Interview

"You can find that on our website. Please stop wasting my time."

Everyone knows they’ll be expected to answer a series of questions in a job interview.

It is equally important to be prepared to ask good questions. The interviewer will expect it, and I recommend having them outlined in advance so that nothing is forgotten or overlooked. And, it never hurts to show that you spent time thinking through this important meeting!

The interviewee is typically invited to ask questions near the end of the discussion. Following are some questions you may want to ask during your interview:

  • Why is this position open? (Due to growth? Or was the position vacated, and if so, why?)
  • What is your highest priority in the next six months, and how could I help?
  • Are there any challenges in particular awaiting the person who takes on this role?
  • What are the characteristics of your top people?
  • What are your personal satisfactions and disappointments since you have been with the company?

Notice that I said be prepared to ask good questions. With the amount of information now available at our fingertips, candidates are expected to do a certain amount of research before the interview. Asking questions that could easily be answered by visiting the company’s website or with a simple Google search can make you appear uninspired and unprepared.

Know before you go, and don’t ask:

  • What the company does.
  • The history of growth of the company.
  • Number of employees and locations, annual revenue, and whether they’re publicly or privately held.
  • If the company is public, you might want to know its current stock price, bond rating, and overall financial health.
  • If the company is private, check your local paper or Google for articles reporting impending layoffs, new product launches, or other potential signs of financial health.
  • The company’s top competitors and how they stack up in terms of product, market share, and strengths and weaknesses.

These are all things you should research in advance and incorporate your findings as appropriate in the interview to demonstrate your initiative and readiness.

Whatever you do, don’t be this person:

Adria Alpert Romm, a Human Resources executive for Discovery Communications, is quoted in the May 2009 edition of Real Simple Magazine in an article about how to find (and keep) a job.  “I interviewed someone recently and he boasted how much he loved one of our shows. The problem was that the show was on a competing network! It was clear to me that he knew nothing about Discovery.

About the Author: 

Stephanie A. Lloyd is Strategist-in-Chief, Calibre Search Group, located in Atlanta, Georgia at the intersection of Talent Strategies + Social Media. With more than 15 years of experience in corporate recruiting and executive search, Stephanie works with hiring managers, HR executives, business owners, and recruiting firms on recruitment and retention strategy including how to better utilize social media for talent acquisition and employee communication. Stephanie is a regular contributor to Talent Net Live and The Matrix Wall, and she partners with Todd Schnick to produce the video blogging series He Said, She Said.

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Packing for a warm, sunny . . . Interview?

 

In four weeks, my hubby and I are traveling to Italy to celebrate our three-year wedding anniversary! The trip is jam-packed with activity as we spend over 10 days traveling from Rome, to Tuscany, then finally to Venice.

First things first though, "what am I going to wear?"

Packing for a TripLike most females, this is my main priority.  We’ll be in Italy 10 days and I won’t have a lot of room in my luggage to pack everything I’d like to wear, so I have to pick and choose wisely.  I researched the weather for Italy in May and typically it’s in the upper 60s to low 70s (perfect weather!), so I’m going to wear layers.  I know we’ll be walking around A LOT so instead of packing my cute heels, I’m sticking with flats and running shoes. It might not be the latest fashion trend, but I have learned from previous trips that heels are a bad idea.

Once I have my wardrobe figured out, the next item on my list is researching the places we’ll be visiting.  It’s very important to do your ‘homework’ before you go on a trip.  I bought an amazing book titled Rick Steves’ Italy 2010. This book is perfect for anyone traveling to Italy.  It tells you the in’s and out’s of the cities and where to eat and what to do.  It also tells you cool paths to take while walking the streets in Rome at night. Very romantic!

In addition, we also researched Trip Advisor on which hotels are best. We’re staying at nice hotels in both Rome and Venice, but I’m most excited about our hotel in Tuscany. It’s called Relais Viganle located in Radda in the Chianti region.  It looks beautiful!

