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Rands Writing Prompt, Jan29

I’ve been following the Rands Writing Prompts with the intention of writing occasional posts when I get a prompt that grabs me. One of the prompts this week did: “Your favorite interview question and why.”

This one is actually kind of a two-fer; I have a question that I almost always ask when I’m interviewing. I also interviewed probably about two dozen candidates at my last job, and had a favorite question that I’d nearly always ask candidates at any level.

As a candidate

When interviewing for a role, my favorite question is (almost always): “What does success look like in this role, after one/three/six/twelve months? What would make you say, ‘dude, you’ve been rocking it’?” I’ve asked some variation of this in every job interview I’ve done in the past five years.

Why do I like it? First, I’m trying to make myself look like a good candidate by making it clear that I want to succeed in the job, and that it’s already something I’m thinking about. I care about doing a good job, and I want that to come across.

Second, if you can ask this early enough in the interview - or at least in the “any questions for us?” phase of the interview - it’s an opportunity to use the information in their answer to emphasize the aspects of your experience that would be most useful to what they’re hoping you’ll accomplish. This can require a certain amount of thinking on your feet, and I’ll admit that I’m not always as good at that as I’d like to be.

Third, it gives me a read on the hiring manager and the company. Do they know why they’re hiring beyond “we have available headcount”? 1 Do they have a sense of what they want that person to accomplish? My sense is that managers that know the answer to those questions are much more likely to set people up for success.

As an interviewer

I always liked to start off with a relative softball question: “What’s dependency injection, and why is it important?”

I’m not a fan of hazing-style tech interviews, and I genuinely wanted candidates to do well. We did panel interviews, and they could be nerve-wracking, so I was hoping that was a straightforward question that would put them on solid ground and let them build confidence.

Reader, let me tell you: it did not. Among the folks on my team who regularly participated on the interview panels, I got a reputation for breaking candidates with that simple question. I… felt terrible about that, because I didn’t want to! I was rooting for them and wanted them to put their best foot forward!

Why did I like that question? Well, we were interviewing across 3-4 different role levels (entry-level through team lead). The way the candidate answered it and the level of detail they went into told us a lot about their background, which was the main thing we wanted to find out.

Also, our application architecture was very DI-heavy (as most modern .NET applications are) and we wanted to see how hard it would be for them to ramp up on it. Along with that, we were quite picky about unit testing, and DI is a big part of that; it was an immediate plus in our book if the candidate mentioned as part of their answer that it’s helpful in unit testing.

Finally, in the cases where they didn’t know (which wasn’t always automatically held against them), it was an opportunity to see if they’d try to bullshit their way through the question. For the record, if you don’t know the answer in an interview, trying to bullshit your way through the question is a bad idea. Interviewers can tell.

Readers: what about you? Feel free to ping me on Mastodon or Rands Slack if you have a fun question or interview story.

  1. Given the current industry climate, unfortunately, this is less of a problem now. ↩︎