Category Archives: Hiring

Reflections from the Other Side of the Interview Table

Over the last 10 years, I have been involved with many, many interviews.  I have blogged about good interview booksresources for interviewinghow to prepare for an interview as the interviewer, and how to conduct an interview.  Being on the other side of the interview table is a bit different.  It definitely added some serious insight into how I conduct my interviews, and reinforced a lot of the process I have put in place.

There are different things to do before the interview,  to prepare for the interview itself, and to follow up with after the interview.  This is my brief step-by-step guide to navigate the interview process as an interviewee.  It seemed to be successful, as I have moved my cheese recently to the Associated Press!

Should you stay or should you go?

This is a big decision.  In this rough economy, having a job at all is a blessing.  But decide to leave a stable job for something else is risky.  But, with great risk comes great reward.  This move has been great for me mentally, personally, and professionally.  Here are a few sites that I used to help me decide to take the leap.

Preparing your resume

Your resume is your potential new boss’s first glimpse at who you are.  If you decide to make the leap and look for a new job, be sure that you spend the time to present yourself as best you can.  This is where the bulk of candidates will be cut from the running.  Make sure you stay on the short list with these resources.

Once your resume is just the way you want it, be sure to update your profiles on FacebookLinkedInDiceMonster, your Google Profile, or any of the other places where your work history might be stored online. Your new employer will check all of these, and consistency in you message and timeline is very important.

Where to look for a new tech job

Once your resume is all tidy, and your profiles are updated, now it’s time to start looking for that perfect new job.  Here are a couple of articles that will help you find that perfect new home.

One of my favorite places I liked to search for new jobs was indeed.com.  You could search across DiceMonsterCareerBuilder, and lots of Fortune 500 corporate career sites.  Personally, I created a search on each of these sites, and added the RSS feed from the search to Google Reader, and checked it each day.  This made job searching simpler, and centralized it for me all in one place.

Preparing for the interview

When preparing for the interview, you should anticipate the questions you are going to be asked.  you should expect technical, managerial, project management, style, and soft skills questions.  Here are a few books that I recommend to prepare for your interview questions:

Follow up afterwards

After the interview, you need to thank your interviewers and let them know that you are interested in the job.  Be sure to follow up with them after the interview.  Thank them for their time, build on some points or strengths discussed in the interview, and express your enthusiasm in the position.  There are lots of good sample thank you letters out there.  Be sure to customize it to your interviewer, the interview, and to you.

Research the salary band for the position

You are going to be talking about salary at some point with your potential new boss or HR department.  You need to be prepared.  Be sure to research the salary band for your title, position, region, and level of responsibility.  Salary.com is a great place to do this.

How to navigate the job offer

Job offers can be complex, confusing, and a very touchy situation.  This is very far along in the process, and you now know whether you want the job or not. Negotiations.com offers some good advice in negotiating your offer package.

Wrap Up

Overall, the objective of an interview is to get to know your new possible employer, and let them get to know you.  If you are a match for them, and they are a match for you, things will work out fine.  If not, then don’t be disheartened – you and your interviewing company were not a match for each other, and you are better off finding a job that will make everyone happy.  You move on to the next interview.  My piece of advice to find that perfect match is to be yourself, be honest, and be prepared.

Book Review – How Would You Move Mount Fuji?

Over the holiday break I decided to tackle some of the books that I have stacking up next to my bedside.  One of them was How Would You Move Mount Fuji by William Poundstone.  This was a book that I know some of my colleagues had read already, and they recommended it highly, so I decided it was my turn. 

The book was a quick read.  The author kept my interest with not only the topic, but also with his concise explanations and his witty comments. 

Poundstone describes the history of the intelligence tests, and how it was developed.  They were used by our military to determine qualification for different job roles.  This led to the popular use of intelligence tests in the corporate world, particularly in the use of Silicon Valley.  During the civil rights movement, intelligence tests were determined to have a racial bias in the questions, so were banned as a hiring practice by the federal government.

The ban of intelligence tests did not deter those types of questions from remaining in interviews, however.  Looking for more people with minds like Bill Gates, puzzles made their way into the interviews at Microsoft.  They have popularized the use of logic puzzles and impossible questions.  Poundstone also describes the grueling day-long series of interviews at Microsoft and how you are rated throughout the process. 

My most important takeaways from the book was these nuggets of golden advice –

  1. When the technology you use is changing rapidly, you must hire for problem-solving stills, not just for the technology.
  2. A bad hiring decision is likely to hurt the company more than a  good hiring decision will help it.
  3. If you ask puzzle questions in your interview, make sure they are worth the effort by asking yourself these two questions:
    1. Are you willing to hire someone because of a good answer to this question?
    2. Are you willing to reject someone because of a bad answer?

