Technical Interviews: Ask Relevant Questions


Having sat on both sides of the table, I'm always surprised to see Technical Interviewers ask questions that are not relevant to the role or skill level for which they are hiring.

These questions can be useful, and I definitely understand why they're asked - but in today's world, the approach can be a dated. Once upon a time, Software Engineers needed a wider breadth of knowledge because technology was less mature. But as languages have matured, and as hardware's become more stable and powerful, it's allowed developers to focus and specialize around an area of expertise. Thus, the classical questions of yester-year are less relevant.

For example, if your role is mostly front-end focused - your questions should be around UI development, events, accessibility, data collection, validation, filtering, presenting. If that's not your skillset, have someone else sit in and ask questions. Or, have the candidate talk through their GitHub projects, or portfolio.

But what if your application actually deals with tree-structures? This becomes less a question of role and more a question of skill level. If you've budgeted for a Jr developer, the question you should focus on is whether they can learn such concepts and grow in their role.

I've seen similar challenges with Technical Interviews for Architects, Engineering Managers, and other Sr titles. Especially when the role can vary widely from one company to another, it's really important to that hiring managers have a clear sense of what they need, set clear expectations around the capabilities.

  • Will your Architect/EM still be writing code?
  • Do you need your Architect/EM to be skilled in Application or Infrastructure Architect, (or both?)
  • Will your EM be a part of application design?
  • Do they need to be experts in Agile?
  • Are you looking for experts in Cloud?

Whenever it's unclear, candidates should always feel comfortable asking interviewer about the expectations for the role. Even if it's a simply asking: "In what areas does this role needed to be an expert, mid, and novice?"

If you're asked a question that doesn't seem relevant to your role, you should certainly start by responding: "I've not typically encountered this kind of question when interviewing for this kind of role. I'm happy to answer it - but before starting, are you gauging my general knowledge or does this question reflect the expectations for this specific role?"

This points to the importance of being conversational in interviews and having a dialog. It allows both parties to better assess fit.

At the end of the day it's impossible for both the hiring manager, or the candidate, to be successful when expectations are ambiguous.

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