10 questions to ask in a technical interview

I’ve been sitting many interview sessions recently as part of our recruitment process and let me tell you it’s one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever had. In this post I wanted to share my findings and approach with you so we can all be more intelligent, inclusive and successful in our hiring process. And I am super keen to hear from you in comments 👇🏼.

Context

The most important part of every interview is how to qualify a candidate without being too specific about a technology or framework. It’s about measuring their abilities and potentials rather than asking questions where any person can find somewhere and memorise the answer.

We, at Readify, have a very specific and complex (if I may say so, which I just did 😁) process for hiring great fits, not just technical, but also culturally.

To be able to do this, we need to be very careful with what is being asked during our technical interviews which is reached after a coding challenge and live coding session.

What do we ask

I don’t want to review our hiring process, more focus on what is being asked and how do we phrase them. There are plenty of sites which show you what to ask and unfortunately most of them have some predictable questions like:

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

To be honest I don’t even know what happens for me in 5 months, let alone 5 years. So the question is what should we ask to be able to find out as much as we can about a candidate without falling into trap of asking fruitless questions.

To determine whether someone is a good fit for the job, you want to draw them out, ask a mix of technical and situational questions, and listen closely to not only what they have to say but how they say it. The so called technical questions shouldn’t be around what, but about how. You want to evaluate how they perform in certain situations like solving a tough problem.

So let’s begin.

1. What challenging problem have you had in the last couple of months?

This question is like an ice breaker. It will put them at ease because they will be able to talk about something they’re comfortable with. This will also give you an opportunity to see how they go about solving a problem. You can go in more details in areas where you see value in, such as why did you choose this specific way to solve it, or why didn’t you try blah.

You can get an overview of their team work too, did they collaborate on solving his problem, or did they help someone or get help from them.

2. What resources do you use to learn or sharpen your skills?

Many developers turn to websites such as StackOverflow, Medium, or Dev when they need help with something. Serious professionals will have their own selection of websites, online communities, social media feeds and other resources specific to their interests. The answer to this question will give you an indication of how engaged the candidate is with the broader IT community.

Apart from those, Meetups, conferences, YouTube Channels, taking online courses, joining hackathons, plugging away at personal IT projects and many more can be discussed to see how the candidate keep themselves up to date, or find answer to a problem.

3. How do you explain X in simple terms?

This is very good to see how they can simplify a technical term or subject. It’s very good to understand how deep they know something or how broad their knowledge is.

Another aspect about this is to be able to communicate to stakeholders of a project. If you can explain a subject to your Product Owner, BA, Tester and so on, your whole team would be more successful delivering your project.

4. What qualities do you think is required for X?

This questions will help you unravel some of the candidate’s expectations and also how they see the role. Some people may focus on certifications and technical abilities, while others may talk more about problem solving, attention to detail, communication and other general job skills. Look for candidates who give a nice balance of both.

5. What are X words your colleagues describe you with?

This might sound cliché, but it will help you find out about some of their aspects not found in resume or social media profiles. It also gives insight into how the individual perceives themselves and the role they’re applying for. For example, if their answer focuses on their creative side but the position is very analytical in nature, the job may not be a good fit.

6. Tell us about a challenging situation you had which resulted in failure, such as missing a deadline or a promotion being rejected?

We all deals with professional setbacks at some point in our career. What you want to know is how people handled — and what they learned from — those situations. The best employees are resilient, using setbacks as a springboard toward positive changes. So listen to not only the problem they mention, but also what they did after the disappointment.

7. What is your most and least favourite framework/product?

This question helps you evaluate enthusiasm and knowledge. Do candidates become animated when discussing the advantages and disadvantages of certain tools/framework/library? Do they admire solid engineering, sleek design, intuitive user experience or another aspect of good technology?

What is their focus area in a tool, what they look for and what value they see in their favourite choice. These will give you great insight about them.

8. What are the pros and cons of working in an agile environment?

This question can help you understand their perception of agile, how they operate in a fast pace environment which means lots of quick meetings and a steady stream of feedback from fellow team members. Most developers don’t like too many meetings especially if they’re doing SCRUM until they realise the benefit of each of those and how they help reduce the time waste.

A candidate’s answer to this question can tell you not only their level of understanding of this popular environment, but also their attitudes toward collaboration and communication.

9. What was your last presentation?

First of all, let me clear the fact that by presentation I don’t mean public speaking like conferences and meetups. However, having public speaking background is a bonus since it proves a couple of points.

Today’s tech workers can’t be lone wolves. They have to discuss changes with colleagues, coordinate with other departments, advocate for platforms they prefer and much more. While not everyone has to love public speaking, your new hire should be able to conduct research, put together a solid presentation and persuade stakeholders why X is better than Y.

10. How do you manage your work life balance?

There many scenarios where one has to work harder than usual. A pressing deadline, on-call duties (fortunately we don’t have this), or simply someone who is addicted to spend all their time working are examples where we need to be careful about.

While you want dedicated team members, you should also seek employees who know how to relax and take care of themselves. Burnout is a very real problem in our industry, and top performers have good strategies in place to prevent it. As a follow up to their answer, you could talk about how your company supports a healthy work life balance (we do this via multiple ways) — something that can be very tempting for candidates with multiple offers.

Summary

There are many questions you can ask during an interview, but those who target intelligence, creativity, and learning abilities are the most helpful ones. When interviewing a candidate, always look for their strength and quick learning ability. Don’t ask technical questions which their answer wouldn’t help you uncover the candidate’s potential. People can spend a couple of days and find out those questions and their answers from many sources. But the questions mentioned here and those similar in nature would help you find a good fit for your team.

And a final advice from truly yours, don’t be a jerk when interviewing a candidate. Don’t be biased on gender, background, appearance, and other factors which prevent you from finding good people.