Just like me, you might be planning for a fun get-away this summer, but did you know that these same principles can also be used when preparing for a job interview?

The same way you research and prepare for your trip, is the same way you prepare for an interview.

For example, again first things first, you need to find the right outfit’ or attire for your interview. It’s always better to be a little overdressed than underdressed. For men, a nice suit is always a good choice, and for women, a business suit is professional yet can be trendy with a cute pair of heels.

You should also research the company you’re interviewing with.  Do your homework! The same way you surf the web for local attractions or reviews of a vacation spot,  research the company online. Know their website inside and out. Are there press releases, or reviews of the company on the web? Also, are they active on social media sites? If so, see what they're saying to their customers.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to have a list of questions for the interviewer.  These questions will show them you have done your homework.  Make sure the questions pertain to the roles/responsibilities of the job you are interviewing for.  Some great interview questions can be found in this article.

I hope some of this information has been helpful whether you’re planning for a trip-of-a-lifetime or preparing for a job interview. I know our trip will be one we will never forget.

Ciao! 

About the Author: 

Kelly Thielemann is a technical sourcer for MATRIX Resources. Kelly has over 7 years of recruiting experience specializing in Sharepoint, Data Warehouse, Business Intelligence and Web Development including Java and .NET. You can follow Kelly on Twitter at KellyITJobs.

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Hiring Great Agile Teams (Part 3)

In my previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2) we explored some of the technical differences between Developers, Testers, and Business Analysts when they move from more traditional to agile teams. Here I’ll continue the discussion focusing on more of the soft skills that are relevant, not required, when you move to agile self-directed development teams.

Believe it or not, I think the soft skills are more important than the technical ones when trying to form high-performance agile teams. Lets dig in and see how we can assess them…

A Focus on Soft Skill & Behavioral Interviewing!

First, if you’re not doing behavioral or situational interviewing, then you need to as you move towards agile.  What do I mean by that? Well, instead of asking questions that are based on generic background experiences, place the questions within the context of looking for how the candidate handled a very specific situation in a specific job or role.

For example, here’s a non-situational question: Tell me how you generally handle conflict in teams?

In response to this, you might get a crisp answer with an example, or you might get a more rambling response. The quality of the answer is actually mostly based on how you phrased the question, and not the candidates’ fault if you don’t hear what you wanted to hear.

Here’s a more situational question:  

You mentioned that you left XYZ Company because your boss overworked you and you felt that your interests were not supported. Can you give me a specific project example of where your boss didn’t support you?

After the candidate gives you an answer, the following follow-up question opportunities might expose themselves:

What part did you play in the lack of support? Did you suggest improvement ideas to your team? Project Manager?  Or to your boss? Did you ever “confront” your boss about your frustrations and explore “options”?

As you can clearly see, these sorts of questions start drilling into the specific behaviors that the candidate exhibited in very specific situations. I also like to drill in with follow-up questions. Sometimes, I’ll say something or interpret and answer quite extremely—just to see how they react to the question.

It sounds like you really didn’t make much of an effort to challenge the status quo in that example. Instead you sort of acquiesced into complaining. Why was that?

One important note in this style is the effective use of silence. You have to realize that these questions are hard, and that candidates need to “search their database” for a context-based answer. So patience is required. As is silence, as the candidate thinks of an answer. Don’t try and fill the void of silence. Instead simply wait for the candidate to formulate and deliver their answers.

Given the focus of this blog series, you’ll want to explore their views towards agile methods and some of the discreet areas that are important therein. Just to get you thinking of examples, I like to explore some of the following topic areas in our agile interviews—

