Thursday, August 1 2019

interviews and smalltalk

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Dear Journal,

I had a pretty tough time rolling out of bed this morning. I think I’m still a little exhausted from yesterday. I had back to back meetings most of the day, including a two hour long interview training. That was the meeting I had been dreading most of the day, but it actually turned out to be pretty interesting and helpful. We talked about the different types of biases that can creep into how your perceive interview candidates, and how it’s best to just avoid small talk.

Which makes sense. In an environment where you can be held legally responsible for discriminating against someone’s religion, gender, age, or appearance, small talk is a a can of worms that’s not worth opening. “What part of town are you from?” “Do you prefer nerdy video game A or B?” “You must like to break the rules - I can tell from that awesome tattoo on your face.”

Not to say you can’t be friendly and relatable with a candidate. You can still talk about what you’re working on, and what you think about the company, how the position has changed over the years, etc.

During the training, I was reflecting on some of the interviews I’ve seen. Occasionally, I conduct code screens for candidates, where I have to give people problems to solve with code, or administer technical quizzes. One time I had a guy who was being secretly helped by a friend. While he was quietly working on the coding problem I gave him, I could hear whispering and multiple keyboards typing and at some point, they must have forgotten they were trying to keep it a secret, because they just started discussing the problem aloud. “Um, how many people are there?” I asked. “Just two, my friend is helping me.” At that point, I think there was already a mutual understanding that the interview was going nowhere, so after making it clear that this was against the rules and you can’t have help during the coding challenge, I introduced myself and got to know his friend.

Doing remote interviews with college students is a lot of fun too. Most of them take the calls right from their dorm, and there will be silly posters on the wall, or a wet towel with mold on it hanging in plain view of the camera. Sometimes their roommate will barge in unexpectedly and I get to witness some brief animosity.

Interviews are a fun glimpse into people’s life. Everyone prepares and behaves differently. I enjoy watching people adapt, stay composed, and diffuse the tension in their own special way.

What adaptations do you make when you’re nervous? How do you keep your composure, and what do you do to break the ice?