Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Questions To Ask an Interviewer

If you've ever read tips on interviewing then you know it's a good idea to have questions ready to ask someone who's just interviewed you. If you're not good at remembering questions under-pressure you should write down a few and take the note with you.

Most of my important questions are answered in the interview: What does your software process look like, what tools do you use, etc. However, I have a few questions that don't usually come up during the normal course of an interview.
  • At what level are technology decisions made? Do the teams decide what tools and languages are used, or is it the architect, directors, the CTO or someone else? Assuming the team doesn't make the decision, what happens if the team disagrees with the decision maker?
  • What kind of hardware are developers given, and who decided that this was the ideal setup? If I want to reformat my Windows box and run Ubuntu, do I have that freedom?
  • How much freedom am I given to customize my work-space? If my teammates and I want to convert our cubes into a common area with pairing stations, what kind of hurdles are we likely to encounter?
  • How does the organization chart look? If there are 2 levels between me and the CTO, do I need to follow the chain of command, or am I able to go directly to the CTO if I feel it's appropriate? What about the CEO, am I able to get 10 minutes of the CEO's time?
  • What don't you like about working here?
The last one is really my favorite. People actually tend to be pretty honest about what they'd like to change at their organizations.

Obviously, the answers are going to vary largely by the type of organization you are looking to join. If you're interviewing at Google, it's probably not easy to get on the CTO or the CEO's schedule. So, I don't think there's right or wrong answers, but in context the answers can help guide whether the organization is a good fit for you.

19 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:36 AM

    I always like to ask about the developers about the perceived technical competence of the managers.

    Also, in smaller companies, generally everyone on the technical side is playing similar roles of developers/designers/admins/support, but usually everyone's got their own strengths/preferences about what they do best. Find out who the systems guru is, where's the javascript ninja that actually enjoys it, and who is driving the testing initiative. Always good to know ahead of time who you should turn to for different types of help!

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  2. >>What don't you like about working here?

    I wholeheartedly agree with this question. I've consistently found it surprising how forthcoming people are, especially if you're interviewing with somebody at your level on the org chart or who will be working on your team.

    Interviewers who will be supervising you or who work in HR often feel the need to hide the organization's flaws and give a canned response.

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  3. Great post Jay. Very useful in this day and age.

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  4. Anonymous11:26 AM

    As a hiring manager, most of those questions tell me you're going to be a high maintenance queen. The job market being what it is right now, I wouldn't necessarily advocate this approach.

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  5. @anonymous hiring manager - I think that would work out well. I don't think I'd want to work for someone that thought technology, work space, and equipment requests were high maintenance.

    But, you make a good point. If those things aren't important to you, it might be a mistake to ask about them.

    I don't think the market has changed much for talented developers though. It's just as hard to find great developers right now as it was a year ago. Great developers are constantly in demand regardless of most external factors.

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  6. Anonymous: but as a hiring manager, you wouldn't be asked any of these questions anyway.

    Instead, they'd be asked to developers or technical managers, who I believe would appreciate the directness.

    Who is more appealing: someone who will accept any job they are offered, or someone who is more selective about what they are looking for?

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  7. Hmm... I'm a hiring manager also and I don't necessarily think that I'd object to most of those questions. Some of them, I'd probably have to say no to (rearranging work space probably wouldn't work) and as a mostly Windows shop running Ubuntu also wouldn't work (I'd be fine with our Java developers doing this and some do), but no I don't necessarily think these would be bad questions or would imply high maintenence.

    http://steamcode.blogspot.com/

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  8. Anonymous1:56 PM

    I completely understand where you're coming from, as a developer I was concerned about those exact things, but I don't know that an interview is where I'd be looking to address those points. It's all about first impressions and in the age of off-shoring it becomes even more important to not close doors over negotiable things. And don't give me a lecture on the quality of offshore individuals, I've heard it time and again, but the halved bottom line is a very convincing argument.

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  9. Anonymous3:40 PM

    How is asking questions closing doors?

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  10. I concur with anonymous hiring manager. If you don't want a job offer, why are you interviewing? If you do want an offer, don't sabotage yourself. You can always decline the offer once you get it, but you can't accept an offer that you never get.

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  11. Anonymous7:33 PM

    @Mercator An interview goes both ways. An interviewee is trying to find out if they want to work for the company just as much as the interviewer is trying to find out if the company wants the interviewee to work for them. That's why you ask questions, to get a feel for how the other side is.

    Of course, if you know you don't want a job offer, don't waste people's time. But if you think you might, you may want to find out more information than is just available on a web site.

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  12. Anonymous8:27 PM

    Additional questions:

    Will I need to sign a non-compete agreement to join your company?

    How many NNPP's work here?

    Is there free beer available?

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  13. Anonymous10:20 PM

    I didn't concern myself with asking many questions back when I was a homeless rodeo clown but not any more. Now I am a world class magician !

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  14. Hey man,

    Excellent post! I really like it! Can I translante to portuguese ?

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  15. Stack overflow had an interesting question on this subject.

    http://stackoverflow.com/questions/11350

    I recently interviewed and grilled the interviewees and was rejected for being too 'fiery'

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  16. @Pedro, feel free to translate.

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  17. Jay, these are excellent questions and I agree with you about finding talent is still a challenge. I often participate in interviews in my company and things like choice of workstation or arrangement is less important then the quality and quantity of work the person can deliver. I have noticed the talented developers are more choosy because they can deliver more value and to do that they need an optimal environment.

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  18. Anonymous9:28 AM

    I hire a lot of developers. A large part of this issue it is how you ask the questions. If you come off confrontational and cocky you will probably damage your chances at the position. However, if you build repport with the interviewers then asking these types of questions is a positive because it show that you are interested in finding the right job and not just any job. However, don't just ask them because they are on this list. Be sure to ask questions to obtain information that you need to make your decision.

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  19. my take on the whole business of interviewing the interviewer: http://blog.splitbody.com/2007/9/14/interviewing-the-interviewer

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