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May 23, 2019
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

There are hundreds of interview questions in use. They range from the simplest ones, like “Tell me about your previous career?” To more detailed questions, like “How did you react when a customer behaved unruly towards you?” They are all designed to get to know the candidate, but also to gauge how the person would fit into the company culture. The more information you get, the better. The questions themselves vary depending on the recruiter, target company and the industry itself. You can find multiple websites with example questions, like this one.

No list of questions is to be taken too seriously, as they should mostly serve as an inspiration. But generally, do not be afraid to test out queries or perhaps ask one or two too many. The more information we get, the better we can help the customer fill that role.

I am a Tech Recruiter at Bee Talents, and I mostly recruit IT, professionals. Although we stress the importance of soft skills in any role, even technical, the vast majority of the stress is put by companies on other factors. Those stressors are mostly past project participation, previous tech stacks and the environment the candidate is familiar with. Through my experience with both sides, I grew to like these questions a lot. Let’s jump in!

“Tell me about your last project that you worked on using X?” (Put any language or framework you need to probe for here, like Javascript.)

Contrary to public opinion, not all IT pros are geeky introverts. Most are just as happy to share their thoughts related to their profession as any of us. Asking them about the daily in and outs of the environment they are working with, and showing some insight goes a long way.

You need to dig deep! Most in IT are genuinely interested and passionate about their work, which I hope is the norm in other professions, too. Achievements are happily talked about, and failures chewed over. They will tell you specifically which part of the interface they designed and why they did it this way.

It may be passé, but I still think we can filter some of the real passion from those conversations. They open up a lot of conversational avenues. Love to back it with multiple data points, but it is still fun to know that people you work with that are positively crazy about what they do.

Now for my exclusive for self-declared company founders – “Why did you decide to open your firm? Why did you choose this direction?.” This sounds innocent, but the breadth of motivations I’ve heard after asking this is intriguing. It seems that everyone likes to talk about themselves. This question for me is good at determining the candidate’s values and seeing how he/she handles describing where they had most input. Asking about an overview of the business model of the startup may also gauge how the candidate believes it is necessary to run a business.

The final, and possibly my favorite question to ask is, “Tell me about your side project.” This helps me see which activity is genuinely pleasurable to the candidate and to learn their motivations. What do they do when they do not care about earning money? Many times the candidate will reveal vital information. I also value highly learning on your own as a signal that the person is well driven to develop him/herself.

One of the best things about my job is that the whole sector is dynamic. The entire industry hatches into a new iteration of technologies every few years. And it is up to the workforce to keep up with the changes. This is why I agree with Traci Wilk, the famous former Starbucks exec, who suggested always asking the candidates about the toughest challenges they faced.

Why? Well, change is hard for human beings. It is how you adapt. Every programmer makes mistakes. It’s a profession where you hit and miss. How you handle the learning process is what I look for in a person. Asking about previous challenges, like: “Tell me about the problem that you faced when programming this feature?” attempts to look into how that person goes about analyzing and talking about their own mistakes.

I sometimes also find, that going much deeper into fewer topics brings better insight than skimming over several more. Inquisitive questions, like asking to go into details of a particular project, may show the level of overall awareness of how the company operates. “Why do you think it is this way?” When asked about some workplace inconvenience shows how they manage their bosses faults and quirks. Finally, “Why did you do it this way?” is another question about candidate motivations, which may be just as important as the skills for some positions.

Finally, there are no wrong answers. But there are bad fits.

To end the piece, I would like to share one question that is profoundly overlooked. “What do you know about the company you are applying to?” Yeah, stacks, experience, and certificates are dandy, but a person who does not show enough initiative to research the company a bit – that is a warning sign to me. And a word for all recruiters – show mercy. One bad day happens to everybody. That’s why we try to get to know about many good ones.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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