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Favorite Interview Questions (firstround.com)
322 points by feifan on Sept 6, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 128 comments

Some of the items on this list are pretty bad IMO if you put yourself in the shoes of the candidate. Some of the ones I think are Not Good Questions:

> 3. For the last few companies you've been at, take me through: (i) When you left, why did you leave? (ii) When you joined the next one, why did you choose it?

(The (ii) is the only non-yikes part)

> 18. What's one part of your previous company's culture that you hope to bring to your next one? What one part do you hope to not find?

> 26. If I were to go and speak to people who don't think very highly of you, what would they say?

What they share in common is they're inviting the candidate into a negative position, where they must think negative thoughts about their past employers (who may also be their _current_ employer). Then, on the spot and extemporaneously, the candidate has to negotiate those negative feelings that were prompted by the interviewer to come up with an answer that translates those negative feelings into some kind of positive learning experience that the manager will be able to understand. The candidate also has to deal with the stress from having to do that negotiation, then diffuse that stress provoked by the question in a positive, open way so that it doesn't impact the rest of the interview.

edit: What's really wild about #26 is the person who explained why they like the question made it about empathy.

> "When I pose this question to candidates, I’m always looking to see how much empathy they have for the people who don’t like them,” says Otte...

How is a candidate supposed to tap into their empathy when this question seems deliberately engineered to put candidates on the defensive? "Why don't people like you?" is, in my opinion, a really terrible interview question that shows a lack of empathy from the interviewer.

There's a secondary problem too: They are questions that have right and wrong answers, and they break down quickly if the candidate realizes that the truth is a liability.

Having been in panels where we had to ask some of those specific questions (specifically for hiring managers), and then seeing how those managers acted later on the job, the very worst hires (manipulative people who have no interest in the company as a whole, but gaining power) always ace those questions. The best hires of the lot, in practice, tended to give worse answers with some red flags, and only double checking on said red flags showed that yes, the rough edges in the answers were absolutely justified by their experiences.

So I'd not ask those questions myself when I can help it, as I'd rather not select for the best available manipulator.

> There's a secondary problem too: They are questions that have right and wrong answers, and they break down quickly if the candidate realizes that the truth is a liability.

Excellent point; thought-provoking and well-put. Agreed completely.

The article does have a few good questions, and the best, IMO, is #36:

> 36. How would you build a product for people who are looking for an apartment?

That is such a good question because it's incredibly open-ended. There is no wrong answer. It doesn't even necessarily require a computer-based solution.

If the interviewer moderates the interview well, a single open-ended question with a broad scope can lead to wide-ranging conversations that shed light on more than just technical prowess.

Open-ended questions also present the interviewer the opportunity to ask spontaneous questions, digging into the thought processes behind a candidate's choices. That digging can and should yield lots of valuable, relevant information about the candidate. Assuming, of course, the interviewer has the skills necessary to extract that value from the interview.

Ask "Why?" enough in these situations, and you eventually get something close to the truth[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Whys

> If the interviewer moderates the interview well, a single open-ended question with a broad scope can lead to wide-ranging conversations that shed light on more than just technical prowess.

Yes, this is my favorite kind of interview question. These days my goal as an interviewer is more to find somebody's strengths than their weaknesses. Nobody knows everything; nobody's good at everything. So what I'm trying to figure out in an interview is what this person can add to the team.

Sure, you do need to keep an eye out for red flags. But you won't find all of those in an interview anyhow, because people can hide those. It's much harder to fake a strength, and it's their strengths are ultimately what we hire people for.

We'd probably get along well then.

> If the interviewer moderates the interview well, a single open-ended question with a broad scope can lead to wide-ranging conversations that shed light on more than just technical prowess.

Way more engineers fail these, IME, than algorithms questions. I have to have a pretty low bar for "willingness to speculate and have open-ended conversation about approaches to problems," unfortunately.

That’s a bummer. Why is that, do you think?

I see what you did there.

> Having been in panels where we had to ask some of those specific questions (specifically for hiring managers), and then seeing how those managers acted later on the job, the very worst hires (manipulative people who have no interest in the company as a whole, but gaining power) always ace those questions.

Could you define what you mean by "ace" those questions?

I don't think giving a smooth or glib answer would be acing it at all, for instance.

But someone who gets super defensive, or pissed off, that easily by questions in an interview probably isn't someone who you'd want in a managerial or high-degree-of-communication role (like even a sufficiently senior IC role). Talking to people, and convincing people, even people who don't like you, is part of the job, there.

Of course, if you're the candidate who doesn't like that stuff, and the interviewer is trying to dig on that, it's probably a good sign that the skills they expect you to be using in the role aren't the ones you want to be using.

I have no interest in management and I have answered the why did I leave my last jobs honestly. No one who has been around for awhile has “interest in the company”. It’s almost always purely transactional. It’s always transactional for the company, why shouldn’t it be for the employee?

- I was at the company for a decade and it was time to move on to bigger challenges.

- I didn’t leave the job, the job left me - they went out of business - but I survived multiple rounds of layoffs and even afterwards I went to work as a contractor for one of our clients

- the product they initially hired us for wasn’t successful and we were being moved to maintained a legacy PHP product.

- I was bought in to bring an outside perspective to the company but we were in a satellite office and our influence was limited.

- the company changed direction and decided not to be a software company.

Sounds like if you alter your rubrics slightly you'd have a very effective approach for flushing out and discarding manipulative sociopaths early in the hiring process!

was about to say a similar thing.

ask the question, but simply choose the answers with the rough edges that might merit a bit more thought and discussion vs those that 'ace' the answers.

Exactly. Too-honest people are exactly the ones I want to hire, because they're way less dangerous once hired. An important part of any interview for me is testing somebody's willingness to bluff or BS. A little's perfectly normal, but too much is an immediate no-hire for me. An employee who covers things up to look good can cause enormous problems in a high-trust environment.

They said that the very worst hires ace those questions. They did not say that everyone who aced the questions (and was hired) was a bad hire.

It's a shame because an honest answer to questions about why you left a job, what your problems with management were, etc... is actually really good info for a manager.

