What kinds of questions do managers ask potential hires?
Win the Interview Game
What kinds of questions do managers ask potential hires?
I’m getting ready to go through the interview process
and was wondering if you could help me brush up on interview
questions. I’m about to take my last test (TCP/IP) for
my MCSE and have a couple of years of direct NT experience.
Because I’ve been away from the interview scene for a
while, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten basic interviewing skills—and
perhaps the answers to things I know I can do. Any suggestions?
As managers, what kinds of questions do you ask potential
—Jeff Paul, MCP
Whoa, now, Jeff—we magicians, er, managers have our
code. You know—never reveal your secrets. If you knew
what managers were going to ask and do during an interview,
why, that would put you at an unfair advantage, wouldn’t
it? You’ve seen my picture—do I look pointy-haired to
you? (Don’t answer that…)
But since Greg has spilled the beans anyway, let me fill
in a few of the details. When it comes to interviewing,
there are rules, there are common practices, and then
there’s everything else. The rules exist to protect both
the applicant and the company from trouble, primarily
in the area of discrimination. For example, asking an
applicant for place of birth or native language is prohibited
because it may disclose national origin, which is irrelevant
in the hiring process. Not hiring or hiring someone on
the basis of national origin is a violation of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964. Both managers and candidates need
to be aware of The Rules; www.eeoc.gov
is a good place to start.
A brief note about age discrimination: in our industry,
there is a real paradox—companies want young employees
with lots of experience. More often than you might imagine,
a hiring manager (especially a young hiring manager) will
favor young over experience, thinking that they can always
train a young applicant, but they really don’t want any
old people around. This is a dirty little secret in technology,
and one that will soon come back to bite us. After all,
PCs have been around for more than 20 years—a candidate
could have this much experience and be technologically
current, plus be far beyond newbie mistakes.
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OK, off the soapbox and back to the issue. Common practices
are the mechanics of the interview/hiring process. As
Greg mentions, there are various stages along this path;
two that he doesn’t cite are the phone interview and the
The phone interview is sometimes with the hiring manager
(for example, if you’re in a different city and they haven’t
decided whether to fly you in). However, this “screening”
interview is frequently with a Human Resources person,
whose task is to ensure that the hiring manager’s time
isn’t wasted by sending obviously uninterested or unqualified
candidates. In this case, the questions are usually: Are
you available? Are you interested? How much do you make
now? When might you be able to come in and talk with us?
That’s interspersed with: Tell me something about yourself
(Greg’s “elevator speech”), and What would you like to
know about our company?
View this as a screening opportunity for you to get a
good idea about the type of position and the company,
and decide quickly if it’s something you want to pursue.
If not, beg off. If you are interested, remember you have
to get over this hurdle to get to someone who can really
evaluate your talent. If you’re not sure whether this
position is in your league or not, the great qualifier
is money—go ahead and tell them how much you make (or
how much you would move for). Otherwise, try to avoid
the money questions until later—say something like “based
on what you’ve told me about the position, I’m sure we’re
in the same ballpark—tell me more about your location…”
Greg has given you good information about the position
and technical interviews. Remember throughout this process
that it’s your decision as well as theirs. You must assess
if this is the kind of job you want to do and the kind
of company you want to work for. This is where pass-bys
can be valuable. Pass-bys are usually just that—the hiring
manager says, “Things are looking very good, and I’m impressed
with you and your qualifications. I just want to pass
you by a few other people.” For example, a prospective
salesperson may get passed by the technical manager, or
a help desk candidate may get passed by a technical lead.
These people usually don’t have final veto power, but
a bad recommendation can hurt you anyway, so stay on your
toes. However, because these people don’t have an immediate,
vested interest in you, use the opportunity to find out
about the company: What it’s like to work there, how long
they’ve been there, and so on. In other words, interview
Two final pieces of advice: First, be wary of interviews
combined with meals, especially with decision-makers.
There are too many distractions; plus you’re too flustered
just trying to figure out what and how to eat to give
meaningful attention to your answers, which means your
career. I got suckered into an interview with the president
of a company during lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Lunch
went OK, but he seemed really distracted, and as it turned
out, he had to rush through lunch to catch a plane. Needless
to say, I really didn’t stand a chance.
Second, when you do leave your company, don’t burn any
bridges. This really is a small industry—sooner or later
you might end up working for the same person again, or,
more likely, your old company may buy out your new one.
Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology
at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.