I highly recommend this book to any hiring manager who plans on asking any puzzle type questions.  I also think the book adds insight into the overall interview process, even if you don’t plan on asking them that type of question.

Have you read the book?  Do you have an opinion on puzzle questions in interviews?  Leave me your feedback and let me know what you think.

3 Indispensable Tools for Candidate Review

Tools are a great way to shorten time to complete tasks and improve quality in a process.  Hiring, Candidate Review, and Performance Review are no different.  Here are three tools that I have founds myself using while reviewing candidates.

SkillSurvey

So I got an automated email last week.  Big surprise, eh?  If you are like me, you get dozens of these a day.  This one was a little bit different.  It was from a company asking me to provide a reference for one of my old consultants.  That piqued my interest.  I opened it up, followed the link to SkillSurvey, and filled out the questions.  The simple instructions walked me through the process, and reassured me that my comments were anonymous and would be aggregated.  There were less than 10 questions, and were simple radio button scales.  I had the ability to put in freeform comments, and send it off. 

360Metrics

 Every other year, I have been encouraged by my management to do a 360 degree review of myself.  I log into 360Metrics and choose up to 3 direct reports, clients, peers, and managers.  Each of them receive emails to complete a set of predefined questions that rate and rank my skills on on a set of core values.  They are periodically reminded over the course of the review cycle.  When the review period closes, I receive an email and can generate an aggregate report of my ratings and comments. 

BrainBench

Every time I open up a requisition to find a new candidate for our team, I get a flood of resumes.  Eighty percent of those resumes have some sort of certification.  Most certifications we see are from Microsoft.  But some certifications come from BrainBench.  They offer certifications for individuals on a wide variety of specializations from Computer Software to Management, from Aptitude to Office Skills, from Communication to Industry Knowledge.  Obviously, the ones we see most often from BrainBench are technical in nature.  BrainBench also provides Pre-Hire Testing and Employee Development services to Employers.

Benefits

  • These tools are simple to use
  • The questions can be asked and are easy to analyze quantitatively
  • The same questions are asked of all candidates, so the questions and the delivery are consistent
  • They have open ended questions that allow you to analyze free-form text
  • Since these tools are web based, they can be leveraged (both from the candidate and from the hiring manager) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Drawbacks

  • The tools may not be measuring what you are looking for
  • It is not difficult to “game” the system to produce phony or inaccurate results
  • The perception of these tools is that they measure which candidate is “better” than another
  • Some of these tools may give an advantage to good test-takers
  • The process may be too objective, and not interactive enough

Conclusion

I think that these tools can be a big help, and a great time saver.  Tools like SkillSurvey leave the evaluation up to the hiring manager, and help facilitate and focus the collection of critical hiring information.  However, the risk of relying on tools like BrainBench is that you take the interpersonal aspect out of the process.  You may miss an enthusiastic, bright candidate who is a bad test-taker, or who has the right attitude, but a different set of experiences. 

I am sure that there are lots of other tools available in this arena.  What tools have you used?  What have your experience been with them?  How do you use them in your process?

The Interview Killer – What Goes in the Head Tag?

As a department that designs, develops, and constructs web sites and web applications, one of the skills necessary is HTML development.  There are lots of other technical skills that are important – database development (i.e. Oracle or SQL Server), SQL and PL/SQL, C# .Net, ASP.Net, JavaScript, CSS, Java, Struts, and so on.  But since this is web development, it is critical to be able to understand and develop HTML that is interpretable by modern browsers.  To that end, it is important to ask technical questions about that technology.  And it is always good to start at the top.  So, one of the questions we typically ask in our interviews is, “in an HTML page, what goes in the Head Tag?”  Now, you would think that technical professionals with over 10 years in the industry would be able to answer this basic question with ease.  We have struggled to get an acceptable answer with this question.  Here are some of the ones we have heard:

  • “You put tables in the head tag.”
  • “Bold tags.  Bold tags go in the head tag.”
  • “Dynamic content goes in the head tag.”
  • And the only answer that we have gotten that was accurate… “the Title goes in the Head Tag.”
  • None of the items (which I will not list here) that go in the Head tag were ever mentioned.

Typically, the delivery of this question is the Interview Killer.  People realize that this is an easy question, and that they should have answered this without problems, and get nervous, and the interview takes a dive from there. 

Do you have a question that is an Interview Killer?  Leave a comment and let me know.

10 Steps to Conduct a Successful .Net Job Interview

This is a follow-up post to my posts on .Net Hiring Manager Resources and on Preparing for a .Net Interview. I will be interviewing a number of candidates next week for open positions in our department. I thought it would be good to review the process that we have typically followed, and get feedback.

