How to interview and hire a web developer in 4 steps
Knowing how to attract good talent when searching for a web developer can make a huge difference in your company’s success. By knowing how to attract, evaluate and compare top talent, whilst removing the under-performers, you’ll likely have yourself a great developer team.
Hiring any new employee is a difficult task. Making mistakes can actually harm, rather than enhance, your existing team. This damage is magnified when hiring a developer. Companies should think of their code as a physical entity that is being expanded, altered, and reimagined on a regular basis by their developers. Adding a poor developer to your team can hinder the productivity of other developers, increase the risk of bugs, and have ramifications for years to come.
Therefore, it is crucial that you are able to attract and identify skilled developers. This article will explore 4 steps that will help you interview and hire your next web developer.
Attract top talent
If your hiring pool comes entirely from the shallow-side, identifying the top candidate is meaningless. Because top developer candidates usually have several options when searching for new employment, you need to make sure your pitch to them is enticing and genuine. Depending on your company’s culture and industry, this can manifest in several forms, but here are a few things that could help influence candidates:
- Build cool stuff – To a manager, a web site might just be a tool or marketing page, but to web developers, it is their creation. Web development is a craft and the websites we make form our body of work. Entice top talent by offering them the opportunity to create something awesome.
- Actually be flexible – Every company touts their work-life balance and relaxed cultures. But few actually mean it. Having nerf guns on your walls or ping pong tables in your break room doesn’t automatically mean you have a fun culture. You need to actually have a relaxed environment that is pervasive through your team and the way you work. Convey this by being honest with potential employees and by letting them speak to several existing employees.
- Offer on-the-clock career growth opportunities – Web development is a quickly moving industry. Many developers fear that their current skill set will be obsolete if they do not learn new things. This leaves many developers having to spend evenings researching and tinkering. This is not a problem, but you should encourage and pay developers to do this as part of their job.
- Provide good gear – Having a slow computer can harm productivity. Let developers choose their keyboards, monitors, & mice.
- Reward output, not input – You can take two developers, have them both work 40 hours, and get drastically different results. All developers are acutely aware of how much they get done in a week compared to their peers. Don’t foster rivalries, but make sure you properly reward performance.
- Pay well – Paying more does not guarantee you will get top talent, but paying less will guarantee that you don’t!
Of course, attracting top talent is just the first step in this process. Now that you have every developer submitting their resumes, how do you evaluate them?
Remove non-top talent
If you were successful in attracting applicants, you might find yourself overwhelmed by resumes. This is a great problem to have! It is also one that you can solve relatively quickly. Once you have weeded out a few based on resume alone, begin with a short phone interview. In the phone interview, you are not looking to place a “hire” recommendation on candidates but just removing the ones that are “do not hires.” Here are a few red flags that might lead to you not continuing with a candidate following a phone interview:
- They were unable to answer basic technical questions, like “what is an associative array?”, “what is a class?”, or “what is JSON?”
- They were unable to explain what they did on past projects or were unable to answer related followup questions.
- They were exceptionally poor communicators
You would be shocked at how quickly some candidates (even those with stellar resumes) get eliminated by this process. The goal here is to quickly and inexpensively narrow down your candidate pool. After that, move on to follow-up interviews with your remaining candidates.
Evaluate top talent
Accessing someone’s ability as a web developer is a very difficult task. But, after having interviewed & hired several rounds of candidates, I think there are certain things that you should look for. Here are a few things we always do during interviews:
- Ask conceptual questions – You want to figure out if the candidate understands a general development concept or just a specific methodology or approach. Because web development is always changing, you want to find developers who understand and apply core concepts. They are the ones who will more easily adapt to new technologies & languages.
- Watch them code – I could not imagine hiring a programmer without watching them code. We try to ask at least one basic question to make sure the candidate can write anything at all and then a more complicated question to see how they approach larger tasks. It is not about the final code on the whiteboard but more about the process. You want to see how they begin, change, and review their work.
- Have them explain something – We always start interviews by asking the candidate to teach us about something that is non-technical. Ideally, it would be something that we know little about. Developers often have to explain things to other developers and non-developers. Just hearing candidates discuss and answer questions on a topic that interests them should tell you a lot about them.
- Ask specific questions about past projects – Understand the role the candidate played in the projects on their resume. The project itself might be very impressive, but that does not mean that their contribution was.
In addition to this list, you should ask more specific questions based on the role you are hiring for. Questions can also vary depending on what level of experience the candidate has.
Comparing top talent
If all has gone well up to this point, you should have a few top candidates to choose from. For this reason, it is important that you ask the same or very similar questions to each candidate. It is also important that several members from your team were involved in the interview process. Additionally, it is often helpful to not discuss candidates until every interviewer has evaluated them. This way, we do not introduce any additional biases. If after you have done all of this, you are still undecided on which candidate to hire consider the following items:
- Who is the best developer now and who has the potential to be the best in a few years?
- Who is the best fit for the team and company?
- Do any of the candidates have strengths that your team is currently lacking?
- Which candidate is the most passionate about your company and your work?
One final rule that is often helpful is the “one strike and they’re out” policy. This means that if anyone on the hiring team is a “no” on a candidate, they will not receive an offer. This is especially helpful with smaller teams.
Hiring web developers can be a difficult and daunting process. Web developers have many options when searching for employment and the talent gap between top and mediocre candidates is enormous. Knowing how to attract and evaluate top web developers can make a huge difference in your company’s success.