I’ve worked for a lot of companies over the years, either as an employee or as a contractor. Some of those experiences has been fastastic. Some of them have been regretably dreadful. I’ve decided to put together a set of questions to ask during an interview to decide if a company is worth joining or not (I am interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing me). These are not the usual “what pension plan is there” questions. We’ll start with staff and training:
- How many people are in the team and what are their skills and experience levels? I want to discover what has to be done to bring the team up to speed if I am going to be in charge of it.
- What is the training program and budget? There are all sorts of wrong answers for this question. Any manager who thinks that a person reading a book or doing a 5 day course is a qualified expert will go down in my opinion. You need to invest in people to develop them. You need to give them budget and time.
- What is the lab environment and what is the budget? This is really important for a consulting company. None = the skill levels are out of date and there is little desire to improve them. No budget and procrastination on providing one indicates more issues.
Next we move onto the IT infrastructure:
- What laptop or PC will I be getting and when will I get it? Wrong answer: “Bob was just made redundant and you can have his hand-me-down when someone has a chance to look at it”. Anything like that or that is not precise indicates a lack of caring, probably a mess that they acknowledge but don’t want to change.
- What is the standard desktop operating system? If you are a consulting company then the wrong answers are Windows XP and Windows Vista. You cannot sell what you don’t use.
- What Microsoft licensing do you have? If you are in charge and you are signing the checks then you bet your ass that you know what MS licensing program you are on. See no evil, hear no evil and any “oh Bob the sys admin does all that” means they’re using TechNet or MSDN. That means there is no care for the infrastructure and that there is a potential €10,000 reqard from the BSA.
The HR stuff:
- Why is this position open and why would you hire me? What will I be doing? This is so I can find out what is the motivation behind the hiring. I don’t want to fall into a trap where someone has had an idea and middle management haven’t bought into it.
- Tell me about a relevant project that you have complated that I could have worked on. Do they have a history in this field? If not, then I want to know why not, and what they are doing to develop a program. Fluffy management speak wins zero points in this category.
- How will you be selling my services? This is important if you are a consultant. 70-80% utilisation/billable rates must be maintained or you lose your job. The wrong answers include “we’re having a meeting about that after you join” (meaning they have decided to hire but don’t have plans for the hiree) or “that’s your responsibility” (meaning they really don’t care and they should hire a sales person instead).
- Are any of the directors or managers related to each other? I’ve been there and done that. That’s a mess you want nothing to do with.
When I interview people, I not only pay attention to the answers but to the way that the questions are answered. Any odd looks, answers, delaying tactics, etc, and I know that there’s a rotten fish.