loading...
Cover image for 10 Questions I'm Asking All Companies Before Scheduling Any Interviews

10 Questions I'm Asking All Companies Before Scheduling Any Interviews

ashleemboyer profile image Ashlee (she/her) Originally published at ashleemboyer.com ・1 min read

Interviewing requires a lot of time and energy. Maybe you need to study some technical topics ahead of time. You probably already have commitments that require a lot of your focus—like another job or children. That's why it's important to be selective where you can about companies you want to interview with.

Here are the ten questions I'm using to decide whether or not I'm interested in interviewing with a company:

  1. How large is the engineering team?
  2. What is the make-up of the engineering team? Such as, how many managers are there, who do they manage, etc.
  3. How often are one-on-ones?
  4. Who are the one-on-ones with?
  5. Is there career coaching?
  6. Are there performance reviews?
  7. How have you handled performance reviews with the pandemic?
  8. What's the development process like? For example, do you work in sprints?
  9. How tasks are estimated and assigned?
  10. Are there regular team retrospectives?

Did you know I have a newsletter? 📬

If you want to get notified when I publish new blog posts or make major project announcements, head over to https://ashleemboyer.com/newsletter.

Posted on by:

ashleemboyer profile

Ashlee (she/her)

@ashleemboyer

Disabled Web Developer ⌨️ | HOH 🤟 | Live Knitter 🧶 & Live Coder 👩‍💻 | she/her

Discussion

markdown guide
 

Good list Ashlee!

10+ interviewee questions I think are wise to ask:

  1. Who are your customers?

  2. How do you communicate with them?

  3. How do you like working here?

  4. What would you like the company to invest more time in?

  5. What is a typical work day like here?

  6. How do you approach testing?

  7. How do your sprints work?

  8. How do you, as a company/team, make sure you're working on the right things?

  9. What is your tech stack?

  10. What are the biggest concerns about your codebase?

  11. If you were starting over fresh, what technologies would you choose that are different from what you are currently using?

  12. What are your long-term plans?

 

I wish I had thought about this before joining my current project, because knowing what I know now, it may have changed my destination.

Now don't get me wrong I love my current job but the politics at the moment. Our Engineering team is less than 15 people myself included if you had told me that I would have passed on the job, I know what happens in small teams it ends up being a handful of talented people doing the job while others do the bare basics. Due to the fact its a small team it can sometimes get a little heated, when it comes to the feedback. I have found that larger teams of more than 20 people its more sustainable.

Also if I new our development process I would have never joined, what is is that no testing lets keep pushing into production and fix the bugs as we go.... Real makes for fun times, being on the phone to the customer explaining the latest patch broke the system, and they will need to wait a few hours while we debug the system.

 

Try being on a team building the software calculating loads to go on rockets to and from the International Space Station, without testing. No, seriously. And, of course, they did Friday commits (cuz why not?) The sad thing is, it was the most capable team of devs I've ever worked with; they were just ridiculously overworked and management insisted that new features were always more important than testing.

I joined as a front end lead and, after kicking and screaming each retrospective about testing, finally stepped on toes and created my own team to create our own testing framework. Within a month we were at 90% test coverage.

I got fired and replaced with unpaid interns, but I'll take that any day over killing astronauts or answering to a Congressional investigation over it.

 

Omg that's wild. I just can't understand the logic of that! How do they sleep at night, really?? Is it a total lack of empathy, inability to think of others, or what.

When it comes to government prime contractors, you'd have about the same level of effectiveness by just setting piles of cash on fire.

 

How many bugs would you said you guys were able to catch with the introduction of testing with a project like that, which was previously completely untested?

OMFG so many. I knew I was on borrowed time for calling out management, but even some of the other teams were probably gunning for me when they started getting test failures and test coverage alarms on commit (which is stupid, because they had both the authoring app and the test runner on their local). Like, hearing dozens of grumbles of "God damn it" from nearby cubicles each day, for the first week especially. The devs I commandeered to work on it would IM our group "DRINK!" (we made it into a mock drinking game) every time it happened.

I really wish I had the foresight to open source it before giving it to them. I'm sure it was quickly abandoned after I left.

