How to interview engineers if you don’t have a technical background

tips for technical interviews - how to interview engineers if you don’t have a technical background
“Building an amazing tech team is easy”, said no one, ever. If you’re part of an HR team in a growing start-up or early stage businesses, you might not have a specialist tech recruiter. What should you do if a technical interview comes your way? You don’t have a technical background. You might not know all the tech terms in our tech alphabet (though this is easily remedied!). But you could still have to interview tech hires. Even without technical knowledge, it is possible to conduct a great technical interview. Trust us – we’ve had to do it!  

Here are our 5 top tips for technical interviews if you’re a non-techie.


1. Don’t ask leading questions

If you have a long list of technologies to tick off, it can be tempting to ask “Have you ever used Eclipse?” or “How many years’ experience do you have using Java?” Leading questions make it easier for candidates to bend the truth, and may not result in a fair interview. Instead, avoid mentioning the names of technologies and keep questions open ended.


2. Own up to your own lack of knowledge

A few months ago, we asked our recruiters for some tech recruitment tips. They agreed that it’s impossible to know every programming language inside and out, especially as new technologies pop up all the time. Obviously, it’s a good idea to keep on top of new tech trends, but remember that the best people to explain the programming languages and skills to you are the ones that use it!   
Ask a candidate to explain what they do as if they’re talking to someone who has no technical background. It not only tests their technical understanding, but also tests some soft skills like empathy, communication and patience.

Rory, Nederlia recruiter, Tech Tips for Non-Techies


3. Decide in advance what skills you’re looking for

We don’t just mean programming languages, frameworks and agile methodologies; we mean skills. Think about what you need from a particular hire in order to get the job done – and done well. For example:

  • Do you want someone who is motivated by solving technical problems or building products?
  • Does your team need an innovator or a technical wizz?
  • Are you missing expert knowledge of a particular skill, or could a programmer with some knowledge of similar languages learn it on the job?

Not sure what soft skills developers need? Or how to test for soft skills in an interview?

4. Prepare (and standardise) a list of questions

Blind screening processes are becoming more popular, and it’s going a long way towards boosting the number of women, older people and individuals from minority backgrounds in startups.

Take a look at our guide to hiring more women in tech if you need to balance the gender of your tech teams.

The logical next step in balancing hiring processes is standardising interview questions. Obviously, there’s a limit – you need to be able to adapt to the situation and to the answers a candidate gives you. But standardising questions not only limit biases; it can also help non-technical recruiters get the answers they need to decide whether or not a candidate is a good fit.


5. Do not rely on Google!

Sure, if you type “devops interview questions” into Google, you’ll get a wide array of interview questions you could use – and some of them will be great. But (going back to point 1), your interviews should test the specific skills you need for the job. If you need fast, agile developers, it’s no good including a long list of very specific, technical maths questions, for example.

Spend time researching the role and asking CTOs or team leads for their personal tips for technical interviews, then write up you own list of developer-proof questions.


With our tech alphabet in one hand and tips for technical interviews in the other, your next interview will be a breeze 🙂

Elisa Alston
Elisa Alston