Technical Interview Questions

Technical interviews are an attempt by a hiring team to ask the correct questions of a candidate to determine if they would be a good technical fit for the open position.

These questions can sometimes uncover missing segments of knowledge that might identify opportunities for the candidate, or even disqualify the candidate for the open position. That is good information to know before you initiate the hiring process, but it can also help identify specific talents or abilities in a candidate that are above and beyond the minimum knowledge expected.

One of the obvious pitfalls of the technical interview is if the questioning turns into more of a trivia contest than a verification of expected knowledge.

One way to determine if a candidate knows how to solve a problem is to give them a problem and ask them to solve that problem during the interview. Sometimes the problem can be a specific technical issue, or a theoretical problem that is just to see if they can determine a simple solution using just the facts presented.

I have asked a simple question to candidates in the past that doesn’t really apply to the job opening they are applying for, but does provide insight into how they identify the issue, think through the possible answers, and provide them an opportunity to present their ideas.

Why is a manhole cover round?

You may never have thought of this question before, but why is a manhole cover round? You want the candidate to consider the possibilities and try to provide possible reasons for this design choice. It has nothing to do with the position they have applied for, but it will give a hiring manager an idea of how this person will respond to a problem that seems to come out of left field.

Do they think though the question or just respond with “I don’t know.” and quit? Have them speak about what they think about the question. Do they have an opinion about why they aren’t square, hexagon, or even oval in shape? Have they seen a manhole or know what they are used for in everyday life? Why do they think some manholes covers are not round?

Hopefully they can speak to possible reasons, which gives you the opportunity to ask how they would find a suitable response. If they just want to Google the answer, maybe ask them what else you might do to get a suitable answer if there isn’t a consensus on Google.

The possible correct answers are:

  • Manhole covers are round because it is the best shape to resist the compression of the surrounding soil.
  • Round manhole covers are easier to manufacture, move, and place than square or rectangular ones. The heavy covers can be easily rolled into position.
  • Manhole cover the size to fit the opening cannot fall through the circular opening, unlike other shapes. No one wants a 100-pound manhole cover dropping onto their head.
  • The cover doesn’t have to be aligned in any specific angle to be placed back onto the exposed manhole. Other shapes would require precise alignment.

Years ago, there was a candidate that guessed the covers are round because the men accessing the opening are also round. While this is funny, I don’t think that was a design consideration.

I hate interviews that turn into trivia contests, so I’d much rather be asked a tough question that allows me to show my ability to use my brain to find solutions instead of just demonstrating my ability to memorize technical trivia that anyone could easily look up.

(1) Why Are Manhole Covers Round? | Mental Floss.
(2) Why are manhole covers round? | Live Science.
(3) Why Are Manhole Covers Round? – ScienceABC.
(4) The Surprisingly Technical Reason That Manhole Covers Are Round.

Stop Hiring Terrible Managers

Hiring is one of the most serious activities you can do that will have a direct impact on the long-term success of your company. If you are hiring people who will make poor managers, or are already bad managers, you are actively hurting your company. The next question is how do you avoid hiring someone who is going to be a poor manager. In his article by Lou Adler we get some basic advice:

Here are some of the indicators for less experienced people who have the potential for management:

  1. Forget the “I” or “we” shortcut, instead look for people who are more proud of their team accomplishments. As you ask candidates to describe their most significant accomplishments look for a bias towards getting people to achieve a team result rather than an emphasis on individual contributor skills.  
  2. Volunteers or asks to lead team projects. Find out what type of projects the person has volunteered to do. Those with management aspirations and ability want to be involved in team projects in a leading capacity. If the person has been assigned to lead team projects, it’s a clue that others in the company think the person is also worth developing as a manager.
  3. Assigned to bigger and more important team projects. A track record of being assigned to expanding project roles indicates not only previous success but also upside potential.
  4. Proactively coaches others. Get examples of the person coaching other people who are peers. If the list is endless it’s an important clue the person enjoys helping others become stronger. This is a key trait of the best “coaching” managers.
  5. Assigned to multi-functional teams soon after starting with a new company. Find out how soon after starting with a company the person was assigned to work on an important multifunctional team. The sooner the better and less than six months is a great sign, especially if the person is working with important leaders in other departments and company executives.
  6. Hired by a former boss to take over an important team project. This is great evidence that the person is promotable.