1. Introduction

Someone should meet the candidate at the receptionist’s desk. It is a good idea to have the hiring manager do this. Look them in they eye, introduce yourself, and shake their hands firmly. On the walk to the interview room, share some small talk about the weather and the drive. This gives you an idea if they will mind how far they will have to drive to work. It also gives you the opportunity to check out how they dress and how they carry themselves. Once you are in the interview room, let them know that the interview will be about an hour long. Ask them if they would like something to drink, and to get more comfortable. Introduce them to everyone that they are interviewing.

2. Discuss the Open Position

Once everyone has introduced themselves and gotten comfortable, the hiring manager should ask how much they know about the open position. It is good to discuss the company’s goals, the division or department you work for, the specific project they would be working on (or describe a typical project the department works on), and describe the requirements of the position.

3. Review the Candidate’s Resume

Be prepared with questions about job positions or projects listed on the candidate’s resume. Open the floor, and let all those participating in the interview ask questions. This may be about specific technologies or techniques of interest, corporate culture differences, or specific challenges that were overcome. Give the candidate the chance to show what they have done.

4. .Net Trivia

This section of the interview should be driven by your technical gurus. Getting the people involved that your candidate would work with, and giving them ownership of the interview process, gives them buy-in on the decision. The purpose of these questions is to judge the specific experiences of the candidate. They are not intended as the be all and end all of measuring knowledge, but should be geared to give you the interviewer a good handle of what the candidate has seen or done.

5. HTML / JavaScript / CSS Questions

It is not uncommon for .Net developers to be lacking in experience when it comes to HTML, Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript. Any good web developer will need to know these thing, however. If you are hiring for web development work, be sure to cover the basics, and make sure they understand how these all blend together.

6. General Interviewing Questions

In most cases, your candidate will not be working alone. Understanding how they work on a team is critical to their success, and yours, after they are hired. This is your opportunity to ask non-technical questions that focus on personality, teamwork, flexibility, communication, project management, leadership, and responsibility.

7. Whiteboard Questions

Ask your candidate questions that make them get up in front of a group, diagram their ideas, and explain why his ideas are the right approach. This will show you what the candidate is like when speaking in front of other people, like clients or project managers. You see their communication and persuasion skills, as well as their technical ability and diagram skills.

8. Puzzles & Riddles

This is a fun part of the interview. Be sure the candidate is relaxed, and make sure they understand that they are not expected to get the questions right. You give them a riddle or a puzzle, and have them talk through their thought process. This will give you an opportunity to see their creative, out-of-the-box thinking potential.

9. Questions from the Candidate

Expect questions from the candidate. If they have no questions for you, there may be cause for concern. They are not thinking very hard about what you have told them and about what might be coming next for them.

10. Wrap Up

Thank the candidate for their time. If possible, give them an idea about when they or their consulting company will hear back from you. Walk them back to the receptionist, and ask if they need any directions. Again, this will let you see how far in advance they have thought, how much hand-holding they will need, and how much they can think independently.

So what do you think of these steps? Are there things that I have missed that should be covered? What do you do differently (or the same) that you find valuable?

7 Steps to Prepare for a .Net Job Interview

Our department has gone through some changes lately; some changes have affected the process we follow when interviewing. Since I know I will be doing lots of interviewing this month, I have been thinking a lot about what we have done right in our process, and what can be improved. Here is the process that we go through in our department to prepare for interviews.

1. Define a Process

As an interviewer, one of my objectives throughout the interviewing process is to provide as much consistency as possible. Define a process that is consistent and repeatable. Then, when comparing one candidate to another, you will be comparing them win the same questions, with the same process. It will also mean that you are always prepared for the next interview cycle with little effort.

2. Write A Great Job Description

The Job Description that you write is what will let your recruiters, consulting companies, and candidates know exactly what you are looking for. It is important to list everything that you are looking for:

  • Technical skills (i.e. – Visual Studio .Net 2005, ASP.Net Ajax, SQL Server 2005, etc.)
  • Specific Education Requirements (i.e. – Bachelor’s Degree Preferred, etc.)
  • Certifications (i.e. MCSD, PMP, etc)
  • Methodologies (i.e. – SDLC, Agile, SCRUM, etc.)
  • Years of Experience (i.e. – Junior level with 2 years experience or less, etc.)
  • Project Management Skills (i.e. – 3 years managing projects with a budget of $1M or greater)
  • Communication Skills (i.e. – Written, Verbal, Able to work with clients to collect detailed requirements, etc.)
  • Other Intangibles – (i.e. – Energetic, “Do It Right” over “Get It Done”, able to work on multiple projects, etc.)

3. Offer A Competitive Rate

You need to know what the people you are looking to hire are worth. If you are not offering a competitive rate, then you will not be able to attract, obtain, and retain the talent you are looking for. If you can, research market rates for your open position, particularly with your competitors.

