I do an awful lot of interviews. Sadly, few people ask questions like this.
It’s too bad because at least with me, I’m far more impressed with candidates who turn the tables on me and interview me as well. Far too many end up just trying to be “amendable” and “impress”. My advice to people interviewing is, don’t worry about fucking it up. Think about what you want in a job and make sure the place you are looking at will give you what you want. If the place is really good, the interviewer is probably going to be delighted that you asked more probing questions.
I worry a bit about this advice – asking tons of questions is working well for me right now, but it also depends on the market and how much privilege/power you have as an interviewee.
and if you don’t and end up somewhere were you only got the job because you didn’t ask questions? it fills an immediate economic need but we are talking about software engineering jobs. the ratio of supply to demand is greatly skewed towards demand.
Eh, I’m totally on board the ask-lots-of-questions train–I have been known to ask more questions of my interviewer than they asked me!–but let’s not pretend there’s not risk involved. For example, a company’s parental leave policies are a GREAT (maybe one of the best) indicators of their approach to gender relations and work-life balance, but as a woman of childbearing age there is no way in hell I’m risking an offer by bringing that up in an interviewing situation, even though I know that legally and in a perfect world that is not supposed to influence hiring decisions. (FFS, I feel the need to disclaim that I have no interest in taking advantage of anywhere’s paternal leave anytime soon, in case someone I know in real life is reading this!) Most of the questions under “quality of life” have similar implications that can potentially be negative; if you’re working against various implicit biases to begin with the risks involved in even planting that seed of doubt may not be acceptable. There’s other skews than demand over supply in the software engineering world…
i wasn’t trying to say there is no risk. i’m suggesting that not asking those questions mean you risk ending up somewhere you aren’t going to want to work and that has to be balanced again the need for gainful employment. we are fortunate as engineers that we can be more selective. unfortunately, due to various biases, some of us can afford to be more selective than others, but as a profession, we are blessed that we can regularly take this into account.
Agreed! I’d add that if you’re on the hiring/recruitment side it’s worth thinking about how your potential hires are weighing that risk vs information calculation. If the answers to any of those more risky questions are a selling point for your company, getting out ahead of that dilemma by volunteering that info up front or highlighting it in your job listings is a great idea.
i try to do that as the vast majority of the time, i’m on the hiring/recruiting side.
It doesn’t need to be tons of questions, but 3 good probing questions can easily give you a feel for what the company and environment are really like.
My advice to people interviewing is, don’t worry about fucking it up.
I think I understand the intended mindset this is meant to advocate, but I wonder if this works when I know I’m interviewing for my dream job? How do I not worry about the interview, when I, as the interviewee, already know the job is precisely what I want? This seems like a special case where my primary objective has to be to impress and possibly show I’m amenable (we’re talking about a dream job after all).
Further, what if I give the interviewer the wrong impression by asking questions that could either be interpreted as pedantic or intrusive? What if I give the interviewer the impression I don’t trust the company to get even the basics right? Leading with the impression that I’m concerned at once with small details most decent places are bound to get right or showing mistrust doesn’t seem like something an employer is likely to respond positively to. Conversely I do see how some of these questions might be interpreted positively, as showing an interest in the particulars of the job and how they relate to you as a potential employee–certainly that should be a positive signal to the interviewer.
However, if I know I’m interviewing for my dream job, I’m probably not wondering if they use version control, for instance. And asking a question like that seems like it could be a bit of a red flag or at best noise that could be avoided in favor of more relevant discussion. So maybe this list is potentially less applicable to an interview you know you can’t fuck up. In which case, I’m not sure I can walk into an interview without worrying if I’m going to make a misstep.