If you are interviewing someone who is already a manager at their previous place of employment, you can’t just assume they were a great manager at that position, so what questions and which behaviors indicate a person is a good manager? Lou Adler has some additional advice on what to look for when conducting the interview:

  1. Comparable leadership skills. I define leadership as the ability to both visualize a solution to a complex problem and execute a successful solution. One way to assess this is to first engage in a back and forth discussion about how the person would handle a complex management challenge likely to be faced on the job. Make the problem increasingly complex to determine the point where the person’s thinking goes from specific to general. This represents the person’s current level of understanding. To validate the problem-solving skills ask the person to describe a past comparable accomplishment to determine ability to actually eliminate the problem. Both the thinking and execution responses need to map closely to real job needs.
  2. The quality of the teams they’ve built. Have candidates rank the quality of the people in their department. If they’re not strong find out why. If they are all strong find out the person’s grading system and how the team was hired and developed. It’s a great sign if the person has been able to attract previous co-workers.
  3. The process used to coach and develop their staff. Be concerned if a candidate doesn’t have even a rough development plan for each person on the team. If the candidate has one, determine how good it is.
  4. The trend of growth of the size of teams they’ve managed. A manager who has been promoted into bigger management jobs is a great sign. If it happens at multiple companies it’s even greater.
  5. Whether the person is more proud of management or individual contributor accomplishments. When I ask managers to describe their most significant accomplishments, I get very concerned when they describe an individual accomplishment. You should be, too.

How to Hire Correctly

You may be asked to work with your team to post and fill a new position at your company. Understanding how the process works and what you should and shouldn’t do is an important part of the process.

Lack of time and attention to the hiring process is the root cause of poor hiring decisions and having new employees who quit.I f you have hiring managers who see the interview and hiring process as an inconvenience, you will get poor new hires, or great new hires that fail to get the support they need to complete the transition to their new job.

If you have job candidates who were left waiting more than an hour while the their hiring manager ran late, or you keep applicants dangling for weeks before hiring decisions are complete, you may find that the best candidates are snapped up by competitors.

Here are some tips to help you make good hires every time.

  1. Be Clear About Your Requirements – Make sure that you have a complete and accurate job description and you understand the skills and experience required before you start the interview process. Choose interview questions that will enable you to quickly determine if the candidate’s experience is relevant to your job opening.
  2. Properly Evaluate Your Candidates – That means conducting full background checks, having multiple people in your company interview candidates, and speaking personally to references. It will take time and effort, but it is better to complete these tasks before hiring than find out about the issue after an offer has been accepted.
  3. Test Drive Each Candidate – While this isn’t always an option, consider temp-to-permanent, contract-to-hire, or working interviews. This allows both employer and potential employee a chance to see if they are a good fit. Be open and honest about why you think this is a good idea for them and you, with clear objectives and timelines for the process.
  4. Pay Fairly – Poor compensation is one of the major reasons a new hire may end their employment. For instance, someone who takes a job with you may get a better offer a few weeks later and decide to jump ship for better pay or benefits. Pay what the candidate is worth and expect they will work hard to keep the job.
  5. Ask Current Employees for Assistance – Don’t neglect to look inside your organization when you’re filling new or open positions. Even if they aren’t qualified for the position that you are posting, they may know someone who is qualified. If they are happy with your company, their recommendation to a potential new hire will go a long way towards finding a great candidate. Consider promoting from within. Proven employees who already know your company and fit in well with the culture are the easiest hires you’ll ever make.

