7 Critical Hiring Questions Every Interviewer Should Ask

February 26, 2015

As an interviewer your job is to get to know a candidate, understand their experience, and assess whether they are a good fit for your team and business in, oh, about an hour or less. That’s no small feat – in your spare time you probably leap tall buildings in a single bound.

And hiring a false positive, someone not actually qualified or who will be a poor cultural or team fit, is a very expensive mistake to correct. Wrong hires cost the company tons of money and can waste precious time for already short-staffed teams.

So to help you avoid false positives and become even more effective at making the best possible hiring decision, we’ve asked interviewers for their most important go/no-go considerations while assessing a candidate.

Here are their most critical hiring questions to ask:

1. Is this person’s work experience relevant?

Number one is a no-brainer. Do the resume and interview responses corroborate one another? Do they actually match the needed skills for the position?

Application intelligence company AppDynamics has over 150 engineers and continues to expand. To keep up with their growth VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Luan Lam, is constantly looking for engineering candidates who can make an impact quickly. “If I am interviewing to build out an analytics tool, I would look for individuals with past experience in analytics. This will ensure that ramp up time is quicker because they already understand the space.”

The faster you need new talent to make a bottom-line impact on your project – the more important very closely related experience becomes.

2. Would the candidate be a team player?

The most talented individual will never be as productive as a cohesive, high-functioning team.

According to Luan, “our engineers work together with someone on their team on projects consistently, so it’s important to look for candidates who can work collaboratively.”

To determine this, Luan conducts team pair coding interviews. One of their current engineers sits down with a candidate to try to solve a real-life problem with their products. This helps Luan more accurately gauge how well a candidate will work with other members on the team.

3. Would the candidate be a cultural fit?

Cultural fit, or the likelihood that a new employee will be able to adapt to the collective behaviors and values that make up an organization, tops the priority list for many hiring teams.

Xari Chartrand, HR Business Partner at Halogen Software, shares “the right degree and experience is important of course – but we want to ensure their competencies align to our core values.”

“This means we’re not just looking at technical competencies when assessing candidates for a software engineering role at Halogen – we’re looking at behavioral competencies as well. For example, exceptional customer focus is a core value in our organization, so we want to hire people who can demonstrate that competency.”

“We may ask questions during the interview process that require the candidate to explain what exceptional customer focus or end-user satisfaction means to them and describe their experience in discovering/meeting client needs.”

Jason Bay, Engineer Hiring Manager at online marketplace Bonanza, points out that cultural fit is particularly important in small team settings.

“Bonanza is a large business, but it’s a small engineering team. We work together closely and move quickly, so it’s critical that we hire people that are positive, have a sense of humor, and are drama-free. We need engineers that are committed to making Bonanza great as their top engineering priority, which means we avoid candidates that we suspect may be prima donnas or methodology zealots.”

4. Is this person coachable?

A candidate who isn’t willing to be taught or take on constructive criticism is a candidate that won’t improve.

To assess whether a candidate is coachable or not, Luan gets hands-on during an interview at AppDynamics. He gives candidates a problem to solve and tries to coach them along. “I look for someone who is open and receptive to getting hints vs. someone who disregards the coaching.”

5. Does the candidate have a proven history of GSD (getting stuff done)?

Is the best predictor of future success past success? Jason Bay thinks so.

“The best way to predict whether a candidate will accomplish a lot at her next job, is to look at what she’s accomplished in her past. The strongest candidates have a consistent history of tackling novel problems and pushing the boundaries of their engineering talents. If a candidate doesn’t have at least a few stories about interesting tech they’ve built from the ground up, that’s a red flag.”

6. Does the candidate have an internal drive to accomplish great things?

“The word passion is overused these days, but when we find a candidate that has an internal fire for engineering, it’s always a compelling interview,” says Bay.

“What does that look like?

Excitement in their voice when talking about programming. A history of side projects, because they love coding so much that they also want to do it as a hobby. Contribution to open source projects, and engagement with online coding communities like Stack Overflow also show that engineering is more than just their vocation.”

7. Is the candidate committed to self-improvement?

Acquired skill, not time, makes a candidate valuable. Does this person really have 10 years of experience, or 1 year of experience repeated 10 times? Do they demonstrate a commitment to learning and acquiring new skills?

According to Xari Chartrand “the capacity to learn new skills and technologies is more important than specific knowledge of a tool or technology. Things move and change so quickly that an aptitude for learning new things is what’s most critical.

And beyond having the ability to learn new skills, I always ask myself if candidates demonstrate a true curiosity towards new technology and a willingness to be early adopters.”

Intellectual curiosity may be a key bellwether of a candidate committed to self-improvement. Wil Reynolds, founder of SEER Interactive, shares that one of his favorite interview questions to ask is “When is the last time you did something for the first time?”


Although these hiring questions may seem like common sense, forgetting to critically evaluate a candidate on the basis of all seven points can be costly.

You can download our 7 Critical Hiring Questions [PDF] for your next interview here.

What are your critical hiring questions? Start the conversation below or @ us on Twitter @HireEngineers