I’ve interviewed a large number of people over the past 12+ years at Applied Information Sciences.
I’m generally not interested in people who just want a job. I want people who love technology and programming (or some part of software development). I want passion and I want self-direction. While that passion is preferably in something related to what we do (either directly like, say, Silverlight, or indirectly like working with XNA on Zune or something), I’m also interested in passion in other technical areas (hardware, linux, whatever).
Like most “soft skills”, passion is hard to truly ferret out. To get a feel for it, in addition to the “whiteboard an application that does X” and “tell me how you solved a difficult problem on project x”, there are a few questions I just about always ask candidates when I meet with them:
- What do you do to keep up on new technology, trends, developments
- Tell me about something new you learned that wasn’t required in your day job
Here are some answers I get:
“I generally only learn what my project requires at that point”. FAIL. This shows you are not a thought leader or interested in technology out of a day job. While many organizations do well with those types of folks, It’s just hard to have them in a forward-focused consulting organization. In our business, you always need to know things a couple steps ahead of the customers, as you need to be able to advise them and make decisions based on what is or may be coming down the pipe.
“I hear about a new technology so I then go buy a book and learn all about it”. NOT-QUITE-FAIL. Ok, this is definitely better than saying you only learn what you have to, but you’re not on the leading edge if you’re waiting for the book to come out. I won’t instantly fail a person on this, but it doesn’t count heavily in their favor.
“I read blogs x, y and z on my own time to find out what’s coming”. OK PASS. This person is at least informed. They may not be actually working with the technology, but they can probably speak to it. Their knowledge will be pretty shallow, but there’s something there that shows some forward thinking. You can probably work with this person to motivate them even further. I usually follow this up with questions about what they learned, what was interesting etc, what they did with it etc.
“I learned about a beta/alpha technology X, downloaded the pre-release bits, and built a couple samples on my own”. Strong PASS. This is someone who is excited enough about the technology to go and try and get others excited. This is also someone who is probably making an effort to be visible in some technical community and who will help increase our reputation.
above plus “and wrote some blog posts/articles/tutorials on the topic” or above and “and managed an open source project based on it”. Very Strong PASS for obvious reasons.
In addition to the words, you can often tell by tone and detail how excited a person is about a technology.
I’ve also gotten the “I have a family and don’t have time” response. I can certainly understand that: I have a 2 1/2 year old boy and another child on the way soon. However, if your career stops moving when you have a family, you’re just looking for a job. That’s fine and I think no less of you for it, but it won’t work out in our industry unless you get placed on a very long term project. It sounds cold, but people who are really interested in this stuff find a way to balance the two and still be involved.
So, what’s important when you interview? How do you go about identifying it in a candidate?
[ Note: none of this is official policy or necessarily reflects the opinion of my employer or other interviewers ]