“How to” Notes for Newbie Interviewer

Typical Flow

  1. Introduction
  2. Technical / Professional interview held by 2-3 people and possibly written exam
  3. Personality / Psychological interview held by 2-3 people.
  4. Final conversation


Goal: Take away the pressure, try to make a person comfortable.

Hidden goal: Get the first impression

Good ways to start:

  • Kitchen (“Do you want something to drink?”)
  • Small talk (“Did you have any difficulty getting here?”, even the “weather talk” will do).

Technical / Professional

Goal: Understand whether the person fits into the position

Hidden goal: Continue gaining the impression

All questions basically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Their field”: education, past experience, background. Usually this is where the person is most comfortable and most prepared. So it’s a good idea to start from questions in that area.
  2. Neutral field”: current skills and interests
  3. Your field”: try to understand how they will work in the future and whether they will fit

Their Field Topics

  • People with recent work experience, discuss, few most recent workplaces or projects, preferably done in the last 1-2 years, maximum 2-4 years, no point to dig deeper. Also try to talk about those they were doing for some time, not just few weeks.
  • Students or graduates, or people who had some sort of training recently: ask about their school projects (e.g. “Tell me about your most successful / interesting /  challenging school project”.
  • People with no recent work experience and no recent training or coming from another field: ask about their home projects (did they do anything at all to update their skills?)
  • Tip: you don’t have to know or understand the product or technology they are talking about. They need to understand. In fact, asking “What does this technology/product do?” is another good question in this section.

Neutral Field Topics

  • Topics in this section might derive from their answers to “their field” questions, and / or from their resume. E.g. “Tell me more about your experience with …”, “You mentioned that you worked with…”
  • Try to go deeper to see if the knowledge is superficial, or real. E.g. avoid formal definitions (can be memorized from the book), and specific data that can be obtained from help (e.g. command parameters).

Your Field Topics

Even though it may be important how much person already knows in relevant areas, it’s much more important –

  • Can they learn?
  • Their attitude to testing (i.e.: curiosity, creativity, critical thinking)
  • Problem solving skills
  • What kind of exposure to the technologies / tools you need did they have?

Those areas are tricky in terms of questions. One of the ways to deal with it is to ask for examples or situations from their past. For example: “Did you have to learn any tool or technology by your own? How did you do this?”, “Tell me about some problem or bug that was particularly tricky / challenging / difficult to understand?”. See “How to ask questions” section.

Final Conversation

  • Let them ask their questions
  • If interested in candidate, use this conversation to promote your company and position they applied for
  • Explain (even if they don’t ask) what to expect next

How to ask questions

Types of questions

  1. Question that suggests the answer. Such questions are always a bad idea: even honest person is tempted to lie, as they think they know what you expect them to say
    Example: “So why do you think agile methodologies are better than waterfall?”
    Instead of that, you could ask: “What are some advantages and disadvantages of agile and waterfall methodologies?”
  2. Question that has a predefined set of answers, e.g. “Yes/No”. Such question should be used only when asking about facts, e.g. “Are you familiar with …?” It won’t tell you anything about the level of knowledge.
  3. Open-ended questions are most usable in most cases and help to find out what they really know. Examples on how to start such question:
    • “Tell me (more) about …” / “Can you give me more details about…”
    • When not clear on the answer, instead of asking “Did you mean …?”, ask “When you said that … what did you mean?”
    • “Why do you think…?”

What to ask about

  1. Straight forward questions about technologies or tools (e.g. “What is …?” “How … works?”). Can be an opening question, but be careful, since a lot of things can be taken from the books right before the interview.
  2. Very specific questions and details, tricks and challenges known only to specialists in that area.
  3. Situations from the past or examples, e.g. “Give me an example / situation from the past, when…”. This form is especially helpful in the situations when the person is “stuck”. For example person is silent after “Tell me more about …?” question. You can ask: “Give me an example how did you [use it] in the past?”. Silence after this second question means they probably don’t know, they worked with discussed technology or tool only briefly, or long time ago.

Usually the combination of all of the above questions for each important subject will give you a good understanding of person’s knowledge of the topic. Dig more into the areas which are really important to you, dig less into other areas (they will just tell you how much the resume corresponds the real knowledge).

How to listen to answers

You want to understand:

  1. Professional knowledge: excellent / good / bad / doesn’t exist
  2. Style: goes into details (too much?), very short (up to point? Or wacky?)
  3. Voice, vocabulary, self confidence

Don’t judge, just observe. Always remember that most people are nervous and behave a little bit differently then normal.

How to handle pause / silence

  1. Think why the pause has occurred. Is it because they don’t know what to say, they are thinking, they didn’t understand the question, but afraid to admit, or something else.
  2. Think whether you need to break it, or let the interviewee to do so. In some cases it makes sense to give them a moment to think. But if pause lasts for a bit too long, break it.

How to answer their questions

  1. Try to leave those questions till the final conversation
  2. When you are not sure what to say, ask them to hold this question for later or for upper manager to answer.
  3. If you think this person is likely to be accepted, give them honest answers about challenges of the position. If you think they will be gone for good after the interview – don’t bother, give a very superficial answer.

Equity, etiquette, anti-oppression, human rights, confidentiality, etc.

Very important, know the rules and play by them.

“How to” Notes for Newbie Interviewer

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