Tech Recruiting 101: How to Interview Engineers Even if You Know Next to Nothing About Software Development

Meghan-Maher by

Whether you’re in a recruiting function at a startup, an expansion-stage company, or a large corporation, if you’re working in the software industry, it is likely you will have multiple open engineering positions at any given time. In the tech world, strong engineers are like gold, and companies are in a competition to get the best of the best.

It’s often up to the recruiting team to source and interview candidates to decide if they are a fit for the role, but what if you don’t have a computer science degree? What if you aren’t a Java coding expert? How can you tell if a software engineer is good or not?

Recruiting software engineers is different than recruiting for any other role. OpenView recently published a report offering insights into the keys to recruiting software engineers sucessfully that offers tools and tactics for landing top talent, but I wanted to provide some additional pointers when it comes to conducting your interviews.

How to Interview Software Engineers: 3 Tips for Non-Technical Recruiters

1) Don’t Ask Leading Questions

Questions like “Do you know Java?” aren’t very productive. Chances are candidates have heard of it, and have maybe even worked with it, at least in passing. Regardless, if they want the job, they will say yes — whether or not they can actually write a program in Java that really works is the real question.

Instead, ask candidates which programming languages they are most comfortable with, and which they used in their last project. If possible, dig a little deeper — if they say .NET framework, ask them which version (3.0, 3.5, 4.0). If they say JavaScript, ask them if they have used any libraries. This will help you understand whether they are being completely accurate and honest or just saying what you want to hear because they read the job description and know what is required.

2) Own Up to Your Lack of Technical Knowledge

Be up front and tell candidates that you are not technical, then ask them to explain their most recent project to you. Most companies would like an engineer who can clearly communicate with the business side and others who don’t have a heavy tech background. Candidates also need to understand their project well enough to be able to convey it to you in a way that you will understand, as well.

3) Ask for Help

Try to get a list of questions from the hiring manager along with the answers that you would be looking for. It also may be helpful to sit down with an engineer on the team to get more insight into the day-to-day work that the team does. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, most recruiters don’t code in their spare time.

Bottom Line

Hiring software engineers is somewhat of a necessary evil. It’s not easy but it needs to be done, in fact often more often than other roles in the company. While the hiring process will typically involve subsequent interviews with engineers and hiring managers as well as white boarding and code samples, the process will go a lot smoother if recruiters are well prepared to weed out the bad candidates from the beginning.

Senior Talent Manager, Engineering