Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Best interview questions you have been asked

What are some of the best interview questions that candidates have asked you?  Why did you view these questions as being "the best"?

Monday, June 30, 2003

"What do you think of Perl 6?"

Good question, because perl 6 isn't out yet.  And since I had perl on my resume, my answer would show if I merely read a "Learn perl in 24 hours" book, or if I really used it, and participated in the community.  Most serious perl developers will know about perl 6, and what some of the major changes are ( '->' to '.', for example) even though its not out yet and they won't use it.

I think questions of this style are a good type to ask, you learn a lot about the subject.  I don't know how well this would work with C or C++, or less changing languages though.

Andrew Hurst
Monday, June 30, 2003

Hyper -- did you mean questions asked to the company or questions asked by the company?

Monday, June 30, 2003

I am referring to questions asked to the company by the person being interviewed.  What questions did the interviewee ask that really intrigued you or caught your attention.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Ah, so I had it backwards.  I still think it was a good question :)  Ahh.. monday mornings....

Andrew Hurst
Monday, June 30, 2003

My personal favourite back in 1986 when C was the dominant language (rather than C++) was:

What would you put in a header file?

I expected answers of the form:
#defined constants
struct definitions
enum definitions
function prototypes
shared global variables [1]

I would also ask folks if there was anything else they would like to add, to see if they had the common sense to stop early, at which point I'd ask what they wouldn't put in.

I got some very interesting answers where people had been using #include instead of a linker to generate one single huge object file.

At the same time it also meant I could ask some more questions about the problems with #defined functions like max(a,b) etc. (Along with what's wrong about defining TRUE to be 1)

When I did embedded systems I'd always ask someone to handcompile something using printf and a function call to see if they understood about stack frames and the order stuff went onto a stack.

[1] I always used something like this in my own code:
#ifdef __MYMODULE__
#define EXTERN
#define EXTERN extern
EXTERN int commonInt;

Peter Ibbotson
Monday, June 30, 2003

Mea Culpa I've gotten it backwards too. IP ones are the best, good programmers want to know what your attitude is to work they do at home.
I say that we have a 24/7 policy BUT we will normally give exemptions if asked and the code is outside the companies normal business. i.e. since we write accounting software, we're not interested in the midi sequencing software you're writing at home, but we might be in your cheque book balancing software.
I also point out that working on this stuff will have to be done on your own time.

Peter Ibbotson
Monday, June 30, 2003

"When can you start?"

Monday, June 30, 2003

One I used when being interviewed by a team of developers.... What do you find is the single biggest obstacle to productivity?  Can't say that their response was worth listening to, but it was interesting to see how they dealt with it.  And it is a question I very much would like to know the answer to!

Monday, June 30, 2003

Any question is a good question.  Well, almost.

Nothing is worse than having a day of interviews where you ask everyone 'do you have any questions' and they all say 'no'.

Anyone who displays any enthusiasm about the company or the job will really make themselves stand out. 

Monday, June 30, 2003

1. Current Problems/Bottlenecks in your company.
It definitely reveals the your awareness about the company and how much the candidate will have to know.

2. What type of things, you would expect me to contribute to increase the business regardless of job duties.

Monday, June 30, 2003

"Do you have any outside funding or VC?"

I love this question because when I say "no," the candidate invariably gets about five times as excited to work for us.

Monday, June 30, 2003

>>> "Do you have any outside funding or VC?" <<<

As one who is now part of the statistics showing historic highs for unemployment for software developers, this is one of the questions I have been considering.  I would prefer to avoid an employer that runs on VC and have been wondering just how appropriate it is to ask questions like this.  Maybe the best thing to do is just go ahead and ask.

And, Dave, if you feel so inclined, post a URL for your employer.

Monday, June 30, 2003

I asked my current employer if they had any "dick heads who pissed the whole team off". They replied "no", of course.
My wife, a human resources consultant, was not impressed that I bothered to ask the question. I figured that I should know what I am getting myself into.
The company appreciated the honesty and hired me.
Now I have six months to work out if they told me the truth.


