Keeping the Interview on Schedule



Updated August 24, 2022
Technical Recruiting and Hiring

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The first step to collecting signal is making sure the interview is moving along on schedule.

Timing in interviews is critical. If the candidate isn’t moving quickly enough through the full range of questions, the interviewer may find it necessary to intervene. This may include asking the candidate to skip over less essential parts of the discussion so as to stay on time.

Interviewer boredom can be a clue that the interview is going off track in one of these ways:

  • The candidate is stuck and needs a hint. One useful tactic is to set them at ease by explaining, “Even if you don’t know the solution right away, I’d like to hear how you are thinking about the problem, so feel free to share your possible approaches as you work through it.”

  • The candidate is talking too much about something they have already made sufficiently clear. In this case, the interviewer may tell the candidate that since they definitely understand the topic, they can progress to the next question.

  • The interview as a whole is off course and needs to be pivoted.

Near the end of the interview, you may have to choose between letting the candidate finish working through what they’re on and leaving time for selling and any candidate follow-on questions. If the candidate’s evaluation hinges on what they do in these last few minutes, it’s best to give them that time; but you may still need to help them reach a good stopping point so that their mind doesn’t stay in the question during subsequent interviews.

Seeking Clarity in Questions and Answers

I’m not interviewing for the right answer to the questions I ask. Instead, I want to see how the candidate thinks on their feet and whether they can engage in collaborative problem solving with me. So I always frame interview questions as if we were solving a real-life problem, even if the rules are a little far-fetched.Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup*

The best interview questions are short and clear. Short and clear questions ensure candidates answer the question you meant, not just those they’ve previously thought about and are primed to respond to.

Good interviewers use a balance of open and closed questions. Open (or “open-ended”) questions, such as “How would you approach that challenge?”, allow the candidate to determine the direction of the discussion and show how they handle ambiguity. Open questions do not have a yes, no, or otherwise simple answer. Closed questions have specific answers, such as “How many months did you spend on this project?” These questions are good for gathering basic facts or seeking clarification.

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