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The Interview Loop
The interview loop is the series of conversations and tests a company designs to assess a candidate’s fitness for a role. Interview loops are most effective when they are standardized—to the extent possible, the process puts every candidate for a role through the same loop. This practice helps to calibrate expectations of candidates, interviewers, recruiters, and hiring managers.*
At the outset of an interview process, the company may change some specifics of the interview loop after the first couple of candidates to account for unforeseen gaps or to adjust expectations based on how the first round of candidates perform. When hiring for roles that no one at the company has held before—for example, hiring the company’s first QA engineer—the loop may need multiple rounds of adjustments.
A company’s style and priorities inform the structure of interviews. To balance candidate experience with the signal you need to gather, traditional interview loops likely include one or two phone screens and an onsite interview. Effective interview processes increase time and effort demands on the candidate as they progress rather than being front-loaded with “hoop-jumping” exercises, and they also avoid any surprises for the candidate, which the hiring manager or recruiter can facilitate by telling the candidate what to expect from the process.
A sample interview loop might include:
Recruiter screening call or meeting. The recruiter screens for general role fit, and fact-finds to prepare the rest of the loop. (This could instead be done by a hiring manager, especially if the company doesn’t have recruiters.)
Technical phone screen. A phone conversation tests for core skills, typically basic programming or technical concepts. (Some companies may conduct two phone screens to gather more signal, or so a second interviewer can offer perspective.)
Take-home evaluation. This is a variant of the basic skills screen that may take the form of an online challenge or simpler take-home test. (Many companies skip this.)
Onsite interviews. These typically extend half or most of a day and include three to six interviews in several formats, covering:
a. in-person coding questions
b. non-coding technical questions
c. behavioral questions
d. wrap-up conversation with the hiring manager that includes questions, concerns, or loose ends, and sets expectations on next steps
e. some kind of social event, like lunch with the team.
Interviewer feedback. Each interviewer offers written feedback on the candidate, and/or discussion among the interviewing panel.
Post-interview follow-ups. Calls, meetings, and possibly second onsite visits allow the hiring team to assess anything not yet covered or to gather more signal on something interviewers disagree about.
Reference checks. The hiring manager or interviewers call past employers and colleagues to verify aspects of the candidate’s experience.
Decision and negotiation. The company gives either a rejection or an offer. An offer leads to negotiation and acceptance or rejection by the candidate.
importantNote that this is one of many possible paths. In particular, outbound candidates or senior candidates may necessitate a more selling-focused, organic process that begins with conversations rather than skills assessments and moves more quickly to onsite interviews.
Figure: Example Interview Loop With Targets
Source: Kevin Morrill
A company may offer trial employment, in which the candidate joins the company for a short probationary period while the employer decides whether to offer them a full-time position. During the trial employment period, the candidate may occupy an internship or contractor position, and both the candidate and the company have the opportunity to get a more complete feel for whether there’s a fit. However, many candidates cannot accommodate trial employment requests, especially if they have existing jobs or other commitments.*
An interview is most effective when each party approaches it with a mutually agreed purpose: to get to know each other and to assess fit. Candidates need to know how long the interview will be, what kinds of questions to expect, and if possible, some insightful detail about the people they are going to talk to.
This typically includes sharing the general structure of the process. As the interviewer, you may let the candidate know the types of questions to expect (specific coding knowledge? or probing previous work?). Offering tips for how your company likes to get answers and a bit about what you’re looking for will help them rise, not sink. This kind of transparency leads to a better overall candidate experience and can reduce stumbles due to anxiety, which can lead to false negatives.
Candidates benefit from preparation at multiple stages: before the process begins (you can tell them what to expect by email or phone); at the start of each change in interview format; and at the end, to explain what’s next. Preparing candidates to do well also entails checking in along the way to confirm that they understand what to expect, asking if they have any questions, and offering encouragement.
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