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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

How I Interview

How I Interview post image

Let me start with a side note: this post could either way be titled “The Question I Will Ask during Interview.”

It all started when I asked my better half one question we often use during interviews with developers. Actually it may sound a bit weird to ask a surveyor a question taken from an interview with a programmer. It may sound even weirder that my wife’s answer would easily put her in a better half of answers I get for the question. Without sweating.

The question is simple: imagine you have programming language which has addition, subtraction and multiplication of integers already implemented. Your goal is to propose an algorithm for division operation.

Disclaimer: I am well aware I’ve just published one of my standard questions from interviews.

Other disclaimer: no, I don’t do that because I have an evil plan not to ask the question any more.

Another disclaimer: I do know that some, not so many actually, candidates I interview happen to google this blog, or even read it from time to time.

One last disclaimer: I am not dumb. Or so I believe.

What’s going on then? What I want to share with you today is that many questions you’re going to hear during an interview with me are just excuses to dig deeper. In this very case the question could sound more like “show me the way you think” but it would be sort of hard to answer the question stated this way.

But there’s more. Not only do I look at your reasoning and the way you tackle issues but also you give me some insight when you give up. In other words, I don’t look for an answer although there probably is one, which is sort of optimal. I try to observe how you act when solving not-so-complex issues. Something you’re going to do pretty damn often if you accept the job.

This is a pattern I follow when recruiting. I could probably safely publish the whole list of my standard questions and I would still learn what I want about interviewees.

Of course that doesn’t mean we don’t check technical expertise. We do. Well, “we” is sort of abuse here. My colleagues do. So while my wife would probably shine during the “soft” part of an interview, blank stares she would give during technical part would scare away our recruiters in just a few minutes.

The interesting part is: if you don’t have decent answers during the first part your technical excellence doesn’t make any difference. We just don’t want to work with people who find it hard to think.

And by the way: yes, this is an experiment. I’m waiting for the moment when an interviewee tells me that they’ve read an interesting post recently so the next question isn’t a surprise. At all.

Anyone wants to bet when it’s going to happen?

in: recruitment

3 comments… add one

  • Zsolt October 1, 2011, 3:42 am

    When I did interviews I sent out all my questions to the candidates by email. From seven candidates only one took the time and looked for the answers. We sent the other six home and hired him.

    Personally it was embarrassing. Nowadays, nobody walks that extra mile, but asks for a butload of money.

  • Pawel Brodzinski October 1, 2011, 3:57 am

    @Zsolt – I like the idea! Actually not looking up the answers is a clear sign you definitely don’t want to work with such person. If they don’t give a damn, neither should you.

    However it’s still sad only one out of 7 people caught the bait. I mean what were the rest of them thinking? People say I have a sad view of humanity, but on occasions like this one I think I’m still pretty optimistic person.

  • Zsolt October 4, 2011, 6:23 am

    Actually, I asked them why they hadn’t prepared. Most of them said that they hadn’t had time to check for the answers, one thought that it was a trick – this was the funniest excuse :-) -, one didn’t understand the questions but was afraid to ask back, so classic non-proactive behaviour.

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