It's a lousy hiring indicator.

I agree.

This kind of question ("Tell me about your weaknesses," "Tell me one thing you think your (current|ex) manager could do better to manage you," &c.) often test for one of two behaviours:

1. Diplomacy and tact, and/or; 2. Ability to regurgitate a template answer you can find in any rudimentary book on handling behavioural interviews.

It takes extreme skill to get a candid answer out of everyone, so it is easy to get gamed by the tactful people at the expense of people who don't read a book about how to ace the interview.

But people who don't read books about interviews can be very competent at their actual jobs.

> Tell me about your weaknesses

Whenever that question comes up - which happens more often than it should - I always concentrate on my inability to swim and my current plans (and barriers) for rectifying the situation.

> Tell me one thing you think your (current|ex) manager could do better to manage you

This sort of question is, for me, a good opportunity to start talking about task delegation - particularly as a learning opportunity - and how difficult it can be to get it right. Making sure, of course, not to give the impression that the previous manager was a complete failure at it (circumstances derailed the plan, etc)

I work for small companies mostly, except for one stint where I was officially the “dev lead”, I mostly am on paper a “Senior Software Engineer”. But, I’ve often been put in front of client, contractors, investors. and CxOs. Having tact in those situations is important.

But, I’m also all about getting things done, I’m blunt with my direct managers after I have established a relationship with them. Yes I do soft skills interview prep and I’ve done so for the last 20+ years. My success rate at interviewing is close to 100%.

maybe it tests for how important the job is to you - is the job important enough that you will do this demeaning exercise in order to get hired?

If you use these questions in your interviews, you are selecting for skilled liars.

If that job starts with a demeaning exercise, how many more of them are ahead?

Testing for desperation is an abuser behavior. They're looking for ability to control, ability to get away with things. I strongly encourage people to stay far away from companies that hire like that.

Won’t that select for desperate candidates that don’t have many options? Wouldn’t a company prefer candidates that are so desired they don’t feel the need to do do the limbo?

On the face, maybe, but if they qualify and they're desperate, they'll agree to a lower salary and be less likely to seek out a competitor to work at.

In contrast, someone who doesn't feel pressured to take this job or else will seek a more competitive pay, and maybe leave for another job if they're dissatisfied.

The desperate candidate that you underpay will lose the desperation after getting the job, realize they are getting ripped off, and leave much quicker than someone compensated at the market rate.

I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview where one of the questions wasn’t “why are you looking to leave your current position”. Also, “what are you looking for in your next role?” Is an important question. They both tell you as an interviewer whether you think they will dislike your company for the same reason and can your company offer what they are looking for. I mostly tell the truth to both questions. I want to self select out of companies that don’t meet my requirements.

26 on the other hand is a dumb question. I wouldn’t have anyway of knowing who didn’t think highly of me besides my manager via performance reviews unless I solicited gossip.

This is a great comment. People too often think of interview questions as purely factual, existing outside the process itself, but the reality is that the questions (once asked) have a psychological impact that influences what comes next.

> but the reality is that the questions (once asked) have a psychological impact that influences what comes next.

This is a hard thing to get used to as an interview.

And it affects not just your interview, but if the candidate has other interviewers after you, and you shake them thoroughly, you ruin any signal for subsequent interviews.

This extends to technical questions as well - if a candidate gets super flustered because they can't figure out your coding question, for the next interview they're already gonna be worried about how bad they bombed the last question.

Would you consider this a reasonable interview question for a management role? One major communication skill for people managers is to "turn around" a conversation that would naturally put people on the defensive into something that can be a learning and growth opportunity. Two core ingredients for that skill are self-awareness and the ability to empathize with people with whom you disagree (or who may even dislike you).

If you want to test for their ability to "turn around" a conversation, then why not propose a hypothetical situation and ask how they might respond. Maybe:

"How would you handle it if X came to you and said Y..."

Or, if they already have past management experience, ask for an example of a time when something like this happened, and how they handled it, and what they learned. Or maybe start with this and then propose a hypothetical as a backup if the candidate doesn't have anything off the top of their head?

I don't know, just doesn't seem necessary to jump up to that level of negative self-generalization with the candidate just to "test a management skill." I mean, come on, "people who don't think very highly of you"??? Who is "people"? Why are you generalizing like that?

"Hey, so, everything bad that's ever happened to you at work, so, like, what did you learn from that??"

well I've only experienced these questions in regards to a developer role - generally ones like "tell me why you're the best person for this job" or "why should we hire you instead of someone else with the same skills who is willing to work for less" to which my answers were - "there's thousands of people who can do this particular job you're asking be done, the guy I came down with here who's sitting in the lobby to also interview is one of them, I'm another" and "obviously if they have the same skills and are willing to work for less you should hire them and not me"

I didn't get either one of those jobs, now that I think of it.

Being asked those questions in an interview is a highly synthetic situation with, in my opinion, very little diagnostic value. But my personal experience with hiring of managers, or indeed being a manager, is nil. So let's say it's a strong opinion weakly held.

I'm personally not a fan of such games and tests.

I would instead present them a situation which tests the same skill, that way it's clear I'm testing them.

I usually respond to these types of questions by asking what is the goal the interviewer has. What are they looking to learn about me? Help me to know what your evaluative goal is by acquiring this knowledge, and then I can structure my answer to be helpful to you.

If after that the interviewer still tries to press me for very generic stream of consciousness responses about why I left a job or what someone who doesn’t like me thinks, I’ll just give some vague generic and brief response. If they aren’t happy with that, I’ll invite them again to answer my questions about their specific evaluative goal.

In an ideal situation this is a great strategy. But in my opinion there is already an incredible poverty of empathy in the construction of the interview questions. I would not expect the average interviewer to be detached enough from their pet questions to not only tolerate this kind of "dissent"[1] but actually reflect and deliver a useful response.

And since _my_ interviewer is almost certainly an average interviewer, asking that question seems like an exercise in futility. I don't feel as warmly rational about my answer here as I do about the one you responded to. Maybe I'm being overly cynical here, but it's informed by experience.

