Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I had a young person come in for an internship interview a couple of days ago and it made me realize that I've never posted anything outside the programming world. I'm going to try to do a few different posts on the subject of interviews and resumes to hopefully help give some perspective to the hiring process from someone who actually hires rather than someone who tries to get you hired (head hunter). Is my perspective better than theirs? No probably not, but it may be a bit different.

With any interview there are going to be both soft questions and hard questions. By this I don't mean easy and hard but personality questions and technical questions. Let's start by looking at some of the soft questions you might get and why they're asked in the first place. The first thing to remember here is that you're going to be part of a group (as an aside, I hate the term "team" unless you're all dressed the same). Because of this, the hiring manager is going to want to know how you're going to fit in with the rest of the group and the soft questions will be used to try to ascertain that.

One question that seems to get asked is "Tell me about yourself". This is where you should discuss your interests related to the job. Since the interviewer is most likely going to ask about job related items later, now is a good time to bring up any outside projects that might relate. Open source projects that you've done or contributed to or a blog that you write (programming/technical related) are things that will get the interviewer's attention. Just about anything technically related is a good thing to bring up.

You're also almost certain to get a question on a group project that you worked on. Here, it won't matter if you're a developer with 20 years experience or a new grad, you'll probably have to talk about working with other people. The question may be as straight forward as "Tell me about a project that you worked on with other people." or it may be more subtle "Tell me about your last project" with the expectation that this involved other people. As you talk about this project, you may get follow on questions such as "Were there any personal issues between people in the group?" or "Was there anyone in the group who didn't pull their weight?". Then these will be followed up with "How did these issues get resolved?". All of these questions are geared towards finding out how well you will fit in in a group situation. And, as a subtext, the interviewer will be looking for your "leadership" capabilities. All of these questions are a chance for you to show that you will work well in a group and not just work well but make the whole group work better. In the example of someone not pulling their weight, stating that you noticed that Fred wasn't doing what was expected, you could tell how you talked with Fred and let him know that you'd noticed his work wasn't as good as it had been and then worked with him to get him back up to speed. In the case of personality issues, discuss how in a meeting where things were getting tense, you played the peacemaker by making sure that both sides got heard and then working through the issues.

There's probably more, but these are the types of questions that I'll usually pursue, these (or similar ones) and then follow ons based on the responses I receive. The thing to remember though is that all of these soft questions are designed for better or worse to figure out if you will fit in the group structure. Try to approach them in this way and you should do fine.

As always, let me know if you have questions or comments.

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