Thursday 24 July 2008

Eachan's Famous Interview Questions

Building the right team must be among the primary concerns of any senior management role - without high quality people backing you up it doesn't matter how brilliant your strategy is, you'll always struggle. Recruitment is important.

It isn't possible to see every individual engineer joining the company, but I always personally see any candidates applying for leadership positions, roles with a big impact on the team, or roles with a lot of decision making responsibility.

Set your recruitment process up so that you are only ever choosing from the subset of individuals that can actually do the job - your value is in picking the person that will have the right influence on the team, not testing their knowledge of Java or Ruby.

Once you have someone with the right technical skills sitting in front of you, how do you predict the impact that person will have on the organisation? The long-forgotten and much-undervalued art of conversation will tell you. Here are a few of my favorite discussion-starters that I consider useful in working out how something thinks:

  1. For any given problem, do you prefer the best possible solution or the solution the team knows the best? This will give you a measure of where on the 'most reliable delivery vs stretching/growing the team' continuum they feel comfortable.
  2. What is the difference between a good engineer and a great engineer? This will let you know how they judge talent and what qualities they look for in their teammates.
  3. Assuming you are the successful applicant, what would you expect from us as management to help you make it successful? This gives you a feel for how well they'd represent their team and what their upward management would be like.
  4. Role play - it sounds a bit 'tired' these days, but another thing I like to do is ask them to swap places and try to hire me. Get them to explain why I'd like working here and what the company is like, what they products are etc. This will tell you how much homework they've done before meeting you and give you some insight into how they'd go about recruiting.
  5. [updated] Play a little word game. I get a lot of insight into how people think by picking a handful of related (but different) words and asking them to arrange them in order. One of my favourite sets is; potential, qualification, skill, experience, and wisdom. There are no right or wrong answers to this, but (in this example) I can tell if someone values accreditation over practical experience; potentially greater performance tomorrow over potentially lesser performance today.
  6. Sell to them. Not really a question but a useful idea nonetheless. My theory is that anyone who walks in should walk out wanting the job, whether or not you want to offer it to them. This turns unsuccessful candidates into mini marketing agents and gets the word out about what you do.

Attracting and retaining the right talent is so critical and you can never underestimate the impact on the team of a bad recruitment decision. You must make these activities a high priority and, if you rely on agencies for any part of the process, monitor their performance very closely - they don't have to live with the mistakes!

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