Recently, I started running through mock interviews with some of my awesome apprentices.  As we graduated one group last week and are graduating another group in mid-December, the apprentices are meeting with employers and hopefully finding places that will be a great start to their new careers in software development.  Some have a technical background, and others don’t.  Some have worked in their industries for years, and others are still fairly young with a little work experience under their belts.  All of them have been nervous and excited about their opportunities ahead.  Thankfully, when I do interviews, I do conversational interviews.

Conversational interviews… what are these?

Having been in the interviewer seat for a previous employer, I’m used to having candidates come in for these positions with walls of nerves put up.  As an interviewer, I find that the walls of nerves don’t allow me to see the candidate properly.  So what I try to do is engage in simple conversation.  I look at a candidate’s resume or LinkedIn to get a glimmer of some topic that may get them talking.  I want to know their story – how did they get to where they are today?  Why should I hire them over any other candidate?  What is something unique that would make them stand out?

As an introvert who grew up with some shyness, I understand how painful it can be for some to interview.  I try to take a conversational approach to interviewing to hopefully take down the wall of nervousness and get a glimpse of the true person behind that wall.  From these questions, I have a way of jumping to asking candidates how they understand technologies and how they apply them.  My first goal in any interview is for me to determine who the candidate is and if they are a great fit for the position – both technically speaking and also personality-wise for the team.

How well do these work?

Rather than the formal Q & A, I’ve preferred using this conversational approach.  Rather than the approach of putting someone who is already nervous center stage, I try to get them off the stage to talk through things.  I have found the conversational approach to work wonderfully, as I have torn down some of the toughest walls of nervousness.  I think it helps that I am curious about my candidates not just for the position itself but as the individual that they are and how they’ll fit into the grand scheme of things.

Sometimes, these work a little too well.  In addition to tearing down the walls of nerves, I also end up tearing down walls of arrogance as well.  I’ve had some candidates waltz in, super confident – with a degree of arrogance – in their skills.  If there’s anything you need to know about me, I don’t tolerate arrogance and egos well and see those as a challenge to put people back in their place.  However, if I pull in certain technical questions, I can bring some of the most arrogant candidates to their knees.  Some of them get to the point where I can narrow in on another weakness – being afraid to say “I don’t know”.

I love conversational interviews because it helps me to get my candidates in the right light.  I am able to get them to take down the walls and see a better glimpse of who they are and how the company will be able to use them, their talents, and their skills to the best of their abilities.  So this is my interview style of choice when I get the ability to interview candidates for potential positions.