“So, do you have any questions for me?”
It’s that ominous question – the final hurdle before your interview comes to an end and your fate is decided. Without preparation, one of three things usually happen – A. sheer panic sets in B. you suffer a complete mind-blank, or C. you ask a pointless question, just because you know you know you should something.
Despite this stage of the interview masquerading as a simple chance to find out more about the company, there’s a lot that rests on your reply – and it could very much tip the balance in your favour for a second interview, or lead to those two words: “you’re hired!”. So here’s our ‘How To’ for getting it right.
Here’s what you’re aiming for…
Asking the right questions could and should…
- Eradicate any remaining reservations about you as a candidate
- Demonstrate how deeply you’ve researched the company and its products
- Confirm that this company, and this job, are indeed right for you
A question about questions: How many should you ask?
How long’s a piece of string? Or rather, how long are the answers to your questions? If they’ve given you chapter and verse on company culture for 10 minutes, another question is reasonable.
Gauge the atmosphere and go by how long they take to answer (you don’t want to wear out your welcome – but you also want to ensure that this is indeed the place for the future you).
What’s the company culture like?
You’re going to be spending a third of your life at work, you need to make sure that the values and beliefs of the company, and the team around you, fit with your own. Does the company clearly respect their developers? Does management actively engage their opinions in product development? How much independence do developers have in managing their projects?
If you don’t want to broach the topic of culture directly, ask about the tools that are used for developing and testing.If the manager in front of you has little to no clue, then a red flag is being waved squarely at you –they don’t value the tech that is pivotal to all that you do. Perhaps this job isn’t for you, after all.
How is job performance measured?
Like it or not, your future will be one defined by success metrics. But what will these metrics be? Will they judge you on hours? On the amount of code you’ve created? The number of deadline pushbacks due to rollbacks? In other companies, metrics are far less specific – and a whole lot more subjective – such as how developers adapt to the shifting targets of the company. However performance is measured, you need to be confident that you’re happy to be judged on them.
How good are your coders (and be honest!)
No, wait – you can’t really ask that. You need to be a bit a little subtler.Short of being able to see the teams in action and talking with who could be your future co-workers, you need a good framework for ‘feeling out’ the skills of a coding team.
The Joel Test is a crude take on SEMA (a complex and rather obscure method for measuring how effective a software team is). For the purpose of an interview, the Joel Test can tell you whether you’ll love or loath the team set up. Here are the ten questions of the Joel Test…
- Do you use source control?
- Can you make a build in one step?
- Do you make daily builds?
- Do you have a bug database?
- Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
- Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
- Do you have a spec?
- Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
- Do you use the best tools money can buy?
- Do you have testers?
- Do new candidates write code during their interview?
- Do you do hallway usability testing?
Do your teams attend conferences?
It’s innocuous enough, but far from just discovering whether there’s an annual day out for you and your new team, the answer could actually reveal the company’s attitude to industry-engagement.
What’s the route of career progression?
If you’re some years into your software career, chances are that at some point you’ve felt your head hit a glass ceiling. It doesn’t feel great. And no matter how perfect the company culture, the projects or the perks, there’s simply no getting around the fact that you want to move forward, but can’t. Asking about career progression can provide all you need to know about whether this could be a position for a decade, or one not worth taking up at all.
You could also ask about the standard approach for hiring – do they promote internal applications? Or do theyjust hire externally, with developersusually finding out about the new roles online?
Tell me about your newest product/emerging market
You know what it’s like – there’s a project in which the whole team are engaged - oran impending launch in a brand-new market. There’s tension, excitement, trepidation, expectation. And sure enough, when asked about it, they’ll love to tell you what they’re working on. This type of question can flip the interview atmosphere on its head – making it more informal – an enthused conversation between peers (and that, is when rapport is built – the Holy Grail of any interview!).
Start-up special - What’s the growth plan?
Applying for a position at a start-up? Then it’s a matter of due diligence to find out about their growth plan. After all, start-ups are a risky business. For this question, background research is critical – and you should go beyond just the company website. Look at news reports, industry commentators and online information that may have been presented to investors. Look at other start-ups in the same arena, so you have some knowledge to create a back-and-forth conversation.
And don’t be afraid to get more specific – asking about burn rate, for example, can give you a concrete idea as to how long the start-up can run for until it burns through its cash.
Now you’re prepared for the pivotal interview moment, you just need the interview.