Job Interviews Only Have Three Questions

Pulling His CollarJob interview questions are interesting, tough, conversational, crazy and insane. I think I’ve written about fifty articles about different interview questions and how to answer them. Others have lists of questions asked at specific companies. Crowd sourcing, almost: Everyone going through an interview at a specific company adds to the list of the interview questions asked.

When you get right down to it, though, there are only three interview questions that really count. Answer them, and you put yourself in a position to get the job offer. And they are:

1. Can you do the job?

This question asks if you have the job skills to do the work. If you apply to a hospital to work as a doctor and you don’t have a medical license, you won’t be in the running. If the job description has the 4,152 job skills in it, you have to show you can match up with most of them to stay in the running.

Job skills are mostly covered in the phone interview. Someone there is filtering potential candidates by eliminating those who that don’t have enough check marks next to the job skills box.

2. Are you motivated to do the work?

This question gets to the heart of why you like your work. It asks if you’ll work through issues and problems to get things get done, even when the going gets tough.

This is not “enthusiasm” or “employee engagement.” Those may help, but it’s more about the hero’s journey — you, our hero, encounter obstacles and overcome them to get to the desired outcome.

3. Will you fit in with the manager and team?

The biggest reason people leave companies is because of their relationship with the manager. If you’re the manager, it makes sense to make sure you can work with the person you hire, and that this person will help you make your management and business goals. If you, as a manager, don’t think that will happen with the person you’re interviewing, why would you hire them?

Also, every time someone new joins, the team changes. The dynamics change. Insert your favorite sports story here about how new players join teams and make them great — or destroy them. You’ve all seen it. Making sure the new person fits into and complements the team is paramount.

Sure, there are hundreds of job interview questions. If you get thrown a curve ball, break it down into one of these three. Then form your answer from there.

Comments

  1. BY jen says:

    #3 would pretty much eliminate woman from male dominated IT specialties. Do you have any useful advise for woman or is this a typical boiz club post?

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      Jen — this has nothing to do with women; it has to do with fitting into the team.

      What’s a fit? You have skills that can help the team accomplish goals. More importantly, when you say you will do something that contributes to the team, you actually do it. Contributing to the team means the team can count on you to do what you say you will do. Otherwise, others have to cover for you, taking away their time to contribute and building resentment that you can’t do what you say you will do.

      Now, are their boiz clubs out there? I’m sure. You should be asking hard questions in the interview to see what type of team dynamics are out there and if you are willing to try and fit into that dynamic. But this isn’t about male dominated teams; this is about what you can uniquely contribute to the team to make the team better. The sooner you can determine what that contribution is, the better off you’ll be in your position.

  2. BY Robert says:

    I don’t understand how #3 eliminates women. You will either fit in with the team or you won’t.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      True — it is how you can have a unique contribution to the team and make the team, as a whole, do better. Unless you can carve out a unique contribution, you won’t have a perception of adding to the team.

  3. BY Judith Kapris says:

    I would challenge any man to a sports trivia contest, especially related to any of the Miami Hurricanes, Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins info. I am also current on what’s in the news. Living with three men at home is the equivalent to “fitting in to a work environment”. Some of us have to be involved in sports in order to be with our families.

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      My wife is a bigger Packer fan than I am and she grew up in Los Angeles and I was born and raised in Wisconsin. It’s not about sports.

      The team fit is more about how your skill sets complement the other skills on a team. The most important role of a team member is to have the other team members be able to rely on you to get your work done. If you don’t, they need to cover for you, taking away from their ability to do their role. If your team can’t count on you to do your job, you won’t fit.

      You need to have the job skills, of course. But this is about doing your work and finding your unique contribution to the team. That’s how you fit. Judith is spot on in this. It’s not groveling; it’s about doing the work.

  4. BY MCP123 says:

    “3 would pretty much eliminate woman from male dominated IT specialties. Do you have any useful advise for woman or is this a typical boiz club post?”

    Of course…here’s the first rule. BE HOT. Because I.T. guys like to have beautiful women around them.

    Kidding aside… just be knowledgeable and detail how your past experience would make you a fit for the job.