[1] Hyperbole to illustrate why I used the word dissent: "Who are you to ask me what I'm trying to learn? Shut up and answer the question!"

Any job where the interviewers would react badly to a counter response like mine is a job to _run_ away from. Being rejected by such an interviewer is a massive blessing.

They're not great, but the data they questions are trying to gather can be useful:

- What makes a team or a workplace a good one?

- What motivates you to seek change?

- Do you have self awareness of your own strengths and weeknesses?

- How do you respond to constructive, but perhaps difficult, feedback?

- Can you provide direct, actionable feedback to others?

This is all still valuable information for a hiring decision.

As a hiring manager of some time, I myself ask a similar question but in the form of:

- Given this previous situation we've just been talking about, how would you improve it? Did you attempt to make those changes? Why or why not?

I'm looking for someone who demonstrates:

- The ability to think beyond the current situation and look for ways for improvement

- Possible ability to affect change via influence rather than direct control

- A great answer might reveal how they championed changes or dealt with push back from management

- A great answer may also reveal an understanding of explicit and implicit power structures in an organization, i.e.- what changes are feasible versus unrealistic.

This question is better asked to someone with more experience as I expect a more nuanced answer from a "senior" compared to someone with just a few years of experience. If I don't get a good answer from someone with a decade or more of experience, I will probe further to understand if they are an agent of change in an organization or just go with the flow.

I'm totally open to feedback that I could be doing this all wrong, but one other thing to consider:

My approach to interviewing is to first and foremost gather data. I need a fair bit of data to make a hiring decision. In the moment, I'm not trying to make deep value assessments on the answers. To do that, I need a more comprehensive view of the data in context. Maybe I'm fine with someone who goes with the flow given other aspects of this person's skillset or the composition of the team or the mentality of their manager. Maybe just an attitude would be setting the person up to fail. All of that assessment is made later by the hiring manager or committee using as much data as we can possibly and reasonably gather during the interview process.

Unsubstantiated opinion: “gathering data” is a bad mindset to be in during an interview. That may contribute to the adoption of pathological questions like, “Why don’t people like you?"

I can tell exactly why I left all of my previous jobs without either being dishonest or looking bad.

But can everyone else?

why is 3 bad? seems introspective to me, unless the answer is just 'most money'. maybe geared towards people who choose professions based more on interest/growth for happiness than getting fat stacks and buying happiness.

I'm trading a third of my life for money, but it can't be about the money?

If it's about money for you, you might be one of Those People.

You know... the people who negotiate their salary.

People who aren't team players, in other words.

We can't have any of those hanging around here. Lowers the tone.

If your working for a third of your life, wouldn't you optimize to enjoy what your doing? Life to some is far more enjoyable if they are working in an interesting domain or doing something they feel is worthwhile, rather than being absolutely miserable, making fat stacks, then trying to buy that feeling of contentment with material things

You're not wrong, but those of us lucky enough to make that choice are rare. My point, however, is the question posed to the potential employer, looking at me with judgement that I might seek to optimize the time I'm spending away from my family by making absolutely as much money as I can.

> I'm trading a third of my life for money, but it can't be about the money?

There's a lot of things you or I could be doing for money; why this career path in particular?

> There's a lot of things you or I could be doing for money; why this career path in particular?

It pays... more money?

> There's a lot of things you or I could be doing for money

Not for the amount this gig offers that aligns with my skills.

Easy answer - I go into how I was computer geek from the 6th grade programming in assembly on 8 but computers and how much I’ve enjoyed seeing the progression of technology, being a part of it, and evolving as technology has evolved.

That answer does a few things and addresses some elephants in the room.

- why am I in my mid 40s and wanting a job as “just a developer”

- yes I am “old” but I’ve always kept up with $latesr_cool_kid tech.

- No,I’m not going to try to take your job as a manager.

- I’m okay with the amount you are paying which is slightly above market.

I prefer it to working in a warehouse, operating a microfilm machine, routing faxes, end user support, security consulting, and the other jobs I have had before this one.

No it has to be about changing the world and how much you adore this amazing company that gives you the privilege of wasting 1/3 of your life on them. In fact you should be paying them.

"I've got a real passion for frozen yogurt."

Suppose you left a company because your coworkers were very difficult to work with. Poor communication, weird social dynamics, that kind of thing.

Explaining that without coming across as a "troublemaker" can be pretty difficult. You just sound like you're ragging on the company / people rather than explaining the issues well. And do you really want to get in a deep conversation about cultural issues at your previous company?

I’ve answered that very honestly.

“the software development manager was originally hired to bring new thinking into a company in $small_town so he spearheaded opening an office in $bigger_city. After awhile, the old guard pushed him and my manager out and that left us without a voice in the satellite office and our input was ignored. I want to be somewhere which allows me to be impactful”.

I should also add on, that it helped in that situation that I had two levels of management that respected me and who I used as references.

It would have been a lot harder to explain if I actively didn’t get along with my managers.

Then just be honest and say it. "I left this organization because I felt uncomfortable there. If you want more detail I can provide it."

And yes, as the hiring manager, I may want to understand the cultural issues at your last company. Why?

Because I want to understand (a) what you value, (b) how you deal with conflict, (c) will you be able to help me improve our culture here and (d) what cultural issues you may or may not bring with you.

If I'm going to help you be successful here, I do want to understand your background. I may not need all that information before hiring, but I will get to it eventually because it's pertinent to helping you and the team succeed.

The point is that it's a negative thing to talk about, and frankly sometimes you can't just turn it into a positive story of what you value and how you deal with conflict.

Sometimes a person sees bad shit and just runs, and that's a valid approach. Psychoanalyzing every decision they make is the trap of interviewing.

Agreed, and to move up one level of meta, the interviewer should be thinking about this kind of analysis when they construct their interview process/system.

“How can I moderate this conversation so the questions themselves are not obstructing the candidate’s answers?”

I hire a lot of people, and the difference between a good hire and a bad hire is hugely important. I've had some good results over time, and I like to think that my skill and process for interviewing has been helpful, in addition to a great deal of luck in having had the chance to talk with some amazing people.

