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How Not to Hire Engineers

If you’re looking to hire engineers, Texas is a great place to be. According to Wanted Analytics data, Austin, TX, and other metro areas in Texas are great places to find engineers (particularly software engineers and system engineers).  But with large corporations like Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard Company and DELL continuing to attract the majority of Texas engineers, are you remaining competitive for the top engineering candidates?

We’ve learned from clients, candidates and other experts in the field that some key rules of thumb for hiring engineers have changed. These changes have to do with the interview process: Who interviews, how they interview, and what is discussed during the interview.

Engineers were once notorious loners. These days, employers need engineers to be team players. In essence: Three heads are better than one. Therefore, it’s important both to the team that’s hiring and to the job candidate to meet face-to-face as soon as possible. Use an engineering recruiter to assess, source and screen engineering candidates, but then bring the rest of the engineering team in for the critical second interview in order to get to know the job candidate and to help seal the deal. Even with more people involved, the engineering recruiter remains important as a sounding board for the candidate (with negotiations and other details).

Next comes the content of the interviews themselves. It’s true when you set out to hire engineers, reviewing resumes can only take you so far. Being able to review concrete work is imperative. In order to do that, homework assignments during the interview process are common; and they’re a great idea. What’s not a great idea?  Asking engineering candidates to code “on the spot,” which is also known as the technical interview or whiteboard coding interview. Technology blogger at, Eran Hammer, wrote about his experiences and thoughts on being asked to write code during interviews.

“When [a second interviewer] came in, put a laptop in front of me and said, ‘We’re going to write some code now,’ I got up and said ‘I’m going home now,’” he recalls from a previous interview with a high-profile company. “I can’t really code outside my controlled environment. I also do my best work when I get to ‘sleep on’ a problem.”

Gayle Laakmann McDowell, founder/CEO of CareerCup and author of Cracking the Coding Interview and The Google Resume, agrees the technical interview for engineers is inherently flawed.

“Some companies put too high a standard on performance, thinking that there’s a substantial difference between a candidate who does well and one who does very well,” she writes in a guest post. “Some focus so much on these questions that they don’t look at factors like your references, personality, work ethic, prior experience, etc. And, there’s a lot of great engineers who just don’t ‘test well’ on whiteboard coding interviews.”

Moving ahead from pop quizzes versus homework assignments, Kleiner Perkins Partner Mike Abbott recently spoke with Startup Grind Founder Derek Anderson about a third key to cracking the engineer recruiter code. His secret? Lay your cards on the table.

“If [the interview is] easy or perceived as easy by an engineer, he or she will not want to join your company because they’ll say, ‘Wait a second, if this is the interview, I don’t know if anyone here is the caliber of engineer that I actually want to work with.’”

By their very nature, engineers love challenges. That’s why they’re engineers. When you give homework, or as you’re evaluating samples provided by job candidates, ask questions. Challenge the engineer on his or her logic and process.

Have you experienced “on the spot” interviews? What other interview tactics have you used when interviewing engineers? We’d love to hear from you!


Image credit: solarseven / 123RF Stock Photo