Interviewing your interviewer (17 tips)

This topic is probably not only for testers, but, since I have been dealing with it recently, I thought some people might find it interesting. Also, I know, I owe you a couple of other posts (I’m working on them, but I am also moving houses and I have limited time to write right now)

I have been told that I ask good questions at the end of the interviews, so I’d like to share my system in case someone else finds it useful. Tip: the important thing is not to ask questions to impress your interviewer, but to use this time frame to find out things about the job and the company.

I usually get very nervous when I do interviews, even though I have interviewed people myself as well. I find, that a good trick for me not to get so nervous, is to think of the process as a two-ways interview, in which you are also interviewing the company to verify if you really want to work in there.

I know this might be hard to take, especially for beginners: “How would I be interviewing a company that I want to work for? I just want the job, if I didn’t like the company I would not have applied for it.” However, it is important to know as much as possible about the job you are about to be doing for a good while. That is why it is crucial that you ask as many questions as you can in order to understand how they work in that particular team and what is expected of you.

Another point, if you can, is to double check the answers with the interviewer’s reaction to the question. I mean, they are supposed to say good things about the company… imagine how bad they would look if the candidate says something like “well, I need to drop my application because the interviewer told me this is an awful place to work for”. But, if you are paying enough attention, you can see some reactions such as long pauses or struggles, that could lead you to believe that they did not feel comfortable with the question or they are trying to sugar coat their answers.

By now, you are probably thinking that this could be a good advise, but you would like to see actual examples of these questions. I owe you a couple of code samples by now, so I won’t let you down on this one. Be careful, some of them might be in the job description, and asking them might show little research and be so annoying for the interviewer as when they ask you to walk them through your CV (which usually means they have not bothered to read it fully). Below some examples of things you might need to know before joining a company (note, when I do an interview these come naturally to me, it depends on the specific job, these are general examples that I can think of right now):

  1. What process are they following? (Agile, waterfall…)
  2. Would you be joining the team of the interviewer or a different one?
  3. How would you relate to the interviewer in the company?
  4. What technology are they using? (The description usually would mention one or two, but you might ask what would be the biggest used, or for a technology that is not in the description, for example, what they use for source control)
  5. Do they do code reviews?
  6. What’s the relationship between the developers and testers? Do they sit together? Share code? Do common code reviews?
  7. How often do the interviewer…? (meet clients, have team meetings, create new features, spend in paperwork such as performance review…)
  8. How long are the springs? (if using agile)
  9. How many times did the interviewer use *insert benefit* this month?
  10. How do they do the performance reviews? How do they measure performance?
  11. What are they expecting of the candidate?
  12. Is there a possibility of *insert benefit*? (getting bonus, stock, gym membership, learning expenses… this depends on what you are looking for in the company)

Some extra tips:

  1. Try to ask the right questions for the right interview: technical interviewers might not know the answer to an hr questions (for example benefits) and hr people might not have an answer for technical questions (for example technologies they use). You might be wasting their time and not getting your answer anyways, so it is better to save the questions for the right round. (Be sure to learn about the rounds to know when to ask what)
  2. If you can, try to say them in a way that sounds a bit more personal for the interviewer, they are more likely to give you honest answers if you are asking for their opinions than for the company’s protocols. For example, the style of number 9 is more personal than number 12 for knowing about benefits. While number 9 gives you information about the actual behaviour of your co-workers and the non-spoken politics in the company, number 12 can give you room to negotiate a particular benefit that is not usually given (you can use this style with hr).
  3. I have said this already, but: don’t ask them for the sake of asking questions. Think about what it is not clear to you ahead of time and take a pen and paper next to you when you ask them to write down the answers. This can help you not to repeat yourself and to remember everything at the end of the process. It might be something you can negotiate or it might be something for you to discard the company (or the specific team). This does not only give you valuable information but puts you in a more powerful and confident position when doing an interview rather than feeling under test.
  4. Don’t get angry or depressed if you don’t get the job: sometimes it’s just a matter of being lucky and getting an interviewer that connects better with you. Sometimes a company might offer different positions or to work for teams that use different technologies that might be more aligned with your experience. And above it all: if your interviewer is pushing you back for not having the exact same expertise as him/her, you are probably better off not working with that person anyways. I think the trick for a company to work well is to have people with different set of expertise: they might not know something with the same depth as you do, but they might know a lot about something else and you both can learn from each other.
  5. Keep trying and practising: doing interviews might be extenuating but, with enough practice and asking the right questions, sooner or later, you’ll get just the job you want.

Let me know in the comments if you can think of other good questions to ask and let me know if you like these sort of posts about the interview process. I could tell more about it, but that’s… well… another story.



3 thoughts on “Interviewing your interviewer (17 tips)

  1. As some one who did quite a lot of interviews (as both interviewee and interviewer):

    I would like to add to my favorite one that was asked to me another one that I like to ask:
    – What was your first day week at this company?
    – Do you plan to stay with this company for long? (added after someone that I was looking forward to work with left in less than 3 months)


    1. Great suggestions!
      I agree with you that it is important to know if the interviewer will stay there, but I think you would not get an honest answer asking this straight away. A person looking for a replacement for themselves is a very common scenario.
      Try asking instead: “For you, personally, what is the best of working in this company?” or “what would you say is the best of your/this job?” and you can even reinforce this by asking the opposite: “if you had the power, what would you change from your job / from this company?”
      I know they are quite stereotypical but they would give you a good idea of how happy the person is in the company AND crucial information about the company and the job. As before, you might need to read a bit between lines and their reaction to the question. Tip: if they answer things from the company online profile, or if they say they would not change anything, be suspicious. There is always at least one thing to improve and one thing to love that is not listed on their website.
      Also, people have different reasons for leaving a company and you will always gain a testing buddy for working with this person even for 3 months 🙂


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