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Core values interview guide

The goal of the core values interview is to determine whether or not the candidate’s personal and professional values align with 18F’s core values.

Watch out for unconscious bias!

Remember that we all have unconscious bias, and that hiring is especially susceptible to bias. However, when we recognize and accept bias we can be on the lookout and it’ll be less likely to unconsciously guide our decisions.

Learn how.

Research shows that the effect of unconscious bias can be profound. For example, in one study, “applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.”

This bias prevents us from achieving the results we want, which is to select the best possible candidates regardless of background.

Humans are not only biased, but we almost never realize that we’re being biased. However, when we realize and accept bias, and recognize it, we can be on the lookout for bias and it’ll be less likely to unconsciously guide our decisions.

In that spirit, here are a few ways you can look out and correct for bias during the hiring process.

  • Review these guidelines before every interview or round of resume review. Studies show that we’re less biased when we’re conscious of our own thinking, so continually reminding yourself to be aware will help.
  • Remember that we’re especially susceptible to assume that underrepresented minorities — women, people of color, etc. — are less qualified than their white male counterparts. When considering candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, check your thinking about qualification. Ask yourself: am I reading this person’s qualifications the same as if they were white, male, etc?
  • Continually re-check the guides and scoring rubrics to make sure you’re reviewing fairly. After a while, you’ll start to feel like you’ve memorized the guides and rubrics. This is good since it’ll help you be more efficient, but our memories are fickle things. The more you remind yourself of the concrete, established metrics, the less likely you’ll be to make “gut” decisions that could be colored by bias.
  • Watch out for assessments of candidates that may be colored by age, gender, race, etc. For example, we tend to be more likely to use words like “aggressive” or “competitive” when describing men, vs “supportive”, “nurturing” when describing women. Are you surprised that an older person has cutting-edge technical skills? Ask yourself if an assessment might be colored by an applicant’s demography.
  • Don’t check out the candidate on social media, or Google them. A person’s public profile almost certainly won’t have anything relevant to work, and might instead reveal all sorts of irrelevant information (age, gender, political affiliation, race, etc.). If the candidate application/resume links to a personal website, LinkedIn, or GitHub you can check those out — these are more work-focused, and we can assume a candidate has put what they want an employer to see there. If you use Chrome, the Unbias Me extension (written by Fureigh) can help by removing avatars and names on some websites such as LinkedIn.
  • If you come to a conclusion about a candidate very quickly, before you’ve read the whole resume or finished the interview, spend the rest of the session trying to disprove that conclusion. Snap judgments are much more likely to be prone to bias than considered ones. We tend to jump to conclusions and then look for evidence to support our hypothesis. To compensate, if you find you’ve reached a Yes/No conclusion very quickly, spend the rest of the session trying to disprove that hypothesis. Explicitly look for evidence that you’re wrong. If you’ve decided immediately that a candidate is not qualified, spend the rest of your time trying as hard as you can to find evidence that they are qualified.

Purpose

Broadly, the core value interview accomplishes two purposes:

  1. Tease out the candidate’s approach to value-centered agile teams. Focus on agile, testing, open source/openness, and human centered design. While some technical discussion may come up, it should be kept high-level and general in nature.

  2. Learn about how the candidate deals with bureaucracy.

The interview should last roughly one hour, and include some segments in which the interviewers provide more detail about 18F to the candidate and openly share their experiences working at 18F - remember, interviewing is a two-way street!

Before the interview

Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the candidate’s resume and review the good and bad signs for the questions you’ll be asking.

Conversation outline

Take behavioral notes.

When taking notes, note what the candidate says, rather than your impressions. This helps combat unconscious bias and will help you share the reasons for your conclusions and decisions.

See an example.

Try to note what the candidate says, rather than your impressions — that will help you share behavioral reasons for your conclusions and decisions. That is, try to write down what the candidate said or did, rather than how you felt about it. For example:

✅ Good ❌ Bad
“candidate ‘forced engineers to do \$X’” (captures what a candidate said) “candidate has an adversarial relationship with engineers” (interpretation of what they said)
“candidate has maintained an \$X as an open source module for 2.5 years” (captures what a candidate did) “candidate is a good open source maintainer” (your feelings/interpretations of what they’ve done)

Begin by introducing yourself by saying this or something similar to it:

Hello! My name is ___, my pronouns are ___, and my role at 18F is ___.

Thanks for interviewing with me today. This will be a behavioral interview, which means I’ll ask a series of questions about experiences you’ve had and how you handled them. There are no “right” answers; I’m interested in talking through these situations with you. I’ve got about [4-5 questions], and this will take us about an hour, perhaps a bit less. Don’t be surprised if others ask the same questions in other interviews; that’s normal. Feel free to think for a moment before answering if that’s your style - you won’t be judged for it.

There will be times when I ask for more information, or want to dig deeper into your answers. That’s normal, too: I want to make sure I understand what you did and why. I’ll be taking notes, please don’t let that distract you.

I’ll ask you my questions first, and then I’ll leave some time to answer any questions you’ve got for me. I’m excited you’re here - let’s get started!

18F’s background, history, mission, and purpose

Make a note of key phrases or words that the candidate mentions their response (e.g., “I want my work to have a meaningful impact”); you can use these for hooks that there are hooks for questions later in the interview as you transition from one set of questions to the next.

Relevant work experience

After the introduction, follow up with a discussion around relevant work experience. Tying into anything the candidate might have already responded with as well as their resume, guide the interview toward specific work experience(s) that are of interest to 18F’s current and future needs.

This question could go in a few different directions depending on the candidates experience. Ask one (or more) of the following:

Communication and collaboration

Following a discussion around a candidate’s relevant work experience, transition into a more focused dialogue around communication itself.

Ask one (or more) of these questions, as appropriate:

Technology and open source

Regardless of whether or not the candidate is applying for a software development position, 18F relies heavily on technology and open source to execute its mission. This section focuses on those skills and experience.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core values for 18F and the engineering chapter. These questions are meant to shed light on the candidate’s experience and thoughts.

Overall experience and outlook

Begin closing the interview by asking general questions to ensure we develop a more well-rounded picture of the candidate. These questions aren’t geared toward a specific job or work methodology. Instead, they’re meant to shed light into the candidate’s overall experience and outlook.

Ask one or more of the following:

Conclusion

Wrap up the interview by tying things back to why the candidate is looking to join 18F. Hopefully the answers and discussions around the specific questions provide a modicum of context around the candidate’s motivations and desires, in which it will be a lot easier to determine if their personal and professional goals align with 18F’s needs and mission.

Ask one or more of the following:

Lastly, make sure to ask the candidate if they have any questions for you!

After the interview

Thank you for your focus! Use your notes to fill out the feedback form linked in the calendar invitation, which will prepare you for the debrief meeting.