Engineering Executive Interviews: Exploring the Limits of Rationality

How to Interview and Evaluate Engineering Executives: A Comprehensive Guide

Hiring an engineering executive who possesses the right mix of skills and experience is essential for the success of your team. However, evaluating executives can be challenging, especially if there is a lack of clear evaluation criteria. In this article, we will discuss some key considerations to help you avoid a unicorn search, structure an evaluation process, and evaluate candidates in four key areas.

Avoiding the Unicorn Search: Defining Realistic Expectations

Avoiding a unicorn search is critical because it helps you avoid a prolonged search for an ideal candidate that may result in rejecting some of the best potential candidates while trying to fill the role. It’s crucial to define realistic expectations.

Getting Feedback from Seasoned Engineers

Spend some time before the formal search talking to seasoned Engineering executives to assess the profile. Your goal is to listen to their feedback on the profile you want to hire and what could make your opportunity sufficiently compelling that a qualified candidate would accept it.

How Interviewing Executives Goes Wrong

Companies often make the mistake of using two interview formats: Vibes and backchannel and Broadchurch. However, these formats can generate numerous false negatives that may cause skepticism and delay in decision making. It’s crucial to recognize how interviewing can go wrong and how to refine the process to get results.

Structuring your Evaluation Process

Structuring the evaluation process helps ensure that your candidates are evaluated based on explicit areas of assessment. A structure that keeps the evaluation process concise and eliminates the possibility of overlooking some key factors is beneficial. We recommend the following:

Recruiter Screening

Executive searches should be run through an executive recruiter, an executive recruiting firm, or a VC recruiting firm. They should lightly filter for candidates’ interest in the role and their plausibility for getting an offer.

CEO Chat(s)

Ensure the CEO and candidate work together well, with a focus on the candidate’s understanding of the opportunity and the core challenges. Have as many of these as necessary to build conviction that the candidate is plausible and engaged.

Two to Three Interviews with Executive Peers

Have two to three executive peers interview the candidate. These interviews should cover the topics discussed in the next section, and there should be a documented rubric for assessing candidates.

30 Minute Presentation with a Q&A

A short presentation given by the candidate focused on their understanding of what they’d need to do in their new role is an excellent way to assess whether the candidate is listening throughout the process, and whether they have the executive acumen to operate within your organization.

Rigorous Backchannel References

Find three to four individuals who have worked directly with the individual in question for an extended period of time. This is an essential step to avoid hiring a poor executive.

Two to Three Interviews with Members of Engineering

End with several interviews with engineers and engineering managers. Your primary goal here is to build commitment to the candidate from within the Engineering team, but you also want to listen for any major concerns from Engineering.

Focusing on Four Areas to Evaluate Engineering Executives

Evaluating executives in four key areas can help you assess their competencies effectively. These areas include technical expertise, process and culture, general management skills, and communication skills.

Technical Expertise

Technical expertise is essential in an Engineering executive, and you should focus on the candidate’s experience, skills, and ability to solve problems.

Process and Culture

Assess the candidate’s ability to fit in with your company’s culture, understand and improve company processes and set achievable goals.

General Management Skills

The candidate should have the skills to prioritize company objectives, manage resources, and create a plan for developing talent and promoting diversity.

Communication Skills

Lastly, the candidate should have exceptional communication skills to convey difficult ideas, work with other departments, and inspire teams.

In conclusion, evaluating Engineering executives doesn’t have to be complicated. Employing a structured evaluation process can help ensure a deliberate and thorough assessment of candidates. By focusing on the four key areas mentioned, you can assess candidates effectively and choose a leader that can support your company today.

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