 

I'll definitely be asking about testing next time I'm job hunting. Once you've lived with automated testing, you don't want to go without!

 

Excellent questions!

I've used some of these before and they helped me to determine that certain companies weren't a good fit for me. I also asked things like this, relating to the career coach:

How do you promote growth for your employees?
I use this question to figure out if they provide study materials, conference tickets, etc etc.

Who do I talk to if I want to get a book about [programming topic]?
Do they have an interest in your personal and professional growth?

And most recently:
What are your views on remote work?

 

Great list. A lot of folks are totally lost here.

 

you can ask these of the initial screener but they probably wont have the answers. After they pass your resume on to the hiring manager and they call you there is no reason not to ask these questions. they will or should ask you if have any questions and that is the opportunity to ask. I think you will impress the interviewer with these questions and they in my experience they will answer as best as possible and their answers will allow you to honestly assess the opportunity for its appropriateness to you

 

Awesome list. I also ask about code quality and how it is maintained etc.

 

Good question! I never asked about if there are any one on one meetings or performance reviews before. This are good questions to add to my list! Tnx!

 

These are all good questions to ask at some point during the interview process, but be careful with asking too many questions prior to the first interview. You want to show interest, but don't want to sound like you're questioning the company's practices. Give them a chance to introduce you to what they do, and slowly reveal the truth over several interviews.

 

But that's the thing. I am questioning the company's practices. I don't want to find out three interviews in that I don't want to work for a company because their practices don't align with my needs. That's a waste of my time and also a waste of theirs. These questions show interest in the things that matter in the long term and if a company is offended by them, that's on them, not me.

 

I'm sorry, I don't understand why this would be necessary. Do you have an example you can provide me with to understand? I don't see how this approach could be negative.

 

Asking questions that point out failings of a company (and they all have failings) can be seen as criticism. Criticism from the outside is often viewed negatively, as you don't have the background to understand why the company does things the way they do. To many people this give the impression of arrogance.

It sets the perception of your expectations high early in the process. This may scare of recruiters.

I'm not saying any of these are not relevant questions, but the manner in which they are asked is important.And unfortunately, human nature and defense of one's own failings can cause a negative impression.

Interesting. Thanks for clarifying!

My expectations are very high and there's no problem with that. I don't want to work for a company that can't handle high expectations for a supportive environment. So, if they drop interest after these questions because I asked them "too early", good for us both then. Neither of us would be happy down the line.

That’s absolutely right. I’m not sure if you are sending them via mail? If the company has multiple interviews, I would ask them in a first phone interview or so because then I could also ask again to clarify things.

I did a lot of interviews as an interviewer and I always liked it to get such questions because it shows that the candidate knows what’s important. So if you’re not getting further interviewed because of those questions, it was probably not the right company to work for.

It does matter how you ask a question, for sure. For example, I'd really rather not work for a company with no automated testing ever again. Instead of asking, "You people do automated testing?" you can ask, "Can you tell me about your process to ensure a quality product?" People like talking about how clever their processes are, and if they have a good one, they'll probably be happy to answer, and you'll get useful insights. If the answer is "We're a bunch of geniuses who never make mistakes," I can run screaming.

 

Great post! Interviews are just as much about asking them questions to see if they are a good fit for you. Also- love the 🤟🏼! I have several family members that are HOH & deaf. :)

 

I also ask
1). I assume Developers are a valuable resource for your organization. How do you show them they are valued? (Do they provide acceptable hardware, or is it from 5 years ago? Do they pay for training or is the 3 month pluralsight that comes with your MSDN it?)
2). When I start a job I want to bring value to the company as quickly as possible. What is your onboarding process like? (Basically will you be paying me to install ssms, or visual Studio? Any decent company should have you hit the ground running)

 

Hey Ashlee! Thanks for writing this. I am one that has high expectations as well and while I'm not disabled officially I do have certain health issues that make my own list of questions highly relevant to me.

In my opinion, find what's relevant to you, make a list of +/- 10 questions and ask them of the prospective employer. Whether you do that before an interview, in an interview or any other time during the process, just make sure you're going into the situation with eyes wide open. Having relevant questions for employers helps a lot. In my last job search I had people act miffed when I asked questions and I had people eagerly answer them. Both responses say a lot.

