Software Engineering interviews and referrals are broken, but I have an idea

  • How much did the candidate prepare for the interview? For algorithms you have Leetcode and Cracking the coding interviews, for system design you have resources like The System Design Primer, not to mention whole websites to help people prepare, like HiredInTech. People that spend a few months preparing will do much better in the interview process, without changing much of their engineering caliber.
  • How well run was the interview? It’s not uncommon that the interviewer received little training on how to be efficient and effective. Usually, nobody checks how well an interviewer is interviewing.
  • External factors: Were both parts on time? How was the internet connection quality for that phone round? Even if you account for that, how do you know how much was the impact?
  • Psychological factors: The interviewee was nervous! Sign of lack of confidence? Maybe they’re in financial distress? Maybe they rarely get a shot because they went to a Community College and their resume looks weird? One hour is not enough time to assess people’s technical ability, let alone what psychological factors were into play.
  • Positive biases: How much of a bonus did the interviewee get because they looked like the interviewer? Or went to the same school? Or like the same programming language? Sometimes people naturally like each other, and that does affect their evaluation. Some of it is signal, as in cultural fit, but some of it is just unwarranted bonus points.
  • Negative biases. How much of a penalty did the interviewee get because they didn’t come from the same background? Or are from a different gender? Or era? Or from another race? Or uses a programming language that the interviewer hates? Even if one is fully aware of their biases, and nobody ever is, that doesn’t eliminate its effects.
  • The manager would talk to the engineer vouching about the candidate, understand more about what her strengths and weaknesses, overall personality and how deep the connection is.
  • If the manager sees potential, she’d call the candidate and the talk about the available roles and expectations.
  • If the call goes well, the candidate would be brought on site so more team members would get to know her, to only assess the cultural fit and personality. Maybe play Settlers of Catan like Mark Pincus allegedly used to do at Zynga.
  • If the team thinks it’s a good fit, the candidate would be extended an offer.
  • If the candidate joined, the referral bonus would be delayed until the first full performance review cycle could be done. If the new engineer performed great, the engineer that vouched for her would get 2X of the bonus she’d receive otherwise. If the performance was lacking, she’d lose the bonus entirely. This would make people only vouch for whom they truly know and respect.



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Gui Carvalho

Gui Carvalho

Startup guy, engineer, product thinker. Currently living in Florida.