So, when you think you’ve found a suitable profile, it’s crucial that you have a solid process to interview developers.
At Altar, a large part of my time is spent carrying out such interviews. Both for our own rapidly growing team of in-house developers and for entrepreneurs we work with who require a dedicated team.
During that time, I’ve developed a structured process to interview developers, from breaking the ice and employing active listening to establishing closeness and advocating for the developer.
Even if the developer you’re speaking with isn’t right for the position you’re trying to fill, it’s important to make a good first impression.
After all, just because you don’t need their talent now, doesn’t mean you won’t need them in the future.
Here is the exact process I’ve used to successfully interview software developers.
- Break the Ice
- Get to Know Them
- Describe The Opportunity
Break The Ice
1. Ask Targeted Questions to Establish Relatability
When I interview developers, I like to start by asking where the person is from originally. It’s a great way to discuss their origin, current whereabouts, culture, etc.
It also opens an opportunity to compare customs and cultures and start to get to know each other.
While this question isn’t anything overly personal, it is far better than the classic “how’s the weather” chat – and allows you to connect over something more memorable.
This is just one example to demonstrate that you shouldn’t take the first question for granted.
Putting some thought into asking the developer you’re interviewing a targeted opening question will allow you to develop that all-important relatability quickly.
2. Clearly Direct the Conversation
After getting off to a warm start it’s important to then take control and direct the conversation so as not to lose time unnecessarily.
I normally do this by outlining the purpose of the conversation for the developer.
I explain that I would like to tell them about my company, some examples of our current projects including the technologies we’re working in.
Then I let the developer know that I will also be asking them about themselves, their skillset and the opportunities we may have for them.
This not only allows you to direct the conversation but also puts your candidate more at ease – as they know what’s coming.
It also portrays transparency on your end, which is a nice bonus.
3. Tell Your Startup Story
When I interview developers, I always use this moment to tell them the story behind my startup. This brief introduction sets you up nicely to sell them your startup (which we’ll cover later in the article).
Just like with early adopters and investors, you have to sell them the vision.
Here’s the template I use for this section of the interview. Obviously, this is very specific to Altar but will help you get started when you create yours:
I came together with my co-founder six years ago to build an Altar. We had all built startups before that and faced firsthand the challenges of building a startup – from product reasoning to finding development stakeholders and building the product.
So we came together to remove some of those challenges for other entrepreneurs and business leaders.
We started as a product house, but have evolved into a product-centric development agency that builds cutting edge tech startups from scratch – with a heavy focus on Node & Angular.
Alongside this, we’re a lead contributor in Angular Open Source projects. We focus on this because we believe that, as part of the developer community, we should give back, share our expertise and make a difference when we can.
Notice here how this starts as an overview of the company as a whole – something you would say to any stakeholder, investor or advisor.
Then, in the second half, it begins to focus on the information that is important for a developer: a focus on cutting edge technologies and the open-source community.
Get to Know Them
4. What Stage Are They In?
Once you’ve introduced yourself and your startup, it’s time to change focus to the person you’re interviewing.
Ask them what they’re doing now, what are they building? Are they leading the project or working under someone else? How many people are they working with? Do they have a side project they’re working on?
Start to establish a timeline of their progression by following up with questions about their previous experience. Were they happy in the team? Did they do anything else to support that team outside of coding?
5. Tech Matters: What is Their Skillset?
From frontend to backend, make a list of the technologies your candidate has worked in throughout their career. Include how long they worked on each specific technology.
Having this list with the technologies the developer has under their belt is invaluable. I’ve gone back to these lists weeks, months and years after the initial conversation and often found the right person for the job as a result.
6. What Do They Expect?
As with any aspect of your startup, aligning expectations is critical. The big question here is asking them what’s missing from their current work that’s led them to look for something new.
This helps you gauge if their intentions are noble. For example, wanting to work in cutting edge technology, open-source projects, progress faster, move from corporate to startup or vice versa, etc.
Purely looking for a higher salary is a red flag since it will be likely that it is a recurring theme. Undoubtedly, within a few months, the candidate will be doing the same again.
As boring as it sounds, when interviewing candidates you should find out:
- What did they accomplish?
- Who did they work with?
- How did they do it?
- What would their bosses say their strengths and weaknesses are?
That kind of data is very useful because it happened in the past and you can pair that with reference checks to verify what they said. Those two things give you 90% accuracy when hiring.
Geoff Smart, Hiring Expert & NY Times Bestselling Author
Describe The Opportunity
7. Discuss Potential Roles
Now you know the developer’s tech experience, expectations, ambitions and ideas, it’s time to match that up to what you can offer to fulfil them.
Share which roles you think they would be suited to based on the information they’ve shared with you.
Then, it’s time to talk about your startup once more, specifically to sell it to them.
Describe the Lifestyle
It’s essential to describe the day-to-day. The morning standup, the office comforts and/or remote policies. What do you offer in terms of team building and social events?
More than that it’s important to outline any benefits, such as extra vacation days, comprehensive health insurance, budget for education so the developer can further their skills – you get the idea.
Outline the Progression Model & Tech Environment
Before closing the conversation, leave them with the progression model you use and the tech environment as a whole.
What’s the breakdown of technology usage for the developer? What opportunities will they get regularly, like being able to look into cutting edge, beta grade technologies, etc?
And on the career side what are the paths forward? Is there a step-by-step five-to-six year path towards roles such as Senior Expert or Senior Architect? Or even a more people-oriented Team Lead role?
It is good to mention these and to have them sketched out in a presentation. It will help the candidate clearly visualize what it would entail to work with you in the long term.
10. Explain the Next Steps with Clarity & Transparency
Finally, it’s vital to close the conversation with clarity and transparency.
In my experience, there are three ways this can go:
- There isn’t an opportunity for them now, but there might be in the future. In this case, document the conversation and keep a file on the developer for future reference – as I mentioned earlier I’ve often gone back to profiles after they’ve been dormant for years.
- The conversation resulted in a mismatch of technical, or worse, soft skills. Let them down gently, but with surety.
- There is an opportunity for them right now. Here, be clear with the process that comes next. Whether it’s a second conversation with your CTO or technical founder, technical test, etc. Let them know when and how you will contact them with further details.
If your conversation results in outcome three, don’t take a long time to contact them with further details. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, developer talent is scarce, you can’t afford to let the line of communication with a good developer go cold.
Stay warm and relevant to gain headspace and create urgency in the candidate.
“Most startups fail because of some sort of HR dynamic. The vision might be good, the market might be good but if your team can’t execute against it then you’re already one foot in the grave.”
Yaron Samid, Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Founder
The journey to successfully interview developers for your startup is a combination of art and science. That being said, as with all aspects of your startup, having a process-oriented mindset will help increase your chances of success.
We’ve used this process to interview developers with every profile that we speak to. The successful candidates have gone on to help us bring over 50 startups to life – over half of which have gone on to achieve VC funding, in an ecosystem where only 0.05% of startups see that milestone.
We also use this when building dedicated teams for established companies – like Datahouse.
Both Datahouse and the dedicated team members have expressed high satisfaction. Moreover, there has been zero staff turnover since Datahouse began our dedicated team service, over two years ago.
We have always been very happy with the candidate preselection for each vacancy that was perfectly tailored to our needs. They have a very broad and strong professional network and care about people a lot. Our expectations have definitely been exceeded and we look forward to working with Altar.io in the future”
Peter Müller, COO at Datahouse
Good luck with your search and thanks for reading.
P.S. If you are looking to build a team in Lisbon, don’t forget to reach out to us.