Performing Technical Interviews For Consulting Clients

Clayton Neff Consulting, Opinion, Soft Skills Leave a Comment

Attention: The following article was published over 2 years ago, and the information provided may be aged or outdated. Please keep that in mind as you read the post.

The situation will occasionally arise when we have gained enough respect and confidence from our clients that they will ask us to help them interview new technical people to join the team. As consultants, it’s important for us to be the person that our client needs us to be at the time, so we are definitely willing to help. But, needless to say, this situation must be handled with ‘kid gloves.’

Many managers are uncomfortable performing a technical interview in an area they do not feel competent in. Typically, that is when they will ask for your help in the interview process. As technical consultants, we should be able to provide useful feedback to them about the person’s apparent abilities. When it comes to the ‘soft skills,’ we want to ensure we’re on the same page with the client as to if we should limit the interactions to just the technical topics.

Whether you’re a consultant helping your client, or the client manager looking to fill your employee team, there are a number of topics that must be considered when searching for the right technical person. In this post, I will point out some useful topics to concentrate on while performing a technical interview– and why they are important questions to ask before hiring a new person to the team.

Technology Stack

First, you will want to find out what technology stack their current project is. Compare the stack with what your company is moving toward. Is the candidate familiar with any or all parts of it? Are they completely up-to-date with the pieces they are familiar with?

After all, finding someone with extensive experience with Java 6 isn’t very helpful if you are making extensive use of Java 8 features.

Tool Set

Have a list of all the tools you expect a member of your team to be familiar with. You will want to include all the tools used by every member.

Someone who came in for a development interview may end up being a better fit for a DevOps position that your client wasn’t aware they needed, so it is important to ask the candidate about every tool. Seeing if they are comfortable with admitting ignorance will help in the ultimate decision making.

Past Projects

Ask the candidate what kind of projects they have previously worked on and its capacity. This is often touched upon in their resume, and you can use that as a starting place to ask for more information. You can get a better feel for what they are seeking by asking what parts of their past projects they enjoyed the most.

Development Methodology

Is your client using some form of Scrum, paired programming, extreme programming, agile, or some other buzzword? If so, you will want to find out if the candidate is familiar with the basics of that methodology.

Which have they used in the past? Did they think they were successful? Why or why not?

Try not to give your own opinions away for the methodology in use by your client, positive or negative.

Current Project Challenges

Share with the candidate some of the technical challenges that your project is facing. Get them to talk a bit about how they might approach or solve them.

Don’t dismiss any of their ideas during the interview. Who knows, even the ones that seem silly might contain a nugget or two that you can exploit.

Wrap Up

Remember, this interview isn’t about you or how much you know. Instead, it is to gather information that your client can use to make their decision. Try and keep your recommendations about the candidate’s skills and experience; not about how nervous they were.

If you’re a consultant, you must remember that it is up to the client to decide if they would be a good fit on the team, not you.

Finally, remember that being asked by your client to help with this very sensitive and essential task shows how much they value what you bring to their company. They know they need your expertise or they wouldn’t have you there. Asking you to help with an interview means they trust your judgment and to look out for what’s best for them, not just yourself. It’s a high compliment indeed.

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