The standard tech hiring process is not good at selecting the best candidates, and introduces unconscious bias into the hiring process. The traditional resume screen, phone screen, and interview process is almost a dice-roll for a hiring manager. This year, my team has several open positions and we’re trying something different, both in the pre-interview screening process and in the interview process itself.
Earlier this year I attended a workshop for Mozilla managers by the Clayman Institute at Stanford. One of the key lessons is that when we (humans) don’t have clear criteria for making a choice, we tend alter our criteria to match subconscious preferences (see this article for some examples and more information). Another key lesson is that when humans lack information about a situation, our brain uses its subconscious associations to fill in the gaps.
I believe job descriptions are very important: not only do they help candidates decide whether they want a particular job, but they also serve as a guide to the kinds of things that will be required or important during the interview process. Please read the job description carefully before applying to any job!
Why did I pick an essay about a debugging or profiling tool? In my experience, every good coder has a toolbox, and as coders gain experience they are naturally better toolsmiths. I hope that this essay requirement will be good way to screen for programmer competence and to gauge expertise.
With resumés, essays, and code samples in hand, Vladan and I will go through the applications and filter the applications. Each passing candidate will proceed to phone screens, to check for technical skill but more importantly to sell the candidate on the team and match them up with the best position. My goal is to exclude applications that don’t meet the requirements, not to rank candidates against each other. If there are too many qualified applicants, we will select a random sample for interviews. In order to make this possible, we will be evaluating applications in weekly batches.
To the extent possible, the interview format should line up with the job requirements. The typical Mozilla technical interview is five or six 45-minute 1:1 interview sessions. This format heavily favors people who can think quickly on their feet and who are personable. Since neither of those attributes is a requirement for this job, that format is a poor match. Here are the requirements in the job description that we need to evaluate during the interview:
- Experience writing code. A college degree is not necessary or sufficient.
- Ability to learn new skills and solve unfamiliar problems effectively.
- Experience debugging or profiling.
- Good written and verbal communication skills.
- Candidates must be located in North or South America, Europe, Africa, or the Middle East.
This is the interview format that we came up with to assess the requirements:
- A 15-minute prepared presentation on a topic related to the candidate’s prior experience and expertise. This will be done in front of a small group. A 30-minute question and answer session will follow. Assesses experience writing code and verbal communication skills.
- A two-hour mentoring session with two engineers from the team. The candidate will be working in a language they already know (C++/JS/Python), but will be solving an unfamiliar problem. Assesses experience writing code, language expertise, and ability to solve unfamiliar problems.
- A 45-minute 1:1 technical interview. This will assess some particular aspect of the candidate’s prior experience with technical questions, especially if that experience is related to optional/desired skills in the job description. Assesses specialist or general expertise and verbal communication.
- A 45-minute 1:1 interview with the hiring manager. This covers a wide range of topics including work location and hours, expectations about seniority, and to answer questions that the candidate has about Mozilla, the team, or the specific role they are interviewing for. Assesses candidate location and desire to be part of the team.
During the debrief and decision process, I intend to focus as much as possible on the job requirements. Rather than asking a simple “should we hire this person” question, I will ask interviewers to rate the candidate on each job requirement and responsibility, as well as any desired skillset. By orienting the feedback to the job description I hope that we can reduce the effects of unconscious bias and improve the overall hiring process.
This hiring procedure is experimental. My team and I have concerns about whether candidates will be put off by the essay requirement or an unusual interview format, and whether plagiarism will make the essay an ineffective screening tool. We’re concerned about keeping the hiring process moving and not introducing too much delay. After the first interview rounds, I plan on evaluating the process, and ask candidates to provide feedback about their experience.
If you’re interested, check out my prior post, How I Hire At Mozilla.