Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My Ultimate Interview Question (or How Would You Resolve Mount Fuji?)

Jon Galloway has an interesting post on phone-screen interview questions, criticizing a list by Steve Yegge. Essentially, Galloway says it's a fallacy to assume 2 people are colleagues within the same context or technology.

Jon came this close to describing a favourite interview question of mine.

As background, at a previous gig, I was a tech lead at a small ISV in the midwest. I've probably interviewed about 20 people. No, not a large number, and it was not at the level of Google or Microsoft. No moving Mount Fuji problems here. (However, I do have some experience in talking to strangers. A 'street psychologist', as it were.)

My interview involves the usual: background, real code samples, tell me what you read, etc. Then, I have this little doozie at the end:

Describe a situation of conflict at one of your previous gigs, and explain how it was resolved.

I usually ask for "conflict on technical issues", but I'll take anything. I reassure the interviewee that it is an open question without a correct answer (and that I don't need names!).

Let me tell you, it has been fascinating. It is great way to assess communication, to determine what kind of run-ins the person has had, and to hear some real-world stories that, often, give a view to the person behind the interview facade.

Often, I will explicitly give the candidate a chance to describe a situation that they merely observed (yet were not part of), and they will still go ahead and open up about some particular incident, often revealing their personality (for better or worse). Sometimes, they become passionate for the first time in the interview.

The bottomline: I don't care if you can move Mount Fuji, or survive in a blender, if you can't work on a team. This question is the best way I've come across for trying to figure that out.

ps. There is a runner-up question to the Ultimate, but that is another post.

pps. Share your favourite episodes in the comments... That could be a fun thread.

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