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Your goal is to get the person to loosen up and talk, so you can see
the "real person" and not the "performer". