Since I joined Blend a year ago, I have had the opportunity and responsibility to think deeply about hiring. Hiring, like many other management problems, is hard. The idea that we can assess future performance and compatibility based on a few hours of conversation is fraught with flaws. As we don’t have the luxury of unlimited time and resources, we have to do our best to come up with a process that we think will give us and the candidate the best possible signal to make a decision. This bi-directionl assessment is the core of the interview process. In this post, I outline how I think about interviews at Blend. Note that this is not intended to be a full-fledged how-to guide on interviews.
I, as a hiring manager, own the hiring process. Various players help at various stages, but the responsibility of hiring for my team lies with me. This means that I define the process, track the output, and make changes as necessary just like I would with any other project I am managing. The process is not owned by recruiters, engineers, or HR. It is a skill I have to develop and get extremely good at because the future of the company depends on it. The war for talent is real and deliberate thinking and innovation in this space are extremely important for businesses to win.
This is primarily a recruiter’s responsibility. As a hiring manager, I can always pitch in and help as necessary. But recruiters are better at it and can reach the right candidates much more efficiently. I make sure that they know who I am looking for, set the right expectations, and let them do their job. If there are glitches - ex) my pipeline is not full enough or I am not seeing the right skillset in the candidates coming in, it is my responsibility to fix it. The recruiters may not be spending enough time on my role. They may not understand the requirements of the position fully. Whatever the fix is, I am responsible for it. A strong partnership with a great recruiter is essential for me to be successful. I make myself available for them and meet with them frequently to build a great relationship and make sure we are on track.
I have interviewed with many companies throughout my career. What I dislike the most about the interview process in many companies is the fact that I have to be someone else for a day. I have to do things that I would not do during a normal day at work. This means that I have to prepare for a long time to do these unnatural things. There is also a sense of entitlement on the part of the interviewing companies. As an example, Google’s interviewing guide asks us to be prepared for the following.
- Why do you want this job?
I don't know if I want this job. That is one of the reasons I am interviewing.
- For every question, write down THREE answers. Why three? You need to have a different, equally good answer to every question because the first interviewer might not like your story. You want the next interviewer to hear a different story and become your advocate
Maybe I do not have 3 answers. I only have one and I want to have a deeper discussion around why the interviewer does not like my answer.
- Every question should be answered with a story that demonstrates you can do what you’re being asked about. “How do you lead?” should be answered with “I’m a collaborative/decisive/whatever leader. Let me tell you about the time I …”
Maybe I do not want to do what is asked. Will the interviewer be ok with that if I explain my reasoning?
The point here is not to berate Google. They are a very successful company doing amazing things. But as a hiring manager, I wanted to take the opportunity to define a process that is more natural to the candidates and does not make it a one-way street. I wanted to show them that we want them as much as they want us and make it more of a discussion and a conversation. This manifests itself in many ways.
- We spend a lot of time explaining to candidates what Blend’s vision is, why we joined Blend, why they may want to(or not want to) join Blend, what Blend does well and what it doesn’t do well etc. We want to hear their thoughts about all of this and make it ok to challenge anything we say.
- We try to avoid take-home assignments that can take hours to complete. This may be cheaper for the company but is usually very expensive and low ROI for the candidate. Even if companies try hard to keep the assignment contained, I have seen that candidates tend to spend a lot of time on it. This is because there is no live feedback on requirements/design choices etc and candidates naturally want to do more than what is asked. Adding a time-limit also doesn’t seem to help.
- The questions that we ask during the interview tend to be more geared towards what developers do at work - design systems and have discussions around their design choices, code their design up using a language and framework of their choice while having the full power of the internet at their disposal (hello StackOverflow!!). This should not require a lot of preparation.
- If we are not moving forward with a candidate, we try to give immediate feedback that is more useful than a standard rejection email from the recruiter. Since candidates have spent so much time on Blend, this is a way to give something back to them.
- We help candidates out during the interview. We show them that we want them to succeed.
This interview process is not perfect by any means since interviewing inherently is awkward in many ways. But the great thing about prioritizing candidate experience is that we also tend to get a better signal from the process. It is a win-win situation. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate candidates when they take the time to prepare for interviews. The kind of preparation that I would expect and love to see is company research. Asking deep questions about Blend’s business, culture, and principles shows that they care and want to be here. This makes for a great interviewing experience for the interviewer as well. The key to a good interview process is authenticity. Making the process your own and showing candidates that you care go a long way in enhancing the candidate experience.
The tech industry, like most other industries, is not immune to bias and discrimination. As an engineering manager, I have the opportunity to make a difference and hiring is a key area of focus. I have called it out here, not because I want to provide a solution or detail what I have done in this regard - but more to acknowledge that I am thinking constantly about how to get better in this area. I do not have a good enough story to tell and I am hoping to write more about this when I have stronger opinions on what works and what doesn’t.
There was a time in my career when I thought that closing a candidate is not my job as a hiring manager. Salary negotiation is hard. Selling is hard. And recruiters are good at it, so why not let them do it? That was until I realized how powerful it is for a hiring manager to deliver the offer. I, as a hiring manager, am best positioned to convey to the candidate how excited I am for them to be joining the team. I can talk to them about how I envision their role and career, how much they can learn and improve, and the impact they can have on making big things happen. In doing this, I take the help of various players - recruiters, our leadership team, senior engineers, etc can all play a vital role in closing. But it is me that drives this part of the process. It is an enriching and rewarding experience to be able to do this well and close candidates regularly.
- I do not hesitate to end interviews early. I give them feedback as mentioned above and respectfully tell them we’re not moving forward. Candidates tend to appreciate the honesty and the fact that it saves time for both parties.
- I prioritize hiring -ex) responding to recruiters, making time for interviews in my calendar, moving fast after an onsite, etc. There are few more important things than recruiting and I try to give it the importance it deserves.
- I try to reinforce all the points made above with my team. Everybody in my team must be on the same page when it comes to how important hiring is and the mindset they need to have when conducting interviews.
- Salary negotiation with a hiring manager is OK. There is a school of thought that negotiating with the manager can be awkward and can sour the relationship. What happens if someone on my team asks for a raise one month into their tenure? As a manager, I have to be comfortable having these discussions with candidates. I need to be able to explain why their salary is fair and be comfortable with saying no when necessary.
We must continue to change and evolve as conditions around us change. I am excited to see and write about how this process and my mindset changes over the next year.