Know How Employers Use Technology to Hire People

So you are looking for a job. Do you understand how companies use technology today when you apply for that new position? Effective job search strategies began changing in the mid-1990s with the appearance of the Internet, and you should adjust your job search skills to match the available technology. In the last few years, the widespread use of search engines and the growth of social media have changed recruiting in ways that are transparent to most job seekers. Not understanding those recent changes will make job hunting more challenging.

Technology Used by Employers

Just as you can use technology to find available jobs, employers can use technology to find information about prospective employees. Employers are using technology in three major ways that are transparent to job seekers:

Social media

Employers compare the resumes and applications submitted by job seekers with what social media shows about them. Do the dates provided, employers listed, job titles shown, education listed, etc, match between your LinkedIn and Facebook pages and the application provided? Do the other social media activities (LinkedIn groups, etc.) support the expertise and accomplishments claimed on the resume? Applicants who lack online validation of the “facts” on their resumes have a handicap and start the process of questioning your qualifications. This is why LinkedIn and Google Plus Profiles can be a job seeker’s best friend in today’s job market.

Search engines background checks

A 2010 study by Microsoft revealed that 80% of employers used search engines to discover information about job applicants. Beyond “social proof” of the resume or application, this research is a quick and cheap version of a basic background check. Searching through social media can help a job seeker by impressing the employer with positive information about activities and accomplishments. It can also hurt the job seeker by uncovering potential problems, inaccurate data, and bad behavior.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS)

Resumes submitted to many employers, particularly large employers, are often stored in a database known as an applicant tracking system. Use of an ATS makes the keywords used in resumes even more important than in the past. A resume which doesn’t contain the “correct” keywords (those the recruiter is using to search through the ATS for qualified applicants) will not be displayed to the recruiter by the ATS. Consequently, without the appropriate keywords in your resume, your resume will not be seen, no matter how qualified you are for the job.

How Job Seekers Use Technology

Job seekers can improve the probability of landing the target job through their own use of technology. Employers expect job seekers to intelligently use current technology as a demonstration of technical savvy and also as a demonstration of appropriate technical skills for today’s workplace. Not leveraging these technologies makes a job seeker look out-of-date, lazy, or both.

Use LinkedIn and Google Plus

Be sure potential employers find good information about you when they do their research. This is where LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus can be your best friends. Employers search the Internet for qualified candidates, so create robust social media profiles to ensure that a search on terms like your job title or key skills finds you quickly.

Online Reputation

Be mindful of all public online activity. Job seekers regularly lose out on opportunities because of damaging posts they have made in social media. And, job seekers without their own positive visibility on social media sites are vulnerable to losing opportunities because they look out of date or because of mistaken online identity. Make sure you have a positive online identity and aren’t easily confused with other people with the same or similar names.

Research Employers

Research will make you a more effective candidate and will also hopefully keep you from wasting your time trying to land a job you would hate. What are their products or services? What is their latest news? Who are their officers? Are they doing well or in financial difficulty? Do you know any employees (or know anyone who knows a current employee)? Impress employers with how interested you are in them and their jobs by doing this basic research and including the results in your correspondence.

Customize Resumes

Demonstrate your technical capabilities by customizing your resume to the specific requirements of the job posting you are applying for. Use the employer’s name and job title in the resume – “Objective: [their job title] for [employer name]” for example. Then, trump the ATS by analyzing the keywords used on the job description, and being sure to include the keywords appropriate for you in the resume you submit. This should increase the likelihood that your resume will appear in the ATS search results for that job.

Practice The Interview

Maybe you aren’t the best peaked, or are uncomfortable taking about your self. You might not normally rely on your speaking skills in day-to-day technical activities, but you will need to prepare for the inevitable interview. You will have to answer questions about yourself, explain why you are looking for a new job, describe your technical abilities, make small talk, etc. You want to look confident, intelligent, comfortable, etc. Research the internet and collect some common interview questions, and practice your answers to those questions that make you sound like the best candidate. You can visit sites like GlassDoor to collect real-world examples for questions asked by that specific employer, which might help reduce the potential surprise question that you don’t have a good answer for in advance. Never lie, but you can construct the truth to favor your situation.


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