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Why Assignments are a big part of our Interviews at IK

Posted on 
January 23, 2024
Team Interview Kickstart
Why Assignments are a big part of our Interviews at IK

Interviews are a great way to assess most professional skills of a candidate. But how do we know if they’d truly use their skills in a fully remote setup? How do we know we can trust them to contribute positively to the company culture?

Being a remote team, the two most significant values that have allowed us to scale are trust and ownership. So how do we evaluate these in an interview?

While we do have lots of deep conversations, there is no other closer simulation of an actual day at IK than an assignment. It helps us measure the the attributes we value:

Self-starter Attitude

We can’t overstate the importance of self-starters in a remote culture. While professional patterns are good information, they don’t necessarily tell us if candidates will be able to step up as self-starters professionally as and when required.

Assignments are an excellent way to test that they are currently in a position to drive themselves to meet their work deadlines while maintaining desired quality of work. All this, without any significant oversight.

Here’s how we spot self-starters through assignments:

  • They have the drive to come up with the best solution they possibly could with no one telling them what to do next.
  • They can handle some ambiguity by making reasonable assumptions.
  • They clarify any doubts with our interviewers over the course of the assignment, however, only when reasonable and while respecting others’ time when communicating.
  • They can manage their work and personal responsibilities while getting their assignment done before the agreed deadline.

Strong Problem-solving Skills

All businesses, in growth mode or stealth, will always have problems, Therefore, problem-solving is a highly desired quality in candidates. While most candidates find a way to look good on paper, their resumes don't always reveal if they are good problem-solvers.

It has not been a surprise to us that the people who have had strong assignment performances are the people who have powered the IK rocketship the most. The assignment is an integral part of our culture and the strongest signal of our ability to work together. It’s also that part of the interview where I have the most fun because candidates sometimes come up with some crazy wild ways of solving a problem.”

— Ashwin, Head of Engineering

Here’s how we spot problem-solvers through assignments:

  • Within the assignment, the candidate identifies the problem and defines it clearly with a cause and an effect relation in the definition.
  • They define the objective of the assignment and explain the outcome to achieve as a result of solving the problem.
  • The candidate displays creativity and resourcefulness as a problem-solver by generating alternative solutions. We check if the quality of the alternatives varies greatly. Is there a significant difference in the costs associated with each idea? Is there a disconnect from what we are trying to build as a company? And so on.
  • The candidate develops a detailed action plan because the devil is in the details, and detailed problem-solvers usually are better at arriving at a solution. We check details like does the plan cover all the steps that need to be taken and over what period? What resources are needed to execute the plan? Which resource does what and by what dates?
  • The candidate realizes and factors in any unintended consequences. This shows us their ability to troubleshoot as a problem-solver and readiness for worst-case scenarios. Their assignment includes what could go wrong in the plan, what will be the side effects, how they ensure this plan would work, and so on.

Ability to Make Reasonable Assumptions With Limited Information

Each team member has their own set of responsibilities to fulfill; each one’s time is important and must be respected. That’s why the ability to make reasonable assumptions is key. As owners, candidates must ask any questions that need answering to get the job done well. But wherever possible and appropriate, they should first make an effort to handle it on their own.

Through assignments, we can test whether the candidate is able to make reasonable assumptions and knows when to not make assumptions. We check if the candidate:

  • Can Identify all the assumptions already made
  • Asks if assumptions need to be made
  • Confirms the their assumptions before making them
  • Challenges assumptions and looks for alternative approaches

Clarity in Thought and Articulation

For a candidate, articulating their plan or solution for the presented assignment is similar to selling a product to customers. Like great products don’t get purchased if we don’t sell them well, great ideas may not get everyone’s buy-in if not articulated well.

Candidates should avoid pushing a catalog of products and services and instead articulate a “whole package” fix that clearly demonstrates where their plan fits in with Interview Kickstart’s business objectives and goals.

Openness to Debate and Feedback

When we design solutions at IK, we first think about our customers (our students). 

What are their interview prep needs? 

What are their pain points while preparing for tough technical interviews? 

How can we make it a little easier for them to achieve their dream job? 

At the same time, we also ensure that we’re not neglecting business needs or the objectives of the teams we are collaborating with. 

We get the balance right with healthy debates and feedback. When the scales tilt too much on one side, we always have enough of us on the team to bring back the balance.

When a candidate presents their assignment solution to the hiring panel, we check to see:

  • If they can engage in debate and give and take feedback in a positive way. 
  • If they support their arguments by relying on data that they have used in the assignment.
  • If they have validated their solutions with real customers (not always easy to do) and strongly defend arguments against what they believe is the right solution.

“Assignments allow candidates to see what it's like to work at IK, especially if they haven’t heard of IK before. 

Through the interaction with hiring managers, candidates can see our professionalism and 'no jerks' policy in action. We're so transparent that candidates can even ask for data that can help them in their assignment, as long as it is not sensitive. 

Assignments also give an edge to candidates who really want it and help us filter out candidates who are 'just giving it a shot' without much intent. The level of creativity and research they put in shows their desire for the role and working at IK."

– Ayan Ghosh, Head of Marketing at IK

Our marketing team, aiming for the skies!

Our Assignments Vary Depending on the Type of Role

Different roles require focus on a different set of strengths and skills, and so we tailor our assignments to suit the role.

  1. Execution-heavy roles: These roles require people to execute asynchronously and then articulate their work asynchronously (mostly in writing). For example, when we hire Recruiters for our Talent Acquisition team, we ask candidates to source profiles for a given role and then explain their thoughts for shortlisting these profiles. This is because, in a remote setting, a recruiter’s ability to clearly communicate the rationale behind a candidature’s relevance to a role impacts the hiring manager's decision.
  2. Managerial roles: Managers should have strong abilities to problem-solve within their domains of professional expertise and experience. The assignments ususally contain a problem statement that they must break down and then make assumptions, give solutions, and explain the execution steps. For example, for an HR Business Partner role, we often ask candidates what KRAs would you look at to ensure efficiency in this role?
  3. Strategic roles: Roles such as Director of Engineering or Team Lead need strong strategizing capabilities. They must also be great two-way communicators by asking the right questions and clarifying different hypotheses to build the right strategy. Assignments for strategic roles include questions like: 
  • How would you build a pod within a function?
  • How would you define each role within the function?
  • How would you scale the function (e.g., increase lead volumes, improve conversion rates)?

Impact of Using Assignments in the Hiring Process

Using assignments as a key part of our hiring process has helped us hire candidates who:

  • Are self-driven
  • Are good problem-solvers
  • Can work independently
  • Know when to make reasonable assumptions and when to ask clarifying questions
  • Can communicate well
  • Integrate well into our remote culture, i.e., are owners and are not jerks

People can be skilled but still not be at a position in their lives where they can meet deadlines and expected quality of work independently in a remote environment. Assignments help us hire people who are currently capable of using their skills to produce expected results.