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Good and Bad Interview Questions

By Steve Jones,

Why is a manhole cover round? How many cows are in Canada? How would you cure world hunger?

There's no shortage of strange interview questions you might be asked in the tech world. If you like these questions, and want to interview, or be interviewed in this way, grab a copy of How Would You Move Mount Fuji and start studying. These are the types of questions that Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and many other tech companies have been asking candidates for years. Since so many technology people read about the practices from these companies, I wouldn't be surprised if many of you had been asked these types of questions in other interviews.

Personally I've never been asked any of these strange questions, and am not sure how I'd respond. My interviews have often been very technical, but have included a number of "how would you.." or "tell me about a time when.." questions. However ultimately I'd like to think that my soft skills, and my social skills came through positively and that was the reason I often received job offers.

Many IT managers are starting to feel that these types of questions, and even highly technical questions, aren't the best way to evaluate a candidate. Hiring costs are up, both in direct costs spent on finding people and the indirect costs of the lost work from current employees interviewing people. There is pressure to hire well, and find people that can be productive. It seems that many managers are starting to look to evaluate candidates in other ways beyond the technical skills. Those skills are important, but not necessarily more important than soft skills.

That's been the way I've looked at hiring for years. I can often teach someone technical skills, but I can't teach them to fit in with a group, or be a team player, or even just be someone that won't annoy the rest of the team. Those social fits are very important if you want your team to function well together, providing support, help, and inspiration to each other.

Building culture is hard, and while technical skills are important, employees that bond together help push each other to do better work for the team. Employees that dislike each other can bring down overall quality and coordination very quickly. The sooner managers learn that, and learn to respect employees while challenging them, the sooner their departments will start to shine.

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