One of my favourite questions to ask interviewees for a role is: “Tell me about something you have done in your career that you are really proud of, and why?” I have pretty much asked this in every one of the (hundreds) of interviews I have conducted over the last couple of decades. I even find a way to ask and answer it when I am the interviewee! I like asking this for a few reasons.
Firstly it gets the candidate telling you a story from their history which is easier than reciting facts or a canned answer on a theoretical approach to software. The theoretical experts in the HR industry refer to this as behavioural interviewing. They like the fact that you can get a candidate to take you through a real life situation with the context, actions taken and the result. It’s a great way to explore past successes of a candidate. I especially like how easy it is to determine how real and how canned the answer is. I mean the candidate was there right? They know everything about what happened so you can drill in a bit and ask anything and they’ll be able to tell you what actually happened. It’s a great truth detector (and those who know me will know that the fastest route out the door is to be untrustworthy).
The second (and most important) result from this question is that it (hopefully) gets them excited and a bit animated and you can see if they have a bit of passion and enthusiasm for what they do. I look at their body language when they’re answering. Do their eyes light up? Do they start waving their arms around? Do they look like they want to get up and use the whiteboard and draw you a picture of how cool the design was or the sexy UI they built? Do they start using superlatives and describe the outcome as cool or great or something that shows that they saw and understood the value of what they were doing?
If I get a boring answer about how they worked long hours and the project manager was really happy with their level of effort I am, unsurprisingly, bored. I asked them about the thing they are most proud of, not an average part of their career. If they cannot get excited about the high point of their career then it’s going to be pretty hard work getting them excited about the next project. I desperately want to work with people who, like me, enjoy finding tricky problems and solving them well. I also like it when I get comments about how a customer or user really loved the solution because that tells me that they also are looking externally for others to assess and determine the value of the solution. Customer focus is always good.
There is nothing like having self-motivated and keen people working on your problems. With the complexity of software delivery and business processes these days and the innumerable things that can and will go wrong through the software development process you need passion and energy to keep going and deliver a great result. If they are lacking then the inevitable outcome is a substandard solution or (horror) a project failure. Conversely when everyone is “into it” and switched on it becomes more like a sports team all working together through pain and hard work to achieve an outcome that we are all proud of. I love that. My best experiences in the workplace have always been with an enthusiastic team keen to deliver something great for the customer.
The last thing I get out of this question comes from the actual answer (yes I do listen to that whilst monitoring body language, drilling for veracity and making sure I am encouraging them to display their passion). In the answer is usually a big fat clue about what it is, in particular, that they value in their work and what they think they are good at. Sometimes the answer is all about the technical precision of what they delivered (good – a strong technical detail person who I can rely on for tight code). Sometimes it is about how hard the problem was and all the steps they had to work through to overcome it (great – fire problems at them and they’ll persistently drive through to a solution). Sometimes it is about the experience of the user and how proud they were that the customer loved the result (fantastic – they’re customer focussed and know why we all get paid to deliver software). And sometimes it is all of the above.
This is how we hire people at IQX Business Solutions. We’re a team of software professionals who love delivering quality solutions to people and it shows. It shows when we sit down and curiously explore a problem with the end-users. It shows when we get into the heart of the problem and work hard and creatively to solve it deeply. It shows when stuff goes wrong and unexpected constraints and opportunities emerge, and we adapt dynamically. It shows in the understanding and quality of the user experience that users love. So if you want to join a team that it passionate about delivering great solutions, then get in touch.
by Jack Cornford