4. Follow A Proven Recruitment Process

Whether you have a business process for recruitment, have a third party company that manages it, work with recruitment and consulting companies, or post resumes on Dice and Monster, you need to get the work out about your open position and collect those resumes. These sources need to align with the types of candidates you are looking for. Some sources are for specific technologies or skills, so be sure what you are looking for and what your source can offer match.

5. Screen Your Candidates

Once your open position is posted, you will be flooded with resumes. With all the other things you are busy doing, it will be difficult to keep up with the influx. You will not be able to schedule face-to-face interviews with everyone. The best way to whittle down your pile of prospective candidates is to phone screen the candidates. Prioritize your candidates in the order in which you want to interview them. Then you phone screen them in groups of three to five at a time. The phone screens should be short, ask a wide variety of questions, and be sure the candidate meets the minimum qualifications. Be sure you stay consistent – ask the same questions, and stay with the same people screening the candidates. As you find candidates you want to see more of, schedule them for a face-to-face interview.

6. Script Your Face to Face Interview

You should have a planned script that outlines your face-to-face interviews. Knowing exactly what you want to cover in advance and following the script will keep the process consistent and make it easier to rate the candidates. The steps we follow to conduct an interview will be the topic of another post.

7. Plan your Questions in Advance

In the interview process, it is a good idea to have more than one person interview the candidate (it would be even better if you can interview your candidate all together). Write down your questions in advance and assigning certain sections of questions to each person. You can compile your questions from my .Net Hiring Managers Resource, or from your own resources. Make a worksheet of the questions, with space to jot down notes about their answers and your thoughts during the interview. It might help to come up with a rating scale of 1 to 10 to rate the answers you get. Again, this will make rating the candidate objective, consistent, and easy to gather and summarize the opinions of all the interviewers.

Have I missed anything? Do you disagree with anything here? What process do you follow? Do you have a best practice that you depend on that is not in these steps?

7 Resources that .Net Hiring Managers Can’t Live Without

Hiring quality developers is the key to any great application development organization. In our department we have experienced the joys of a great team that has jelled to produce high quality projects, and experienced the pains of bad coding practices, bad spaghetti code, and bad attitudes. Our team has very high standards, and our interviewing process is rigorous (and will be the subject of another blog post later). These resources are some of the tools we use to ensure that we get a candidate who can do the job and do it right, whether they be Junior, Mid, Senior, or Architect level developer.

1 and 2 – From Scott Hanselman

Scott Hanselman has two fantastic articles on .Net interview questions. One is called ASP.Net Interview Questions, and the other is called What Great .Net Developer Ought To Know, and the subsequently posted list of answers. This is basically version 1 and version 2 of the same idea. His second post breaks out his question ideas into increasing degrees of complexity and different job function specializations. The comments on these posts are almost as valuable (and some more so) than the articles themselves.

3 – From Marc Andreessen

If you are opposed to the idea of a list of technical (trivia) questions, here is a great article by Marc Andreessen called How to hire the best people you’ve ever worked with. If the name sounds familiar, it should… in 1992 while at NCSA he co-authored Mosaic (the first widely used web browser), and in 1994 he co-founded Netscape Communications. Marc focuses on the less technical traits that make a good candidate great. He discusses the importance of drive, curiosity, and ethics. He then discusses the importance of a process for hiring, and outlines six steps to find great candidates. This is an article you should read, re-read, and re-read again.

4 – Worse Than Failure

Worse Than Failure is a web site that collects, “Curious Perversions in Information Technology.” It houses a collection of really bad code snippets, bizarre error messages, and best of all – accounts of really bad interviews. Reading these continues to remind me why we have such a complex interviewing process. So far, my most favorite is this account of a telephone tech screening. The shame of it all is that this has happened to us in our department. A lot.

5 and 6 – From Amazon.com

Here are two great books that cover the gamut of good, hard, uncomfortable interview questions, and the kind of answers you might expect to see. The first is 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions. The second is Best Answers to the 201 Most Frequently Asked Interview Questions. I have chosen some great questions from these books when I was the interviewer, and have reviewed these books myself to prepare for an interview when I was the interviewee too.

7 – Brain Benders

Sometimes, depending on the type of candidate we are looking for, we like to ask the candidate to solve a number of puzzles or riddles. This is (or was) a common practice at Microsoft and Google. If done right, it can shed some light on the thought process of your candidate, even if they do not get the puzzle solved correctly. One source of these types of questions is a really great book called How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle – How the World’s Smartest Company Selects the Most Creative Thinkers. There are lots of other sources for this kind of material, both online and in print.

Which ones did I miss?

These are not the only good resources for interviewing by any means. These just happen to be the ones that our team and I can’t live without. What resources do you rely on to find a matching candidate for your needs?