Saturday, March 16, 2013

Interview Questions

I am finding that I am starting to enjoy a certain part of interviewing and that's the point when I get to ask the questions. I have stock questions that give me insight into the company, the culture, the processes and the people. 4 to 5 questions is all it takes. I am also to take that insight and use it to drive my Q/A time at some follow-up interviews, which I did for the first time yesterday. I'm kind of wishing that I had discovered this technique some time ago. I also saw how well people who already worked together got to know each other better when I ask these questions to a group. I highly suggest taking the time to make your own stock list of lines of questioning. As an example here's mine, especially when I'm stumped for more specific questions:

1. What's your favorite part about working at XYZ, inc?

2. If you could change one thing, what would it be?

3 (For the technical interview). What new technologies have you introduced? What is the process of introduction? And did the technologies meet your expectations?

4. (For the managerial interview). If I were to be/progress into management, are there good mentors available? Do you have a good mentoring process?

5. (For the follow-up) This is a good time to drill down on things raised in previous interviews as the interviewer's job title dictates.

6. What recent challenges are you facing today and going forward?

7. Tell me about your first assignment/how you came to work for XYZ, inc?

Two questions I hate to hear are:

1. Where do you see yourself 1, 3, 5 years from now?

I hate this question because I'm a dynamic individual, and the answer, whether or not you honestly truly feel it, can jeopardize the interview. Do you have too much ambition or not enough? Ambition is ambition, sometimes requires encouragement, and sometimes requires tempering. The point is no one knows where they're going to be, and it makes them less agile. Maybe I should answer with a question of my own from now on: "I'm not sure. Are there specific opportunities that I should be considering at those intervals?"

2. What do you see as your greatest weakness?

This is a horrible question. Nobody is going to be completely forthcoming when they answer this question, because they risk getting the job. Instead, the candidate has to pick something that they are working on already that isn't their greatest weakness; or they have to pick a strength and show the negative side, thereby implying the actual strength. The last time I was asked this question, I was talking about my strength and accidentally started talking about how it became a weakness as a manager; to which I found I triggered commiseration from my interviewer.

Getting to know the people, culture, and processes before you start working someplace is vital. And even if you don't get the job, you can digest all that experience into secondary wisdom that you can take with you when you finally do land a job. This is really pertinent if you plan to lead or manage at any level.


  1. Very nice list of questions (why do I never get anyone asking me these when I'm interviewing them???)

    For the two questions that you hate :)

    1) Though I don't ask it I know people who do, and it can provide useful insight into the application. A junior developer who sees themselves as Architect in 5 years has no concept of the industry or how much experience and knowledge they will need. A developer who simply answers 'in 5 years I want to be seen as an authoritative source of information like Scott Hanselman in .Net' on the other hand (as long as their ability backs it up) would be a great addition to the team :)

    The second I never use. You are only going to get BS answers from people trying to make strengths into weaknesses. My stock answer here is "I find it hard to say no to people who need my time, which makes my time management very difficult. I should learn to say no when I know there is not enough time, so that I can concentrate on the things I am already busy with"


  2. I usually answer that second question stating that it has always been my dream to be in technical leadership close to the implementation, where the rubber meets the road, and even though my opinion might change as I get older, for now, this is where I want to be.

    This implies that if they think they can encourage me to take the next level and they can provide the tools and mentoring necessary to be effective at that level, I can explore the growth opportunity.

    I know that I have some traits that would benefit me at mid-level management, but I also know that it takes me closer to market stress and further away from where the real power of the company is, in its frontline staff.

  3. That's why I love small companies. Where I work someone taking calls from the customers can arrange a meeting with the CEO, or even founders and directors should they feel something needs discussing. In fact when one of the directors thought he was too distant from the employees he hired an espresso machine for a week and made everyone very nice espressos and cappuccinos throughout the mornings.

    I have worked in companies where you could not even talk to the manager of your manager without bad things happening afterwards, it was dreadful!