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Worst — and best — IT interview questions

Stephanie Wilkinson | July 10, 2013
Why are manhole covers round? Why do you ask? Tech managers weigh in on the practice of using brainteasers to screen IT candidates and share their own favorite interview questions.

Thad Neal

"What I want to identify is someone who can find the bright spot about traveling — 'Getting to San Francisco was a pain, but once there, I took in a ballgame and went to the wharf.'"

To evaluate a candidate's critical thinking, Neal asks about a project he or she worked on. "What I attempt to do is key in on a specific nugget of information that the candidate shares and drill down into that to determine how they conduct themselves," he explains. "If they give me every facet of the project, discuss the environmental factors they faced, the personnel challenges, the complexity of the tasks, the constraints and so on, then I get a feel that this person who looks at every angle."

In his questioning, Neal tries to push hard enough to find out two things. "First, does this person know when they've hit a wall and need help? Second, are they not so ego-driven that they can ask for help?" he says. "If I get a candidate that says, 'I don't know the answer to that question but I know how to find it,' that's a win."

Since the people Neal hires will be working with external client companies, they must have a strong range of social skills in addition to technical expertise, but Neal isn't fazed by that requirement.

"Identifying social skills is pretty simple," Neal says. "How do they speak — do they look you in the eye or down at the floor? How do they dress — purple oxfords with silver ties or fairly conservative? What are their hobbies — do any of them include personal interactions with humans?" he asks, adding, "and I don't mean playing Halo online."

Not every company has mastered the art of assessing social skills, Neal asserts. "We've seen a lot of hiring at other companies go wrong," he says. "People get too focused on folks' technical abilities. They're so fixated on the fact that the guy in front of them is the best .Net programmer out there that they're willing to look past the fact that he looks like an unmade bed."

Rambling isn't always wrong
Joseph Morgan, a data power architect at Netsmart in Kansas City, Mo., says his company is on track to hire 200 people in IT alone this calendar year. As a senior employee with 25 years of experience in the business, he is often called on to conduct interviews.

Favorite IT interview question

"Tell me about Java's 'synthetic' keyword."

Joseph Morgan

Joseph Morgan, data power architect at Netsmart, has a few tried-and-tested BS-detecting questions in his arsenal, including asking Java programmers in what situations they should use the "synthetic" keyword.


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