How To Conduct a Technical Interview (With Benefits)

By Phil Lombardi

Updated July 28, 2022 | Published May 17, 2021

Updated July 28, 2022

Published May 17, 2021

Phil Lombardi is a business and technology writer with a bachelor's degree in information technology.

Technical interviews are an important hiring process for managers in technology, computer science and engineering. There are several elements of technical interviews, including assessments and questions meant to test a candidate's role-related skills. Understanding this process and its components could help technical interviewers match their company with ideal candidates.

In this article, we define a technical interview, discuss its use and benefits and offer a step-by-step guide on how to conduct a technical interview.

What is a technical interview?

A technical interview is a job interview for any position within the tech industry, such as web designer or software engineer. Technical interviews function similarly to interviews in other industries, but they also include a series of assignments and technical tasks to measure a candidate's role-related skills. Instead of asking candidates if they possess the required skills, technical interviewers often ask the candidate to demonstrate their abilities through a series of tests on skills such as programming, coding, engineering and computer-based competencies.

Related: How To Prepare for a Technical Interview

Who uses technical interviews?

A variety of industries may ask their human resources department to use technical interviews to assess the role-specific skills of candidates. However, hiring managers in technology, engineering and computer science most commonly use technical interviews to seek qualified candidates. Types of businesses that often use technical interviews include:

  • Software development companies

  • Software as a service (SaaS) companies

  • Technology hardware companies

  • Computer repair and maintenance firms

  • Application development companies

  • Technology manufacturing firms

  • Cybersecurity companies

  • Information technology (IT) startups

  • IT consulting firms

Related: 13 Common Technical Interview Questions Plus Example Answers

Benefits of a technical interview

There are several benefits of using technical interviews during the hiring process, including:

Increases efficiency

Hiring managers often have several important responsibilities, including conducting interviews. Detailed technical interviews may increase efficiency and improve time management by allowing hiring managers to focus only on the candidates who possess the role-related skills to succeed. This also streamlines the hiring process, helping hiring managers make a competitive offer to the right candidates more quickly.

Related: 10 Best Practices for Streamlining Your Hiring Process

Promotes quality of hires

The assessments during a technical interview may help hiring managers choose the most qualified and compatible candidate possible, resulting in increased quality of hires. Team managers can tell human resources what skills they need and would like on their team. The testing in the technical interviews can filter candidates to fit these needs. This demonstration of candidates' skills can save company resources by determining initial compatibility.

Provides accurate comparison

Because each candidate receives the same skill assessments during a technical interview, the standardized results are often more reliable than traditional interviews. This may help hiring managers more accurately compare the qualifications of various candidates and could help them make more informed hiring decisions. This equity in the hiring process can also help minimize unconscious bias during candidate selection.

Related: Top 10 Programming/Coding Interview Questions

How to conduct a technical interview

Understanding the elements of an effective technical interview can help you determine the questions and evaluations to include. Consider following these steps to conduct a successful technical interview:

1. Create a detailed job description

Before you begin your technical interview, it's important to understand the exact role and responsibilities of the position so you can communicate the necessary details to candidates. Use the job description to customize your interview questions and better understand the skills and traits that an ideal candidate may possess. Try to consider the role's initial responsibilities and also the functions you could add with time and experience. Allowing for advancement could help you find a candidate who is a valuable long-term addition to your team.

While technical interviews often emphasize the hard skills candidates need to be successful in a role, it's also important to understand the soft skills that align with the role. Prepare a few questions for your interview that focus on these soft skills.

Related: How To List Job Responsibilities in Job Listings

2. Conduct a phone or video interview

After reviewing the resumes, consider those that impressed you and contact candidates to schedule phone or video interviews. Technical phone or video interviews are often brief and help hiring managers determine whether a candidate is enthusiastic and qualified enough to move forward to more in-depth phases.

Consider including general questions in your phone or video interview about a candidate's experience in related industries and a few key skills they may possess. You may find much of this information on their resume, but a phone or video interview offers candidates a chance to elaborate on these details and could give you a better sense of their qualifications.

Related:Technical Interview Questions and Example Answers

3. Assign a remote coding assessment

After selecting the candidates who most impressed you during phone interviews, you may provide them with a remote coding assignment to further test their technical abilities. Consider providing a simple coding task over the phone, video call or email and asking them to complete the task by a deadline of your choosing. The coding task should be complex enough to test the depth of their skills but simple enough that candidates can complete it remotely and without further guidance.

When examining the completed assessments, consider which candidates completed the task accurately, efficiently and creatively. Candidates who use this assessment as an opportunity to exceed expectations may be more likely to exceed expectations in a future role.

Related: 6 Most Common Types of Tests You Can Face During an Interview

4. Request previous work samples

For many technical positions, such as software engineer or web designer, it’s common to request samples of previous work from candidates. Examining previous work can help you gain a better understanding of the candidate’s skills and experience. After narrowing down your potential candidates to a select few, carefully review the portfolios of your remaining candidates to help you determine which candidates to invite in for an on-site interview or second remote interview if your company offers remote work.

Related: What Is a Work Portfolio? (Plus How To Build One)

5. Create a whiteboard challenge

After narrowing down your candidates to a select few, invite them in for a second interview and whiteboard challenge. A whiteboard challenge requires the candidate to write, complete or fix code on a whiteboard in front of you and other interviewers. You may include one or several coding assignments, depending on the level of skill necessary for the role. This task is often more challenging than the initial assignment and can give you an idea of your candidate's advanced coding skills, problem-solving abilities and capacity to work well under pressure.

Related: What To Do If You Get a Question Wrong During a Coding Interview

6. Conduct a more in-depth interview

After completion of the whiteboard challenge, you may ask additional questions that you didn't include in the initial interview. Ask questions about technical skills and general questions about their work preferences, such as their preferred work environment or what motivates them. Then gather more details about their background and experience, including how those experiences may help them in this new role. Finally, create a list of questions related to your specific job opening and give the candidates some hypothetical situations to address.

Related: Interview Assessment Questions: Definition and Examples

7. Consider how candidates may work in your team

When considering candidates, try to visualize how their technical skills and personality would work with the position and team dynamic. Review each candidate's abilities to see if they could contribute something new to the team. Determine if their current skill set can allow them to succeed within the role and if they're willing to learn more to help the company reach its goals.

Tips for assessing candidates after a technical interview

After completing your technical interviews, ask yourself the following questions to help you select the best candidate for the position:

  • Which candidates asked the most questions? Asking questions during an interview demonstrates that the candidate has a desire to learn more and is highly engaged with the hiring process.

  • What’s the long-term outlook? Ideally, you probably want someone who can work with your team for a long time. Review the candidate’s previous work history and answers about work preferences to better understand if this candidate is likely to remain with you long term.

  • How much time did they spend on your testing assessments? Candidates that put in extra effort show that they care about working for you and are willing to work harder to earn the position.

  • Which candidate is most qualified for your specific role? Often, candidates can have a lot of prior work experience related to your position without actually performing the specific duties required of your job opening. Consider selecting the candidate that has the most experience in what your job requires, not just the most experience overall.

Finally, remember to factor in all elements of your interview process. The purpose of a multi-stage interview process is to test candidates under different circumstances. If a candidate doesn’t perform well in one area of your interview process, that doesn’t mean you should immediately exclude them from consideration. A holistic approach and assessment help ensure a fairer process.

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