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How We Conduct a Screening Interview with Developers at OfferZen

5 August 2022 , by Nic Botes

In the tech hiring landscape, developers often have their pick of opportunities when looking for a new job. Focusing on providing a good candidate experience is essential if you want to stand out from your competitors. This applies from the first touch point — the screening interview —, all the way through to the end of the hiring process.

During the first interview with a developer, our aim is to get the necessary information about a candidate and their suitability for the role and show why our company is a great place to work. In this article, we’ll unpack OfferZen’s approach to the screening interview — plus a list of example questions to cover in the call.

How to conduct a screening interview with developers

Who conducts the screening interview?

The person conducting the first interview should either be experienced in the role or very familiar with the role’s technical requirements.

In our team, we aim for our hiring managers to conduct the call themselves, but this is not always possible with a high number of applicants. If that’s not possible, our recruitment partners (colleagues from our People/HR team at OfferZen) conduct the call for us, once they are experienced with the essence of the role.

As we grow as a company, we’re hiring for some roles for the first time. In these cases, the hiring manager always conducts the call to get a solid grasp of the role and its place in the market.

Rethinking the intention behind the screening interview

At OfferZen, the screening interview also incorporates elements of the ‘sales call’. This means striking a balance between gathering the information we need to determine role fit, as well as selling why OfferZen is a great place to work.

Focusing on whittling down a list of applicants means you’re likely not providing a positive candidate experience to everyone that applies, whether they end up getting the job or not.

Shift the interview’s intention by adopting a selling mindset where you convince the candidate why they should choose to work with you. This frees up room for discussion and maximises knowledge sharing on both sides of the table. Ultimately, the candidate should walk away from the call knowing a lot more about what you do, and if they’ll be able to make an impact on your mission.

With time limited, our aim is to establish as much common ground with the candidate as possible to gather quality information as well as create a genuine intention for the best outcome for both parties.

How to build common ground

Start with an ice-breaker: Open with a simple “how is your day going?” and a smile to help the candidate relax.

Bring insights on the candidate into the conversation: Before the call, do your research on the candidate. You'll probably find interesting projects, interests or hobbies to bring into the conversation and build rapport.

Clarify the interview process: Take the time to tell candidates what they can expect from your whole hiring process. In our case, this consists of the initial screening interview, a take-home assessment, a team interview and a simulation day.

Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes - nobody likes walking into anything blindly. Transparency around your process gives the candidate all the tools they need to do their best.

It’s also a crucial part of providing a good candidate experience:

Role and process transparency is the number one factor developers appreciate most in a hiring process in both South Africa and the Netherlands.

Explain the company mission and how they’d fit into it:

Many candidates can tick the boxes from a technical standpoint. We want to find people who are genuinely excited about our mission and joining our team. To help test for that, we always discuss the company mission and our values on a high level at the start of the call and how their role would fit into that. Here’s how one of our hiring managers explains it:

Technical experience is one thing, but we want to get them sold and excited about OfferZen. Keeping a candidate motivated in the long-term is easier when they buy in, and they like what they do. We don't really want someone that's just here for a paycheck, because they're going to get good money regardless. We want someone that believes in what OfferZen does, cares about people and whose personal values overlap with OfferZen.

Nick van Noordwyk, Engineering Manager at OfferZen

What to cover in the screening interview

We use a set of questions that give us a sense of the candidate’s practical fit. They also give us an idea if the company culture is a match.

The questions should touch on their educational background, but this shouldn’t dominate the conversation.

A successful interview goes beyond the CV and job spec to give us a sense of the candidate’s intentions. That means filling in any blanks rather than rehashing what they’ve listed on the application already.

The screening interview is there to determine if the developer should move to the next stage of the process. At the same time, we want to signal that we value the time and energy they have committed to the process of potentially joining our team.

Example screening interview questions for the candidate

Here are some example questions from our interview process we use to test for role fit and cultural match:

  • What do you like most about your present role?
  • What motivates you?
    • Follow-up: How did you get into becoming a developer, and what other options did you explore?
    • Dig deeper: What motivates you while doing [insert one of the job-related responsibilities]?
    • Bonus: Where do you get your energy from?
  • What excites you about this role?
  • What experience are you looking to gain?
    • Follow-up: Where do you think this role will challenge you, given your education and experience?
    • Dig deeper: Where would you like support from us?
  • What excites you most about our company?
  • What do you value in a team’s culture?
    • Follow-up: What makes it fun for you to come to work every day and build great stuff with a team?
  • What books or podcasts would you recommend?

Ideally, questions about salary expectations and the earliest start date should have been covered in the application, but may also be a nice way to wrap up the interview, especially if the candidate shows potential to move on to the next round.

Even if some aspect of the interview turns out to be a deal breaker for moving ahead with the candidate, these questions give you the opportunity to get to know someone properly and how you can help them build their career.

Always enter the conversation seeking to figure out how to elevate the candidate by growing their career and impact.

Common questions interviewers should expect

Getting the most out of a screening interview means asking the right questions, as well as being prepared to answer anything that might be thrown your way too. In our experience, developers are curious to learn more about the different project types they’ll be a part of. They’ll also want to learn about the growth opportunities available to help them keep up in a fast-paced tech landscape.

Here are a few common questions that developers like to ask our hiring managers during a screening interview:

  • What are the specific challenges of the role?
  • Is there a balance between the time allocated across the different responsibilities within this role?
  • What day-to-day support will I get?
  • What is one thing you wish you could change about the company?
  • What is one thing your company does that other (tech) companies don’t do?
  • What short and long-term opportunities for growth are available to a developer?

Assessing the interview

After the session, debrief with your team while it’s fresh in your memory. Share any notes on how the interview could have gone better: What questions can you rephrase? How can you better sell the specific role to candidates? This will help you improve the process for next time.

You should walk away from the interview with enough high-quality information to start scoring the candidate against your role scorecard and decide whether to progress to the next stage.

Learning from every interview

We’re constantly refining our process based on how each interview goes. Hiring is hard. It can be difficult to keep the same level of enthusiasm for every candidate, especially if you pick up on any red flags during the discussion.

A simple mindset hack that counters this is to approach every candidate with a view of how you can best support them during the experience. You can think of the person you’re recruiting as your customer and being employed by you as the product.

This shift in mentality can help you build an authentic relationship with every candidate and keep both yourself and them ‘above the line’ as explained in this useful mental model.

Although only one person can ultimately get any given job, every person deserves to have a great experience with the company. Guaranteeing this can lead to an easier process the next time you open a role.

Thanks to OfferZen team member Nick van Noordwyk, who contributed to this article.

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