A recent Computerworld article entitled, “Fishing in the Global Talent Pool,” outlined how multi-nationals are widening their search for IT talent. The idea is that the hired IT talent will remain in their home country and work out of the firm’s local offices. Previously these offices had typically only been home to sales and marketing or for perhaps production folks geared towards the local economy. A large part of the article was dedicated to how the firms conduct their hiring practices in various markets which got me to thinking about the nuances of conducting interviews of Ukrainians. I have conducted a lot of interviews over the last 10 years and I have observed other Americans interviewing Ukrainians and I have a few observations I would like to share.
The questioning process:
Americans like to ask opened ended questions during the interview process. At the very beginning, the interviewer may ask the person being interviewed: “Introduce yourself”. A typical answer they may receive however is: “My name is Sergiy and I am a software engineer”, and that is it. From a US perspective we expect them to continue on and say where they are working, describe their current project a bit, and maybe say a few sentences about their previous job if they have worked at their current position for less than a year or so.
Another typical question may be, “Tell me what your role is in your current project.” A typical answer may be, “I am a programmer for this project”. Again from a US side, we would expect a few more details about how the project started, what was their role at the beginning of the project, how many team members there are, what stage the project is at now, etc., and more details.
Another common question may be: “Describe the last project where you used CORBA?”, and your typical answer may be, “I used CORBA on the xyz project for abc company”.
You get the idea. From the interviewers I see a lot of frustration, which is understandable when you are used to more forthcoming answers and not having to pull answers out of someone. This is not necessarily a “cultural” issue, just a difference in experience. Most people in the US, at one time or another, had to learn how to conduct themselves on interviews and to learn what prospective employers wanted to hear and what they didn’t want to hear. Mostly here it is a case of lack of experience and opportunities to go through these types of interviews, but it is something that can be learned.
From the Ukrainian perspective:
I thought I would share with you some thoughts of what the person who is being interviewed is expecting. They expect that you would have read their resume, otherwise why would you have asked for it. During the interview they will refer to projects or company’s that are listed in the resume, assuming you have read it. Which is certainly not the case, most resumes are not read that thoroughly, and if they are, the names of the company’s where they have worked previously may seem strange to you, and/or certainly not recognizable. Another thing they expect and they know about themselves is that they can learn anything, so it doesn’t matter if they have the exact experience today, and they will tell you so. This is a healthy confidence level that some interviewers like.
One last item, in the US many companies like to pride themselves on their intensive hiring practices, the number of interviews it takes to hire someone, testing that is done, etc. The more intensive the better. What does the average Ukrainian engineer think about having to go through several interviews, sometimes with the same person? “They are not really interested in me, but are more interested in wasting my time.” To us this may seem a bit arrogant, but it is a difference in experience. In Ukraine more positions are obtained by knowing someone who works at the company and receiving a personal recommendation than passing through 10 interviews. Puzzles or proving their technical skills or thinking skills is accepted through, although few companies are yet engaging in this type of interviewing (ala Microsoft as talked about in “How would you move Mount Fuji?”, or Google’s puzzles on billboards in India).
Options for the questioning process:
1. Realize that you will have to ask more questions, more detailed questions. Interviewers who do this, including myself, are happier with the results, and are less likely to pass over good candidates — something I see happening a lot.
2. You can make sure that the people that you are interviewing are “coached” before the interview is started, i.e. that they are made aware of the types of questions that will be asked and that they understand the type of detailed answers you want to hear.
3. Accept recommendations from the offshore partner that you are working with on who can fulfill your projects successfully, and who should join your team. They are closer to the people you are interviewing; they have worked with them before and can provide good recommendations. This is especially true if you are looking to add new persons to an existing team.