"Though I could have pressed him for the technical answer, the response he gave was basically stating that if the application had been architecturally correct, the problem wouldn't exist," Morgan says. "This was way more valuable to me than any technical answer he would have given."
In general, Morgan, like Neal, believes in the power of questions that push a candidate to the limit of his or her knowledge. "I'm looking to weed out the people who would rather make up an answer than to say 'I don't know,'" Morgan says. "If they try to BS in the interview, they'll try to BS on the job."
Wanted: Work-hard, play-hard atmosphere
Aundrea Marchionna has been in the IT business -- and on both sides of the interview desk -- since 1989 in a variety of programming and development positions. Her most recent job interview as a candidate took place last fall, when she applied for the job she holds now as a technical architect at MRM Worldwide, a digital and direct marketing agency.
For Marchionna, the best questions are straightforward and predictable: "How do you explain a technical process to nontechnical colleagues?" "How do you break down a large idea into manageable pieces?"
The worst interview Marchionna has had in her career was one, not too many years ago, in which the interviewer didn't so much try to stump her with tricky questions as mislead her about the company she'd be working for. "Basically, he lied about the environment there and what the job would entail," Marchionna says. "I wasn't with them very long."
The best interview, by contrast, took place on Halloween, at the company where she now works. It began with the human resources person meeting her at the door dressed as a penguin. "You could tell this was a work-hard, play-hard kind of place," she says. "But beyond that, the way the interview was conducted, in a group, gave me a sense that this was a team-oriented place. You could tell there was a good dynamic between the business and tech people."
In the end, the number of cows in Canada notwithstanding, "that's what we all really want," Marchionna says.
Wilkinson, a Lexington, Va., writer, is the former publisher of Brain,Child Magazine.
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