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Creating an Effective Developer Interview Process

Lesson 8 of 16

Situational Questions

Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Creating an Effective Developer Interview Process

Gayle Laakmann McDowell

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Lesson Info

8. Situational Questions

Lesson Info

Situational Questions

So that's the kind of the opening questions. They're great questions. Probably not something you want to rely on exclusively but great for opening up an interview. A lot of questions. You, you know, you might ask There are more situational talking about a time when you face the heart challenged like that. So, um, no. I at all sometimes asked trends in this situation and that. But if it's some behavioral stuff, particularly when you start talking about management roles in like that conflicts, challenges, showing influence, things like that. So sometimes he will do poorly because they get very, very specific questions. So I WAAS don't judge me, I have an MBA. But when I was doing my MBA interviews, I got asked the question that was like que mind that I didn't like my prior experience was like basically being a coder for three or four years. I got us ask questions like time at a time when you're giving a presentation to a group of people who are more senior than you and disagree with what...

you're saying and you had to influence that, it was very, very specific situation. I'm like, I don't think I did any presentations when I was at Google at all. Like it just wasn't the way you guys a junior and it just on the way we did things that's were able to come up with something and tweak something that wasn't really presentation into that. I was like this very unnecessarily specific question. Why? I mean, although it's going to do is get actually worse answer from me because I won't be able to think of the right thing and ultimately was interviewed. Was really trying to get it out as Tell me about how you influence people. That's really was asking, and I don't actually recommend hypotheticals like that, but he could have just asked it more like that. Tell me about a time when you influence people. That's really what your understanding. Just asking a more open into question and you'll actually get more. You actually get higher quality and sex. Uh, another common thing people make kind of a safe people make is just not going to enough detail. So they are very, very fake about things They dio crowding the team for everything. Really, really common. People say we us the team, they might not a whole lot, but they credit the whole team for itself. Uh and then another common mistake that caused people to do poorly is they just get discouraged by your responses. They feel like you're not engaged, uh, or that you disagree with them and they just get discouraged. It makes them do poorly. And that goes for really any part of interview process. So what? Sometimes So someone bad could do well on that often happens. People are super super paired when they're very good at kind of bullshitting, Uh and then you know so certain out of randomness, you ask the right questions and they happen to have good answers. One thing that happens is that actual when you asked very, very specific questions, not only can that make good candidates do poorly because they don't have a question unanswered ready. But when you're evaluating their response, you'll serve inherently. Compare it to other people. You've asked them questions so that bad candid happens to have a reasonably sufficient answer. That question you might think they're good when really they're not where she asked him or opening a question is more fair to the good candidates. The bad Candice, will you have a more fair comparison for the bad candidates? So when you're doing these questions, avoid hypotheticals. Try not to say, you know, you telling about how you handle projects, her challenges, things like that asking that's a little more specific. This way you get at somebody's what they've actually done avoid prime ing This is this an attractive one? So, um, if you get asked no time at a time when you if you absolutely have come at a time when you resolve the conflict, that's prime ing them, you're assuming that they have resulted from that a little bit date. If you just say talking about how you you know, how you coming out of conflict you faced rather than assuming that they have solved it, really? Because maybe, you know, if it's an obstacle, maybe they didn't over can't come it. Maybe they faced it and they didn't overcome it and that they could actually still have a good answer. There. It could be they did not overcome it. But they learned this or that, that from it, and they could actually very positive answer. There's no need to prime there's acid, you know How do you handle? Tell me at a time when you had to handle the conflict and like that, keep them open ish as you get more civic as I talked about, You're not helping yourself. It all, you know, helping them avoid superlatives. So avoid. You know, the part is project Ask that hard project not hardest bug, a hard bug, simple things and then a zit talked about one of the comet 60 will make is they just are very vague. They don't really articulate their own accomplishments enough. They I've seen people do these very sweeping things, like going to a bunch of detail about what the situation is and essentially their action, that the thing that they did to handle it was like, you know, right email laying out the situation to all the customers and then with U, X, Y and Z. And then they had this, and it's nearly didn't hear the important start. So this is when I push a lot on its on you as an interviewer to get the information out you want. The candidate did not go into enough detail about the actions. And if they attribute everything, their team it is on you to get that data out. So drill deeper asphalt questions you can think about. One way to think, to think about as an interviewer is get out the how they did it on the why make sure that you've understood that if you haven't understood that, yes, the interviewer, the candidate may not be a good candidate, but you also may not have been a great interviewer. So look at the how and the why make sure you've understood those things. The other thing you can look at another way you can think about is, you know, tipped off to cancel out about this about understanding, articulating things in terms of the situation, the action, the result on that's how they should think about framing their responses. But you, as an interviewer, can also think about framing that. In that perspective, have you really heard the actions that they've talked and really drilling more in there and then be really reassuring an offer positive reinforcement and this goes for the whole interview process. But I will often as cheesy as it is I will pick up and deal with the interviewer's like a lot of engineers frankly, who aren't very smiling, happy. And, you know, there's one person I used to work with, who he was genuinely a kind person. But he was not at all friendly, kind of unfriendly, so different things. He was kind, sure, but he was not friendly guy. I don't think I worked in the three of something I saw. This guy smiled once. I have no doubt that every candidate he interviewed with came out thinking they did point. In fact, I talked to some of his old candidates because someone like eventually joining Google and some was like, Oh, yeah, totally bombed that interview. Those terrible And I'm like, No, actually, you didn't I was on the hiring, but I remember that you actually really well, um, be just really positive. Assuring one thing after I will often do with candid with interviewers who are like that is this is really cheesy, but giving them actually a like list of nice things to say cheesy. But it helps, like just, you know, it's really hard for somebody who is not a smiley person to be smiling, bubbling, happy and whatever. But what everybody can dio is make a conscious effort to say, huh? Interesting. Good point. Well, cool, right? Like it's cheesy. But anything you can do, can it's just cling to and interpret everything from So you want to make sure that that really in reinforcement, you're giving us positive? Not negative, Do they say, Oh, I don't want to say Oh, good. Mostly, Yeah. In of yours? Yeah. They A lot of I think most people realize you. I'm sure this guy I worked with like, I'm sure he knows he's not a smiley, happy, bubbly person, right? I just don't think he realized how that come across two candidates and that he can work with it, right? Like people have a study of like, Look, I'm not Smiley happy. How can I fix that? You OK? You keep fix it if you can, but it's hard, but you can do these other things. I think most will are actually open to that on. And what all often do is related to like a first date like people, someone who's really, really, really insecure on their first date. And they're clinging to every single bit of feedback. They get the same thing. Interview can cleaned every piece of feedback they get, dangle the positive things in front of them, matter how they're doing things, you give them positive reinforcement. Um, other thing is, know what you're looking for? Have a clear focus. Uh, this doesn't have to be a long, detailed list of all the different skills, but you know, 10 different attributes, but have some basic idea of what you're looking for. There was a time when I was shadowing a whole bunch of interviews for a company, and they the inner the. After the interview, some interviewers noted, one wanted to interviewers noted a concern that they weren't sure that the candidate could really like operate quickly in their fast paced environment. But nobody ever asked about that. There's no question that got out that they were just purely based on that base in the cannons prior resume, they found those companies were not known from moving quickly, so there's made assumption they never even figured out what they're looking for until after the fact that's, you know, in a very much interview assault. Know what you're looking for? A front cross check so interviewers can have primary focus is if you're like this is what we really need. Technical leadership. We really need somebody who is, You know, you can deal with conflicts. Well, whatever. Have interviewers have primary roles, but make them overlap? So, yes, my primary focus might be assessing their leadership. But ideally, somebody else, that's that's a secondary focus. So there's some overlap there, you know, some sort of cross checking.

