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General Interview Questions
... I need to find my replacement ...

 1:57 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

The good news: I got promoted.

The bad news: I'm not going anywhere until I can find someone to fill my position. We're a growing outfit so simply promoting from within isn't an option.

I don't interview people often, but the company I'm working at now has a very strict policy about if you get promoted, you get to be one of the interviewers for the person who will replace you (it's actually a very smart HR policy that's saved us a lot of grief in a relatively small, tight knit, dot-com outfit).

Questions to test technical knowledge, I can whip out on the fly. I'm not worried about that. What I'm worried about is those "general" questions to see if the person is going to be a good personality fit, maybe trip them up to show whether or not they have the right work ethic, are honest, etc.

Anyone here got any suggestions as to specific questions, or even general topics to cover?

One question I love to ask:

How many computers do you have at home? What are they running and what are their functions?

The answer to the above tells you a lot about the person and how they view tech: ie: whether it's a "job" or a "passion", if they're entrenched on any particular side of the O.S. wars, etc.

Any other suggestions? I know this topic has come up in here before, but fresh ideas are always welcome.



 2:11 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

Ask them how they deal with conflict. Once they have answered your question ask them to give you an example of a conflict situation which happened in their previous workplace and how they handled it.

Ask the person what defines them. Examples would be family, photography etc. Their answers might give you some insight into who they are.


 2:19 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

Don't forget to bring a bell to the job interview:

- Goooodnight, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding. Why do you think I rang the bell? Five, four, three, two, one, zero!

and don't forget to ask:

- If you could be a vegetable - which would you be?

No honestly. I would stick to the technical questions to questions about the job, previous jobs of the applicant and perhaps questions about his resume. Do a little small talk before the interview starts but spare your applicant questions like: "What are your three greatest achivements?", "Where do you see yourself in five years?" or the classic "What is your greatest weakness?".


 3:23 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

Ask them how they deal with conflict.

Following up on that- think of some conflicts or issues that you had in your position. Ask the applicant what he/she would have done in the same situation. And just because the person would have done things differently doesn't necessarily make that person a bad fit. Focus more on the thinking process behind finding a solution rather than the solution itself.


 6:14 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

Okay I wasn't going to share this until I am 100% sure, but this makes it a must.

Long story short, there is a particular niche in the Internet industry that is, by and large, composed of 95% BS. Most of the members here that work in this niche are solid and reliable, but most of the ones out there doing this dazzle the clients with technobabble, tweak their pages a little, present some stats they know Einstein couldn't make sense of, and bill them for 5K. When their business doesn't improve, "Your product is not viable, now go away lest I invoice you a second time-uh."

In my travels, I stumbled across one of the gems, the real deal, and for the first time was gravely impressed and awed at the way they did business. Long story short, I asked if they needed a developer in house, expecting a no. Turns out they had made the decision to bring one in - on the very day I asked. Went for an interview.

The reason this is relevant is that, as I drove there (800 miles) I had dreaded the potential questions and conditions, every single thing that has been suggested in this thread. "What degrees do you have, how long did you work here and there, why did you leave, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, we need you to take this test or that test, if you were an animal which one would you be?" BAH. You know what we think when potential employers ask these questions? We think that you, as employers, don't know what to ask so you're spitting out something that some researcher somewhere told you and based on our responses, you're going to score - and pay - us accordingly. We haven't even gotten a job offer, and already we feel like a slab of meat, a number, and have no real hope of being a part of anything important, we'll just be a link in a chain.

Let me tell you what happened at my interview.

The two partners came in and showed me several of their current projects. While they were doing this, they asked, "what would you do with this?" I told them. Then they had me bring up a recent project, then had me show them the code for it, explain my logic. Then each and every member of the company came in from different "departments" (quoted, because this company is 100% interactive, there really are no "departments"), who each had their current projects. "What is this, can you make sense of this, and explain it to me?" I did.

What does this tell you? This tells you the prospect's ability to work with everyone in the company, their overall skills, and something a normal volley of questions will miss, how quick someone is on their feet in an unknown environment, with unknown parameters, how they will react to and tackle a problem. This is by far more important to you than what kind of computers they have at home.

"Asking" "what would you do?" is only going to prompt them to "give you what you think you want to hear as the right answer." Don't waste your time, do the work. Give them the situation, and observe what they would do.

Then we went out to lunch, all six of us, one rule: no shop talk. What will this tell you? This is where you find out who they are, and also where your prospect finds out who you are. L.S.S., by the end of lunch I felt like I'd known these people for years.