Looking over this list...it's bad. A lot of the questions are phone it in questions that you can pick off of Google. They are the same questions that get asked at beauty pageants or political debates.

The great fail at interviewing is that if you go into without a plan or process, you will wind up simply hiring people based on whether or not they have a similar personality to you. This is generally severely non-optimal.

Classes of useful questions to ask at interviews:

Diagnostic questions. Does this question let you separate or rank order the candidates in some way that is deeply meaningful for the position?

Experiential questions. Does this question allow the candidate to discuss areas of his work experience in an in-depth way that would not be gathered from his resume or other information.

Human questions. Does this question give the candidate a chance to display a wide enough range of himself, socially, that you are comfortable that he can work well with other people?

There are probably more. But the next phase is that you have to match up each of these questions to your available interviewers (assuming your running a team interview). It takes a technical or numbers-orientated person to ask the diagnostic question, an experienced person to ask the experiential question -- hopefully one who will not be looking for people who have had the same experiences as himself, and a socially astute observer to ask the human questions.

And then in the hiring phase, you need to know how exactly each one of these questions can go wrong (there are some very standard ways for the question types, and generally standard ways for the individual interviewer), and then you have to interview your interviewers to make sure that none of the traps were stumbled into. And then use this to make determinations of not only who the top candidates are, but even more importantly, who the possibly undervalued candidates are.

> A lot of the questions are phone it in questions that you can pick off of Google.

Do you have an example of an interview question that can't be picked off of google?

Perfect ^^^. I'll use it.

> I hire a lot of people, and the difference between a good hire and a bad hire is hugely important.

This narrative is pushed constantly, to the point where it's started to lose believability with me. It's used by large companies to justify their BS hiring practices when the reality is a bad hire won't hurt the company that much. It's used by small companies to justify nonsensical interview practices.

> Human questions. Does this question give the candidate a chance to display a wide enough range of himself, socially, that you are comfortable that he can work well with other people?

I try not to display much of myself socially when I'm at work. I'm there to work. I'll gladly go out for lunch and be friendly with coworkers, but it's not hanging out with friends. It never will be.

> It's used by large companies to justify their BS hiring practices when the reality is a bad hire won't hurt the company that much.

Then you haven't met enough of these people.

You may also hear the water is wet and the fire will burn narratives pushed constantly.

One of my best hiring choices (whom I pushed hard for, against the objections of others, based on a solid interview result) pushes a new company-changing product every couple of weeks or so, it seems.

One of my less wise choices (despite being good employee in certain ways), is currently responsible for my inbox filling up with emails from HR and legal.

And if you can't make friends with the people who you spend 8 hours of the day with, who can you be friends with?

This is not about being friendly at lunch.

Most jobs involve working with others. Due to the nature of 'work', it's not always easy. The ability to work together towards a shared goal even in the presence of pressures that would challenge interpersonal harmony is an important skill.

Which you aren't going to judge in an interview without abusive and humiliating tactics, which may not even work because at that point as an interviewee I'm not trying to maintain a relationship and have no real reason not to treat you like a jerk.

I’m at a small company where we as senior software engineers often have to deal directly with demanding customers. I have to know how to be tactful and that’s something we filter for.

So you're high-strung and uncomfortable around people? I think that's an important thing for the hiring manager to know.

I hate nearly every one of those questions, with a few exceptions which are excellent.

It comes down to this:

I am not willing to be psychoanalyzed by my future coworkers.

Most of those questions would test my ability to come up with diplomatic answers or straight up lies about the past (or my willingness to prepare those sorts of things). Some of them I am straight up unwilling to answer; no, I'm not going to dig deep and tell you how I feel about my personal flaws and the failings of the people around me.

If you're not willing to hire someone without putting them through that and I'm not willing to work for anyone who wants that from candidates, we've both figured out something quite useful.

Some people have protectable disabilities which those kinds of questions would very well filter out. Do they have to ask for reasonable accommodation that their job interview be about things directly related to the position?

After a certain point in your career diplomacy is important.

Absolutely, nothing wrong with diplomacy or decorum.

There is something wrong with constant -- forgive the lack of decorum -- bullshit. That is a problem which I think is pervasive after "a certain point in your career". That is, bullshit masquerading as diplomacy.

All of our casual interactions are based on bullshit and cultural expectations. For example, when someone asks how you are doing, you’re not expected to say anything meaningful in response.

If anything about the interview was honest, when the interviewer asked you “why do you want this job?”, the answer would usually either be.

- “I’m passionate about paying my mortgage” or

- “The stingy assholes at my current company won’t pay me market rate and I want more money”

But instead we all give some banal answer about “new challenges” and “being excited about the technology/company’s mission” even it is just another software as a service CRUD app.

One thing I'm divided about:

A number of these questions select for people who are deeply introspective. I like both asking and answering these kinds of questions, in part because at 57 I have spent a lot of time working out who I am, what I value, what I'm good at but do not want to do any more (enterprise sales, for example), and what I ought to be better at but lack the discipline to improve.

But also in part because I have that "meta" personality that not only sold things, but asked questions about how to get better at sales. And so on and so forth in software development.

It seems like a slam-dunk to hire for this kind of person, but I have found that there are a lot of people who are really, really good at what they do without being obsessed with thinking about why they're good at what they do.

I conjecture it's a little like hiring a great athlete. Some great athletes make lousy coaches or managers, because they care more about the game than about why people are good at the game and how to get better: They hire great coaches and follow those coaches, but coaching always takes a back seat to practising and playing.

So... I love the tenor of these questions, but I am always wondering if asking a bunch of questions like these my force some false negatives from people who are good at what they do but aren't inclined to be introspective about it.

(I realize that we can always argue that being introspective makes you better at what you do, but all-too-often that's a kind of selection bias: The kind of person who is interested in interview questions is the kind of person who is introspective, and is the kind of person who got to where they are being introspective, so they argue passionately that being introspective is necessary to be good. But maybe it's not the only way to be good.)

