Interviewing: How Many Questions Can You Answer in 30 Minutes?

I’m not the kind of person that really get’s turned off by interviews. I actually enjoy them sometimes. It can be a good test of my skills and knowledge. A lot of the time it shows me whether or not I’m good at explaining what I know. Communication is very important to me in my career. Lately, however, I’ve taken a different role in the interviewing process. I’ve become the one giving them instead of taking them. I thought today would be a good day to talk about interviews I’ve had, and what kind of interviews I think make up “good” interviews, and which one’s I think are “bad”.

Let’s start of with the title of this post. I work in a technical field. All of the “first time” interviews I’ve had almost always end up the same way. I spend about 30 minutes (probably more) talking with some person about my skill set and whether or not I’d be a good fit for the job they’re asking me about. I’ll put these people into two buckets, the good ones and the bad ones.

The good people that I talk to always do it the same way. They don’t really ask me any questions at all. They tell me exactly what the position is, where it’s located, any skills that are absolutely required, the salary range (usually), etc. The key here is that they’re the ones talking. They aren’t asking me any technical questions. This is vitally important. The “first time” call should only be about 2 things: do I exist? and how interested am I in this position? A really good recruiter, or whatever you want to call them, will keep this call very short. Some times I’ve had them be only 10 minutes. I would love for them to be only 5, but that’s not usually feasible because recruiters really like to go into details about the positions they’re filling.

The bad people grill you. And a lot of times they grill you for a really really long time. I think I’ve had first time calls last me over an hour with someone asking me all sorts of questions about “do I know this” and “do I know that”. The problem with first time calls asking you a lot of questions is really quite simple. How would they know if I’m lying? They wouldn’t. They wouldn’t know because they’re not technical people. The problem is usually with these bad first time calls is that they don’t have a second call. Once they talk to you and get the obligatory “this guy said yes to all my questions, he must be totally awesome!” run through, for all intensive purposes they’re done.

This can really be a nightmare from a positioning standpoint. Companies get ridiculous turn over on resources because they don’t take the time to find the right person for the right job. It seems like common sense that you would want to evaluate someone on what they do before they are hired. The stance on this this in the tech industry has been varied, though. A lot of people think that asking questions is sufficient. That someone being asked complicated enough questions who doesn’t know what’s being asked will just buckle under the pressure. Unfortunately that has caused our industry to become full of professional BSers. Other people think that you’ll never really know if someone is worth their grain of salt until you try them out. This is somewhat true, but doing nothing about it will only land you with the same group, the BSers.

I’m joining the side that will be responsible for ridding our industry of these people. My position on this is simple. If you want a job as a professional developer, show me teh codez. Talk is cheap, I want to see you code.

And that’s how I interview. Get ready to see some code.