  5. BY Badtux says:

    And the fact that #1 is asked that way, via a skills checklist, is the number one reason why companies turn away talent and hire mediocrities. Talent can pick up new skills the way most of us breathe. Mediocrities have the right “certifications” to “prove” they have skills, but are as creative and adaptive as rocks, unable to handle anything that’s not in their skill set. Most small companies I’ve worked for hire by seat of the pants, looking for adaptability and ability to pick up new skills on the fly (core skills are a must of course but our core skills list has three things on it, not a checklist of hundreds), and produce far more output per employee than most large companies, which hire by checklist.

    And #3 is the principle method via which age discrimination happens too. For example, you don’t get hired at Google unless you’re “Googly”. Which, in practice, means you’re a twenty-something hipster who rides a fixie and knows who the latest hot club bands are. Those of us who are in our late 40′s get passed over even if we’ve been on the bleeding edge of technology since these hipsters were in daycare and have all the hottest new things on our resume (heck, I helped *create* some of those hottest new things), because we aren’t “Googly”. Which doesn’t bother me because there are plenty of smaller companies that are more interested in talent than whether you’re a 20-something hipster, just pointing out how #3 filters out talent at many larger companies the same way that #1 filters out talent at many larger companies.

    All of which is what allows smaller companies like my employer to be more nimble at solving customer problems and increases our ability to get the talent those giants screen out, so I’m glad those larger companies answer those questions the way they do. Just pointing out the realities of how this is used at large companies to screen out talent and older workers in favor of mediocrities that “fit in” — and the difference between the way that happens at large companies, and the way hiring happens at startups (which are getting grayer over the years as older talent goes where it’s wanted) and smaller companies (ditto).

    • BY Scot Herrick says:

      The skills checklist is a legitimate issue when it comes to hiring and not just with larger companies. Larger companies simply get more resumes so they need to systematize how they move candidates forward. Very few companies — large or small — believe they need to let people learn new skills on the job; you must now come with a very wide skill set and all the skills really deep. Does the practice miss great talent? Yup. Will it change anytime soon? Nope. Companies are not willing to hire you if you don’t have the skill set they are looking for, even it is 2,156 skills.

      As for number 3, small companies — even more than large ones — need to make sure that you’ll fit in with the existing team and the manager. It’s not as if you can transfer to another department in a large company where the fit is better — there is no other department. I’ve worked in a family owned small business and if you don’t get along with the family, you won’t make it. Think about it: if the choice is between you and the hard-working, long-term employees who have made the company successful, you’ll lose every time. Age discrimination in smaller companies? I don’t think so. If you don’t fit the management style nor the team dynamics, you won’t get hired no matter what your situation.

      Team dynamics is, actually, a great subject for a later post. Keep tuned in.

      • BY Badtux says:

        I guess I don’t exist then, since every single high tech job I’ve had within the past 20 years has been where I’m hired to do something that isn’t on my resume. For example, I was hired once back around 2000 or so to write a management infrastructure in Java. We shipped in 8 months time, despite the fact that there were two of us on the team and I’d never written a stitch of Java in my life — but I knew how to write management infrastructures, and on the previous job I’d written a huge amount of Python code despite the fact that prior to that job I’d never done anything in Python, so the hiring manager just shrugged and figured I’d pick it up, he was more interested in the fact that I had a track record of designing and producing shipping product in a short amount of time. In my current job I was hired to write a management infrastructure for a particular virtualization technology despite the fact I knew virtually nothing about that virtualization technology — but I’d been part of the team that designed and implemented a competing virtualization technology, so my manager shrugged and hired me anyhow. And as far as I know, there is not a single one of my employers that has *ever* been unhappy with the result, which has always been product that’s well designed, on time, and of acceptable quality.

        As for cultural fit, yes, there needs to be a cultural fit, but only to the limited extent that everybody on the team is committed to producing quality product in a timely manner. You can’t tolerate team boulders (the folks who destroy productivity by clogging up the consensus decision making process that typifies Silicon Valley if they don’t get their way, you have to filter them out early in the process), but the important part is that get’r’done attitude. At my current employer we have young and old, male and female, radical lefties and Tea Party stalwarts, low-level OS geeks and high level GUI nerds, but we’re all committed to getting product of acceptable quality out the door in a timely manner, and in the three years since our current engineering manager came on board we’ve produced a steady stream of product at a pace that companies a thousand times our size can’t match. One potential partner came to us and said, “we like your product, but we want it to interoperate with our own product and incorporate a component from one of our other partners.” Two weeks later we showed them a proof of concept prototype that three of us had hacked together by hand from bits and pieces of our other products. Two weeks after that we showed it at a major trade show. Three months after that potential partner came to us, they were now an actual partner — we actually shipped the first production product in this new product line to a paying customer. It’s all about flexibility, adaptability, and creativity, and if you can find me a checklist that’ll select for that, I’ll eat my tuxedo.

