So, I have, from time to time, been asked to interview various candidates, despite not having much say in the hiring process in general. Mostly, I’m asked because my employers want me to tell them if the candidate is technically competent or not. But for me, technically competency is only half of the picture. I want competent, but I also want passionate, and that, is by far the hard trait to find. Passion is the difference between merely writing code and breathing code, the difference between a cog and a creator, the difference between collecting a pay check and committed to the future.
To that end I have developed a series of questions that helps me narrow the pool some. These are questions aimed at gauging beyond competency, but the passion one brings to the team. Without passion, you are just a robot and robots are a dime a dozen… (especially in government contracting).
So, here are my top five interview questions for finding the kind of people with which I want to work. These are all related to software development, but I’m sure you can adapt these questions to whatever industry you work in. I don’t really have an opinion on your industry, so you are on your own.
Question 1). Describe the coding you do outside of work.
The answer a candidate has for this isn’t nearly as relevant as the fact that they have an answer for this. A candidate who is not programming outside of their work structure is, generally speaking, not in love with what they do. If you don’t love what you do you might as well not be doing it, you are certainly not worth my time of investing in you. I will give some credit to someone who describes what they would like to be doing outside of work, but they cannot find the time because of family. I know families take up a butt load of time, so I respect that. Often times when I am interviewing this question is asked obliquely in the form of “What’s your Github account.” It’s the same thing really, although this will also let prospective employers view your work directly as well.
Question 2). Tell me what websites/sources you regularly read in order to stay current in your field?
This is a great question to separate the amateurs from the experts. If you are not reading multiple regular sources to stay relevant in your field you might as well retire. Every field and industry has sources devoted to keeping you up to date in your field, follow at least three and stay on top of it. When a candidate fails to answer this question I pretty much stop right there. This is even more true for technology people than others, but can be applicable in other fields. For example, my fiancee Jennifer is in Acoustics and she regularly reads science journals to stay on top of her field. Technology just makes it easier as there are thousands of sources.
Question 3). “I see that you list Library X on your resume. How would you change X and make it better?”
This is one of those dual purpose questions… You can answer this technically, but any answer you give will also show whether or not you have passion to make things better. I can judge both by your answer here. The worst possible answer though is “I really love the way X does this and wouldn’t change it at all.” If you don’t want to change X you probably aren’t using X very much. Actually, there is a worse answer than that and that is the answer where you fumble around trying to find an answer which tells me you lied on your resume. Fail.
Question 4). “Who are some of the movers and shakers in your field that you like and why do you disagree with them?”
Again, this question goes to whether or not the candidate is staying current. But more importantly, it delves into the candidates opinions and ultimately, passionate people have strong opinions. You might not agree with them, but you cannot fault their passion and commitment to a point of view. The follow on questions from this one can really be intense as well and give an interviewer a great chance at delving into the prospective employees views. Don’t miss out on the chances this question can open up.
Question 5). “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written and why?”
A great question that challenges the interviewee to examine their own work and then defend it. This can be followed up with all kinds of interesting question to get at problems or desires, success and failures. Passionate people not only recognize their failures, they have loads to say about how they would change things. A person who doesn’t think they have improvements to make on their own work, is one I don’t want to work with. Continually striving to better oneself is a must.
So there are my five questions. As with all Interview questions, these are incredibly leading question which allow for a great deal of follow on and discussion. And they are meant to be that way. A single interview question isn’t an end, but a beginning to a discussion. Ultimately, these question do not guarantee that you are going to find the perfect person. Rather, they serve as a guide to allow you to delve into the depths of what really excites a person about the work that they do and the work you envision for them.
And there isn’t a score here for questions they got right. All of these questions lead to discussions that will reveal the characteristics that I am trying to get at, namely whether or not the interviewee is passionate about their work. Each interview is obviously different and have to be judge differently. In the end it really comes down to a gut decision. The hope here, however, is that these questions can lead you to better gut decisions.
The goal here is to determine a persons passion, their excitement for their job, because a person who lacks that kind of edge is really not worth the time.