James Ladd
Monday, June 30, 2003

The one question I asked everyone I interviewed with when I was job hunting was, "What is your favorite book on Software Engineering?" It wasn't as useful a descriminator as I'd hoped as no one managed to give me an answer. Ah well.

Devil's Advocate
Monday, June 30, 2003

"Nothing is worse than having a day of interviews where you ask everyone 'do you have any questions' and they all say 'no'."

Consider that you're the 6th guy talking to the candidates and you'll understand why they do not have any more questions.

How do you stay enthusiastic in a situation like this? Ask every interviewer the same question? Prepare a whole bunch in advance just to fake enthusiasm?

Mr Curiousity
Monday, June 30, 2003

"How do you stay enthusiastic in a situation like this? Ask every interviewer the same question? Prepare a whole bunch in advance just to fake enthusiasm?"

What's wrong with the idea of having an "ace in the hole" in case there's no real question to be asked? At least it shows them you're still awake by the time the 6th person gets to you. They must like you, because if you sucked, then the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th persons would've all mysteriously gotten the flu anyway. :)

Brad Wilson (
Monday, June 30, 2003

"How do you stay enthusiastic in a situation like this? Ask every interviewer the same question? Prepare a whole bunch in advance just to fake enthusiasm?"

Yes, prepare standard questions - not to fake enthusiasm but to gauge the consistency in the answers. Consider "What's your biggest frustration working here?" If you get six wildly different answers, you can bet everyone's blowing smoke up your ass and the place sucks for reasons no-one is comfortable talking about. If you get six consistent answers, then you're probably dealing with a mature group that can tackle a whole range of problems effectively.

Jim S.
Tuesday, July 01, 2003

I agree with Brad. Always have an ace in the hole. I have three areas I always probe:

1. What are the backgrounds of the executive officers? For example, if the executives mostly have sales/marketing or finance backgrounds, then you as a developer are a necessary evil. There's also likely to be a glass ceiling for advancement beyond a certain level.

2. What is the management and organizational structure? Where does this position fit in? How many people are between you and the president?

3. If the current projects don't come up during the course of the interview, I ask about these then probe for details.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

I always ask about the staff turnover.

Of course, that doesn't stop the interviewer lying.  I remember being told "Hardly any, we're just like a big family", only to discover on joining that there had just been a major blood-letting and that the place was run like a prison camp...

David Basil Wildgoose
Tuesday, July 01, 2003

I always ask the interviewers if the company has an ISO900x certification.

My intension is to find out if they have processes defined for software development/quality assurance/support handling.
If the answer to the above question is "yes" then they have those processes in place;
if the answer is "no" then it is intesting what they tell you are the reasons for this:
a) "We don't care about ISO 900x." - Bad answer!
b) "We don't want to limit the creativity of our employees." - Bad answer!
c) "We have processes in place and we have them documented but we didn't have the time (or customer need) to get certified." - Acceptable answer!

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

"We don't care about ISO 900x." ... actually a good answer!

Not caring about the software process at all is bad.

Here Th. ere (e-Very Where)
Tuesday, July 01, 2003

One of my favourite interviews was after 20 minutes or so of chat about what was on my CV, they gave me a couple of UML use cases, showed me a whiteboard and said "design these".

I was a bit nervous at first, but after a while I was really getting into it and I kind of forgot I was in an interview situation and more into a design review.

Didn't get the job though, but an enjoyable experience nontheless.

Better Than Being Unemployed...
Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Process is huge, because the wrong process can be as bad as, or worse than, no process. If you want to work somewhere that's ISO 9000, then that's your right level of process. Me personally, I want to work someplace with an agile process.

Brad Wilson (
Tuesday, July 01, 2003

One of the best questions I've been asked wasn't really for the question but because the interviewer answered it himself

"Can you get along well with other developers?"

After pausing for a sec and before I could answer, he continues "Well, what exactly are you going to say to that question? No, I'm a very annoying person who pisses everybody of. Nah, let's continue"

Worked there for six years.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home