Yesterday a reader commented on my old post about Excel VBA interview questions. As I am, again, spending a lot of my time trying to recruit another developer, I thought I’d tell you about what my current interview plan looks like.
What we’re looking for is a reasonably senior web developer. We’re a small software company with just a handful of developers, so we need someone who can pull their own weight, with no hand-holding or detailed management. Everyone is expected to not just code but also contribute meaningfully to discussions about design and architecture. They also need to share our values and mindset – to value code quality, maintainable code, good design.
The interview is complemented by a coding task, where I email the candidate a 1-page specification for an application and evaluate the code they send back. I therefore spend very little of the interview talking about detailed technical matters. The interview is for me to judge their aptitude and attitude at a higher level.
This is not an interview script. I wouldn’t ask these questions top to bottom. It’s more of a checklist for areas that I try to cover during an interview. This is also not a prioritized list.
For the rest of this post, “you” refers to the candidate.
What kind of a job are you looking for? What kind of company would you like to work for? What is important to you in your work? Why are you looking for a new job?
What I’m trying to establish here is whether the candidate would fit our firm. If they are looking for a fast-paced competitive environment, or a firm with international opportunities, they’re not for us.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time? What do you enjoy most about programming? Have you been involved in requirements or testing in your previous projects?
This is to detect the wannabe project managers and business analysts, and people who are aiming for a managerial role. Nothing wrong with those, but we won’t be able to offer them a meaningful career path in our company. This is also to detect the pure programmers who have no interest in anything outside of code, who will consider testing and requirements work and usability studies to be “not their job”.
2. Passion, learning, interest
How do you keep up with current topics within the industry? Do you read any books? Blogs? Do you do any programming in your spare time? What’s your favourite tool?
Here I try to figure out whether programming is “just a job” for them, or whether they are truly interested in and passionate about writing software. It isn’t necessary for the candidate to do all of this, to read books and blogs and have hobby projects – but if they do none, it’s a great big warning sign.
3. Technical insight, critical thinking, big picture thinking
Explain the purpose of a recent project you worked on. Explain the design and the architecture. What choices and alternatives were considered? Why did you make the choices you made? What would you do differently if you had to do it again?
This separates the “drones”, the passive followers from the active minds. Even if the candidate wasn’t in charge of the project they describe, they should be aware of design choices and trade-offs.
Did you use an Agile process? What were the advantages and disadvantages? Did you use test-driven development, or unit tests or automated tests of any kind? How did that work?
If in this day and age the candidate has nothing to say about unit testing, they are not for us.
4. Some technical questions
The home coding task tests general programming skills. Here I focus more on the specific technologies we work with. This whole area also ties in with #3, i.e. their ability to make trade-offs and informed choices.
OOP: Explain to me a design pattern that you have found useful. Why? Explain to me the purpose of the Single Responsibility Principle.
ASP.NET: Explain to me some different ways to save state between page requests. What are the pros and cons of each one? Which ones did you use in your last project? Why?
SQL: I give them an example table and ask them to write or dictate to me some simple queries against that table.
CSS: Tell me about what you would use to build a page. Divs or tables? Why? How can you position a div – how can you center it, put it in a specific position on the page, etc.
5. Leadership and self-leadership
What was your role in the project? What were you responsible for? What are your weaknesses?
We need people with drive and initiative, who are able and willing to take on significant responsibility. The weaknesses question is mostly a basic indicator of self-insight.