Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Interview Questions for Potential Employers


By common definition, the purpose of a job interview is to allow an employer to screen candidates and find someone to fill an open job position. Each and every applicant must prove his or her worth to the potential employer. Many will apply, but only one (or very few) will be selected.

In the world of software, the overall hiring process follows the same sort of pattern. I always aim to impress any potential employer by showcasing my work and showing the best of my abilities. However, I expect any potential employer to reciprocate and make an effort to impress me. When the interviewer finally asks me, "Do you have any questions for me?", I like to conduct a little interview of my own. Here are some of the questions I like to ask potential employers:

"What's the most interesting thing you've worked on since you started at Potential Co.?"


Nobody wants to work on uninteresting things with uninteresting people. I want to know if the work is compelling and if the team finds it compelling. Even if the work doesn't sound too exciting, if the interviewer is genuinely enthusiastic about it, I'll be more interested to explore it. Passion and interest in work is always impressive.

"How does Potential Co. show that it values the professional development of its employees?"


I'm constantly looking to improve my ability to build software. The best software developers are the ones who are driven by curiosity and strive to learn more about their craft. I think it's common for software developers to switch jobs because of mental stagnation. For me, it's important to work in an environment where developers are encouraged to improve themselves and their team. Whether it's attending conferences or hosting meetups, a company that mitigates mental stagnation makes that much more of an impression.

"Are you satisfied with the process and workflow of the team?"


While I try to steer clear of any sort of micromanagement, I also try to steer clear of programmer anarchy. In any case, this question tells me if the team has adopted a process for tracking progress on clearly defined goals. I have no strong preference on a development process, as long as the whole team diligently adheres to one. It's a pretty good indicator of how efficiently my skills would be utilized within the team.

"Does the team share any interests or hobbies outside of work?"


This is about as personal as I like to get during interviews. The goal is to get a better understanding of the people I plan to collaborate, discuss, and debate with for eight hours each day. Do they enjoy hiking and camping as much as I do? Will they laugh if I quote something from Office Space? I'd like to fit in as a person as much as I would fit in as a coworker. While I don't expect to become best friends with anyone, it's nice to be able to have conversations about something other than work throughout the day.

Do you have questions you absolutely have to ask a potential employer? I'd be glad to know about them!

37 comments:

  1. As a hiring manager, I would welcome all of these questions except the last. To my mind, the question translates like a hidden requirement to share interests outside of work, which is asking too much, I feel. I'm not hiring friends, even when I wind up enjoying their company. Viewed in the very darkest light, this innocent question could be interpreted as your desiring a place with shared religious or political views.

    I would add to your list:
    - Why is this position open? Interesting answers can tell you about higher turnover environments, team stresses, or interesting new projects.
    - What is a typical week like in terms of the mix of work?
    - What kind of fires do you fight here? Or What was the last urgent problem that came up here? Understanding what crises arise and what your responsibilities might be is very important.

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    1. Fair enough. I guess there are beter ways to gauge how well I might fit into a team. While it isn't a requirement to be "friends" with coworkers by any means, I feel like being able to mix well outside of work says a lot about how happy I might be at the company.

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    2. This is a great question, imo, and I encourage it. The best teams are the ones that are cohesive and learn from each other. And that's more likely to happen when the team hangs out after work once in a while.

      I don't think it's asking too much — just the idea that you *think* it's asking too much suggests you haven't worked with a tightly-knit team before. You should be hiring people you can get along with, and fit team culture.

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    3. I'd go with the "what interests or hobbies" question. Work is more than about work. Anyone who says differently I don't even bother talking to because they are living in a dream of PR bliss. Now if I was talking to HR, I probably wouldn't bother becasue they wouldn't know. A hiring manager should clue you in on the team. Gone are the days I would accept a job with no knowledge except a cursory walk through of the pod with the potential teammates.

      Teammates and hiring managers can make or break a work experience. If they are uninteresting, inadequate, racist, tobacco fiends, I deserve to know. And if they are a bunch of football fans, or constantly going out drinking I should know that as well.

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    4. Viewed in the very darkest light, this innocent question could be interpreted as your desiring a place with shared religious or political views.

