Onsite Interview Loop Template

This post originally appeared on Making Meetup

One of the goals of my fractional VPE role at Meetup is to improve our interviewing practices so we can grow engineering in an inclusive, diverse way. To start, I’m partnering with another Meetup VPE, Lisa van Gelder, to run experiments on the existing interview process.

Our goal is to build a consistent, repeatable, and inclusive interview process that yields strong signals on candidates. We’ve drafted a list of hypotheses to test, and I’m starting with the prebrief: a meeting that happens before an onsite interview in which the recruiter, hiring manager, and interviewers game plan what’ll happen when a candidate comes in.

As an experiment, I’m rolling out a new template for hiring managers to fill out before their first prebrief for a role. Here’s the template!

The template includes:

Filled-out interview template
Example filled-out prebrief template for a Machine Learning engineer role

Why use a template?

This doc stems from years of interviewing and hiring in my previous engineering leadership roles. I’ve found that, by putting in a ton of effort up front, a hiring manager can really hone in on what signal they need to determine whether or not they want to hire a candidate. And by listing out those signals and assigning them, we can better-ensure that a candidate isn’t receiving duplicate or unnecessary questions from interviewers.

Additionally, thanks to the assigning of signals and supporting instructions, interviewers can have an easier time deciding how to approach gathering their assigned signal from a candidate. Interviewers can make sure that they’re not inadvertently covering ground that another interviewer is asking about, and they can gain a better sense of what tried-and-true methods will be inclusive and yield good signal.

Time investment

This is asking a huge upfront time investment of hiring managers. It takes a lot of energy to develop a full list of signals you want your hiring team to gather, edit it down to just what’s most necessary for making a hiring decision, and add supporting guidelines to help interviewers do their job effectively and inclusively.

That said, once a hiring manager has developed their first template, they can duplicate and iterate on that template for every additional candidate for the role. Interviewers can give feedback on what worked/what didn’t, and edit the template directly to better-document what questions help gather that signal. Hiring managers can lean on their teams to fill out this prebrief doc from the start, too.

This is definitely a “rising tide lifts all boats” moment, as we can begin to develop some best practices about how to gather signal for topics like pairing or management across Meetup engineering. Shiney Koshy, an Engineering Manager and Engineering Lead at Meetup, created a library of interview slot signals and guidelines on our internal wiki, so that others can leverage and add to the list as we get more practice and learn more about what works!

How-to!

Duplicate this blank template for the role you’re hiring for. Fill out the list of signals you need to gather to make a hiring decision, and assign those signals to different interview slots. Add the names of people who could be interviewers for those slots.

For each of those slots, describe the signal you need the interviewer(s) to gather. Add guidelines for the interviewer to help them know how to approach their time with this candidate. At the end, add any candidate-specific signal you need to gather (e.g. leftover questions from the phone screens).

Share the filled-out doc with the recruiter to schedule from the potential interviewers list, and with the interviewers before the prebrief for a candidate. When you meet for the prebrief, walk through this doc, and ask:

Use whatever medium you prefer for this template — just make sure it’s easy to share with all interviewers and recruiter! I recommend having in-person prebriefs the first two times you use the template for a new role. It’s cool to move to Slack/another asynchronous medium afterwards, as your interviewers have likely solidified their understanding of what signal they’re gathering and how they’ll do it.

Iterate on this template as you conduct interviews — update the list of guidelines and signal you’re assessing as your interviewers report back about what worked, what didn’t, and what would be more helpful.

Impact so far

Here’s a secret: though I’m running this as an experiment at Meetup, I was pretty confident that this template was going to make a difference in the hiring managers’ experience, the interviewers’ experience, and the candidates’ experience. But I want to make sure that my assumption was true — so I’m beginning to gather feedback from all involved.

An engineering director participating in the experiment shared with me unprompted: “I don’t think we could live without our interview template now.”

This past week, Yvette Pasqua (Meetup’s CTO) was in a prebrief that used the new template for the first time, She said to me:

“I was shocked by how much more clear and productive the process was. I have very little time for prebriefs so am tempted to skip them, but this one was insanely efficient, and so clear as to what was expected of me.”

And my fav part of her feedback, that hits on a major part of our goal with this work? “As I read the doc, I saw the guidelines and signals written were intentionally inclusive, which made me so happy that was front and center for all interviewers to see.”

I’m just beginning to gather more holistic feedback on this experience, and I’ll be updating the template as we learn more and iterate!

Lara Hogan

I'm an engineering leadership coach and consultant. Previously VP of Engineering at Kickstarter, Engineering Director at Etsy.

I champion engineering management as a practice, getting comfortable giving presentations, and celebrating career achievements with donuts.