Using Whiteboarding in the hiring loop
Whiteboarding is when a candidate solves an engineering problem using a whiteboard. It usually comes in two common forms: system design or live coding. The system design is to analyze, plan, and draft some imaginary platform. Live coding is solving an algorithmic puzzle but writing all the code on a whiteboard. The interview setting is usually sync and often performed on-site. The goal is to understand candidate's thinking and predict their future performance.
Whiteboarding: is it unbiased?
This interview type shares many biases with other face-to-face types.
The interviewers have to detect and avoid their first impressions. They have to root their decision on the answer and not on their gut feeling about the candidate. They have limited time and input data to make a decision. In such circumstances, brains use all the possible help from the biases to fill in the gaps.
The questions themselves usually come from a small pool of reused questions. The goal is to set the stage so that the problem is familiar to the interviewer but not the candidate. The interviewers have to be well-trained to recognize unexpected yet correct solutions. If not, the interview measures the interviewer's expectations instead of the candidate's skills.
Whiteboarding: is it low-stress for your candidates?
It shares similar stress factors with other face-to-face interviews.
It puts the candidate in a setup where someone they see for the first time judges them and will decide the outcome. The environment is new and unfamiliar, and the clock is running out. They have to solve a puzzle by speaking out loud, and they can not concentrate in silence or search for clues. They feel, subconsciously, whether the interviewer likes them or not. In such conditions, candidates will not operate at their peak performance. Many of them fail, not because they can't answer the question, but because they panic.
Whiteboarding: is it real work?
It is not real work because engineers do not write code on whiteboards while being stressed out.
Whiteboard is a fantastic tool for the brainstorming step and getting early feedback. But that step is, at best, a minuscule fraction of the actual work. The usual phases of solving a problem are thinking, coding, testing, and peer reviews. Sometimes, the engineer needs to take a few steps back or even start over from scratch. But they never have to be judged in front of the whiteboard and under a time constraint.
Whiteboarding: is it a good predictor of future performance?
Unless solving puzzles on a whiteboard is your company's core business.
When you hire the candidate, their responsibility would be to work on your product. They will ship to production the code that answers the specific needs of your business. Whiteboarding does not measure their ability to deliver, and it can't predict how good they will do it.
Whiteboarding: how to improve your hiring loop
Stop using whiteboard interviews to test your candidates.
Use whiteboards for their principal purpose. They are great for some rough early prototyping and bouncing the ideas off each other. When used as a hiring filter, they lose all their strengths and measure the wrong metric. Whiteboard interviews strongly favor stress resistance over problem-solving skills. They require an expert interviewer to avoid the biases they inject into your hiring loop. They are stressful and almost universally despised by the candidates. They work against the diversity of your company:
"All women who took the public interview failed, while all women who took the private interview passed."
AutoIterative Job Interviews to the rescue!
We created AutoIterative Job Interviews to be a better predictor of future performance.
They are real work, and they allow the candidate to solve the challenge at their own pace. There are no time constraints, and your candidates can choose the best time to tackle them. They can sleep on the problem, and come up with a better solution the next day, exactly like they would do in real life. And it is not a surprise that they almost universally love this approach.Start hiring now
Want a second opinion?
Here is what other people say about Whiteboarding:
- NCSU study shows stress is more significant factor than skill in whiteboard interviews.
- freeCodeCamp points out that whiteboarding has nothing in common with modern software developement.
- Hashicorp explains that the problem is not developer shortage, but rather hiring practices. Oh, and check out the part two of their series too.
- STackOverflow elaborates why whiteboarding is useless: "if you want to see how someone thinks about doing real work, give them something that approximates real work."
- The animosity for whiteboarding is so universal that people create both lists of companies that do and don't do those interviews.