I’m 45, and I love these questions. I like these a lot more than being asked to reverse a binary tree on the whiteboard style questions. It’s just as easy to prepare for and do well on soft skill questions as technical questions. At some level, dealing with people is just as mechanical as dealing with computers and just as easy to optimize.

These questions and similar ones can be prepared, there's nothing really new here.

What's terrifying is the quick interpretation of the answers and how sure they are, this reads like a horoscope:

8. Looking back on the last five years of your career, what’s the highlight?

“For example, if they tell me about a personal accomplishment, then I know personal career development is a huge area of focus. If they tell me about the accomplishment of a direct report or the team, then I know they care about developing people,” says Vaughan. “If they tell me about a company feat, then I know that they tie their own success to the company's success — which is a great mentality for weathering the early stages of a startup.”

My problem with most of these questions is that they can be answered with bullshit and it can be very difficult to detect; you're optimizing for good bullshitters. These might be fine in conjunction with technical questions but I probably wouldn't work for a company that just asked these kinds of questions.

I mean, based on a fair bit of the news coming out of corporations lately, being adept at bullshitting is probably exactly what they want.

Corporate reps talking to the public need to bullshit. Corporate bosses don't want to hear the truth, they want to be bullshitted. Corporate management want to know the problems aren't their fault, so they want to be bullshitted too. And then when the whole thing implodes and all the executives fly away on golden chutes to ruin other companies, they'll end up bullshitting people too about everything they "learned" spending billions of other people's dollars, most of which was in turn bullshit spun to them by their subordinates.

I see a lot of room for good bullshitting to be a part of a resume.

It's worse, not answering with bullshit seems it could lead to negative results. If the real reason I would love working at company X is because the commute is 1/2 the other equal choices instead of making the world a better place, I won't admit it because 1) it makes me sound banal, and 2) in prisoners dilemma style I expect other candidates are bullshitting and I would be at a disadvantage.

"I believe that work life balance is key for happy people and happy people deliver better results. It so happens that working here with this company would allow me to cut my commute, providing better work life balance, allowing me to provide even better results than I already do today."

I'm a freelance developer, so I get many interviews for possible engagements.

My favorite recent question was (badly paraphrased): Some developers overdesign, i.e. they design for possible future features. Some developers underdesign, i.e. they solve the current problem without too much design at all. Where are you on that spectrum?

My answer: Hard to really answer this neutrally about yourself, but I try not to prevent future changes by making things overly clever or specific.

Another one was: The project has a non-negotiable deadline and feature list and it looks like it's going to be late. What do you do?

My answer: overtime doesn't work for highly intellectual work, so I'll see which features have the worst effort to usefulness ratio and cut them. They didn't like that. Good riddance to that project.

> The project has a non-negotiable deadline and feature list and it looks like it's going to be late. What do you do?

Answer: Polish my resume, and update my LinkedIn profile.

You forgot about collecting all the paperwork about unreasonable demands of they decide to blame or smear you in some way. Scapegoats are a thing.

This can be essential if you give a particularly evil company that tries to hold you hostage for a rehire.

> The project has a non-negotiable deadline and feature list and it looks like it's going to be late.

"Communicate early and communicate often. Managing expectations is key. Depending on the criticality of the project, we can look for additional resources or we can come to a consensus on alterations to the schedule or the deliverable."

> Another one was: The project has a non-negotiable deadline and feature list and it looks like it's going to be late. What do you do?

If both the deadline and feature list are actually non-negotiable and I'm quite certain it's gonna be late I'd advise them to halt it immediately to cut their losses, I guess. I don't know what else would be a sane response.

Of course "non-negotiable" when it comes to feature lists and deadlines is usually grade-A horseshit so they don't actually mean it. Hell "deadline" is more often than not an exaggeration itself—you're not gonna drop the work in the trash if it's not delivered by 12:01AM on such-and-such day.

TL;DR I'd assume "non-negotiable" was a lie because it basically always is. Bet they'd love that answer.

[EDIT] Alternate answer: fortunately I'm in possession of a clock that changes reality when something's non-negotiable, so I'd just let it know what was up and it'd go ahead and make every hour twice as long for me.

I once got called while on vacation for a bug in a library I owned. Pressure was coming down all the way from CEO and CIO to meet the "non-negotiable" deadline in 6 weeks. I just laughed at first. We were already 6 months late (my work, minus the bug) had been ready for 12 months at this point.

My boss was insistent that I return to the office immediately to fix the bug in development. Thing is, I'd driven over 2000 miles and was about 30 minutes from leaving the country (US into Canada).

Told my boss if he wanted me back in the office immediately, I'd hop on a flight in Vancouver with just my passport and laptop, the company was going to pay for my flight and I was flying first class. Also, I wanted all of my vacation time back, they'd have to reimburse me for my chartered fishing trip, then fly me back to my parents' so I could retrieve my car (I met up with my Dad and he was driving when I received the call). This all went down on a Thursday afternoon. Gave him an option: do all that I just laid out, or wait until Tuesday when I'm back online, and I'll fix the bug remotely, then return once it's fixed and ive exhausted the remaining scheduled vacation time.

He decided the 10s of thousands to get me back immediately wasn't worth it amd it could wait a few days. Ended up extending my vacation by a week. So, non-negotiable, my ass.

In the end, my big didnt hold up the release, and we slipped another 3 months. I was just a convenient scape goat as a back office developer by the front office devs at a hedge fund.

They were typically contractually obliged regarding deadline and feature set, but I know that really only the deadline was set in stone. It was software to support some real-world things that do happen on a certain date.

These questions are not easily answered. It also takes significant skills to ask them, interpret the responses, and follow-up with other questions.

I see them as really good starters for a behavioral-style interview. It's not easy to prepare for these. You "prepare" for them by doing your job well and being introspective about it as you're doing it.

The problem is that not everyone easily indexes their job-experiences into neat, well-narrated vignettes that can be called up and summarized to an interviewer in real-time. It's hard stuff but it's better than other forms of interviewing.

“ It also takes significant skills to ask them, interpret the responses, and follow-up with other questions.”

