The sad truth for most IT departments is that managers have spent more time the last couple of years laying people off than hiring them. Even so, hiring is an important part of every technical manager’s job, and most of us still have to hire people from time to time (to replace departing employees if not to add resources).

I’ll confess that I’m probably not the world’s best interviewer for new hires. I try to be systematic about the questions I ask, but the candidate determines how the interview goes. Each candidate has his or her own story to tell, and I want to give each one the chance to tell it. Further, like most of you, my mood reflects the candidate’s mood. An upbeat candidate gets me excited, and a somber one depresses me. The result is that I often find myself driving home thinking of something I wished I had asked a job candidate earlier that day.

In this column, I’m going to show you some of the questions I would like to ask most job candidates. Some of these are impractical, some just awkward. Regardless of the wording, they all get at something I’d like to learn about the candidate. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Bob’s Top 10 job interview questions

  1. How’s your stamina? I’m not primarily talking about physical stamina here, though that’s part of it. We’ve got a lot to do here at TechRepublic, and the workload can grind people down if they aren’t strong enough to handle it. Judging from the comments I read in our Discussion Center, I’m guessing that’s true in your shop as well.
  2. How hard have you been working lately? Before I came to TechRepublic, I worked for a newsletter publishing company. When the company decided to relocate to another city, they kept a bunch of us on staff for a few months to manage the transition, and gave us a stay-bonus to stick around. At the time, I thought it was a great deal, since the last couple of months at the office were essentially work-free. However, when that job ended and I came to TechRepublic, a company in classic startup mode, it took awhile to get used to actually having to put in a full week (and then some).
  3. How do you react to being told “No”? A big part of my job is telling people why they can’t do something—either because we don’t have the money or resources or because their idea is no good. Some folks don’t handle being told No that well.
  4. Can you handle telling other people “No”? I don’t want to be the DDrN (Designated Dr. No) for the organization. I want other people to help share the load.
  5. How good are you—REALLY—at handling change? I can hear your objections now—but everybody asks this question! That’s true, and therefore, 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]….” The problem is that it’s difficult to get an honest answer to the question. Further, it’s a critical problem, especially for managers. These days, the pace of change continues to accelerate. Unfortunately, many job candidates out there are extremely uncomfortable with change. The problem is trying to identify them.
  6. Are you a good scrounger? A common interview question centers around a candidate’s problem-solving capability. However, with my question, I’m focusing on a candidate’s ability to come up with the resources out of what he or she has on the shelf. (I’m thinking 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. What have the last couple of years taught you? If you’ve been around awhile, you know that these are the hardest couple of years for the IT industry in at least a decade. I’d like to learn what these tough times have taught any job candidate.
  8. How do you stay current? I wish I had a better question here, since this one comes right out of Interviewing 101, and therefore most candidates will be ready for it. The technology changes so quickly that all of our past experience decreases in value daily. If I’m hiring an IT professional, I want to know how he or she plans to keep abreast of new products and technologies.
  9. 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. I’m curious to see if the candidate mentions some technical achievement or project or discusses something more personal instead (for example, having to fire an employee).
  10. If you could take back one career decision, what would it be? This is my shot-in-the-dark question. There is certainly no “right” answer to such a question, but I’d be curious as to how a candidate answers. Would he or she be able to point to something instantly, or have to consider? Would a person be confident enough to admit, “Bob, I can’t think of anything substantial. So far, I’m pretty pleased with how my career is going.”

Well, that’s my list —and it’s not comprehensive by any means. Post a note to this article, and add your own questions. If we get enough good ones, we’ll put them together into a checklist for our Downloads library.