 

It seems most folks aren't thinking too far ahead, judging by the average length of employment of 18 months, but here's a good question imo:

What would it take for me to get a promotion to the next level?

This helps clarify both what makes a star contributor at your current level, what the team values in their people, and how your hiring team thinks about promotions. It could also reveal if the company lacks clear definitions for career grading (helllllo, startups!) or, if other engineers interviewing you can't answer this question, it could point to management/communication problems within the org. My $0.02.

 

These are all valid points, but in my opinion not the most important. All this organizational overhead of one-on-ones, performance reviews etc. is only a percentage of your work time, hopefully far <50%. Frustration from technical difficulties is more important than frustration from these things. So the questions I tend to ask on job interviews are:

  1. What is the iteration time, since I change something in the code, through any build, deploy, launch, until I can see the result. Few seconds is great. 20 minutes is a no-no.
  2. What debugging tools do you use? Like, you really use, not you heard they are available. If there is some visual debugger, cool. If inserting printf/alert is the only feasible way, thank you :)

Also, I don't share your opinion that going to interviews requires lots of time and energy. I would even recommend going to interviews just for sports, pretending you are interested just to see what questions you get and how well you can do.

 

Frustration from technical difficulties is more important than frustration from these things.

No. Don't try to speak for other people and what they find most frustrating about their work environments. You have your own concerns and preferences but they are yours. Don't project them on other people who have different needs.

I don't share your opinion that going to interviews requires lots of time and energy.

It's not an opinion. And you should probably pay attention to who writes the posts you comment on. I am Disabled and chronically pained/fatigued. Interviews take an incredible amount of time and energy that I only have so much of.

 

I'm not disabled, and still agree that interviews require a lot of time and energy (especially when you're already working).

 

my SO would also have the same struggles of going around to lots of interviews, but in Adam's defense, I didn't see anything in the post re: those needs as being what was driving the list. Maybe there was biographical info missed somewhere? Have a nice day

 

For those of you who have to deal with staffing agencies, I can add these questions which should be answered via 2-3 minute email chain before you ever agree to the typical staffing agency recruiter's sales pitch call. Said recruiters often get furious on LinkedIn when I point these things out. Oh, well. They'll live.

If at all possible, they want to make a pitch over the phone and not be held to anything in writing. Keep that in mind as I go down this list, it's why I'm telling you to get this stuff via email. If the agency breaks from anything they've agreed to, you can withdraw consent of their right to represent (which, of course, they'll insist on getting back from you in writing via email). On the rare occasion you need to do that and they threaten you, you've got it in writing and you're free to respond with "sue me."

  1. "Do you have a job description?"
    • It's ridiculous that you have to ask this, but it is often the case with American staffing agencies. Indian agencies, for the many other strikes against them, are much better about sending this in the very first email (whether that makes it worth dealing with them is highly debatable).
  2. "What is the rate/salary range?"
    • Yes, you can ask them this. They know what the client is willing to pay. You don't have to play their "How much are you looking for?" game. If the client's range isn't in your range (including the minimum you're willing to negotiate down to), don't waste any more of your time.
  3. If it's a contract role, "What is the pay schedule?"
    • Pay schedule = pay period + payroll processing delay
    • American staffing firms (whose "employee" you will be during the contract) typically pay weekly or biweekly on W2, with usually less than a week after timesheet submittal/approval (typically due the following Monday or Tuesday) delay in payroll processing.
    • If you're on 1099/C2C (corp-to-corp, if you have your own LLC) both the pay period and the time from timesheet approval to paycheck can run much longer, on schedules such as "net 30" (a full month after you submitted your last timesheet or invoice for the pay period, which itself may run up to 30 days). This model is, unfortunately, also what happens to a lot of freelancers working for design agencies.
    • Keep in mind that taxes won't be taken out of your paycheck and you'll pay a higher self-employed tax rate at the end of the year if you're 1099 or C2C.
    • I hate to single out one country, especially when so many of my favorite devs are from there, but always ask insist that any Indian staffing agency specifically answer the pay schedule portion of the question, because they like to attach biweekly or even monthly payroll processing delays even if you're brought on as a W2 "employee" on weekly or biweekly pay period. They're usually recognizable by the "Infotech" and/or "PVT LTD" in the company name. They will try to avoid answering this question precisely because they know the delay is unacceptable.
    • One more thing to look out for from Indian agencies, especially when it's the big players like Cognizant, Infosys, Capgemini, etc. (even if one of the smaller third party "Infotech"/"PVT LTD" companies is referring you to them): They will try to claim that the position is full-time permanent and salaried. That is a lie. You're just an hourly contractor, quoted an annual rate, for the big company - who is turn is a contractor to an American client (typically government).