Agreed. In interviews I have been in some interviewers asked this kind of question but couldn’t really do anything useful with the answers. It didn’t lead to a conversation.

> It also takes significant skills to ask them, interpret the responses, and follow-up with other questions.

Most people are shit at interviewing. Those that aren't still aren't qualified to psychoanalyze people.

> The problem is that not everyone easily indexes their job-experiences into neat, well-narrated vignettes that can be called up and summarized to an interviewer in real-time. It's hard stuff but it's better than other forms of interviewing.

> Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss?

We disagreed and then I quit because I felt like there was a pattern of him not listening.

Oops wrong answer.

These questions just get gamed. People tell dressed up versions of cherry picked stories. No one tells the story of why they finally had enough and quit. No one tells the story of a discussion turning heated because both sides got a bit too attached to their opinion. No one tells the story of just giving up and accepting that they won't win.

I don't understand all that screening bullshit -- what do you proud of, why so, why such? Somebody, tell them (HR people), it doesn't matter for a person who codes, does an architecture, ops your stuff, etc...

Yes it does. People aren't robots. You have to interact with your coworkers. Communication matters. Full stop.

If someone is this high-maintenance as an interviewer, they'll be unbearable as a manager, and I do not think I'd last a whole interview bothering to pretend that this was a normal human interaction.

Useful read. I now have a few additions to the list of places I'd never bother applying to.

Might be an unpopular opinion, but I think this is BS. Do people really questions like this in interviews or are these "smart folk" trying to look good in an article that can be shared on Linkedin and wherever else?

I've only interviewed a few times in my life, and apart from smalltalk at the beginning they were mostly about judging how I think and to a lesser extent what my knowledge level is for the position.

I'm making a video series on DevOps interviews right now. I haven't seen the questions above much, but for non-technical 'warmup' questions I see these repeatedly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mIkRM7ytWc

Things like "what's your favorite software environment," "what tech hobbies have you played around with," "what's the most complicated infrastructure you've ever had to work with," "talk about a difficult outage that you were a part of diagnosing and fixing."

I guess I've chosen to stay technical, so I haven't seen a lot of the questions mentioned in the original article. They seem pretty like fairly easy behavioral questions to game, I'm not sure what the false positive vs. false negative ratio looks like there. Although I guess you can say that for any interview question.

I would rather have you whiteboard me 20x then answer these questions

It may sound strange but the focus of my interview questions is to encourage the candidate to express an OPINION which I hope becomes a STORY. To that end I'll ask questions that at a glance seem to be objective through a lens of sound bites on "best practices" but are really subjective. What is good code? What is good data? (And bad, of course.) Skills can be learned quickly to produce A result but experience gained over time will have wrought something more interesting.

One of the behavioral interview questions I really like is : "How do you identify junior vs mid level vs senior engineer?"

Answer to this question helps in leveling the candidate.

Interviews are two-way conversations: a lot of what candidates do (or should be doing) is finding out about the team/company etc., since anything that research would show based on press releases, etc., is superficial. Questions like "What do you believe you can achieve with us personally or professionally that you can't anywhere else in the world?" make very little sense - even if I've read everything there is to read, I still know very little about your company, so there's no way I could answer a question like this.

This, however, is excellent advice: "It is amazing how many candidates won’t premeditate before diving into interview questions. Those who take the time to stop, think it through and have a few crystal clear points are amongst the best people I’ve ever worked with." I interview quite a bit at my current company, and it is amazing how few people stop to think before they answer questions.

Seems a lot of them are more for management level roles. During engineering interviews I rarely get very insightful questions.

I feel like so many of these questions require the applicant's identity and sense of self to be completely rolled up in their career. Even the question about passion for hobbies is just a proxy for understanding if the candidate will put an unhealthy amount of their life into their work. We're more than what we produce!

This is basically just the contents of the “Top Grading” interview questionnaire [1] spiced up with some unnecessary prose.

[1] http://www.jamesgwee.com/uploaded/file/Topgrading.pdf

Can't say I recall any single question that stood out over the years, but the worst one was - "£21,000 - that's a lot of money for somebody your age" HR person interview prior to interview with the technical boss and guru's, which went really well and for me did have a few good questions. "What do you know about postcodes and barcodes", which at the time was 7 formats of postcode and area I knew much about as also barcodes and why kyocera laser printers did well in many industries as they had the ability to print them built in unlike many other more expensive models. Then I also outgeeked the guru's and ended up showing them how to use hidden debug mode in dataease that they didn't even know about. Aced it, got offered £25,000 and turned it down due to the HR interview. More so took another job at a software company doing new things for less money. Was more focused on learning new stuff back then than the money. But sometimes it is worth it in the long run.

But overall - may favorite questions would be ones in which you have to give a technical answer - tests I love. Though not keen on psycometric ones as they always mess up with people on the autistic spectrum and if you able to be proactive and equally reactive when needed - they get way confused. Spent 5 hours in an interview going around in circles over that one, nightmare for all I suspect in the end and didn't help that I was more suited for the job they had offered out the previous week to the person doing the interview who I would be working for. That I would put down as a messy interview and did nobody any favours as ended up sticking my head in one pidgeon hole and my rear in another when they were looking for somebody who fitted in just one of those. Also had tests which you could draw parralel lines across the sheet as the answers patterned out that way and turned out, that was how they marked them and got upset that I spotted that pattern based upon the right answers, so they voided my whole result even though I'd done it honestly. Luckly techinical person in interview spoke up and said that is the type of person I want, somebody who can see the patterns and swung it.

But with everything, no single cookie cutter question you can ask for every area, but plenty you can ask that can go down the rabbit hole. With that, everybody will have a favorite question and that favorite question is bound to be somebody elses worst question. Gets down to experience and as individuals - we will all have different perspectives upon bad and worst questions going by how we handled those questions in the context of that role.

> What do you believe you can achieve with us personally or professionally that you can't anywhere else in the world?

Not every company is SpaceX or even an industry unicorn.

It's possible to do great work at a great company without it being the sole place in the world where things can happen.

Tell me about the hardest project you have had.