      • BY Lindae says:

        I am really disheartend by Badtux’s comment about “certifications”. I have been out of work and IT for several years, Because of that, I KNOW that if I send my resume anywhere, it will just be tossed.
        My ONLY HOPE was to become Base SAS and Advanced SAS certified over this summer and apply for jobs in early fall, with my CURRENT certs at the top of my resume in Bold so that a prospective employer knows I still know what I’m doing. Am I delusional to hope and feel fairly certain that current certs can get me in the door??
        HELP!! ANY opinions would be greatly apreciated!! Thanks!

      • BY Badtux says:

        Lindae, here’s what I’m looking for when looking at resume’s for engineering positions that have a gap in them:

        1) Did the person continue doing things during the gap? If you have participated in Open Source projects, done contract work, or otherwise done things to prove you’ve been doing something other than moping, I might actually look at you in a better light than if you had been steadily employed during those three years, because you’ve shown that you have initiative, motivation, and a true calling to the profession, as vs. being someone who does the minimum necessary to stay employed and no more. Plus, work on open source projects gives me code samples to look at, as well as insight into how you approach real problems (as vs. the artificial types of problems often presented in job interviews) — not a minor thing.

        2) What’s the reason for the gap? I might look more favorably on a gap that was because of a dying relative, a new child, etc., *as long as you demonstrate that you did things during the gap in order to remain current*. Doing certifications might be sufficient for that, depending upon the position and the certifications you pursue, I’d probably look more favorable upon a QA or IT person doing certifications than an engineer.

        In any event, good luck. Unless you’re one of the top people in your field, in this job environment of four unemployed people for every opening you’ll need it :(.

  6. BY ram says:

    how should we ans of the common question in a impresive way. Like for tell me abt ur self ??
    How should we respond ??
    Plz send me details …on flyhigh@live.in
    I will be greatful..

    Thank you so much..

  7. BY Joan says:

    Jen — Scott is 100% correct this has nothing to do with women; it has to do with fitting into the team. I am a 55 year old women that has been in the IT field for 20+ years and I have never had a problem finding work or fitting into the team. I have learned that in order to work in this industry as a women you need stand on your skills… Be confident…No girl drama… No high maintenance… and an occasional batch of cookies works well. ;)

  8. BY blf says:

    I do not totally agree that these are the only questions that matter. It’s more like…

    1. How old are you? (Because if you are over 50, forget it. And most likely if you’re over 40, they will put you on the bottom of the pile. The “kiddies” don’t want someone with experience showing them up. Just look at the products out there, Facebook, Google and even Apple’s software products are all in serious need of attention by experienced knowledgeable professionals who understand that the user comes first.

    2. It’s not about “can you do the job”, it’s about “what school did you go to?” If you have a multitude of experience using reason and knowledge to create solutions, it won’t matter if someone walks in fresh out of Stanford with NO experience.

    • BY Mark Feffer says:

      One thing to remember is an interviewer CAN’T ask you how old you are. It’s illegal. Cat Miller did a piece that touches on this. You can see it here:
      http://news.dice.com/2011/06/22/dicetv-how-to-respond-to-interview-questions-they-shouldnt-ask/

      That’s not to say people over 50 don’t have additional challenges – they do. I think a lot of it has to do with fears about added costs on things like health insurance, or that you’ll take an early retirement or some such thing. I do believe you can talk your way through those things if you’re a good fit otherwise. We just posted a story about some of those things here:
      http://news.dice.com/2011/07/04/ace-the-interview-at-50/

      I’m not minimizing the issues here. And, I admit we can write all the articles we want about this, but how it all goes over depends on the company and manager you’re interviewing with. But I think these provide a good framework.