Like I said, none of this is in stone, but this company was voted one of the *top five* companies to work for in a major U.S. city, something I'd sensed long before I approached them. On the trip home, there was one thought in my mind. It wasn't "I want this job," or "I hope they hire me," no. It was "I need to be here, and they need me to be here."

Do you want to hire a grunt, a yes man/woman, or do you want someone who wants to be part of your team? Think outside the box. :-)

I'm giving it a month, if it works, awesome. These people are great, both in philosophy and the way they work.

It's interesting to mention that one of their questions was: what is the one most important web site resource you regularly use? You can probably guess my answer. :-)


 10:22 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

I cannot improve on the advice from Life and Rock.

Think of some conflicts or issues that you had in your position. Ask the applicant what he/she would have done in the same situation. And just because the person would have done things differently doesn't necessarily make that person a bad fit. Focus more on the thinking process behind finding a solution rather than the solution itself.

I'd add, after you get your answer, ask, "OK, and why would you do that?" Can reveal good thinking behind a bad answer as well as bad thinking behind a good answer.

I like people who ask questions about the job. Your friendly little, "Well, do you have any questions?" at the end of the interview should come back with something that shows interest. But, that said, that doesn't happen very often. People think they know what is what.


 10:28 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

Also, be aware of the types of questions they ask you. If the only questions they ask are all focused on salary, benefits, time off, etc., it doesn't sound much like a team player.


 11:20 pm on Sep 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

Thanks Guys, this is good stuff...

When I came on at this outfit, I really had the sense "this is where I want to be" - for some of the reasons Rock mentioned. I had 3 interviews total. The first two were fairly standard tech interviews: "What's the command line to restrict a file to admin only..." blah blah. Previous experiences with "conflict resolution" etc.

The third interview wasn't an interview at all. It was a round table in the boardroom with 7 other people from different areas of the company. We basically sat around for an hour and chatted. At the end of it, I thought "My gawd, these are some smart people playing with some cool tech, I HAVE to get in on this..."

Sadly, the company has grown since then and this type of process just isn't possible anymore. We've ended up with some serious duds since, who didn't work out and cost us money to get rid of (sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's true), and I want to avoid that.

Most of the people I work with are genuinely not in it for the money. We're in it to solve some interesting problems, and just keep refining it. As an example, our resident "grey beard" had enough money to retire 15 years ago, long before he ever started with this company, but comes in every day with that "I have an idea..." look about him. And that kind of attitude permeates the company.

I've been around long enough [webmasterworld.com], in enough different places to know how rare that kind of atmosphere is, and how easily it can be ruined by a few rotten apples.

The candidates we have lined up are sharp guys, on paper. I'm supremely unconcerned with how they'll perform technically - they all have the experience and skills. That's relatively easy to screen for with some background checks.

I want to make sure we get someone who will tinker with a problem from "someone else's department" just because the problem is there, and it's interesting. We don't need a "code cranker" - I'd rather have someone who stares at the ceiling for half the day, to figure out that one beautiful line of code that solves a pile of problems. Not the guy who keeps throwing code after hack after code until something simple goes away, kinda sorta.

Anyway, thanks again for the input.


 3:18 am on Sep 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

The candidates we have lined up are sharp guys, on paper. I'm supremely unconcerned with how they'll perform technically - they all have the experience and skills. That's relatively easy to screen for with some background checks.

Test. Be reasonably certain. No reason for trusting your gut where and when it is not necessary. That is part of being professional. Yes, you'll feel a little silly when they ace it. But, there are folks who really are very. very good at blowing smoke. They are professional actors.


 11:56 am on Sep 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

One of the things I've done in the past - similar in effect to what rocknbil said, is give them a simple technical test. Forget all the personal analysis and judging personal motives - they are there to work after all.

Make the test short - 10-20 minutes and tell them there's no right or wrong answers, and they don't have to complete them all (and they don't).

Then sit down and discuss their answers with them. You'll find this very telling.

For example, one of the questions I asked was 'you're given 100 items. Write an algo to sort them alphabetically'. I got a bunch of high tech answers, and one guy who did a bubble sort. When asked why, he said 'it's 10 lines of code and I'm done in 5 minutes. with 100 items, being super efficient won't make any difference'. Best programmer I ever hired that guy.

My buddy who hires engineers often asks people to convert from hex to binary. I guess he gets some pretty interesting feedback from that.

Personally I wouldn't try to infer personality fits from a few questions, i.e how many computers do you have at home. You start asking me outside of work questions and you'll get all manner of answers that are diametrically opposed to computer work - outdoor activities. Computer workers who have outside interestes that are computer based - may or may not be indicative of anything. It may mean their enthusiasitic, or sheltered. And if they don't do computer stuff outside of work, they may be rounded, or they may be unenthusiastic.

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