Give me examples about both over-engineering and under-engineering. If either or both of the examples are on the extreme side ask them for less extreme examples until you get an idea where the boundary between the two things is for them.

This looks to me like the sort of questions probably asked on the stock image database photos with tags "job interview". Good looking people in suits sit around the table and looking on each other and none of them really gives a clue what are they doing.

> What motivates you to work?

Interesting projects.


Interesting projects for myself. I like a good challenge and something I find interesting.

Money, not because I need more, but because I know that if we're successful, we'll be making money and the E team will take theirs so I want mine. I'm tired of the "Oh, we're a family so take one for the team" BS when things are flat, but then not hearing, "Because we're a family and we did great, here's yours!"

I was part of a team that revised the interview process at my last company (for positions like my own, not all hiring). One thing that came up was that most everyone's "favorite" questions helped reveal a strength if answered well, but didn't reveal much more than the lack of that particular area if they didn't answer it well. It was easy to go through an interview of such questions and end up with no real idea of the candidate was good or bad - they just hadn't happened to hit any of the particular strengths.

Our goal was to make it so that

- After an interview we had confidence in our evaluations

- We had clear criteria to minimize impact of unconscious bias

- Separate interviews would generate similar results for the same basic skill (this is subjective but still a goal)

Some tactics we tried:

- Present a coding question with a business case. This ended up being much the same: candidates familiar with the business area could show strength here as they asked the right questions and had a larger context of understanding, but people who didn't but produced acceptable code showed only that they couldn't take in an unfamiliar context in 5-10 minutes (an entirely reasonable "lack"). This was fine if we expected devs to be familiar with our business case, but often it caused familiarity/lack to cover for/highlight lack of coding comfort.

- Present a list of topics to have someone pick from to discuss. The idea was that if we wanted them to know, say, ONE of a list of seven topics, we'd let them pick their strongest and discuss it, with the assumption that if they can show mastery of a concept they demonstrate the ability to handle (or learn) the others. In practice this never worked. People always went for the first topic (we tried scrambling the order - they went for whatever was first) even if they later showed they understood a different topic better. We didn't run this a huge number of times, but the first several tries didn't work out. I was very disappointed in this result, as I had high hopes for this approach.

- Gave them "broken" code and asked them to fix it (testing to see if they could understand the intention of the code, as well as handle basic debugging). I really like the "understand the intention of the code" part of this, but the "debug and fix" turned out to be highly subject to whether they had run into this class of problem before, which returns to the original problem of "favorite questions".

Ultimately I left before the effort was mostly successful. The changes WERE a dramatic improvement over the pre-effort interviews - if nothing else, all questions were vetted by a small group in advance to weed out the ones that were very misrepresentative or out of line for difficulty. However the key difficulties of getting a grasp on a nuanced set of skills in a short time period were never truly resolved.

Some takeaways I walked away with (all subjective):

- Start with a quick, easy coding question (when you get to coding questions). 5 mins on something trivial can give them a confidence boost that will save you more than 5 minutes later, both in getting them out of a mental block of recrimination and in them showing you their best self in a situation that otherwise encourages less than that. You can even tell the candidate this in advance - So long as it is quick they shouldn't judge, and it helps establish to them what to expect from YOU with a more involved question (such as how nit-picky you are with syntax, if you emote your opinion, etc)

- Vet your questions in advance. You want four things: (1) Does doing well show a skill or skills we desire? (2) Does doing poorly on this question truly speak generically to their capability? (3) Do I have ways to provide hints or direction to someone blocked that doesn't render the question useless? (4) Do I have places to go, both more and less advanced, if this question is going easily/poorly?

- I personally stress that I don't expect perfect answers. If (when) they screw something up, I say things like "Great, this gives us a chance to look at your debugging, which is something we do all the time" - this should be reassuring, and has the benefit of being completely true.

Interviewing is still something we (humans) are learning how to do well, and even if I know how _I'd_ like to be interviewed, that isn't true for everyone.

"Product lead of monetization at Slack" ...hmm

Many of these questions are coming from product managers and design managers, I think they all make sense. Some of these roles do require storytelling and awkward meta discussions. How you answer and not what you answer is being tested here. May not be the best questions for engineers though.

Once place I worked, after week-long reviews of your work, and a day-long interview, the final question in the process was, "Is golf a sport?"

Answer incorrectly, and your resume immediately went in the round file.

> Once place I worked, after week-long reviews of your work, and a day-long interview, the final question in the process was, "Is golf a sport?"

Of course it is. It has sponsorships. Sponsorships make something a sport. Well-known fact.

A list of the typical questions in my opinion. I was hoping that they would at least list: "What important truth do very few people agree with you on?"

Do these people not need to ask questions aimed at determining how skillfully the candidates can do their job? Why are all these questions fluff?

oh god. The difficult part of the interview is not rolling your eyes when the guy asks you “teach me something”.

Judging from this thread a pretty straightforward approach would be to start by getting their hackernews name, searching for them in this thread, and if they’re found promptly ending the interview. This community is incredibly entitled and insufferable when discussing the hiring process.

I couldn't agree more. Everyone trying to one-up each other over how banal and offensive they find the questions. I'd say if these questions only serve to filter out people like this, they've done their job.

And yet most have no problem with getting asked leetCode questions to work on yet another software as a service CRUD app.

Lets try to be a little more honest.

> 1. What do you want to do differently in your next role?

Earn more money

> 2. Imagine yourself in three years. What do you hope will be different about you then compared to now?

Being more wealthy

> 3. For the last few companies you've been at, take me through: (i) When you left, why did you leave? (ii) When you joined the next one, why did you choose it?

  1. Because the job sucked
  2. Because I need to pay the bills

> 4. Among the people you've worked with, who do you admire and why?

The CEO of company X, because she managed to free herself from this life sucking process

> 5. Tell me about a time you took unexpected initiative. Follow-up: Can you tell me about another?

I left several jobs because the code base and the colleagues sucked too much

> 7. What motivates you to work?

The need for money

> 8. Looking back on the last five years of your career, what’s the highlight?