And then there may be some things they'll ask you or of you, on which you need to stand firm:

  1. "What [are/were] you making in your [current/previous] role?"
    • The only appropriate answer is "That's irrelevant, but what I'm willing to work for is not." You are not their unpaid market research subject.
  2. "Okay, I just need to get _ references from you and I'll get you submitted over to the client!"
    • DO NOT DO THIS!!! References have had the expectation (completely reasonable, as it has been standard industry etiquette for decades until recent years) to only be called once per job search (maybe twice max, if things fall through last minute with the first company), not several times per job search, in some cases for roles you haven't even been submitted to yet (let alone interviewed for).
    • Often, these preemptive reference checks are conducted by account managers resorting to shady lead gen tactics, more interested in drumming up new business than checking your bona fides.
    • Even if that's not the case, your references are being unduly exposed to exponentially more calls. You need to protect them from this, as I can attest personally - I lost two great references as a result, tired of fielding calls for me.

Keep in mind that I'm only speaking from the perspective of an American whose formal career began at the start of the Great Recession, and who has seen numerous examples through the years of the insidious practices I detailed above (and plenty more which aren't coming to mind, I'm sure) by staffing agencies.

 

I added some questions that are specific to software engineer's perspectives and to spot hidden duties that go beyond a software engineers role: dev.to/jankapunkt/questions-to-ask...

 

One question you should always ask as directly as possible without asking it outright:
Is the company in trouble? Not financial, I mean work environment and quality of Life issues, like team morale, expansion or corporate culture changes gone awry....
Ditto with the project they plan to assign you to, even if you specialize in project saving consulting.
Especially for managerial or team lead positions : too often you're given a PR/marketing description of how'd they'd like things to be, not the way they actually are.

 

Very good questions.
Additionally, I ask:

  • What does a typical developer day look like? (Look out for good agile processes vs. firefighting)

  • How do you handle code reviews (and what parts are automated)? (The answer says a lot about team maturity)

  • How high is your test coverage? (I really do not want to work on a sparsely tested legacy system, red flag if they do not know.)

  • How often do you deploy? (How good is your CI-CD process)

  • What do you do to ensure a good Work/Life balance?

 

Interesting set of questions. I'm curious, could you provide some of the answers that you are looking for here? I do believe of course that your answers may well be different from mine or anyone else's but I am curious nonetheless. :)

 

This is really helpful, I will give a try
Thanks for sharing

 

Great questions! I also got a couple more to add

  1. Is there a training budget?
  2. Is training part of the job (included in the 40), or is it expected to be in addition to the standard work hours?
 
 

So how do you get these questions answered before you do any interviews?

 

These questions aren't just for recruiters. So, if you have a company in mind because you've seen a listing online, you might be able to reach out to some folks who work there through Twitter or LinkedIn. I'd definitely ask first, though, before dropping a set of questions on someone you've never talked with before. Something along the lines of:

Hi! I found a job listing for (name of company), and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about what it's like to work there?

Otherwise, you might have to ask these questions in an email after submitting an application.

 

Are there "correct" answers to these questions? If so, could you elaborate? It's not obvious to me what the correct answer would be to some of these.

 

It's mostly about what you're looking for in a company, so the "correct" answers are entirely up to you! Personally, I want to work with a larger engineering team and I want to work in a supportive environment that has regularly scheduled 1:1s. The questions about performance reviews are also helpful in determining whether an environment is going to be supportive. I've heard of companies that have tossed out performance reviews entirely during the pandemic, and I'd personally rather work at a company like that than one that went on as if it's "business as usual."