Monday, April 14, 2008

On interviewees' questions...

I do a lot of interviews these days and I'm always amazed at how much trouble people have asking questions. There are lots of good questions you can ask, and several bad ones. For a brief discussion of this (and a fantastic book about managing software engineers) check out Managing Humans.

Here are some bad questions (often asked by otherwise good candidates):
  • What exactly does this company/office/group do? [you should know this and so this really reflects badly]
  • How well did I do? [no way... you didn't just ask this... I don't believe it... ugh... most likely this means you did badly - if not you just lost several points]
  • How can I do better in the next interview? [are you serious? never ask this]
  • Anything about money [unless maybe you're talking to an HR person, which if I'm interviewing you, you're not]
  • I can't think of anything [nothing? nothing at all? really? you know you might have this job for the next 5-10 years; it could be thousands of hours of your life; it might keep you up at night from time to time; it might be the job you've always wanted; it might be the best decision of your life; it might be the worst decision of your life; are you sure there's nothing you want to know? really?!?!]
For me it's very simple. Ask two questions to each interviewer. Clear, concise, insightful questions. I find it easiest to ask one question about the job or a specific project/product and one about the company. And what's a good question to ask about each one? How do you know? You research it in advance! Know what your company does, come with an idea about what your job might be, and find things that interest you in these areas to ask about. If there's nothing that this company does that really interests you, you don't want to be there... really you don't.

Interviewees' questions don't make or break the interview - their answers do. Still, interviewers (especially if they're developers/engineers/etc.) like to know that their potential coworker has interesting things to say and shows some interest in what's going on. Think about it - this is probably what we want to do and we're here doing it. At least pretend you're interested.

But of course if you're just pretending... we'll know.

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