      Or I desire a place without such things.

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    5. Isn't it simply an employee equivalent to a company's cultural fit questions?

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    6. I love my job and get along great with my co-workers, but I have no desire to hang out with any of them outside of work and I don't want to be friends with them. Nothing against them or anything, they are great people, but I prefer to keep my personal life and my work life separate.

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    7. The biggest concern for most people might be the personality and competence of their immediate supervisor and bosses. If they are in the interview, it's ok, you can judge yourself,but many times they are not. You might point some questions about work team style of the group you might join to see how things run with their bosses.

      On another questıon, I asked an interviewer once about the challenges and issues they faced in the workplace, and was firmly rebuffed. It was if I insulted them as they started to get evasive in response. Red flags were shooting up for me big time then, and I lost interest in the job immediately. I work in a field rife with personnel issues, so had to know more details before making the commitment. The job was in a middle eastern country.

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    8. I once had a manager tell me you don't come to work to make friends. I disagreed. He is no longer my manager - neither of us work at that company any more - but interestingly we are still friends. If I meet people at work that I like to hang out with outside work then that is a big bonus in my opinion. By consciously keeping personal life and work separate you might be excluding some awesome people from your circle of friends. I like the question.

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    9. I don't think showing interest in the personalities of your potential coworkers implies that you can't work with people who aren't willing to become your friends.

      In some companies it can be a huge plus to share certain interests, even when it's not a requirement. Also, some teams are more close on a personal level than others.

      Some people wouldn't feel comfortable to work in a 'close' team, while other people would be really happy if they could become friends with with the people they work with.

      So, I believe this is an open question and usually relevant.

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    10. @March 26, 2013 at 9:26 AM
      Your company sounds miserable

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    11. One of the most asked questions in an employee satisfaction survey is "Do you have a best friend at work". I can tell you from my personal experience that this is a very valuable thing to have. My 6 or 8 best friends in my life are all from work. And I've worked at companies where people don't go to happy hour or don't eat lunch together or don't do any social activities together outside of work and it is usually a pretty dismal place to work.
      I get the whole separation of work and personal life. But I think you can do that and still have very good friends at work. I manage it by not coming home and griping to my wife and by not griping about my wife at work but when really fun or exciting things happen at work or home, I share them with the other side.

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    12. I don't understand why this big fuss about being "best friends" or have to do extracurricular activities in order to have a place that I enjoy working at. To me, it would be a red flag if you must have entertainment after or during work. You are getting paid to do work not to find your best friend at work. Maybe it has to do with me having family and children and if I already spend 8+ hours with you at work why do I have to make an effort to now spend extra time with you after work instead of my family? Lets be realistic, long are gone the times when you worked at the same place for 30 years where you could actually cultivate a relationship with your peers, tomorrow they will find a new place to work at or you may find it yourself but your family will be with you for the rest of your life. Unless you rather spend time at work and in consequence you may end up loosing them.

      Does this mean that the place you work at has to be miserable just because I don't want to be your buddy buddy? Not at all, a place can still be enjoyable, lets go to lunch once in a while but I rather stay and work during lunch hour so that I can leave on time to enjoy my family and eat dinner with them than to go for a lunch hour and have to make the call "I won't make it on time, eat without me because I have to stay late".

      It is part of growing up and setting up priorities.

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  2. What source control software do you use? If the answer is one of IBM's shits I would just storm off no matter what.

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    1. You mean there are betting things than Rational Synergy? Nooooooooooo!

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  3. Question 2 is a yes/no question, and of course they're going to answer yes.

    I would lead with a more provocative question: "How does your company develop grow their employees?" or "What does your company do to foster the professional growth of its employees?"

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    1. Great point! I'll edit the post to reflect this. Thanks.

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  4. A lot of times I like to take the questions I've been asked and turn them around on the interviewers. For example, I was asked, "How do you feel you would integrate with a team which has so many years of experience." When it came for me to ask questions, I essentially asked the same thing; "How do you feel your team would integrate with someone coming in with new ideas?" This particular interviewing group wasn't able to answer it clearly, but it gave me an idea of how set in stone things seemed.

