Hiring IT staff is a difficult task, and too many IT leaders leave it solely in the hands of HR. Here are 10 questions you can ask potential IT hires — and an explanation of what each question can tell you about the candidate.
1: What are two or three major trends affecting the IT industry and how do you see them affecting the profession?
This is a big picture question, and the trends the candidate identifies are less important than the candidate's ability to identify broad industry trends and articulate their impact. Essentially, you're assessing whether candidates can think broadly about what's happening in the industry and whether they actively monitor changes in the industry.
2: Tell me about a time you were asked to perform a task or project you didn't understand
This question is more appropriate for staff than leaders, but in both cases will help tease out how candidates act in unclear circumstances. Can they provide examples of how they asked for clarity or came up with a plan to identify missing information? Or do they sound like they spin their wheels until someone else intervenes?
3: Tell me about a time you were asked to do something you've never done before (new technology, different type of project, new industry, etc.)
This is similar to the previous question, but the crux of this one is whether candidates are self-starters who can rapidly adapt to a changing environment. If they don't have experience dealing with change — or they struggle to answer — that should be a warning sign.
4: Do you get bored easily?
This is an interesting question, since the two extremes of possible answers may be "correct" depending on the role you're trying to fill. If you're looking to fill a strategy- or project-related role, where the candidate will be bouncing from project to project on a weekly or monthly basis, you want someone who is easily bored and constantly looking for new challenges. If you need a competent manager or staff member to run a steady-state process and sweat the details, you obviously want a very different candidate.
5: What types of activities would you expect and prefer this role to entail?
This is a subtle way of determining whether candidates understand the role they're applying for and whether their expectations match yours. If you're serious about a candidate and your expectations don't match, this will be a critical point of discussion as you move forward in the hiring process.
6: Where do you want your career to go and what skills would you like to learn and develop as our employee?
This is similar to the above question, but with a more long-term outlook. If a candidate expects development opportunities you can't provide, you'll need to reconcile that concern or end up with an unhappy employee. This question can also help determine whether the candidate has leadership aspirations and a plan to achieve them.
7: If you could make two or three changes at your former place of employment, what would they be?
This seemingly straightforward question accomplishes a number of things. First of all, it's a good check of the ability to keep confidential information secret, as well as an indication of whether a candidate will badmouth a former employer. Second, this question tests the candidate's ability to think broadly and strategically. Like question 1, the content of the answer is less important than the thought process that goes into the answer — unless the best the candidate can come up with is something banal like, "My last employer should have bought better coffee."
8: Ask a case question
Case study questions may seem like a complicated process left to the business schools and consulting houses, but they can be as simple as summarizing a complex situation you faced and seeing how the candidate responds. Provide an overview of a recent situation you or your company faced and test the candidate's ability to identify and articulate a solution on the fly. Perhaps more important than the solution the candidates develop are the questions they ask. They won't have critical details or background on the problem, so observing how they gather information and begin to break down the problem is the most interesting aspect of case-style questions.
9: Ask a "tough employee" question
For candidates who will be managing others, present a difficult employee situation, ideally based on a challenge you've faced in the past. See if candidates ask relevant questions about the situation and observe their thought process in determining how to resolve the situation.
10: Ask about a hobby or interest (if it's mentioned on their résumé)
If candidates mention a hobby or interest on their résumé, ask them about it. Rather than making small talk, you want to see if candidates are well-rounded individuals and get some feeling for their personality. While "likability" should not be your sole factor for determining employment, many roles require some amount of sales ability, and certainly presentation and speaking skills. Hobbies can also tell you about a candidate's risk tolerance, willingness to experience new things, and general outlook on life. Even if the specific hobby in question is an activity you don't enjoy, use the question to check the candidate's ability to articulate and convey passion.
What questions have you used that provided insights into the experience, skills, and personalities of potential IT hires? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.