The email test
The first stage is a homework assignment consisting of a few non-trivial problems. The problems are very close to what the candidate would be working on at Affectv. The test is not time bound, and the candidate is encouraged to use different approaches and try to optimise the time complexity.
The email test is the first filter we apply. It helps us weed out the people who are not genuinely interested in the role. We only look at CVs after they have successfully completed the test.
Before coming in for an interview, we ask the candidate to list their top three skills. We ask this because we want to test the candidate in the areas that they are the strongest in and we may not necessarily be familiar with the candidates’ number one skill.
Interviews are stressful. They are even more so when the candidate does not know what to expect. I like companies that tell me what the interview structure will be like, who will be doing the interviewing, what their background is and how many rounds of interviews I will have to go through.
Interview: Stage one
Each stage of the interview is a filtering process. For engineers, in stage one, we test the following areas:
- Coding ability – Can the candidate code in the required language? If the job requires it, do they have an in depth knowledge of the language or certain libraries?
- Problem solving – Does the candidate have the ability to correctly solve the right difficulty of problems, try different approaches to solving a problem, persist on a difficult problem, or does he just give up?
- Previous experience – It’s only after we have vetted #1 and #2 do we get to the CV and ask the candidates questions about their previous experience. Here, we ask questions on what you did and not what we, as a group, did. Some people tend to use “we” more, but after you butts in with, “Sorry, do you mean I or we” a few times, they start using “I” more; and
- Top skills – This is where we test the candidate on their top three skills. We go in depth to gauge whether they really know what they claim to know.
At any step, if the candidate fails to impress, then the interview is politely concluded. This ensures that we aren’t wasting the candidate’s or our time.
Interview: Stage two
Stage two varies with the role. For junior roles, we skip this stage. For more senior roles, they are given a hard problem that we are facing and are given a week to think about it. For example:
- Product role – How would you manage the lifecycle of this product?
- SWOT analysis;
- Roadmap; and
- Skills needed.
They will then present the solution to a small group with a Q&A afterwards.
Interview: Competency based
During the last stage of the process, I get a non-technical person to do the interview as it gives me another perspective on the candidate.
We have broken down competencies into eight categories and have a scoring system with a pass mark against each category. The decisions we make aren’t based on emotional responses but are backed by evidence. It is only after the candidate is successful in all these stages that we make them an offer.
Finally, some pointers we keep in mind throughout the whole process:
- Revert back quickly after an interview. Inform the candidate or the recruiter of the next steps on the day of the interview. Both will really appreciate this;
- Hire people who are smarter than you. I suppose you have heard of the saying, “A people hire A people, B people hire C people”. You want people who are better than you so that they can take things off your hands and solve problems that you may not be able to solve;
- Do not go for smarts only. Also look at how well balanced they are. I know smart people are notoriously hard to find, but beware of individual idiosyncrasies. It will affect the rest of your team;
- Hire for complementary skills. If you have a person who is amazing at something, it makes more sense to hire someone who fills in the shortfalls;
- Your time is important. Come up with a process to quickly eliminate the wrong candidates; and
- Jacks over Kings. During the initial stages at a startup, generalists are more valuable than specialists.
Pravin Paratey is CTO of Affectv.