Interviewing like it's a classroom. In a good way.

When we think of job interviews, we generally think there are two people involved: the interviewer and the candidate. Similarly, in a classroom, we often refer to the presence of an instructor who conveys knowledge and the students who will absorb and build upon said knowledge.

I have noticed some similarities between these apparently very different environments, based on my experience as an Italian instructor.

No corrections

It would be detrimental to constantly correct a student while they are trying to articulate a sentence for minor grammatical errors that do not interfere with conveying the message. It is instead appropriate to offer an alternative (correct) solution when the meaning is not clear, and the message uttered cannot be received.

In the same fashion, if we are in an interview setting, we hold off on intervening for minor syntax errors, or inaccurate or elegant form, in favor of letting the candidate talk through and express themselves without distractions.

Give more room for them to talk, and listen

Another good rule of thumb is allowing and encouraging the student to speak. While it is essential for the listening comprehension to rely on a native speaker’s input to exercise, it is also crucial to work early on not being shy and trying to use the target language to communicate.

The same applies in an interview setting where we can practice being a good listener, smile, nod, show empathy, and acknowledge when indeed “that’s a good question!”. Warm-up questions are useful to break the ice.


Finally, we have the concept of metalanguage, i.e., talking about the language using that language itself, for example, to explain grammar rules.

This is an advanced skill that comes through when we are pairing, and we describe what the code we intend to write will accomplish, like when exercising TDD (Test-Driven Development.) In other words, using code to describe code.


At thoughtbot, the interview process:

  • relies on pair programming as a collaboration tool for problem-solving, reinforcing understanding, coming up with solutions;
  • allows for reducing initial stress by starting with some warm-up questions;
  • embodies empathy with the candidate, avoids trick questions, states how there are no right or wrong answers;
  • values listening and learning from each other.

We conduct interviews where interviewer and candidate roles blend in, learn from each other, collaborate, strive to be better listeners, and let empathy shine. These actions help create an environment where the candidates feel more comfortable, and it’s how we work daily.