Questions for the Interviewer
13 Nov 2018

For most of my job searches, I never asked that many questions – I was just happy to get any job at all. Most of the time, this has worked out well and I’ve had good jobs that I learned a lot from.

But the odd exception has taught me that I shouldn’t expect to be so lucky every time. For my most recent job hunt, I ended up compiling a rather large list of questions, which I’m reproducing here for future reference and, of course, the benefit of my millions of monthly readers.

These are probably not groundbreaking questions. Probably at least 80% of them originally came from long-forgotten forum posts, blogs, and podcasts. If I accidentally stole your question, I’m very sorry.

1. Software development

For these questions, there’s no specific answer I’m looking for. I mostly want to see that my potential future manager recognises that grooming tickets is a non-trivial job, that individual engineers’ interests don’t always align with what’s best for the company and balancing the two is necessary, etc.

I also care very little about how, exactly, they manage technical debt, but I want to hear that they have some strategy, not just “Yeah, technical debt… that’s bad stuff.” Accepting an internship on a team that has no tech debt management strategy is begging for pain.

2. Intern lyfe

Recruiters can answer many of these, as well.

3. Office environment

4. Management, coworkers

5. Long term probing

6. Chatty questions

These are my bread and butter early-stage questions, for those interviews where you just get 10 minutes to ask questions. They’re the right combination of chatty, easy to answer, fun, and informative or personally useful.

I particularly love the “name a team other than your own” question, partly because it can be very interesting what sort of teams are considered “cool” at a company, and partly because – well, as an intern, if I pass the interviews and accept the job, the next stage is to pick a team!

This list will probably keep growing – it managed to grow by one or two while I was copying it over.

I don’t ask all of them in one interview, obviously. That would be insane and probably take 3 hours. Typically, I pick 4 or 5 that would particularly suit that interviewer – for example, I’m not going to ask a junior engineer how to identify good future managers.

How do interviewers react to probing questions like these? Do they abruptly push their chair back, stand up and say, “Who do you think you are, asking these questions as if you have the right to pass judgment on us?”

No. My last interviewer burst out laughing when I said I had one more question. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s just that I’ve never had anyone ask so many good questions during an interview before.”

Even though students are at the bottom of the job search pecking order, we still owe it to ourselves probe as deeply as possible, get as much information as possible, before accepting a job offer. The good news is that great companies and great interviewers do understand this, and are happy to answer questions.