  • Teamwork:  How do they feel sitting closely together—in co-located spaces? Or about working in pairs? Do they see themselves as good teammates and what are the attributes of a good teammate? Explore their feelings around servant leadership, the golden rule, etc.; Are they good followers and leaders—why?
  • Ideation:  Do they exhibit high initiative and high creativity? How do they engage the team in exploring their own ideas? In listening to others? Have them give an example of when they followed a direction that wasn’t theirs—how did that work for them?
  • Courage:  Explore their ability and willingness to challenge team members on their approaches? About how they’ve kept the bar high within their teams? Explore their willingness to engage me and other leaders—to tell me when they think I’m wrong? Do they accept responsibility for their own mistakes? Have they ever “apologized” to their team for something?
  • Work Ethic:  Do they work hard (not in hours only) but in effort/focus? Do they expect the same from their teammates? What do they do if they don’t get it? What if one of their teammates needs help and they’re behind schedule on their own deliverables—do they help out?
  • Quality:  Do they actively engage in quality and testing? Do they serve as a model or champion within their team? Have a whole-team view to quality? Explore how many bugs are acceptable in a project and/or release?  How many sprint escapes are ok? Finally, have them explain agile done-ness and what it means to them?
  • Business:  Do they partner with the business in driving a focus on high-value features first? Do they actively engage the business? Do they listen to the business priority and make value based trade-offs? Do they know how to write good User Stories—and have they? Get a few examples. How have they made the “business case” for a story they wanted to get done?
  • Personal:  Are they pragmatic or a purist? How do they handle conflict? Do they gold-plate their work? And do they understand the notions of good enough and just-in-time? Do they have a sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously? Would they be fun to work with?

So in this post, I emphasized the situational side of interviewing. Please don’t think this is simply FLUFF. As I said in the beginning, I truly believe this is the most important part of your selecting and building high performance agile teams. Do not short shrift or underestimate the value of your conversations with potential team members. It makes all the difference!

In my next post, we’ll explore an interviewing technique called Auditioning that extends much of what I’ve said here…

About the Author: 

Bob Galen is the Director, Agile Practices at iContact and founder of RGCG, LLC a technical consulting company focused towards increasing agility and pragmatism within software projects and teams. He has over 25 years of experience as a software developer, tester, project manager and leader. Bob regularly consults, writes and is a popular speaker on a wide variety of software topics. He is also the author of the book Scrum Product Ownership – Balancing Value from the Inside Out. He can be reached at bob@rgalen.com

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Hiring Great Agile Teams (Part 2)

In my last post I tried to set the stage surrounding some of the differences that Agile teams have when compared to traditional teams. It was important to establish a bit of a baseline, because the differences truly matter.

The differences don’t only translate into technical skill differences, but they also fall into the area of “soft skills” and collaborative behaviors. We’ll examine each in turn.

So, how does Agile change your Technical Interviewing? You still need to technically evaluate each candidate. In this case, if you have an already formed team, then the team would be mostly responsible for interviewing their potential teammates. If you are forming a new team, you’ll need to devise a way for quality technical skill interviews to occur.  

Hard Technical – Developer Skills

There are a few key skill differences to look for. First, you want to ensure that your candidates are comfortable developing code that is well designed and easily maintained. This follows the Agile principles of Incremental & Simple Design. Quite a few software architects and developers say they can build incrementally, but it’s truly hard to do it and demonstrate working code at the end of, let’s say, a 2-week iteration.

Also critical are the Agile practices of Refactoring and Reduction of Technical Debt. You’ll want to explore design patterns with candidates and explore how well they understand incremental design. Explore their courage when it comes to dealing with “business pressure” on schedule vs. proper design. How effectively do they negotiate that pressure and still maintain design integrity OR reserve time for later refactoring of trade-offs?

Finally, Agile developers need to “get” testing in their very core—you’ll hear the term “Test Infected” used to represent this Quality First Mentality. Ask them how, where, and how many unit tests they usually write. Ask if they understand the principle of Test-Driven-Development where unit tests are used as a design aid and as a testing artifact. Finally, ensure that they keep their tests, all of their tests, continuously working as they develop more code.  

Hard Technical – Business Analyst Skills

One of the key stretch points for traditional Business Analysts, when they move towards Agile methods, is the fact that requirements are no longer solely completed in the beginning of the project. Nor are they intended to be complete.

