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Carl Chester Lloyd


5 Questions to Ask as an Interviewer

July 30, 2019

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Software development interviews are one of the most talked about things in software development. Most of the discussion ranges between complaints about behavioral questions to complaints about technical questions.
Here I’m going to talk about if you are the interviewer rather than the interviewee. Everyone has to go through interviews, and everyone has opinions on what should, and should not be part of an interview. Rightfully so as the interview process, and their content, will determine if you are able to land the job you have been searching for or if you are the interviewer, the sort of people that you will work alongside. The following is my two cents on good questions to ask potential candidates if you are ever in the situation of having to pick your next coworker.

What is the most complex or difficult thing you have ever worked on, and what made it complex?

By asking the interviewee to talk about their most complex project or piece of a project you will be able to get a good gauge on how well this person can communicate the broad strokes of a project as well as any technical details relevant to it.

Things to look for here are the ability to effectively communicate the core of what they were working on relevant to what they found to be difficult. Hopefully this includes a level of self-understanding of why they thought it was difficult, and can lead to questions about how they are improving this piece of themselves. Keep in mind that if hired you will have to work with this person, and their ability to communicate the issues that are being worked on will greatly help in resolving any issues that come up.

This question will also let you know what sort of task the interviewee finds difficult. Was it a time crunch, dealing with another coworker, playing with the styling of a page, querying a specific set of data, etc. This acts as a good self assessment for the person getting interviewed, and a great window into their current skill level that is work oriented.

Answers of “I’ve never done anything complex/difficult” should be scrutinized or flat out rejected. This shows a lack of self reflection, hubris, or lack of experience. The last is probably fine if interviewing a very junior candidate.

Would you rather work on new/existing codebase, new feature or a bug, etc.?

I consider this to be a good warm up question. It is purely opinionated, and meant to get the interviewee thinking in a self reflective way. This gives a look into the sort of work this person enjoys.

The question can also be tailored to whatever the position most happens to need at the time. Do they like working in the backend or frontend? If you need a frontend dev, but they answer backend, then maybe this is not the right fit for them? Is the job just maintaining a codebase that has existing for twenty years, then maybe someone who likes creating projects from scratch would be a better fit for a different team or project.

Answers of “no preference” are not great for this question. However, there is a little bit of meta-gaming by the interviewee if they are just looking for their next job, and are unsure if the answer will greatly negatively affect their chances at what they are interviewing for. This line of thought can result in the “no preference” answer.

How would you deal with unrealistic demands or impossible deadlines?

As much as we do not like to admit it there are times and places when the time crunch happens. The difference for most people is how they deal with it. There are many ways to do so, and this gives insight into the sort of person you are dealing with. How will your coworkers act when the time comes.

Answers to look for here involve good time management skills, and the ability to find what really needs to get done. This will generally involve talking to whoever is in charge of planning, and figuring out what can realistically get done in whatever insane timeline that has been cooked up. While everything is priority number one, there are some things that are priority number one more than others.

Red flags can include any answers you do not like. Generally for me the answer of just buckle down, and get the work done is a giant red flag. This answer shows no ownership of what is being down nor how it is being done. This also leads to further unrealistic expectations, stress, and burnout.

Are you a self-learner, and are you working on learning anything right now?

Personally I like working with people that like to learn, and grow. Stagnation is death, and all that stuff. The software development field also tends to be one where its practitioners need to keep on learning. This is a simple question that also allows the interviewee to talk about things that they should find exciting considering they are spending their free time on learning it.

Good answers: Yes, I am a self learner.

Bad answers: No, I hate learning.

If they answer yes, but cannot come up with any examples this is a bad sign. This could indicate that they are either lying or are embarrassed for some reason.

If they have an example or more than one, then this is great as it potentially gives a lot to talk about. At the very minimum you can get a window into their personality.

Has there ever been a time where you have disagreed with the existing standards where you worked, and what did you do?

This one might be a controversial question. There are definitely people who believe they should just keep their head down and march on to the beat of whatever drum happens to be sounding. I do not believe in that. I think if you have a problem, then you need to raise it, discuss it, then solution it.

Look for individual action here. This is about what this specific individual believes, and has done. Not what they have let the group handle on their behalf, or let slide. Any specific instance is a good answer for this question. The important thing here is that the person cares about the way things are done. They take pride in their work, and the work being done around them.

Note: If someone freaks out over being asked any of these questions, then do not hire them. That is definitely a red flag.

Carl Lloyd

Written by Carl Lloyd. He spends his time playing with technology, and learning new things.