Category Archives: Work

Questions for prospective employers

So I’m starting interviewing this coming week, which means I have to distil my long list of questions to ask employers into something more manageable. The following is very much a work in progress and I’ve not tested it in the wild yet, but I think it roughly matches what I’m going to want to use. If I change what I actually use then I’ll update it appropriately.

First off, how to raise these: I was originally thinking of mentioning right at the beginning of the interview that this is going to happen. Something along the lines of:

Hey. Up front warning: I have a long list of questions I need to ask your company in order to determine if this is somewhere where I’d like to work. It’ll probably take about half an hour to an hour, and I’ll need at least one developer and one non-developer present. I’d sortof expect this to happen at the end when we get to the “any questions?” part, but really we can do this at any point in the interview you like – we can even schedule a separate interview for it afterwards if you don’t want to take up this much time on it today – but I really will need to do this.

My friend Daniel Royde pointed out in the comments that this is something that I should really be mentioning before I arrive for the interview, so they can actually incorporate this into their schedule. He is 100% right about this.

The one non-developer and one developer thing is very important. I want to see how different their answers are and how they interact.

The actual questions I’m planning to ask are as follows:

  1. What do you personally like about working here? What do you dislike?
  2. What’s your office culture like? Can you describe the typical sense of humour?
  3. What’s your racial and gender diversity like in the company? Does this vary from team to team? If it’s not good, do you know why and is it something you’re trying to change? How?
  4. What is your company doing to have a positive impact on society? (question suggested by my friend Alex White)
  5. What’s your staff turnover rate like? Is it different from team to team? If it’s high, do you know why people typically leave and is it something you’re trying to change? (question suggested by Jamie MacIver, my brother)
  6. How do you deal with failure? When something goes wrong, what do you do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? (question suggested by my friend Kat Matfield)
  7. Who in your company is completely indispensable? Tell me about them (question suggested by my friend Elisabeth)
  8. How much technical debt do you have? What are you doing to address it? Is it working?
  9. Can you tell me about a change you’ve made in your development process recently? What prompted it? (question suggested by Michael Chermside)
  10. How do you decide and manage what to work on next?
  11. Suppose it is decided that a feature is needed and should be part of the current work priorities. What happens between now and the point where that feature hits production?
  12. What’s your business model like? Is it working? How would you know if it wasn’t working, and how would you go about fixing it?

I feel like this is a bit too long, but there really aren’t any questions in there I’d be willing to take out. If anything there are questions I’d like to put in that I’ve not!

UPDATE: I’ve decided the bit that follows is a bad idea. Real interviews are too chaotic for voice recording to be practical, and some informal polling suggests that people are bothered enough by the idea that it’s not worth the headache. Left in for posterity.

The other thing I am currently considering is how to handle note taking. Specifically, I’d like to record these question and answer sessions. I’m considering offering this with a speech something along the lines of this:

So I need to take notes on this bit for later review. If I do that by writing, this will slow everything down and it’ll be a pain for all of us. Would you object terribly if I record this bit? I promise never to publish any part of this recording, or even a transcript of it, and at the end I’ll give you the option to delete it before I leave. If you take that option I’ll ask for a few minutes to write down some notes and reference the recording before you do, but will be completely happy to comply.

I’m also thinking of mentioning at the beginning of the interview that I’m going to have a long set of questions to ask them and that I’m happy to do them either at the end of the interview or at whatever other point in it they’ll find convenient.

What do you think? Does this sound like a terrible idea?

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