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Key questions during an interview

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I've had the chance to interview many people at the company I currently work for now and I've found that around 1/10 candidates actually take the chance to ask questions about our stack, roles, activities, etc, even after we explicitly ask them to ask us anything they might be curious about.

So, what are some of the key questions you would ask an interviewer to find out if you would like to join their team?

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If you are interviewing for a developer position, the first question should be:

  • What is your opinion about best practices and code quality.

If the interviewer answers you with a "uhm... yes... it's important" or worse, don't take this job. Only if your interviewer gives you a passionate response, consider taking the job.

 

That's a great question. Do make sure you're talking with someone from the technical staff :)

 

At the risk of beeing the bitchy guy noone wants to hire:

  • please tell me about the process how a requirement is found, broken down in tasks, implemented, maintained and eventually removed.

  • do i have admin privileges on my machine? does my code get reviewed? If you answered no to both, please explain your thread model.

  • aside from scheduled meetings, is it neccessary for me to be on site? If yes, why? How does this dependency on informal contact fit with the (i assume) stated goals of having some kind of process (using a bugtracker, writing documentation, etc)?

  • please sort these according to your team's values: feature complete, bug free, on time. (if you say "all", non-jokingly, see me fleeing as fast as i can). Please provide examples for why you thing the given priority is the one your team lives.

 

I wrote an article recently, listing my favourite questions:
dev.to/ice_lenor/do-i-want-to-work...

Hope it helps!

 

I typically ask:

  • What has your journey looked like with COMPANY? When did you join, what have you worked on, what does your future look like, etc.

  • Since I was interviewing for internships: What has your experience with an intern been? What made them successful/unsuccessful?

I heard about Key Values from a Software Engineering Daily podcast. They offer this tool to help you isolate what you care about in a company, and distill that into a list of questions that convey your values. Some of the questions I ask now include:

  • Which of your current engineers stand out as worth emulating?
  • What's the typical day, week, and weekend like in the life of an engineer here?
  • How does COMPANY encourage you to learn new skills, whether technical or soft?

The bolded questions are the ones I make sure to ask if there's a time constraint. I'll ask the other questions in a later phone call if possible.

 

There are so many questions to be asked. I often had to limit myself, since most of the interviewers are not prepared to be interviewed themselves. That's, however, a huge misconception. I am not the only one trying to present myself. The company needs to present itself to me.

Assuming that the product is clear to me, I often ask.

Company-wise

It boils down to just one question:

  • How long do devs stay with the company in general?

Team-wise

Here my goal is to get a sense of if the team actually works as a team. Some companies have strict hierarchies and the devs are working ants. Does the team have a say? Do they pursue a common goal? Is there a single point of failure in terms of knowledge distribution?

  1. How big is the team and how many people are assigned to which role?
  2. How is the team workflow? Self-organized? Top-Down? Scrum? Whatever.
  3. When was your last retrospective?
  4. How does your daily look?

If this goes well: Can I sneak a peak on your backlog (assuming that whatever is in there would be my work soon)?

Only after all that is done, I would get down to the real technical questions. Why? I don't care how awesome the tech stack is if the team members are miserable. That's a company where your salary is a compensation for pain and suffering.

Technical-wise

  • The usual tech things: What languages for what purpose.
  • Whats your code coverage?
  • Can you walk me >quickly< through a typical deployment?
  • Can you rollback if deploy fails?

That's pretty much it. Like I said in the beginning - there are so many questions to be asked. You need to be careful not to ask too many questions since you might be perceived as arrogant and or picky. In my experience, however, the companies that can answer those questions are self-reflected and conscious about their employees.

 
 
  • What are the short term goals you have in mind for me?

  • Who is responsible for setting these short term goals and the overall general direction of the development effort?

  • Why are you hiring for this position?

Basically, the idea with this line of questioning is to figure out why they're hiring for this position. There are some potential red flags with this. It could be that they're just wanting to hire for a particular project and they will discard you afterwards. It could be that there is little or no direction or that the direction is set from outside of the immediate organization (can be good or bad). The organization may be having a lot of turnover due to management shake-ups or chaotic, indecisive, management.

  • How do you see me contributing to your efforts here?

  • What is the most critical need you have on your development team right now?

Find out if you are going to be a match for the position. This could be an opportunity to highlight your skills again or bow out gracefully if you know that you aren't a good match.

  • How long does it take you, on average, to get a new developer on board and get them integrated into your team?

  • Who will I be working with?

  • What project will I be assigned to and what is the status of that project?

These questions should give you an idea about how well they're prepared to bring you onto the team. I've been hired into jobs and ended up waiting 2-3 weeks before I had a PC.

 

I've asked what kind of support and feedback they provide to developers, and what their performance review process is like. The companies I've felt most comfortable with have had a clear answer about how this process works. The ones that have seemed like a bad fit have either not known, or they say something like "we want you to be able to work independently without much feedback."

 

It's funny with all the information and help out there on how to interview well, most still don't seem to know or implement the information.

Depending on the atmosphere of the interview, I ask 3-5 questions. I make sure to keep it short enough to either keep the chemistry going or to allow for more in depth discussion.

I try to orient questions to demonstrate attributes about myself so that I continue to answer their questions about me while discussing things I want to know about the company and its culture.

  • Am I interested in the company and it's business (did I do research?)
  • Am I a good team member?
  • Am I a skilled developer / learner?
  • Do I have growth potential?

So with those in mind, I ask questions similar to:

  1. What are the current biggest business and technical challenges the company is facing and what are they doing to address them?

  2. What is the tech stack, or why has the company chosen a particular stack, or how is the tech stack evolving?

  3. What gaps could I fill in knowledge in preparation for my future teammates?

  4. What skill development / acquisition opportunities does the company offer its developers?

  5. Please tell me what the company / team culture is like, what is their favorite thing about working at the company

  6. Questions about testing and project management processes.

  7. What do they think is the biggest source of retention and happiness for its employees?

I think these questions are usually received quite well, but any actual hiring managers who want to dice up my questions would be welcomed!

 

I've seen some great replies already, so consider these bonus questions:

  • How do you go about knowledge sharing?
  • How do you facilitate education?
 
 

On top of the wonderful questions already mentioned:

How long does it take from 0 to a fully set up dev environment.

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