Thoughts on interviewing

While I take a break from redoing my website, I was thinking.

Once upon a time…

For a while at eBay, I was one of the regular interviewers for product manager and developer candidates. As a PM, my workflow was essentially, “Don’t do dumb things.” I certainly wasn’t qualified to ask about their theories on statistical analysis or financial reporting. As a developer, I was best qualified to weed out idiots, liars, and fakers. Instead, I focused on the thought process of solving a problem and unique skills our candidates – and the dreaded cultural fit interview.

Now that I’m in design full-time, I’m thinking about how we interview people again. I don’t need another designer to walk me through their entire portfolio. If I approve you for an interview, I already think your work is nice. I’m bringing you in because I want to hear you talk about how you think and learn about the you that isn’t wrapped up in pixels (and yes, make sure you didn’t fake your portfolio).

To this day, I think culture fit is important. This is not an excuse for a monoculture. This is not a desire to hire people to go drinking with. This is not about finding someone I want to be stuck on a desert island with for a good time.

Coworkers who blow stuff up

For those who missed it, the stars of the now-ended Mythbusters, Jamie and Adam, don’t like each other. They aren’t friends, they don’t go out to dinner, and they don’t miss each other. They did, however, make very good television. Why?

  • Complementary skills
  • Complementary personalities
  • Boundaries
  • A shared goal

It’s not supposed to be fun

I knocked the ‘desert island’ metaphor above, but if you twist it you’ll see a reasonable approach. Being stuck on a desert island isn’t going to be fun. I want shade, fresh water and food – I want to get off the island alive. What’s your toolkit like? What do you prioritize? How do you tackle adversity?

No, we’re not getting stuck on a desert island anytime soon, so let’s drop the abstract metaphor and make people answer some hard questions (or as hard as they get in an interview, anyway). Work *isn’t* always fun. It can be stressful, heartbreaking and generally irritating. I want to know that you’re aware of yourself and won’t run for the hills the first time things get hard and tempers fray. Remember, there are no trick questions here.

Tell me about saying, ‘No.’

Everyone has a line they won’t cross. Where is yours?

Tell me about being wrong.

What’s an opinion or assumption you had that changed recently? Why did it change?

Tell me about being right.

How did you convince others? Were you vindicated after the fact? How do you define, ‘right?’

Tell me about a bit of good luck.

We’ve all gotten lucky. Be honest with me.

What’s the last thing that stressed you out?

What did it take to resolve the situation? Did it bleed over? How do you handle stress?

If you started a business, what would it be?

Starting a business is no easy task. What do you think is worth the stress? Then, build a plan. Find your knowns and unknowns. Prioritize. Iterate. Where do you want to end up?

Credit where it’s due

Slack HQ
Zoe Henry @