interviewee questions ⬇️
We often think about preparing for job interviews so that we as candidates come across as well as we can. But we
rarely think of the best questions that we can ask employers. I have been on the hiring side far more often than
not, and in my experience it has been rare to be grilled on my team or company or culture. This is a shame! We
should strive for an honest conversation about whether this is the right role for people on both sides of the
table. People don't want to work somewhere they don't enjoy, and employers should not want to hire people who
will quickly leave when they figure out it's not what they expected.
list of questions ⬇️
So I will lay out a list of questions that I think are good for candidates to ask potential employers. You
need to figure out what you care about most and pick the questions you want to ask in order of their
importance to you. If not all of them are adequately answered in the interview, follow up with an email and
ask the company to add more detail, or ask to speak to someone on the team you will join. If they do not
know what team you will join, this is a sign that hiring is not entirely joined up with Engineering.
Each question will have a sub-section that explains the thinking behind it and what a good and bad answer to
the question might look like from the interviewer.
1. How do you know that your teams are performing well?
You should get a sense of:
a) how teams are doing at a high level: something like "well I speak
to Engineers on a regular basis and they tell me they are doing their best work and are really
enjoying it" or you may get a more wishy-washy "so the teams are adapting to some new
circumstances, there is a really interesting challenge here to grow fast and solve customer
problems". Personally the first answer is a great sign that it is understood what is going
on in the teams and how people feel really matters; the second answer tells me they cannot
answer the question directly because it's not going so well and that might be okay, maybe that's
why they need you(!) but it also implies that management don't really know how Engineers are
doing personally and professionally.
b) whether empowering people to do their best work is being thought
about: you might hear "well we don't really know exactly how teams are performing as that's
very hard to measure, but we do know that we are giving teams the time and space (autonomy) to
decide how best to achieve the goals (mastery) that they have helped form themselves
(purpose)". Or you might hear "well people work really hard and the people are just great
and we always get so much stuff done". The first answer clearly shows that people are
trusted and empowered, the second answer may equally describe the same place but to me it's a
sign that a sense of success is tied to ticking things off and looking like you are being
effective by "working hard", rather than success being tied to outcomes or setting up the right
environment and culture.
c) if the company has some sort of structured goals that are being met
or exceeded: "well for the past 12 months now we have run a form of quarterly goals, where we
debate the best goals to set team by team, in light of new information that we have uncovered
and we are always happy about our outcomes, progress and what we learn". Or maybe you get
"well when I think back to all the things that we have achieved, it's really amazing".
The first answer shows some structured approach to goals whereas the second answer is just a
feeling that lots of things have been done over a long period of time. You may prefer chaos or a
lack of structure, but for me it's important that there is regular honest reflection on goals in
order for the organisation to learn and to force healthy debate of whether products or features
should be retired or if there are better opportunities being missed and often Engineers on the
ground have some great bold ideas for better things to be building that deserve serious debate.
d) how teams work and measure themselves: you may get "well our
teams track their accelerate metrics (see this talk) and so we
know we are in the top decile of Engineering teams: we recover quickly from issues, we deploy
small changes often (10 times/day per team), we are continuously learning" or you may
instead hear "we have lots of testing and deploy every day, we have test environments and a
great QA team who catch a ton of things". I think this one is deserving of a
lengthy discussion but to sum up: if your
DORA metrics are good then you are likely a high performing team, and vice versa. I won't go
into why having a QA team is shaky ground right now.
2. Why will you beat the competition? Or if you fail, why will that be?
You should get a sense of:
a) do they understand their product offering?: something like "well
the main point of differentiation of our product over competitors' products is that we enable
them to do X which opens up the opportunity for Y, and that is a really hard problem to solve
because you need A, B and C to do that, so it's highly defensible, and it scales really
well. Looking at the macro trends for the industry, this is the way we think it's going, but
there is a chance we could fail if D, E or F happens and we do not adapt quickly enough". Or
maybe you'll hear "There is no competition, we are our own category. If someone copies us
they will not work as hard and cannot catch us up. I can't think of a reason why we would
fail". A strong understanding of the product offering is absolutely crucial to moving
effectively in a direction as a company. Key metrics are also useful: customer facing ones such
as conversion rate or retention and internal ones like staff attrition and satisfaction. On the
failure part, you are looking for some awareness that a) luck is involved, b) anything can
happen and c) companies can copy you, companies with more resources and capability or companies
that are smaller and more nimble. If it's not at least acknowledged then this indicates a lack
of self-awareness and an ability to fairly criticise oneself, reflect honestly and grow as an
3. How do you reward people fairly?
You should get a sense of:
a) how is "great" work understood something like "well it's hard to
be entirely fair, but we gather structured feedback from teammates, we assess team performance
and company performance overall". Or maybe you'll hear "well we pay a competitive salary,
have a bonus scheme and shares, and we have a career ladder". It is incredibly hard to
reward fairly because outcomes depend on lots of things out of your control and depend on your
personal brand and how that looks to this particular company.
a) what behaviours are rewarded? something like "". Or maybe
you'll hear "well we pay a competitive salary, have a bonus scheme and shares, and we have a
career ladder" .
interviews should be trying to get the best out of you, not arbitrary hoops to jump through. this also means
its about providing you with a comfortable environment, the kind of assessment that you enjoy, pairing with
you through the assessment, getting your feedback at the end so that they can adjust for your experience of