How the pandemic changed the way we interview candidates for roles in our department, and how we have evolved our hybrid model to be more remote friendly
Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic started, everyone in the Guardian’s product and engineering department, along with the majority of colleagues in our organisation, started to work entirely remotely. The product and engineering department had to adapt quickly and we seized the opportunity to review our interviewing process. Our goal was to simplify the process, making it appealing for candidates while keeping it fair and efficient.
In this article we will highlight some of the changes we made and will outline what applying, interviewing, and starting work as a developer at the Guardian looks like today.
The first step we took was to remove the requirement for a cover letter for most of our roles. We decided that relevant topics would be better talked about during a video call interview, rather than just being read. Applicants are still welcome to include a cover letter if they would like, but it is not strictly necessary to apply for a role with us.
The second step we took was to remove the initial phone conversation, which cut down the process from three to two stages. After reviewing previous interviews, we didn’t see this as a helpful step to filter candidates before the next stage, and decided we could cover useful bits in the other two stages: a video interview and a remote pair programming exercise. These are scheduled separately and include different interviewers. Each stage offers a chance to ask questions about what it is like to work in our teams.
Where can I find open positions?
Apply for one of our open positions here.
What can I expect from the interview process?
We aim to be as fair and transparent as possible in our hiring process. Similar to other organisations, there is a CV screening, phone interview, coding exercise and a face to face interview. Read more about what to expect and apply now here.
This stage is a conversation with two members of our engineering team that (for most roles) lasts an hour. Some questions focus on technical topics and your understanding and experience working with them. They are not trick questions, trivia, or algorithm based. Other questions revolve around your experience and thinking when working in teams – an important aspect of the work we do at the Guardian. We also want to understand your motivations to work with us and hear your passion.
The second and final stage is an hour-long exercise in which you will work with a Guardian engineer to write code to solve a problem, defined by the interviewer at the beginning of this session.
The exercise will be chosen from a list of existing problems publicly available on the Guardian GitHub repository. These are in a selection of common languages, or you can set up your own from scratch. The setting up is not part of the test and will not be assessed, and we expect you to set this up prior to the interview to allow you to spend time on the actual problem to solve.
What the interviewer is interested in is how you approach the problem, what you prioritise, how you think about a solution, and how you communicate your thinking throughout the session. They will also focus on how you respond to suggestions and advice. It is an approximation of the experience you’ll have when pairing with a colleague. You will be the driver, sharing your screen, and the interviewer will be the navigator, making comments and asking questions.
We pay close attention to the process, not just how far you get through the exercise. The focus is not on syntax, language, or IDE knowledge. You are encouraged to search online for whatever you may need to work on the problem. The session is not a competition, it’s a chance for you to work with a partner – so feel free to ask, challenge and learn from them.
This is also a good opportunity for you to understand if this is type of environment suits you.
About a week after your remote pairing exercise, you should receive a phone call from our HR colleagues to let you know how you did and whether or not you have an offer. The decision is based on discussions by colleagues who participated in the different stages on how you performed against our written criteria. Having multiple interviewers with different perspectives involved with the process increases our confidence that it is free from bias. We have a particular emphasis on assessing candidates as fairly and consistently as possible.
The team you are placed in is based on your experience and the requirements within the department. It is worth emphasising here that when you are hired, it is because you are seen as a great addition to the department as a whole, rather than to a specific team. Once you are here, you will have numerous opportunities to collaborate with other teams and for team rotation.
The time between your offer and your start date can vary depending on the notice period of your current job but if you have the flexibility, you could start within a couple of weeks.
During the pandemic, we had to adapt our process to make sure new starters were able to start without needing to go to the office. We now ship laptops to your home address before your start date and your manager will set up an initial one-to-one video call with you to get introduced and guide you through your first day.
This whole experience has enabled us to evolve our model to be more remote-friendly. We see real value in face-to-face collaboration but we also understand the benefits of working remotely and the flexibility this offers. In particular, we want to build diverse and inclusive teams, where everyone can do their best work. Different roles carry different expectations, and as a software developer we’d typically expect you to join the office, on average, twice a month for specific activities. We can also support you working in the office more regularly if you prefer.
During your onboarding, you will now have the opportunity to meet your team colleagues in person and get to meet colleagues from other parts of the organisation.
We have adapted well to this new remote modality. Our people are very connected and have great interactions. The culture is very welcoming and people are helpful and understanding. There is a strong collective focus on finding a good work-life balance and staying comfortable and healthy.
Finally, while we are remote-friendly you are required to work from the UK for administrative and legal reasons, but when travelling for short periods of time in countries you have the right to work some exceptions can be made.