How to structure a technical video interview

shutterstock_191690387Our experience shows that video interviews can be used incredibly efficiently to assess technical ability before candidates are brought in for onsite coding tests and face-to-face interviews.

Once a pool of candidates has been sourced, software companies are then challenged with drawing the right people from that pool. This article addresses two main issues we regularly hear about in the IT sector, when recruiting developers:

Technical capability

How do you know if they can ‘walk the walk’? Software developers are pretty smart people, so they know how to pack their CV with buzzwords, jargon and keywords that will come up in your search on a database, and also tick the boxes on your check list of needs. How do you gain an early understanding of basic competencies?

Team Fit

Yes, they may be developers who spend a lot of time on a computer, but every business has their own culture. Developers must fit in, just like everyone else, to build a cohesive team. How would you assess this before you meet them?

I’d like to share with you some of the challenges overcome by our current customers and how their use of video is evolving within their recruitment process to tackle head on, the issues above. We will cover the following:

  1. Questions: what to ask; how many questions should you ask; how specific should you be / not be.
  2. Length of each response: how long do they need to prove they know the answer, what length of time is needed to elicit a measured response to a question.
  3. The structure: tightening up the process; combating cheating.
  4. Re-records: necessary or not?


What to ask, and how to frame the question, is incredibly important. At this early stage of the process, you want to get enough information to assess whether it’s worth spending the time and money, testing them further, and / or booking time for individual line managers or even panels, to face to face interview them.  First we review the challenge; then show how you can optimise the video interview structure to get the results you want.

The more specific you can be, the better. However, there are a few things to be aware of. The question should relate to an actual technical competency the candidate should posses and also be able to answer off the cuff (these should be short, specific answers to specific questions).

For example: if you want to know whether the candidate knows what ‘polymorphism’ is – an easy solution would be to just ask them, ‘What is polymorphism?’. Unfortunately candidates have been known to cheat. It is very easy to Google polymorphism or to have someone sitting out of view doing this for them. Sounds devious, but these are the people that may get through to the next stage and fail because they can’t ‘walk the walk’. So think about whether there is another way to draw out whether the candidate knows what polymorphism is, perhaps without using the term itself.

This is not to trick the candidate, but to draw out whether they actually have the knowledge and experience you need. Let’s face it, if they don’t know what polymorphism is, and they need to know this for a test later on down the line; they will simply fail deeper into your costly recruitment process, which is not great for either party.

What are your values?

Cultural fit questions need to be associated with your own ways of working and culture. An example might be that if you your company follows Agile principles, you are probably going to need to hire developers who not only have work experience in Agile development techniques, but who also have a flexible and adaptable approach to problem solving and planning. This is not everyone out there, so asking a team fit question around this might give you some clues as to whether they fit your team or not. Also you are trying to match your values, with their values. Spend some time on these types of questions to ensure you are on the same page.

How many questions should I ask?

The Needle’s system allows you to ask 20 questions. Feedback from our customers who are already using the full 20 question interview, say splitting the questions 50/50 – technical vs team fit questions – seems to be a sensible approach. But you can mix it up however you wish.

The key is to ask enough questions to firmly assess all areas. Use the full question allocation to get enough information.

What ‘reading and thinking’ time should I give each question?

When setting up the questions, if you choose not to allow the candidate preparation, which we strongly suggest you do for a technical interview, The Needle’s system will default to 0:15 seconds reading and thinking time for each question. (This will give the candidate 15 seconds to read the question, before our system automatically starts recording.) You can change this time to whatever you think is necessary, but feedback suggests that tightening up this time will reduce cheating and the candidates will then either know the answer or not, when put on the spot. To run on from this, your questions have a further need to be specific, as mentioned earlier in this article i.e. don’t ask three questions in one. Split them into three individual specific questions.

Re-records – to use or not to use?

The Needle’s system allows you to give the candidate the opportunity to re-record their answer if they are not happy with the first response. This does not mean they can re-record the entire interview, just each question that is allowed a re-record. Once they have used their re-records, they must move on to the next question.

While this is great for non-technical interviews where candidates are not necessarily ‘tech savvy’, and are coming across video interviewing often for the first time in their career, we have found the majority of customers using The Needle for technical interviews, have not included re-records due to all the reasons mentioned earlier in this article.

In summary, the use of video interviewing is continuously evolving throughout the businesses who are using it. Using video within your recruitment process is no different to any other HR discipline. It requires skill, collaboration and perseverance to come up with the winning combination question structure for each role. It also forces you to look deep at what each candidate really needs to do the job. Use it to it’s full potential, and video interviewing is a powerful tool that will help you reduce the number of candidates you need to take through to the next stage, but improve the quality of those candidates.