What to look for when interviewing a candidate

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Leadership,Product Owner,ScrumMaster,SDLC Management | Thursday 21 February 2008 10:56 pm

My sister was recently promoted to manage a team of software project managers for a large bank on the East coast.  She told me she gets to hire someone for the first time in her career.

I told her that hiring is always a bit of a dice roll, but I offered her some advice after having hired about 15 people at various times in my career:

1. The most important indicator of future success is past success.  Good interviewers know this.  Dig into people’s past work experience and try to find out if they have been generally successful, or not.  Some indicators of this are whether they have changed jobs often.  If they jumped jobs on their way up the ladder of responsibility, this is OK.  If they jumped sideways, or sometimes down, this is a red flag.  Drill them about each job change.  You will get interesting results.  People will say they were fired, or had fights with their boss or coworkers.  These are usually not your desirable candidates.  If they fought with their previous peers and managers, chances are they will fight with your group also.

2. Look for enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is a great sign of a star employee.

3. Examine their personal lives (you really can’t do this in an interview).  But whatever they tell you can be a clue as to how they respond to accountability, pressure, authority, and responsibility.  If they hate police, or the government, or have been divorced five times, then they may have issues with authority or responsibility.  You have to be careful here because you cannot descriminate.

4. Call their references and ask their references if that person was successful, and if they would re-hire that person.  Ask how socially distracting they were inside the workplace, and what time they came in the morning and what time they went home.  Ask if they were a good team-member, and if they were typically dependable enough to get things done.  Ask why they left and compare their answers to the candidate’s explanation.

5. Because software development is not always a 9-to-5 job, a good question to ask is if they have any extra-curricular activity that would prohibit them from staying late if needed.  I have hired people to discover that every day at 5:30 they need to pick up their kid from daycare.  This obligation makes them incompatible with leading a team that may require them to stay late and fix a critical problem.  This is a good thing to find out before you hire someone for a position like that.

6. Try to get them to express an opinion about something business related and that they are passionate about.  Pay attention to how they express their opinion.  Do they express themselves dogmatically, as if their opinion is fact and you must argue with them to object, or do they express their opinion in a collaborative way, where they would be more of an asset in a group discussion where others may disagree.

7. Pay attention to how they show up for the interview.  Are they on time, and dressed for the part.  Did they bring with them a copy of their resume? Are their shoes shiny?

8. Ask them several obvious question about your company to see if they did any research before the interview.  Find something on your website homepage that they would know if they looked there before the interview. This is a clue as to their proactive abilities.

9. Pay attention to how they describe their previous workplace, management, and executive staff.  This will likely be an indicator of what they will think of your staff.

10. If you sense an extreme level of dissatisfaction, high-maintenance, or lots of questions about what’s in it for them—beware!  This is an employee that will likely perform the bare minimum and be unnecessarily needy.

There are lots of books and tips about how to be the interviewee, but not so much is written about how to interview.  I wish I could have read these tips years ago when I began hiring people.  I hope this helps others and I would be interested in hearing what readers have to add.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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