Interviewing Best Practices

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The goal

Every interview should have a primary objective that you’re aiming to achieve which will be used to structure your questions around. It’s important that you have a clear narrative that you want to explore and insights that you want to gain from the interview to avoid both “just chatting” and descending into cliches (“where do you see yourself in five years?”, “what’s your biggest weakness?”). Generally speaking, interviews can cluster into:

  • Screening: Assess technical, behavioral, cultural, etc to determine whether it’s worth having a full set of interviews with someone
  • Technical: Questions focused on a person’s ability to execute the job with excellence
  • Behavioral/Cultural: Questions focused around whether someone will work well with and add value to the existing team, how they are likely to “click” in the organization, and the degree to which they can probably grow in the role

Common failures in interviews

There are a lot of things that folks often doing in interviews which either do a disservice to the interviewer, the interviewee, or both. These are things to look out for:

  • Forming a decision quickly: The average interview is decided within two minutes of its start; don’t be that guy. Give the candidate full time and focus, and try to find reasons why your initial decision is wrong
  • Having a “right” answer: Unless you are absolutely certain that there is only one right answer to a question (“what is 1+1” is a terrible interview question), do not assume that your expected answer is the best or only solution. If you have a response which deviates significantly from what you would expect, assume you are wrong and the candidate is right and explore their rationale and approach
  • Failure to prepare: You should be well prepared for every interview that you conduct, which means:
    • Read the CV and make notes (mental or on paper)
    • Have a standardized set of questions for all candidates
    • Have specific questions for each candidate based on the CV, feedback from prior interviews, etc

Responsibilities when in the room

As the interviewer, you have a lot of responsibility to the candidate to help them be their best; after all, you want to get the best read of how someone will perform in a normal work environment, not necessarily in the high-stress setting of an interview. Those responsibilities include:

  • Setting them at ease: To see what someone is normally like, you should make them as relaxed as possible. This can include having open body language, joking/relaxing them throughout the conversation, and giving encouragement when appropriate. Some people are poor at interviews, that should not penalize them
  • Managing the time: In the stress of the conversation, people will often go on too long or be as brief as possible. You should (politely) cut them off if rambling or prompt for more information if too short, but it’s worth noting if it’s a recurring problem.
  • Keeping the conversation going: A good interview is more like a time boxed conversation than a Q&A, so have a set of questions to explore that naturally build. If it starts to lag, always have sufficient backup material to keep asking
  • Answer all questions honestly: Candidates can ask all sorts of questions, answer them truthfully and fully

Formulating good questions

To have a good interview, you need to have structured questions around your areas of interest. Generally speaking, a good way to do so is to define themes of questioning that you want to explore (personal growth, ambition, technical ability) and prepare questions that would help you understand that about someone.

Good questions are generally behavioral, not opinion. Don’t ask, “how do you deal with stress?”, but rather “can you tell me about a stressful situation you had at work recently? what happened and what did you do?”. It’s good to use real examples from the role to form questions. For example, “we often have to XYZ in this job, can you tell me about a situation where you’ve had a similar problem?”

Pro-tip: The best way to answer this question is to follow a STAR structure:

  • Situation: What was the situation you were in?
  • Task: What was your responsibility with relationship to the situation?
  • Action: What did you do to complete your task and/or resolve the situation?
  • Result: What was the outcome of your action?

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Experienced analytics professional with more than ten year’s experience, possessing a background in finance. Focused for the last eight years on data science and business intelligence, I have successfully led green field deployment projects in
gaming, retail, and travel. Technologies used include a mixture of commercial (Tableau, HP Vertica, Oracle) and open source (Apache Spark/Hadoop, Postgres, Pentaho). Have successfully implemented advanced analytics architectures in hosted, cloud, as well as hybrid models. Experienced in developing machine learning and statistical models using both Python and R.

More importantly, I have been leading teams and strategy regarding data science, analytics, personalization, Business Intelligence,
and CRM since 2008. In this scope I have been responsible for defining organizational strategies regarding data and analytics, as well as facilitating the rollout of data science projects throughout the organization. As a manager I have successfully developed a number of juniors into leadership roles both within my own organization and outside.

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