Further, I have heard companies “pre-summations” made from simply reviewing a resume (which is why I write so much about how important it is to have a strong resume), and their determinations made therein. Point is too many decisions often made from too little or inaccurate information.
So, I make the following claims below after listening clearly to what both sides say, and then use a complex mathematical formula with specific proprietary algorithms I have developed to extrapolate some kind of reality. (Program will be for sale as soon as I HIRE the right “developers.” Problem is, none have passed the muster (my criteria and expectations) thus far. Hence that leads to my point. If I wait for the absolute perfect candidate, I may never get my product released.
OK, I know it is never good to generalize, or say everyone in a certain group of people is a particular way…I would never, or would I? When it comes to all you technical folks, I can honestly tell you that more often than not, qualified engineers do not get the call back because of the way they present, or should I say misrepresent themselves. All too often they think their experience should speak for itself, and long explanations “proving” their knowledge is not all that necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth! Never take for granted what you THINK someone should know about what you have done, NEVER! Another common misnomer is cultural; the way people from different cultures present themselves. Interpretations of folks from different backgrounds can vary widely, and thusly, wrong conclusions can easily be drawn.
Time after time, regardless of how good a background the candidate has, regardless how good he/she THINKS he/she did, the company feedback is usually similar. The usual recant is some derivative of …”when we asked certain questions he/she should know, they hesitated and did not seem sure of the answer”. (Geez, so please explain how this person lasted in the domain for 5 years, not knowing the basics, does not make sense). The candidates, when discussing how it went, usually tell me (of course) quite the opposite; everything from “I thought I answered all their questions and did fairly well”, to “they asked questions that I thought I answered quite correctly, but they seemed to not agree”, or “they expected me to know answers in line with what they were doing, and how could I know how they do what do, or the way they do”, and of course, everything in-between.
Frequently (and I know that few candidates believe they did poorly) I am left wondering, was it the candidate who did not answer the questions sufficiently, or was it the interviewers expecting answers to questions that a reasonable candidate would not know? Was it perhaps that the particular interviewer approaches the problem from a totally different perspective; I never really know for sure. Now remember there are always two sides to what happened; but one must ask, was it the result of the wrong kinds of questions, or perhaps the wrong expectations from the questions asked, and the answers given?
Before I go on, consider the following, which I think helps make my points. It is a quote from my respected friend Carol Hallett (VP of WW Sales and Marketing for Formal Verification Company Real Intent). Carol said something I found quite profound, yet so simple that I had to repeat it….She said, “to be able to ask a question clearly is 2/3 of the way to getting it answered (clearly)”. Interviewers must take note to this simple suggestion if they want good answers.
You see my friends, sometimes I think that what a company expects a candidate to know is sometimes unfair, (hear me out before you jump) and even worse, often based so much on “the particular company product, and the internal way “it/they” work. Clearly most of you are very smart and I am not suggesting this always happens, but I know it happens enough to merit attention to the problem. Now I hear many of you saying, “of course, why would we expect anything different, we have that right”, and to that I say true, but not true. (I am such a politician). You have a right to expect them to know the domain, not the way you interpret the domain!
So lets start with the telephone phone screen, and how unfair I think the telephone pre-screen can be, especially for foreigners. I make my living talking to people that I often understand barely half of what they say…(”just being real here”). On asking simple questions, I have to FREQUENTLY repeat the question using different syntax so it is more easily understood, and I am not asking overly technical questions. You do not want to know how often I have to ask them to repeat what they said as well. So now imagine a “technical” PHONE interview (most of the times on a cell, and we all know how challenging simple cell conversations can be) and we can see how this can compound the frustration. Now add trying to figure out answers to complex questions, language misunderstandings, and difficulties etc. well, certainly anyone can see how unfair this is to both parties. The candidate is already so nervous, and not having the ability to look at the person to help FEEL the questions, puts them at a major disadvantage. Now again, I am not stupid…I get that phone screens are necessary, but clearly they should be short and consolidated. The telephone screen should be a preliminary screen. The talk should be more about what the candidate has done, perhaps some talk about the position, and even the expectations of that position from both sides. A phone screen should lay the groundwork for the follow up “in person interview”. It is a basic pre-qualifier, and nothing more. A PHONE SCREEN SHOULD (ALMOST) NEVER BE USED FOR TECHNICAL SCREENINGS OF CANDIDATES . There are certainly a few reasonable exceptions, like perhaps, when the candidate is out of town. Clearly it is then necessary to further qualify the candidate before taking on the expense of bringing them in. Sure (in both cases) you cover the basics, sure you ask a few relevant questions but after that, bring the person in and give them a fair, IN PERSON, EYE TO EYE chance. What you see when you talk to someone can change everything. And how about when these guys are asked questions that merit a white board to answer, is that fair to ask on the phone? NO!