This is a slightly opinionated guide to hosting and receiving good interviews, from the perspective of a software developer who’s been through a few in the last ten years. Please don’t take it as gospel in any regard. Many people may want the very opposite experience of that which I tend to admire in an interview.
I, for one, like a central mutuality and the joy of freeform conversations. Quizzes and prescriptive interactions aren’t for me. But then… everyone’s different.
Offer them a drink. This shouldn’t need explanation. It’s just part of being a good host. Let them know where the facilities are too. Generally be polite. Think about that feeling of being utterly welcomed and comfortable in a new setting, with new people. Try your very best to emulate that.
Let them decide where to sit. This might seem a pointless gesture but it helps loosen the implicit power dynamic that exists. Making them comfortable eases the pressure and communicates your intent to have an informal and exploratory conversation. This is how you will learn most about them, and vice-versa.
Don’t take notes or recite from their CV. A CV in-hand, or a laptop, or an open notebook directly in front of you communicates an interrogatory dynamic. Making a person feel judged is rarely the best way to get to know them. This counts for both the interviewer and interviewee. Of course, take as many notes as you like after the interview.
Get to know them – have a sincere conversation about them, you, the company, the world. Don’t be rigid or prescriptive. Be open to the natural ebbs, flows and tangents of conversation.
Ask them what’s most important to them in a job. Ask them what the perfect job would look like. Really listen. Pay attention. Ask them what the world lacks, and what it has too much of. Share your own opinions passionately and positively.
Describe a problem you’re having — at work — and work through some possible solutions, however they wish to (talk, whiteboard, code, operatic verse, whatever). Make this a collaborative effort. It has to be a real unsolved problem. This will exemplify their working technique, and yours, and is probably the closest you’re going to get to knowing what it’s like to work with each-other.
Don’t quiz them. It’s patronising and sets in stone a dynamic of process and judgment. It’s usually better to move fluidly through a mutually intriguing conversation than to have a set definition of what you want to talk about. Prescriptive conversations are incredibly limited. There’s rarely a lot of signal gained in the mindless recollection of rote learning. Also, demanding a specific discussion will make them feel as if they have to delicately wind their way through a very specific and unknown maze of statements to win your approving nods and hmms and yesses. It’s a fruitless game for both parties.
Welcome tough questions. Be honest. Don’t pretend that everything is rainbows and daisies. Tell them of your personal experience at work — the ups and downs… the real stuff. If they’re hired they’ll eventually know the good and the bad anyway. The best people will recognise the value in your honesty and will reciprocate in kind.