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Effective Interviewing – Comparing Apples to Apples September 4, 2007

Posted by Darth Sidious in Interviewing, Managing Employees.
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Below are some guidelines to keep your interview effective and productive, and the key to that is to minimize freestyling. The interview will go in various directions depending on the candidate, but the more you apply a consistent structure the easier it becomes to compare candidate vs candidate.

So not only is it important to make each interview effective, but you want to be able to compare each candidate equally.

To do this, create a set of 15 to 30 questions comprising of the following areas that all candidates will be asked. Then at the end you can compare how candidates answered these same set of questions.

Problem Solving/Analytical

  • This is the easiest way to compare candidate vs candidate as it factors out specific experiences and skills
  • Go online and look up brain teasers. The point of this is not to see if they can get the answer right, but it gives you a glimpse into their thought process, how they break a problem down, and how their mind works to solve it.
  • E.g: You are at a river with a chicken, seeds, and a fox. You need to get all three across, but can only transport one at a time. If you leave the chicken with the seeds, the chicken will eat it. If you leave the fox with the chicken, the fox will eat the chicken. How do you get all 3 across?
  • Bonus Points: Someone who is extremely proactive and a strategic thinker will anticipate this, and go on Google and try to see what comes back for searches like “interview brain teasers questions”. If their response to your teasers are immediate you know they already knew the answer (or are a NASA level genius). You can also ask theoretical questions: Suppose you were leading a project, and you have a budget short fall, what would you do to complete the project, etc…


  • This is the technical portion of the interview.
  • Have questions prepared that allow you to evaluate how strong the candidate is in the skills that you identified as needing in the job requirements.
  • “What guiding principles do you employ when managing a project?”, “What are the essentials of project management?”, “How would you go about engineering a process?”, etc…
  • What’s the best approach to managing scope creep/change?
  • How do you plan your day/week/etc…?
  • For a Tech Writer: what’s grammatically wrong with the following sentence, and what would be the correct way of writing it?
  • For a Developer: How would you sort an array?


  • This is where the interview is specific per candidate
  • Looking at the resume, prepare questions specific to their experience.
      “At XYZ Corp, it shows that you managed a $2.5M project… how did you manage resource allocation, and time line? What were the challenges of the project? Did you deliver on time, if you did what factors contributed to your success? If you didn’t, what could you have done different if you could do it again?”


  • There are psychological questions… But you can gather a lot just from observation alone.
  • Does the candidate freely express themselves, or take the lead of the interview (indicates a proactive person).
  • Or are they passive and just answer in as short form as possible (indicates a reactionary person).
  • Do they shift around or sway in their chair a lot, fidgety, etc… Indicates nervousness/confidence factor.
  • Most people of course groom themselves to the max for an interview, but there are some signs that give you insight into their ‘real’ life.
    • E.g look at their fingernails. Someone who takes care of themselves and their life will have them fairly well maintained. It’s a tiny clue, but a clue nonetheless.
    • Did they bring materials to show their work, and look at how they prepared those materials. Is it one big blob of paper, or is it organized into folders, etc…
  • When the candidate walks in, observe the initial mental and emotional state immediately. It can tell you a lot about how they relate to new people, how they handle themselves in introductions, what their own self-concept is, etc…
  • A lot of people try to put the candidate at ease immediately. That’s a bit of mistake, because you’re not able to see how they perform under pressure. If they’re cool calm and collective from the get go, you know they’re confident. Offer the drink and that stuff later once you’ve done this evaluation.
  • Cliché Questions: What are your goals in 5 years, what are your strengths and weaknesses. Although they’re always ask you may think they’re cliché. But actually they’re not. Here’s the beauty! EVERYONE knows this question is always asked; so someone who is prepared will have an answer ready to go. Someone who lacks organization and planning, and isn’t proactive will simply just react to those questions (even though they know full well it’s going to be asked) and freestyle it.
  • *BUT* there’s a bit of an exception. Someone who can pull off an impressive freestyle also demonstrates a different kind of quality. E.g they respond well under pressure, strong communication skills, etc…
  • Darth Sidious

    Use a whiteboard when being interviewed July 23, 2007

    Posted by Darth Sidious in Interviewing.
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    An interview with the Sith is quite rigorous, and usually entails using the dark side of the force to survive life or death situations.

    However in the lower ranks we employ more conventional means – but if you’re interviewing you need keep in mind the mindset of the interviewer.

    Each organization will have their own interview style; some are very narrow minded and only care to see if you can answer very cut and dry questions, and don’t care to actually hear about your experience.

    Usually organizations do care about your experience, as anyone can look up reference manuals to find out the answer to something, but its how you sell your experience that will give them insight into how they can leverage your skills and the advantages you bring to the table.

    You are up against others that are going to be asked the same questions, so think about ways that sets you apart. If everyone answers the same technical questions the same, it’ll be the non-technical that gives one an advantage.

    One way to achieve that is to use hologram board (aka a white board). The goal of interviewing is to try asking enough questions to get insight into who you are and if what you have to offer is the right match – and the easier you make that for them, the more they’ll like you.

    For example use a whiteboard to diagram anything about your work/projects such as how you simplified a workflow, or architected a system. The reality is that people are easily impressed by circles and squares, and the lines that join them together. It makes them think you REALLY know what you’re talking about.

    Or use the whiteboard to jot down key bullet points regarding a complex question and its answer (such as strategy or process highlights). People are very visually oriented, and there’s only so much raw text that they can absorb both verbally or visually, so breaking it down into a summarized easy to read format makes your content all the more memorable.

    This will give you a huge edge of the competition as they’re unlikely to do this. It’ll give the organization a feeling of confidence that you’re the right candidate as you’ve demonstrated high levels of written and oral communications, as well as being planned, methodical, and process oriented.
    Darth Sidious