Interview Gatekeepers

Many of the articles on this site revolve around my theory of Interview Gatekeepers. This article outlines as briefly as possible what this means so that I can refer you back to it when it comes up.

What is an Interview Gatekeeper?

An interview gatekeeper is a person or persons who decide if you get to the next stage of an interview. Simple.

Each has a different set of skills, interests, and requirements and you need to make sure that your resume and performance in interview speaks to those different sets of skills, interests, and requirements.

Who are the Interview Gatekeepers?

There are three Interview Gatekeepers I like to talk about:

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The first gatekeeper is the recruiter. He may work for the company you’re applying to (internal recruiter or HR person), or he may work for a 3rd party (external recruiter / agency). Most recruiters have no technical background, so when you write ReactJS they think it has something to do with chemistry.

The recruiter decides if they’ll send your CV on to:

The second gatekeeper, the Hiring Manager. She definitely works for the company you’re applying to, she’ll probably be your boss if you get employed there. She’s a senior technical person who’ll absolutely understand all the complicated words on your CV.

The Hiring Manager decides whether she’ll bring you in to an interview to meet:

The third gatekeepers, your future colleagues. Very often these are a randomly assigned group of programmers who the Hiring Manager scraped together and handed your CV to. Their job is programming, not interviewing, and they’re usually the people who perform the final in-person interview.

Let’s cover some high-level details about each Interview Gatekeeper, and strategies for dealing with them.

The Recruiter

The recruiter is the company’s first line of defense against candidates who’d be a waste of time to interview and who’d be a disaster if actually hired. As they’re usually non-technical, words like Jenkins and _git_ in your CV are like hieroglyphics carved on stone — they know they’re pretty important, but they’re not always entirely sure what they mean.

They make a decision about whether someone who will understand the words on your CV actually get to see that CV in the first place. This doesn’t always go to plan (here’s a terrifying example from Facebook).

They will do cursory keyword matching of your skills and look to see if your previous job titles look similar to job you’re applying for (see: When two job titles are better than one). They’ll also look for any red flags concerning employability, such as lack of an existing right to work for a position that doesn’t offer sponsorship (the article How a recruiter speed-reads your resume has a section on hireability red flags).

If it’s an internal recruiter, you may well meet them in person if you progress through the interview stage, and they’re normally the person who knows how much the salary range available for the role is — although it’ll be the Hiring Manager who decides where in that salary range your experience places you.

The recruiter has one simple question to answer about your CV:

If they’re an external recruiter, that question is: Should I send this CV on to the company?

If they’re an internal recruiter, that question is: Should I send this CV on to the Hiring Manager?

The Hiring Manager

The Hiring Manager is the company’s second line of defense. She will probably be technical, so she’ll understand that if you know Angular, you know JavaScript. If the company does an initial phone interview, it’ll often be with her.

She’ll be looking for proof (see: Prove Don’t Say) that you have the skills you’ve listed on your CV, she’ll probably read the whole thing at least once (as contrasted to the recruiter, who’ll just skim it), and she’ll also be looking to make a judgement on your seniority.

She knows which of the skills on the “REQUIRED SKILLS” section of the job ad are actually required. She knows under which conditions she’s happy to accept someone with Puppet experience when the company uses Ansible, and so she’s the person we’re targeting when we talk about how we’ve used our skills rather than just a long list of bare keywords.

The Hiring Manager actually appears twice in our process – she decides whether she wants you to meet her developers for an in-person interview, and she’s also likely to make the final choice about whether or not to hire you based on their feedback.

Future Colleagues

It would be nice to think that the people who’ll be interviewing you are the company’s hand-selected finest. The people who are most astute, best able to read character, able to asses technical skill, and sell the company to the job seeker.

The reality is that you’ll usually be interviewed by whichever members of the Hiring Manager’s team are free. Many people have pet theories about how to interview people, but mostly your future colleagues have absolutely no idea what they’re doing in an interview.

Their main goal is to stave off boredom during the interview and form an opinion on if they would enjoy working with you. They’ll do this by picking random parts of your CV that look interesting and asking you about them, asking you about technologies and problems they’ve been working on recently and are fresh in their mind, and occasionally by asking inane technical trivia.

However, the Hiring Manager will usually make the Hire / No Hire decision based largely on their feedback, so you’ll need to impress them.

What does it all mean?!

There are two important take-aways from all this. The first is to remember that the job application form is linear: usually you’ll need to pass the recruiter and the Hiring Manager in order to get the interview that really matters, the in-person interview.

The second take-away is that each person in the process has different goals and different things they’re looking for from their stage of the interview. At each stage of the interview you’ll stand a much better chance of progressing if you understand the goals and aims of the person at that stage.

These gatekeepers will come back over and over again in the content, as they’re generally looking for different things, and we’ll be exploring approaches to keeping them happy!

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Peter is a former developer and CTO turned recruiter who wants to demystify the recruitment process so that developers can find jobs and get paid more.