Interview practice

I’ve given quite a few interviews over the past year. I enjoy interviewing candidates to determine if they would be a good fit at Orbitz. I also enjoy being the face of Orbitz to those who come in for interviews, trying my best to make the candidate want to work at Orbitz (which is at least one-half of the interview).

But, after every interview I give, I always come out with a feeling that I could have done better. My questions could have been clearer, my topics should have been more diverse, I could have represented Orbitz a little better, etc. After a recent interview, I proposed something to a couple of my teammates…interview practice.

I proposed that those who interview candidates practice their interviewing skills on other Orbitz engineers. I think this could be valuable for many reasons.

It gives you great feedback on your questions. If an engineer you work with and respect isn’t giving you the answer you are looking for on a particular question, perhaps the question is unclear, or too difficult for most of the interviews we are giving. Sure, it could also mean that my colleague may not have detailed knowledge of that topic. But, if I think my colleague is a solid engineer, and that I’d like to hire more people like this person, then I want to make sure that I don’t unintentionally weed-out a candidate of this person’s caliber. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask this question, but instead maybe weigh the question a little bit lighter, or ask it as a “harder” question while pushing the candidate a bit.

Practice interviews help you hone your “interview agenda”. After a few practice sessions, you should have a fairly good idea how long to spend on each topic you want to cover. And, you should develop more than enough questions to challenge the candidates who easily plow through your warm up questions.

Practice interviews give you a great forum to try out and tune new questions. If you think a coding exercise may be a little too complex for a 5 minute trip to the white board, then ask it and find out. If the mock candidate asks you questions to clarify the exercise that you cannot answer, then your question needs a bit more work. Whatever it may be, the practice interview is a much better place to try out new questions and exercises than a live interview.

If you really get into the role, and act as you would during a real interview, hopefully your trusted friend and colleague will have no trouble telling you if you are acting like a ass. In my opinion, one of the worst things you can do is talk down to, degrade, or make a candidate feel stupid if they are unable to answer a question. It’s unprofessional, mean, and will discourage somebody who may have turned out to be a great employee from joining the company.

These are just a few of the benefits that I see right away. I have a feeling that if we start holding these mock interviews, say once a week for about an hour, that we will quickly find other benefits as well. Should be an interesting experiment. If we kick it off, I’ll let you know how it works out.

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