Dear new developer,
You know that moment, when you are in an interview, towards the end of it?
The moment when the interviewer looks up from their notes, smiles and says “I appreciate your time. I know interviews can be exhausting, but do you have any questions for me?”
Nod. Take a deep breath.
And ask some questions.
Don’t wing them.
Prepare a couple of questions ahead of time that highlight your research and understanding of the position and the company.
If possible, tie the questions into the conversation you just had, as well as to examples you had mentioned during the interview. Doing this can be a lot of work, so make a note or two during the interview if you have a thought that lends itself to a further question.
You’ll also need to rank the questions, as it is unlikely that you’ll have time to ask every one. You want to hit the trifecta:
- learn new information
- display why you are a great candidate for this job
- show you can ask a penetrating question
Choose based on what can accomplish all these goals.
By the way, I’d advise against asking about benefits or salary. That type of question is best done in writing, preferably either at the very beginning of an interview process or after you know they want you. (Josh Doody has written some great stuff on this, including a guest post.)
Given the complexity of determining the correct questions, you should have some safe defaults. These won’t be necessarily be tied to the interview, but can be great if you don’t have any others. They can also be tweaked to if needed. Here are some good default questions.
What is the best and worst part about working here?
This lets folks share what they enjoy and dislike about the job. Most folks will lead with the “enjoy” answer because they are trying to sell you on the position. But don’t let them skate away from the second part. Just like an interviewer can ask you about your areas for growth, you want to know what the company needs help with. You’re going to find out if you accept anyway.
One way to tie this into the interview would be to tweak it like this: “you mentioned the team dynamic is the best part of the job; what would you say is the worst or most challenging?”
What is the current retention rate for this team?
With this question, you learn how much employee churn there is.
Do they know? If they don’t, why not? If they do, is it high or low? What exact numbers are low and high vary based on industry and the greater economy.
Plan to ask some follow on questions about why churn is the way it is.
What would you want to know if you were in my shoes?
This is an open ended question that offers insight into what your interviewer thinks is important. Whether they discuss prod issues, technical details, broad strategy or internal personalities, that is what they have top of mind. If you ask this question of multiple team members and they all answer the same thing, well then, you know what is the burning issue of the day.
The answer might illuminate some aspect of the job that you wouldn’t have thought of as well.
How do you make money?
The key question. If you don’t have time for any other question and are still wondering how the company makes money, ask this. Your code is written to further some end. You want to know how what you do is connected to how the business makes money. If the interviewer doesn’t know, that’s problematic, as it indicates a disconnect between the team and the business, or the fact the business doesn’t have a way to make money. Yes, the latter happens, especially at startups. Either of these will cause problems later.
Do some prep. Take some time. Think about the best questions, and have them ready.