Allow “Phone a Friend” during Technical Interviews?

February 4, 2013

I’ve been thinking about this recently and it seems a little crazy, but what if you allowed people who were going through technical interviews the option to either phone a friend to help with the question, or even allow them to look for an answer online?

I haven’t tried this out yet “in real life” but it does seem like a pretty interesting experiment.  Here’s what I think of both these options and why i’m not shrugging this off as insanity:

Phone a Friend

This is what popped into my head first: the candidate has a question to answer and can’t figure it out.  They get 5 minutes to call a friend to get advice.  The candidate then has to explain the solution and how the friend helped them do it.  How could this possibly be a good idea?!

Well, for one thing this closely matches the real world.  People don’t always have the answers and talking to co-workers and good friends is a always a great way to find them.  Having the ability to articulate the question quickly, and understand the solution quickly is a great quality to have for a hire.

In addition, having peers to ask shows a little about their social group and the types of knowledge in that circle (this says nothing negative about candidates that don’t have friends to ask).  Bonus: their friends are exposed to the candidates hiring process and experience.  It’s a great way to get exposure!

Find an Answer Online

If phoning friends doesn’t sound crazy to you, this shouldn’t either.  This again is a normal activity engineers do when confronted with a problem they don’t have an immediate answer to.  They scour the internet for hints, papers, sample code, etc to help them formulate some type of solution. Why not allow this process during a technical interview?  Give the candidate 5 minutes to go online and do what they want to find a solution.  Then let them explain the solution and where they found help to formulate it.

Not having the immediate answer is less important than the ability to find a great solution that the engineer completely understands and can explain.  I honestly think that there is a group of people out there who aren’t great at figuring out something they haven’t encountered before, but who are excellent at implementing and leveraging solutions they have encountered – even in creative and new ways (I definitely know some people like this).

So…

The more I think of it, the more I like it.  Obviously it all depends on the candidate’s comfort level with this, and the types of questions that will be asked.  I do know that i’ll be mulling this over for a while to come.

What do you think?