How to identify technical candidates who are “10X” producers
After last month’s post about the importance of having the right people on your team, I received multiple questions about interview tips. Here are some suggestions for finding the Rockstars who go beyond being good at their job, and will be truly needle moving on your team.
- Look for candidates that show a high degree of personal agency. Rockstars tend to look at even the most challenging problems as things that are within their power to solve as opposed to being outside of their control. In general, it’s a red flag if things being out of one’s control becomes a theme.
- One of my favorite questions in a technical interview is to describe a technical problem that was solved where the answer could not be found via a Google search. It’s extremely valuable to see that a candidate can solve novel problems.
- Look for evidence that this candidate has been the “go to” person in previous roles. All references/LinkedIn recommendations tend to be positive but look for the nuance in those recommendations that indicate that this person is truly needle moving and regularly makes others more productive.
- Don’t over-index on technical tests that simply verify that one understands the syntax of a programming language and can write code to give the correct output for a prescribed function — these should be part of the process but are simply table stakes. The ability to solve a problem in a straightforward manner and write code that is readable and highly maintainable is often the difference between a good programmer and a great engineer. Ask a candidate to read a code example, identify what it does, maybe spot a bug or two, refactor it to make it “cleaner,” and see what comes out.
- While familiarity with certain technologies is always strategic in the short term, the ability to quickly build expertise in new technologies will be most valuable in the long term. Instead of focusing a technical screening on the “gotcha” questions that show that a candidate is familiar with every nuance of a language (which, by the way, doesn’t guarantee they can code effectively), try to include questions that introduce a new concept or API and ask the candidate how they would apply it to solve a particular problem.
- The real needle movers have a clear sense of “why” and understand how to prioritize technical tasks against a business outcome. Given a business objective and a set of technical tasks, these candidates should be able to prioritize the tasks, separating “must haves” from “nice to haves” or a series of logical “releases”.
- Curiosity is a critical trait. Make sure to allow a candidate plenty of opportunity to ask questions. Both in relation to your technical interview questions and in general. You can learn a lot from what they ask (or don’t ask).
- Don’t underestimate the importance of clear thinking and clear communication. Be wary of candidates who have a difficult time understanding questions or who tend to ramble or go off topic in their answers.