    A favorite question I always ask is "Do you have any questions or concerns about my ability to perform the duties required for the position I am interviewing for?" From my experience, they'll touch upon something and it gives me a chance to clear anything up. But if they don't want to answer it, then I'm pretty sure I won't be moving on to the next round. That's probably not in the same vein as your post, but still something worth asking, I think.

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  5. "What kind of hardware, spec-wise, do you give to your developers?"
    - I always ask this question and if I don't like the answer I usually let them know. Ive been given some terrible laptops and desktops before to work on and I will never work for other companies like that again. Ultimately, this question boils down to "Do you spend money on your devs" only putting it professionally.
    "Do you spend money on 3rd party tools/libraries?"
    - I work primarily in .NET so basically im asking if they use things like infragistics or telerik, do they roll their own, or they dont use them at all. Also, it finds out if they are willing to pay for something that possibly reduces development time.
    "Do you have a policy for releasing code as open source, and if you do, do you have any devs that do release code?"
    - I like to work for companies that will allow me to open source code (not all code obviously) that I think could help other people. Also, if they have devs releasing code you can check their repo's to see what kinds of things you can/will be working on.
    "Does my job role require me to maintain legacy code, and if so, what kind of systems will I be maintaining?"
    - If it doesn't sound like something i'd enjoy, goodbye.

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  6. To the potential supervisor, usually a project manager in my case:

    What was the last book on project management you've read?

    It's shocking how many manager's are just winging it, also this is a good way of disqualifying yourself from working with managers that don't want an honest dialog with their subordinates.

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    1. Hah! +1

      An interesting question that you should probably ask if you want to check your manager's relationship with you before you take the plunge.

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  7. If I am going to the range after work, does the company have a problem if I leave my guns in the car in the carpark?

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  8. Ha!

    That's perfectly acceptable - this obviously is not:

    "If I am going to the range after work, does the company have a problem if I leave my GOLF CLUBS in the car in the car park?

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  9. I would always ask:

    1. Do I get Administrator rights to my development machine?

    No more suffering IE6 as the compulsory browser for me.

    2. I see what you're hiring me for, but is this wonderful project you're describing already started? Is the money for it authorized?

    This sounds stupid, but I've seen some people getting hired for the next big thing that never really happened. Then they just get stalled reading old documentation, then employers try to make up things to keep them occupied, etc. It's a great situation for lazy people who enjoy getting addicted to leisurely web browsing on their jobs... but not for me.

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  10. One I like to ask:

    "If a customer comes to you with a request for a specific technology, and you know your team does not have experience with it, what do you do?"

    Essentially, I'm looking to see if they are willing to lie to get money, and if I will be the one that has to cover them when they have promised the moon. I've got a range of interesting answers from this question.

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  11. I've always asked, "No company is perfect. What would you change about this one?" There are always ways that a company or department can improve, and I'd like to know what bones of contention existing employees have. If possible, I want to talk to one of my potential peers, and not just my hiring manager.

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  12. Also, can you subject them to multiple panel interviews? Preferably all-day interviews? And give them obscure riddles to solve? As is true with the best software developers, the best companies are the ones that can tolerate being interrogated like a suspect in a crime.

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  13. Do I have control of the thermostat?

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  15. You are screwed already once you acknowledge you are on a "team". Too many bosses just use "team" to mean "team player" which is another way to control you.

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  16. Great timing for this to show up in CodeProject, I have an interview tomorrow morning :)

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  17. Great post, I would potentially add something to the affect of: "Was Potential Co. profitable last year?" If not, "What's the burn rate?" I think these questions are important because you're making an investment too. I want to know that the company I'm considering can provide a secure job. Unfortunately I haven't personally asked these questions in the past but I plan to ask something to the same affect in the future.

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  18. I've spent the last year interviewing hiring managers to understand their hiring process. One question that I found particularly enlightening was "Think of the best employee (designer/developer/product manager) you've ever had work for you. What separated them from the rest?" It tells you a lot about what the hiring manager values.

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  19. What's are the best and he worst things about working for this Company ?
    And why are you still here ?

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