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Questions to ask a team you're considering joining

Sumeet Jain (he/him) on November 12, 2019

I recently chose a new team to work on at Box, and I wrote down some of the questions I asked the teams as I interviewed them to make my decision. ... [Read Full]
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I am going to have to borrow some of these questions for when I'm interviewed. I especially love the first one. What are people thinking about and wishing they could change.

Questions I ask:

  • If there was one skill you could hire into your team, what would it be? This one is fun, because it has shown me when managers and tech leads have had different conflicting priorities. One manager might want more quality to come out of the team, while the tech lead is hiring for more speed.
  • Where does work come from? Somewhat self explanatory, who puts pressure on the team to deliver and who do they answer to.
  • Who are the juniors on your team? If they don't have juniors, why not? In a large org, the claim that the work the team is doing is too complex or advanced should be alarm bells that there are other issues at play.
  • What do people like to do outside off work? Do people talk about what they do outside of work at work? The best teams I have worked in are the ones where I knew what my colleagues liked to do. And we would get to talk about all the cool things that happened on the weekends without it being forced or out of the ordinary. I also like to flip this and ask it when I'm the interviewer. What do the people we are interviewing like to do in their free time? It's really hard to asnwer this question wrong.
  • How is work prioritized and the backlog organized? I asked a tech lead this once and his answer was "It isn't. It is supposed to be my job, but I don't like doing it. We've ended up with 2000 open issues."
  • What does onboarding look like? How long does it take for someone new to the team to become productive, and what is in place to make them feel welcome and supported?

And one that I have definitely stolen from elsewhere:

  • How do I make the logo purple? From the request comingg into the team to the logo being updated on the main page, what is the process to gget that work done. Who needs to be involved and who needs to approve it?
 

Oh, and I forgot my favourite question:

Have you looked at what the take home test you require does for the diversity of your candidates?

Most interviewers don't have an answer for this, or try to deflect and say it has no effect, without having anything to back up the claim.

Now I've never issued a take home test, so don't have any data to look at, but I would be interested to hear from people who have looked at how take home tests change their applicant pool.

 

I like your restriction to one skill. I think I'll add that to my set of questions the next time I'm interviewed. I'll start with that one and then ask the question again without the constraint.

 

I think one of the most important factors when joining a team is human fit with team members. As we spend more than 8 hours together almost every day, we need to feel comfortable having the team members around. Before joining a team, would be a good idea to have a “trial” period of several days working in the team to get the feeling on human fit.

 

Thanks for chiming in Nguyen Kim Son! Do you have recommendations for how to implement such trial periods? What are some of the tradeoffs and considerations, in your opinion?

 

I think this period could be “informal” at first: the person participates in other team meeting, even takes small tickets if they want. The “official” period starts when the person decides to fully join the team and last for several days. Normally the person should know at this point if they like the team (and vice versa) so this period is more of a confirmation.

 

Some questions that gave me good insights during my recent interviews:

  • What's the company's greatest challenge at the moment? Is it a scarcity of devs? Migration from tech A to tech B? Exploding user count?
  • What's the team's greatest challenge at the moment? Can be anything from having too few or too many senior devs to interpersonal difficulties. In any case, answers and follow-ups should give you some good insight.
  • What are some professional and private traits you're looking for in your new team members? This one seems to be hard to answer, because most interviewers and teams seem to not give this much thought. I've received answers ranging from typical HR-blabla to honest and well-thought-out professional AND personal skills. The most impressive answer I received (after several seconds of thinking) was "I seriously have no idea at the moment and thank you for making me think about this".
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