3 Tips for New Technical Interviewers

One year ago I conducted my first software engineering interview at Google. In that first interview I gave, I guarantee you I was more nervous than the candidate I was interviewing. Those first few interviews were particularly nerve-wracking. A lot was on the line—I didn’t want to screw up this person’s career by being a bad interviewer!

Since then I’ve conducted a great deal more interviews and learned a lot about how to interview candidates successfully. I want to share three small tips that would have helped me improve as I was getting started.

Standard disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of Google, these are my own opinions.

Tip 1: Relax

Being relaxed is key. Although this will be virtually impossible your first few interviews, it’s incredibly important.

Your candidate will never be less nervous than you are. If you’re nervous, it sends tons of tiny verbal and body language signals to the candidate making them think they’re not doing well, leading them to become even more nervous.

Your demeanor sets the scene for how pleasantly the interview will go. If you’re nervous, it makes your candidate even more nervous, which destroys their performance. This isn’t fair to your interviewee, who deserves a fair shot in a calm, relaxed environment.

Tip 2: Don’t compare yourself

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the interview is not a brain measuring contest between you and the candidate. It’s possible to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to the candidate—and if you aren’t aware of this bias and catch it early, it could manifest itself in a couple nasty ways.

One way is in question choice—if you feel threatened by candidates performing well in your interviews, this could lead to picking impossibly difficult questions or to picking questions that are deep in your areas of expertise in order to make you look good, instead of questions meant to probe the basic job qualities of the interviewee and help them demonstrate their strengths.

This bias could also manifest itself during the interview in the form of not giving the right hints at the right time. If the candidate is so smart, they should just figure it out themselves, right?

Please don’t fall into this trap. If an interviewer makes you feel inadequate by their brilliance, that means the interview is going well. You should likely hire that person! (and learn from them)

Tip 3: Don’t talk about the future

For instance, don’t say “okay, here is the first of two questions.” This sets the interviewee up for failure.

If the interviewee struggles on the first question, they’ll become super stressed knowing there’s another question they haven’t even started yet. The candidate will think they failed, even though their performance on one question could be enough to pass.

On a related note, if a candidate asks “how many questions will there be?” I tell them I have an infinite number of questions and that they’re not being evaluated on the number of questions they can answer.