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Tips for conducting onsite technical interviews virtually

In the last few weeks, engineering teams have been forced to adapt their hiring processes, especially when it comes to onsite interviews. 

No longer can candidates come into the office for a technical interview – which means gone, at least for now, are the days of in-person onsite interviews. 

However, we still need to conduct “onsite” interviews – that is, face-to-face technical interviews – before we can make hiring decisions. It’s actually quite easy, if you have the right tools, to shift your onsite technical interviews online. Here at CodeSignal, naturally we use CodeSignal Interview to conduct technical interviews. We actually use it for all technical interviews, including virtual or in-person onsites, so that we can review the coding replay during the interview panel debrief session. If you’re curious about how CodeSignal Interview works, check out this quick overview video.

Okay, without further delay, here are a few tips for conducting onsite technical interviews virtually. 

Tip #1 – Prepare Ahead of Time

Think about how you want to structure your interview ahead of time, so that you don’t scramble while you are on a video call with a candidate. If you have specific questions you want to ask, make sure those are ready to go and favorited so that you can find them easily. If you prefer a free-coding style interview, prepare the initial question along with follow-ups.

If possible, prepare slightly more questions/follow-ups than you think you need, in case the candidate really exceeds your expectations and zooms through them.

Tip #2 – Manage Your Time During the Interview

Just like you, candidates are busy. They likely have a job and other commitments, which means you need to keep on schedule during the technical interview.

You can do this by starting with an agenda. You’ll want to set a few minutes aside for introductions, a block of time for coding, and time for questions at the end. Tell the candidate your plan and then stick to it! 

Tip #3 – Use the Right Tools 

The goal is to provide a real-world coding experience for the candidate so they can really showcase their skills – which means you shouldn’t be attempting a technical interview in Google Docs or something similar. Instead, you should invest in collaborative coding software, like CodeSignal’s Interview tool, to provide a top-quality experience. 

Even simple differences like indentation and font choice make a world of difference in how pleasant an environment it is.

Play to the strengths of the technology format. You should rely less heavily on making the candidate draw pictures or diagrams and rely more on the fact that they can easily type out interfaces or code structures that would be much slower to write on a whiteboard.

If drawing is really important, use something simple and easy-to-pick-up (ideally, simple free-hand drawing or shape/text tools) like Invision’s Freehand or AWW. You don’t want to use a complex/powerful diagramming tool that a candidate is unfamiliar with, since the interview will become more about figuring out the tool and less about what they actually know.

Tip #4 – Measure Debugging Skills, not just Coding

This is something that’s a lot easier to do in a realistic shared coding editor than it would be on a whiteboard. If they’re really able to run their code, they are almost guaranteed to make mistakes, and you can observe whether they take a structured or a trial-and-error approach to tracking down what went wrong. 

In a collaborative coding environment, the interviewer can also hop in and work through problems with the candidate. 

Tip #5- Have a Backup Plan

Sometimes, technology simply doesn’t work. Their internet connection could fail, or your computer could shut down, or any number of things that are out of your control.

If something does go wrong, you should have a backup plan. Always keep the candidate’s phone number and email in front of you just in case there is a connectivity problem. That way, you can use your phone if the video call quality isn’t great, or contact them right away if you’ll need to reschedule the interview. 

Ready to Take Your Technical Interviews Remote?

Change isn’t easy – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be hard either. Follow these remote technical interview tips, and before you realize, you won’t miss physical onsites at all.