On the (Technical) Google Hangout

October 28, 2015 Jeff Cousens

A year ago, we blogged about Interview Tips, providing a high-level FAQ about interviewing at Civis Analytics. Today we’d like to talk about a specific stage in our interview process: the Hangout Interview.

At Civis Analytics, our engineering interview process is divided into three stages: a preliminary phone interview, a technical assessment, and the on-site. This is not to say that everyone goes through an identical process, or that every interview will have precisely three stages, but it’s a good approximation. For our technical assessment, we’ll ask you to build something, then to show it off. We want to see how you approach a problem, and we’ll ask you to make changes on the fly. Our goal is for you to show us your best work, so we have you use your own environment and whatever language and tools you’re most comfortable with. Then, we have you share your screen via Google Hangout so we can follow along.

There are many articles about video interviews, be it via Google Hangouts, Skype, or another technology. But the advice these articles provide is generic, dated, and doesn’t address a lot of the issues we’ve seen candidates experience. Our Hangout is a technical interview, which means we have different standards. To that end, we’ve put together a few tips to help you focus on the assignment instead of stressing over the medium.

You don’t need to dress up. Most articles on video interviews tell you to “dress to impress”. Even on /r/cscareerquestions, people have suggested dressing up. We don’t care. Be comfortable. We won’t judge you either way, whether you wear a suit or a t-shirt. If “be comfortable” is too vague, you won’t go wrong with jeans and a nice shirt. This includes your surroundings. Time spent worrying about a messy bookcase is time better spent on engineering.

Test your hardware. Make sure you can connect and that your speakers and microphone work before the interview is scheduled to start. Remember that video interviews are bandwidth-intensive, and find a location with reliable Wi-Fi, or use a wired connection. Wear a headset if you have one, even the cheap one that came with your phone, so you have your hands free to type. Those are minor things, but if your interview starts 10 minutes late because you weren’t prepared, that’s 10 minutes you don’t have to impress us, and we can’t always let things run long.

Be prepared to share your desktop. It’s best if you can share your entire desktop, not just a single window. You don’t want to have to stop and change what you’re sharing when you transition from an editor to a terminal or a browser. Worse, it can be very confusing to an interviewer when you switch to a window that’s not shared and we can’t follow along with what you’re doing.

Don’t share anything you wouldn’t want us to see. Be aware of your open tabs, your bookmarks bar, other applications, files on your desktop, your wallpaper, etc. If it’s up there, we’ll see it. Close your e-mail and IM, and hide any personal or confidential information, applications to other companies, etc. Don’t forget about notifications and reminders. If your OS provides a “Do Not Disturb” mode (OS X does), turn it on. Your phone, too. This will also help keep you focused on the interview.

Show doesn’t mean don’t tell. As with an in-person or a phone interview, make sure you explain what you’re doing as you go along. Not only does it help us follow along, but part of any interview is gauging fit. We want to understand how you think, and know that you’re somebody we’ll work well with. Some people find that talking through things helps settle their nerves, too.

Consider disconnecting any external monitors. With Google Hangouts, you share all monitors when you share your desktop. This can make it very difficult to follow along with what you’re doing. We all love our second monitor when developing, but think of a Hangout as a cross between a presentation and a pair-programming exercise, where our attention is focused exclusively on one window at a time.

Find a quiet, distraction-free location. Don’t use a coffee shop. If you have a roommate, ask them to be quiet. Don’t forget about ambient noise. If you live by a train station or a hospital, make sure you close your windows, or consider finding an alternate location. If your cat walks across the keyboard, it happens, but you shouldn’t have to break to take your dog for a walk. This is an interview, and you want to be able to focus so you can do your best.

Have fun. Seriously. A lot of interviews are asking you questions, trying to weed out candidates by how they respond under pressure. We just want to see what you can do. Take some time to build something that allows you to show off what you’ll bring to the role. The best candidates we’ve interviewed have been those that were excited to be showing off what they created.

Can’t wait to show off what you can build? We’re hiring.

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