Interviews – what are you looking for

Since making the transition from developer to management, I’ve given a lot of interviews.  Both at my last job, Mitel, and my current one, NorthStar Utilities.  This has made me think a lot about the qualities I look for in a new hire, and how much it has to do with the role I’m trying to fill.  I tend to come in with a list of technical questions to job my mind if the conversation stalls out, but they’re merely there as a bridge to move the conversation along when the thread stalls out.  Here are some of the factors that I focus on:

Personality

This is by and far the top quality I’m looking for.  If you don’t seem like the kind of person that I’d want to work with day in and day out, there’s no reason to move forward on the process.  The thing that makes cooperation work best is communication, and if it’s a chore to communicate with your team member, productivity slows to a crawl.

Technical Focus

I am hiring developers (though my department prefers to call them Engineers – I mean the same thing as they do, but the old language persists), and since they will spend much of their time performing technical activities, they need to demonstrate some amount of comfort with dipping below the superficial surface when discussing technical issues.  In a recent interview, I got the guy into a conversation about the game he had been working on using Unity3d (having done a lot of the work myself, I knew that I had to target my questions to focus on what he actually did in code).  He mentioned that he did a bunch of scripting in C#, but when asked ‘What was the piece of code you wrote for your game that made you proudest?’, he talked about spending a year learning Maya (3d modelling software) to work on the character model.  I asked him about how, in code, you could handle communication between entities in Unity 3d, but then he only talked about the concept he was using to detect the proximity between entities.  He wouldn’t discuss the code.

What’s the role?

I have to keep reminding myself of the role that I’m looking for.  A software developer?  Database administrator?  Quality assurance specialist?  Also factoring in is the seniority of the position, from junior, to senior.  A lot of the potential new hires I’ve been meeting with lately have been very junior.  Usually straight out of school or in their masters.  I have a hard time with these.  Most of them don’t have any real world experience and haven’t formed their own opinions on practices and technologies yet.  At this point, I usually have to fall back on a personality based judgement and my gut feeling.

Gut Feeling

At the end of the day, I trust my gut.  Sometimes someone can give me great answers to questions, but something will just seem off.  I have learned to trust my judgement when trying to figure people out.  I know that there’s a very real chance that I’ve passed on a couple great candidates because of this, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.  I got to where I am because I’m an awesome guy who has good judgement and awareness.  I’m going to run with that.

That’s about all it comes down to.  If you are reading this because I’ve contacted you for an interview, and you’ve tracked this post through my site, through my linkedin profile, way to go!  You’re someone who is willing to spend their time digging deeper and doing the research.  Just be yourself and I’m sure you’ll do great.

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