4 Interview Questions To See If Candidate & Company Values Align
Gauging a software developer’s career aspirations is crucial to understanding their long-term fit and potential growth within a company.
It takes many types of contributors to make your tech team successful, and knowing a candidate’s career aspirations can help you determine if their long-term goals match what your team needs and what you can offer.
Some candidates will excel as individual contributors, while others make good people managers, superb tech leads, notable architects, or outstanding mentors. What you want or need for your team will constantly change as people move in and out of it.
So, how do you tell a candidate’s career trajectory in the first place?
You ask them!
You can ask them the classic “Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?” but that question is:
- Pressures the candidate to give some canned answer about being with your company, even if it’s not true
- Doesn’t provide much insight into the candidate’s actual desires and motivations
There are more compelling questions for determining a candidate’s ambitions and prospects. Here are 4 of them.
Have them prioritize task types
Question 1: In your ideal role, how much time would you like to dedicate to hands-on coding versus other activities, like team leadership, architecture design, or mentoring?
As software engineers progress in their careers, there’s a significant chance they’ll reduce the amount they code and increase the higher-level, non-coding tasks that make a development team run smoothly.
This question helps interviewers understand where the candidate feels most passionate and comfortable. Some developers are mostly content guiding junior developers, while others derive satisfaction in designing architecture.
Others still will want to continue coding a lot, and that’s fine – these are the ones who usually become your team’s tech lead and are great for conducting code reviews and establishing best practices for your more junior developers. By understanding where a candidate fits, you can better build balanced teams.
Some other benefits of asking this question:
- You can also see what kind of opportunities you’ll need to create for the candidate if they join your team and you want to have them thrive and be successful with your company.
- In many organizations, especially smaller ones or startups, developers often wear multiple hats. By understanding a developer’s comfort and proficiency in these different roles, the organization can better allocate responsibilities.
- Additionally, knowing how a candidate prefers to split their time helps ensure they’re a good fit for the specific role they’re being hired for. For example, a role might be 80% hands-on coding and 20% design. If a candidate prefers a 50-50 split, there might be a misalignment.
Talk about what excites them
Question 2: Are there specific projects, technologies, or challenges you’re eager to tackle in the upcoming years?
This question will quickly let you know what motivates a candidate and how that fits with what your team can do and provide. As a bonus, employees who get to work on things they’re passionate about are generally happier and willing to stay longer with your company.
What excites candidates can give you further insight into the type of roles they might be a fit for in the future.
- Those interested in project management and leadership, such as sourcing project resources and ensuring team members collaborate effectively, may make excellent engineering managers.
- Engineers who want to help onboard new employees or develop onboarding processes that make the new hire transition easier are good mentors.
- You’ll also probably have candidates interested in designing software systems – they’ll usually express an interest in working with various technologies and teams.
This question may also help you determine a candidate’s dedication to continuous improvement and learning. The tech industry is dynamic, with new technologies and tools emerging regularly. Developers who are looking forward to working with upcoming technologies indicate that they keep themselves updated, which is crucial for the evolving nature of tech roles.
You can also use this question as a selling point for the job. If the candidate indicates they want to work with the newest React framework, you can tell them they can do that with your team. You can emphasize your company’s leadership training program if they’re interested in leadership.
The more you match the candidate’s interests with what you can provide, the more likely they’ll accept a position with you.
Figure out what they like outside of software development
Question 3: Do you have any aspirations to venture into areas outside of pure software development, such as product management, customer support, UX design, or even entrepreneurship?
Another area that shows a willingness to learn new things is asking what a candidate wants to do outside of development.
Yes, these candidates may leave for another department. But you also may have a software engineer who is good with UX design, another who understands the politics of getting project resources, and another who is excellent at getting customer feedback. They make great liaisons for working with other departments you may rely on, making your job much easier.
Part of hiring employees for the long term is being flexible with candidates possibly changing departments. While that may be a sacrifice for your team, it can be a boon for the company as a whole.
You should support possible career changes within your org, as people with cross-functional skills and training can bring insights that people who only focus on software development may not be able to bring.
Find out what fulfills them
Question 4: Which aspects of your past roles have you found most fulfilling, and which ones would you like to explore or expand upon in your next position? Which ones did you dislike?
There’s often a big difference between what you’re good at and what you like to do – this question helps separate those two.
You may be interviewing an engineer with tons of experience setting up async messaging services – but would much rather design APIs. If you only have them work on the former and skip out on their passion for API design, you will burn them out and have them quickly looking for a new job. If you give them something they love to do, you’ll be more likely to retain them.
Again, depending on the candidate’s answer, you can use this question to sell the job to them. If they LOVED working with databases in their last role, and you need a database person, then you can let them know of the great opportunity that lay before them.
This question can also identify mismatches between the candidate and the role. For instance, if a developer dislikes frequent context-switching, but the new role requires multitasking across several projects, it might not be a good fit. So, this question can be perfect for setting the expectations of the role so you don’t inadvertently hire the wrong person for the job.
While the main reason you’ll want to figure out a candidate’s career trajectory is to determine their fit with your team, there’s another one that’s not often thought of but is no less important:
The ones you do hire, you’re setting up for success because you already know how to set up an excellent environment for them.
In the end, it’s only the candidate you hire that matters at the end of the interview process. Creating a great candidate experience carries over well after these new hires’ interviews. Make things go great during the interview, and you’ll have a superstar employee who will grow with your team and organization.
Some parts of this blog post were written with the assistance of ChatGPT.