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The seven best IT interview questions for finding the right candidate

These IT interview questions will help you narrow your search for that elusive perfect hire

Female candidate being interviewed for a new role

In an ideal world, job interviews would be a stress-free meeting of candidates and recruiters where the latter finds sought-after skillsets and the former lands a dream job. However, many talented people fail at the interview stage and it's not always a fault on their part.

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Hiring managers aren't giving out jobs simply for the benefit of candidates; they need someone to do specific tasks. This starts by either collecting resumes or headhunting and often ends with someone sitting across a table ready to answer questions about their suitability. But what you ask can be the key between hiring and overlooking talented individuals.

For this, hiring managers need to be well accustomed to the position they have available and also have a set of questions appropriate for the role. But beyond that, there also needs to be room for the candidate to express themselves and highlight their own unique personality and skillsets, and this is where some creative questions can shine.

1. “Why do you want to change your job?”

Noemi Botella, HR manager for Freepik Company, and Alejandro Gomez, CTO for Freepik Company both agree that some of the best IT interview questions need to relate to the interviewee's desire and motivation to investigate new job opportunities and personal character.

At Freepik Company, the IT area has over 60 people working each day and teamwork between employees is essential. New additions who join the company's ranks must demonstrate passion and willingness to learn and work in a team setting.

“Asking about hobbies and how they spend their spare time gives very valuable information,” says Alejandro Gómez. However, Noemi Botella says it's important for her to know the interviewee's reason or motivation for pursuing the interview and moving on from their current employment.

“The answer should show commitment to their potential new job,” according to Botella. “In general, what is expected from the interviewee is a good attitude towards work and life, and that they understand the corporate culture.”

2. “What is your biggest accomplishment to date and how did it support the business?”

Sarah Doughty is TalentLab's director of recruitment, an IT recruitment company that specializes in finding, discovering and hiring workers in the IT industry. She recommends asking interviewees questions that allows you to find out about their track record for creating a positive impact and adding value. Doughty finds that the best IT interview questions are directly related to a candidate's most recent achievements and how they support an organization.

“Asking candidates to explain how it supported the business further validates their understanding of the true goals of the work they are doing. It's incredibly common in high-tech for there to be a disconnect between engineers and the business,” says Doughty.

Of course, it’s also important to understand real-life situations that might frustrate a candidate. According to Doughty, some of the best IT interview questions provide candidates with the opportunity to candidly vent about their current situation. This allows the hiring manager to gain a more accurate understanding of the candidate’s true career goals.

3. “Tell me about a time you needed help - how did you get past it?”

As Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, would put it, technical interviews are less about the specifics of what a person knows but more about the soft skills necessary to be a great IT employee. Sherman recommends asking candidates about their problem-solving abilities to best assess their coachability and communication skills.

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“This question will tell me two things,” says Sherman. “How honest are you and are you willing to accept input from outside? I don't care who you are or how good you think you are. You are going to get stuck at some point and how will you handle it when you do? The IT community is very communicative and willing to help so if you're willing to accept help, you're far more valuable to me.”

4. “What was the last thing you learned?”

With over a decade of experience in tech recruiting, Michael Green, vice president of Nelson Frank, has a wealth of advice to offer hiring managers on the search for the best IT interview questions.

“Technical capabilities can be tested before you speak face-to-face, so determining soft skills should take precedence during the interview,” According to Green. “A question I really like, if someone mentions that they’re a quick learner, is ‘what was the last thing you learned?’”

According to Green, this question gives an interviewee the opportunity to give a concrete example of their abilities and allows hiring managers to see how they might react when put on the spot.

5. "Do you have the skills to do this job?"

For Shannon Block, executive director and chief operating officer at Skillful, skills-based questions are the best IT interview questions. These questions should be rooted in the specific skill sets needed to perform the job. In many cases, this means candidates must possess a combination of foundational and occupational skills.

Block also says, “There needs to be a realization beforehand of which IT skills you need in someone coming in the door and which are more easily acquired on the job".

“Nearly half of web developers now do not have a college degree,” Block continued. “So also eliminating these proxies and instead focusing on the skills can help you find the winning talent."

6. "What do you think of when walking through the woods?"

Kilian Kunst, CEO & founder of Streamstars UG and creator of Age of Chains, takes a more creative approach when interviewing candidates for an IT position. When it comes to best IT interview questions, Kunst hones in on a person’s creative side by asking questions that some might refer to as head-scratchers.

“I find ‘What do you think of when walking through the woods?’ is the most important,” says Kunst. “The question touches the creativity of the applicant and shows how he reacts to unexpected situations as there is no way he thought about an answer to this question beforehand.”

“In addition,” Kunst continued. “His answer will tell you a lot about his character. If he walks around thinking about the bug he has to fix, he likely is an analytical problem-solver. Does he pay attention to the animals and plants? Then he is very attentive, empathetic and artistic. There is an infinite amount of ways to answer the question [and] the applicant's answer will give you a true and natural impression of the person you are going to hire.”

7. "Would you be able to demonstrate your skills in a test?"

For Omer Tadjer, co-founder and CEO of Comeet, the best IT interview questions address a number of factors related to soft and technical skills. From asking questions that can help you discover the candidate’s overall potential to asking more leadership-focused questions based on time-management, and problem-solving skills, there are numerous ways to determine whether or not a candidate is a fit for the job.

Ultimately, though, according to Tadjer, “the best way to really get to a candidate’s technical skills is to skip the interview!”

“The most reliable way to find out if the candidate brings technical qualifications is to test them,” says Tadjer. “Give them a reasonable task that any qualified engineer could complete in a couple of hours and see how they do.”

Trust your gut

Perhaps the best advice to hiring managers and teams leaders is simply to trust their gut instincts. While you can relay a set of preplanned questions during an interview, it doesn't have to be completely scripted. If you feel an interviewee hasn't given a clear enough answer or they've brought up something else of interest, it's perfectly acceptable to ask for more information.

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