Tech & Work

10+ interview questions that will help reveal a candidate's true qualities

Today's IT job hunters are often so adept at fielding interview questions, it can be difficult to get a read on whether they'd be a good fit for your organization. Asking some of these questions may give you a glimpse of the person behind that candidate facade.

Today's IT job hunters are often so adept at fielding interview questions, it can be difficult to get a read on whether they'd be a good fit for your organization. Asking some of these questions may give you a glimpse of the person behind that candidate facade.

Determining a candidate's technical skills is a major goal in an interview, but finding out how the person will fit into your organization's culture is also essential. These days, however, candidates tend to be interview-savvy and well rehearsed in responding to typical questions. So how do you break through a candidate's facade and find out what you really want to know? Here are some questions you may want to consider asking to help you gain some legitimate insight into the person you're interviewing.

Note: These suggestions are based on the article "Questions I'd like to ask the next time I'm hiring," along with some member suggestions. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: How's your stamina?

We're not talking primarily about physical stamina here, although that's part of it. In a lot of shops, the workload can grind people down if they aren't strong enough to handle it. It's important to let candidates know that a position will be demanding-as well as to see how they rate themselves in the fortitude department.

2: How hard have you been working lately?

Even the most industrious employees can lose the habit of working hard if they've been in a situation that doesn't require it. And a candidate who's fallen into "coasting" mode may have trouble ramping up for the effort you require. Conversely, a candidate who speaks enthusiastically about being engaged in challenging projects may well be a self-starter who could energize your team with his or her commitment and work ethic.

3: How do you react to being told "No"?

A big part of the typical manager's job is telling people why they can't do something-either because they don't have the money or resources or because an idea or proposal is no good. And let's face it: Some folks don't handle being told No that well. A candid response to this question may not tell you for sure how well candidates handle the issue, but it could give you a picture of whether they're aware of their own tendencies.

4: Can you handle telling other people "No"?

If don't want to be the DDrN (Designated Dr. No) for the organization, you need people on your team who are willing and able to share the load. Of course, you don't want someone who's chomping at the bit to slap people down, either. But it can be revealing to see how many candidates respond along these lines: "I don't really feel comfortable telling other people they can't do things. I just worry about my own responsibilities."

5: How good are you — REALLY — at handling change?

Everybody asks this question, so of course every candidate has a prepared answer. It goes like this: "I think it's important to be flexible and adapt to new circumstances. One time, [insert anecdote illustrating ability to manage change here]...." This is a critical problem for managers, because the pace of change continues to accelerate, but a lot of job candidates are extremely uncomfortable with it. Trying to identify those folks during the interview process may require you to ask about it point-blank—and then hope that the candidate will abandon the script at some point so you can have an earnest discussion.

6: Are you a good scrounger?

A common interview question centers around a candidate's problem-solving capability. But this question focuses on a candidate's ability to come up with the resources out of what he or she has on the shelf. (Think of the James Garner character "The Scrounger" from the movie The Great Escape, who comes up with camera, pipe, or whatever else the POWs need when planning their breakout.)

7: When conflict arises on your team, how do you handle it?

This is one of those questions that can easily be fielded with a stock answer and a polished anecdote, so it's up to you to try to elicit something more illuminating. Often this will just be a matter of asking follow-up questions (and these don't have to be formulaic; just have a conversation around what the candidate has told you). You can also pose a scenario and ask candidates what they might do in a particular situation. Is this approach contrived? You bet it is. But it will challenge candidates to think on their feet and may provide useful clues about their personality and conflict management skills.

8: What have the last few years taught you?

Anyone who's been in IT for awhile knows that the industry has had some serious ups and downs. This questions is designed to get at what the job candidate has learned through the periods of explosive growth as well as through the tough downturns, tight budgets, and shifts in the job market.

9: What type of people do you like to work with?

Even if you get a canned response here, you may be able to get a glimpse of the candidate's personality. Previous experiences and genuine preferences will often filter through to their answers. For example: "I like to work with people who really know what they're talking about, not people who just want to show everyone how smart they are"; "I like to work with people who I can bounce ideas off of"; "I like to work with people who respect what I do."

10: How do you stay current?

Since this one comes right out of Interviewing 101, most candidates will be ready for it. But it's still a critical question that must be addressed. The technology changes so quickly that all of our past experience decreases in value daily. You can't hire an IT professional without assessing their plans to keep abreast of new products and technologies.

11: What's the toughest thing you've had to do professionally?

This question also comes out of the interviewing playbook, but it's still a good one. It's interesting to see whether the candidate mentions some technical achievement or project or discusses something more personal instead — for example, having to fire an employee.

12: How would you describe your perfect job?

You can learn a lot from the responses to this question, and it may spark a lively conversation as well. You might discover that the candidate is quite assertive in describing what he or she wants a position to provide; in fact, you may learn a thing or two that will help you craft a better job description for the position. You might also find out that a candidate has some unrealistic expectations about the respective roles of employer and employee-which could lead to disappointment and poor performance if left unaddressed.

13: If you could take back one career decision, what would it be?

This is a pretty good shot-in-the-dark question. There is certainly no "right" answer, but it can be useful to see how candidates respond. Can they point to something instantly or do they have to consider? Maybe they'll be confident enough to admit, "I can't think of anything substantial. So far, I'm pretty pleased with how my career is going." Sometimes, ambivalence or dissatisfaction come to light, suggesting that they're headed down the wrong path altogether. Regardless of their answer, this question can lead to an interesting discussion.

Check out 10 Things... the newsletter!

Get the key facts on a wide range of technologies, techniques, strategies, and skills with the help of the concise need-to-know lists featured in TechRepublic's 10 Things newsletter, delivered every Friday. Automatically sign up today.

Editor's Picks