Now if you happen to have a BA background you’re head just exploded. What do you mean intentionally incomplete requirements!?!

Agile BA’s need to understand the incremental nature of Agile requirements. Also, how systems are built and clarified by examining running and working software along the path as requirements get continuously refined. They also need to have familiarity with Product Backlog management techniques (from Scrum) and understand User Stories (from XP) as the primary mechanisms for creating Agile artifacts.

One Prime Directive that the BA needs to understand is that writing about requirements is not the goal. Communicating and collaborating around requirements IS the goal. Check this point thoroughly in your interview…or at least whether the candidate has the capacity to change focus!

Another key difference in Agile requirements is determining business value and bundling Customer Acceptance Tests in the requirements. These two key aspects, more than anything else, try to connect the customer to each of the requirements so that the team can better understand the impact and importance of what they’re implementing. Candidates should be able to articulate this clearly.  

Hard Technical – Tester Skills

Testers are challenged greatly in the shift towards Agile methods. Instead of being a “late in the pipeline” verification step, their responsibilities shift towards customer engagement, becoming a Voice of the Customer, and also a Quality Champion within their Agile teams.

Initially, they work with the customer to define and refine requirements early in the process (each iteration). Part of this is simply writing the requirements—so there is overlap in this responsibility with the BA. At the end of each iteration, they execute the User Story & Acceptance Tests to verify each met customer needs. It’s these early definition and late verification steps, on an iteration by iteration basis, that assures the team is delivering quantified value.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say testers—test continuously in the methods. This sort of test it in approach, while necessary to a degree, doesn’t achieve the overall project quality results we desire. The good news is that testers have understood this for years, but have been suppressed in focusing on up-front quality. So, they should be energized by this difference!

Testing in Agility also crosses the boundaries of manual vs. exploratory vs. automated testing. In fact, Agile testers are true generalists when it comes to their efforts. One minute they might be sitting with a developer writing some automated unit tests. Then next, writing automated smoke tests, and then running a few manual tests to gain early feedback. This flexibility and breadth of skill is crucial for their success.

In my next post I’ll focus on the soft skill areas that need attention as you begin to make changes in your recruiting screening and interview processes.

References:

There are two great books I recommend to help improve your interviewing skills & techniques as your reframe towards Agility…

One is Johanna Rothman’s wonderful book – Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds.

And the other is Joel Spolsky’s – Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing.

About the Author: 

Bob Galen is the Director, Agile Practices at iContact and founder of RGCG, LLC a technical consulting company focused towards increasing agility and pragmatism within software projects and teams. He has over 25 years of experience as a software developer, tester, project manager and leader. Bob regularly consults, writes and is a popular speaker on a wide variety of software topics. He is also the author of the book Scrum Product Ownership – Balancing Value from the Inside Out. He can be reached at bob@rgalen.com

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The One-Week Interview Option

So you’ve had the interview, but you just can’t seem to get the offer?

This is the story I hear from folks everyday. And it’s no surprise. The job market is very tight and extremely competitive. Companies are taking their time to interview a lot of folks in an effort to find that “perfect” match. Hiring budgets are tight, and companies continually try doing more with less people.

While you can’t change others [people, companies, family members, etc.], you can always try to do something different.

I say go work for free.

"Free?" you say.

Well, not exactly free, though you might find yourself not getting paid for the work you do. But I always like the unconventional approach, the actions that will make you stand out in a crowd.

Let’s face it – the company interviewed you because they have work that needs to get done. The work is piling up or being taken care of by someone working double-time…or a little of both. All I am suggesting is that you offer a one-week, hands-on interview and take on a project. For no cost, you’ll give them an opportunity to work with you and see how you solve problems. You’ll get a view of that company that no other candidate would even dream of getting.

And…you might find yourself getting a job offer.

Think about it.

About the Author: 

Jason Singer is a Recruiting Team Lead for MATRIX Resources. He brings over 20 years of Technical Recruiting and Sales industry expertise with insightful and results-driven commentary on the world of finding and securing job opportunities.

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