Every time again, the holiday

> 9. What are you really good at, but never want to do anymore?

Being a brown noser

> 10. What’s the difference between someone who’s great in your role versus someone who’s outstanding?

Even better ass licking

> 11. How did you prepare for this interview?

I didn't prepare, I just try to be honest

> 12. What do you believe you can achieve with us personally or professionally that you can't anywhere else in the world?

Hopefully I can up my salary for the next gig

> 13. What are the three most important characteristics of this function? How would you stack rank yourself from strongest to least developed among these traits?

It is not sane to rank myself against unknown factors

> 14. Tell me about your ideal next role. What characteristics does it have from a responsibility, team, and company culture perspective? What characteristics does it not have?

My ideal next role is developing software for my own product. The main characteristic would be:

   - no annoying managers to manipulate me
   - no forced 'happy team'
   - no agile or scrum
   - no spaghetti codebase
   - no code reviews
   - no managers and self made 'important' people taking a cut of my produce
   - no need to lick ass of colleagues to survive the office politics
   - no traffic jams, no commuting
   - a healthier and happier life in general

At this point I expect to be rejected from the interview, and wish them all the best.

I'd hire you over a candidate who gives the 'ideal' answers given in the article. Atleast I'd get an honest no BS assessments about work without having to coax it out.

I kept scrolling, hoping to see "serialize a binary tree" or something I could answer. Disappointed.

That would be easy. Invert the binary tree it's the tricky one.

> Invert the binary tree it's the tricky one.

This is too easy for everyone in this thread. Try this:

Mathematically prove that the time complexity of the DFS algorithm is O(V+E).

shouldn't it be more output-oriented?

Nutty questions:

First, most of the questions have hidden goals or obscure and indirect paths to unclear information. The goals and information obtained this way are clearly highly unreliable. To believe that such obscure and indirect searching can yield the desired goals or information needs a questioner who is just delusional.

Second, a lot of the questions have to do with efforts by the candidate to learn things. Okay: Nearly all of us want to learn things to get ahead in our careers and lives. E.g., that's the main reason people expend the time, money, and effort to go to college.

So, there really are some good ways to know, but the interview questions are really poor ways. In my experience, here is some GOOD evidence:

(1) Learning. In my career, I was doing applied math and computing for US national security. So, when I encountered what seemed to be important topics, I got relevant books and papers and learned. (A) I accumulated a professional library that filled three bookcases, each 1' deep, 3' wide, and 6' high on math and computing. (B) From this library, I studied carefully in whole or major parts of dozens of the books and had the rest available for more. (C) I set aside my career and went for a focused Ph.D. and got it. Point: I was trying REALLY hard to learn; indeed, I went for one of the best paths, a focused Ph.D. The interview questions never mentioned any such effort, and what the questions did mention were far inferior to a Ph.D. Bummer.

(2) Initiative. (A) From what I had done before entering the Ph.D. program, I had already picked my dissertation research problem and made good progress on it. For the five Ph.D. qualifying exams, I did the best in the class on four of them and for three of them just used what I had already taught myself before entering the Ph.D. program. I did the rest of my research for my Ph.D. independently in my first summer. I did the final software development, writing, and typing independent of any advisors. That was a LOT of "initiative". I did give a seminar on my work, and some other students then did related Ph.D. dissertations. So, the results of my "initiative" were seen as high quality stuff. (B) At one point, I saw a problem, got a course to address the problem, not necessarily solve it, but in two weeks found a solid solution with a nice, new theorem. The work was publishable, and later I did publish it in the respected journal JOTA. So, that was some nice "initiative" with results that were fast and good. (C) Before my Ph.D. I was in a software house bidding on a development project for the Navy. At one point, some of the material from the Navy didn't make sense. In five days, independently I educated myself on power spectral estimation (mostly from Blackman and Tukey), wrote and ran illustrative software, and on the last evening called in the relevant Navy engineer, gave him a fast tutorial on the power spectral estimation he wanted, and showed him the illustrative software I'd written and the results showing how with more data the estimates converged to the right answer. As a result our software house got "sole source" on the development contract. That was fast, successful "initiative". I've got a long list of such.

Bottom line it: In a job, from an employee, people HATE such initiative. Similarly for learning, knowing, and applying stuff.

Such learning and initiative are for self-funded, sole-solo founder CEOs. By the way, VCs totally ignore any such learning or initiative.

> 7. What motivates you to work?

Money. Fat stacks. The desire for food and shelter, which I obtain with said money.

I'm not working for you because I just love your product so much, if that's what you mean.

> What do you believe you can achieve with us personally or professionally that you can't anywhere else in the world?

Tell me why I'm special?

> It's September 5, 2020. What impact on the business have you made in the year since you’ve joined?

This is only a fair question if you give me any idea whatsoever what I'll be working on. There are many companies where they won't do that.

> Tell me about the best and worst bosses you’ve ever had, specifically, in your career. What was the difference?

Asking people to crap on old bosses doesn't really seem like a great question.

On the other hand, I'd like potential managers to answer this.

> When was the last time you changed your mind about something important?

define important?

> What's the most important thing you've learned from a peer and how have you used that lesson in your day-to-day life?

Guy taught me to open a beer with another beer once.

> What’s one misconception your coworkers have about you?

For some reason they also think I'm psychic.

> Why shouldn't we hire you?

Because you want people who answer inane questions.

> What should our team be doing differently that could yield 10x improvement?

Damn, this must be the best endeavor in human history if they only hire people who improve the company 10x.

> Teach me something.

... do you have 2 beers?

> How would you build a product for people who are looking for an apartment?

I actually like this question a lot.

> What are 10 ways to speed up Domino’s pizza delivery?

What are they looking for here?

> What can I tell you about working here?

Everything awful please.

> If you were in my shoes, what attributes would you look for in hiring for this role?

It's both necessary and sufficient that the candidate wear blue shoes.

> What have I not asked you that I should have?

Maybe something about skills and experience, just for once?

I lol'd at "[...] they think I'm psychic". Nice one.

I'm reasonably sure that you aced the test.

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