      Mark

  9. BY Italia says:

    “Oh my gawd, people, people, get a grip.” It is all about how to communicate….talking, hustling your verbage on a job interview. Look the part. I have seen so many people go on job interviews looking like slobs….and I am like “And you are looking for a job” (No I am not a manager, recruiter, or all the above)? I mean, really, if you want a job dress like you want it. Do not assume because you went to Brown, Stanford, Berekeley, San Jose State, MIT, et al that you will get the position. Skills set start at home it is about class, demeanor. To many younger people have no interpersonal skills, they are rude, and do not know how to respect people of all races and ages and really do I want to be part of a team like that? No. Stop crying and get out there and hustle, hustle, hustle, you will find something…no matter what your age. Remember dress like you want the job. In addition, this man/woman thing…not happening…if you are qualified you are qualified, show it with enthusiasm…be passionate about what you do or are able to do..when the interviewer pin points those three questions. I maintain my job today by being exciting about organizing (a skill taught by my mother). The interviewer hired me right on the spot. I was out of work for awhile…but, I learned how to stop crying and start applying. Lets go people….you are not homeless, yet. Let’s do it.

    • BY Badtux says:

      Presenting yourself as a professional is definitely a must, prima donnas or legends in their own mind too often turn into project boulders clogging up the team dynamics by jamming the mechanisms of consensus decision making needed for effective teams and worse case quit in the middle of a project and leave a hole in the team that’s difficult to fill. You are there looking for a job, not for ego self-gratification. Your manager is going to want some assurance that if you are hired you will approach your tasks in a professional and businesslike manner rather than throw tantrums like a child or get upset because you didn’t get your way on some decision. I’ve had bosses make decisions I felt were bone-headed and I told them the decision was a bad one and why… and then when the boss insisted, I did my job and did what he told me to do. And often got to say “I told you so” afterwards but (shrug). It’s a job, it’s not an ego celebration. I get paid the same either way.

      Regarding the hussle thing, there are currently four out-of-work applicants for every job opening. The reality is that this means that 75% of people looking for work aren’t going to find work. Those are the numbers. The notion that everybody currently seeking work is going to find a job is one that is more wishful thinking than reality. What this means is that anybody who has a perceived handicap is going to be screened, legally or not, usually using the “not a cultural fit” excuse if it’s illegally (e.g. if you have gray hairs or wrinkles and are applying for a software engineering position, you’ll get the “not cultural fit” excuse almost 100% of the time). What that means is that if you want to be one of the 25% who get hired, you’re going to have to look like an exceptional candidate both on paper and when you go in for interviews. Hone your pitch, refine your resume’ and pitch based upon feedback you get at job interviews, practice your presentation, make sure you look professional and presentable, and make managers feel that they’d be idiots if they *didn’t* hire you. But reality is that even if every single person looking for a job did that, there just aren’t the jobs there for hussle to work for everybody. This notion that job searchers are to blame if they can’t get a job is nonsense — the numbers say that 75% of job searchers are not going to get a job even if every single one of them does *everything* right.

      Which brings up the question of what that 75% should do once it becomes clear they’re not one of the blessed ones, but that’s a subject for another discussion.

  10. BY Mike says:

    Like BadTux my career includes being hired to code in languages/on systems I’d no experience.

    Furthermore I emphatically agree with his statement that “a skills checklist, is the number one reason why companies turn away talent and hire mediocrities. Talent can pick up new skills the way most of us breathe. Mediocrities have the right “certifications” to “prove” they have skills, but are as creative and adaptive as rocks, unable to handle anything that’s not in their skill set”.

    I’ve seen too many “tech workers” with no personality, no ability to think outside the box, and no raw talent; only the required course(s) in the du-jour-tech-wonder-9.

    • BY Italia says:

      “I beg to differ”. Like your writing. Where is the ‘skill set in your writing. It is obvious you did not get hired because of your horrendous writing skills. “You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

      • BY trothaar says:

        Perhaps he worked at jobs where excellent writing skills were not a requirement. Many programming jobs fall into this category. The programmers don’t have to be able to write English well; they just have to be able to code well.

  11. BY Marcus Griffen says:

    Companies are not hiring people who have been out of work for over 6 months, no matter what there qualification are. I wish dice would do an indepth story about the average IT worker by job search. In fact better still Dice should select an IT worker, perhaps and unemployed poster to this site, and using the techniques/advise given by dice blogger see if this person can get a job. Follow that persons progress and report on it. Now, that would be a story, and could help some people.

  12. BY Will says:

    Several posts talk about IT pros being old at 40. Try looking for an IT job when you are pushing 60! This is the first time in 35 years that I have been unemployed (company downsized). I have been in management for 30 of those 35 years. I have some newer skills but not most of the hottest skills. Except the age thing, I can answer yes to all three questions depending on the company.

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