Over the years I have been part of the hiring process of some 40 to 50 engineers, but like most engineers, I was principally involved on the technical side of the interview. While I sometimes probed for team/company fit, the majority of my interviews were very technical in nature. Recently I was part of something new, I conducted 30 minutes interviews with candidates that completely focused on culture and the core company values.

This was new territory for me, and while template questions on core values exist, I must say I find those generally quite tacky. Something like:

“What would you do if you had to work with a person you didn’t get along with?”

Makes me cringe, the kind of questions you want a prefab answers ready as a candidate. I decided to look for more meaningful questions that would lead me to have a deeper discussion with the candidates. This provided an excellent exercise and helped me improve quite a bit the quality of my interviews. Without further ado, my findings are below:

1. Tell me what you know about our company.

I find this is usually a quite good conversation starter, it also helps understand if the candidates took some time to read about the company before. Great candidates will already be informed about the company because they actually want to work there.

It also provides an excellent entry to complete to candidate knowledge of the company, talk about the open position, and sell the position to the candidate so that he is even more excited to join the company.

2. Talk to me about something you taught yourself in the last year.

There are many ways to answers this questions, most will think about some process, framework, or programming language they learned recently, but they could also go completely opposite and talk about how they learned to play a song on the piano.

We live in a knowledge economy, and engineers always looking to know more can come quite handy. Having developers eager to pick it new tech can provide more value in the long term as technologies change and evolve.

This can also tell quite a bit about the curious nature of the candidate, this is something Eric Smith CEO of Google early on found to be a necessary quality of successful employee’s.

“The combination of persistence and curiosity is a very good predictor of employee success in a knowledge economy,”

3. Two years from now, if you’re part of our company, how will you judge if your time here has been a success?

This is a variation of the famous question, “What are your goals for the next 1 or 2 years” but framed specifically around if they accept the position at the company. It reframes a bit the candidate thoughts which would normally be only around his personal goals, to align them side by side with the company.

The goal is to dive into what kind of career the candidate is looking for, often this will revolve around mastering technical skills, but sometimes this also leads to talk about management roles, that can help you frame what would be the medium-term candidate path within the company.

4. Why have you decided to pursue software development [or insert computer science, or etc], regardless of your school or occupation?

Speaking of core values, this is where you can really probe for some alignment, this may take the candidate somewhat aback, launching him in a little bit of nostalgia thinking why he chooses that path to begin with.

It can also lead to other interesting discussions, for example, you could ask which part of computer science the candidate liked the most in school, or if they ever thought about doing some personal projects.

Last Words

My intent with those questions is to have a meaningful discussion around the candidate values, this provides me with a better understanding of the values this individual would embody, and which company values he would lack the most.

There are more resources about culture fit hiring if you look around, it’s a hot topic and it has also been debated quite a lot, some say that culture based interviews can also lead to diversity issues on the long run. One last thing, stay away from tacky questions!

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