Class Description

In this workshop led by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, former Google software engineer, interviewer and the author of the bestselling book Cracking the Coding Interview, you'll be hands-on, covering all the specifics you'll need to know about coding interviews. It will start with an overview of the hiring process and dive into more detail about types of interview questions (behavioral, knowledge, algorithms/coding, and design). You will learn how to create a hiring process that is efficient, sets a high and consistent bar, and attracts strong candidates.

Although sections of the workshop will be highly technical, non-technical people are encouraged to attend. You will learn:

  • Differences between assessing senior candidates and junior candidates
  • The goals and limitations of technology-specific questions
  • Selecting and asking appropriate algorithm questions
  • Mechanisms to evaluate coding skills, including whiteboards, laptops and code assessment tools
This class is your comprehensive guide to hiring the right developer for your company. 

In Partnership with Greylock Partners 



What an awesome opportunity to learn from one of the best on the topic! This course has value for anyone who's looking to hire or work with technical talent! I've attended tons of talent conferences and this course succinctly and tactically address how to effectively interview engineers. Highly recommended.

Kevin Scott

Terrific class with unique eye opening content. This class applies for any Dev. hiring team, whether startups or large, established companies. I recommend this training tool to anyone wanting to help others improve their own interviewing skill set and build dynamic hiring processes / plans.


This class was exactly as billed - I received in depth knowledge of how to create great developer interviews. Gayle was very organized and presented her info in a dynamic, inter-active environment. It was really great to be part of the studio audience.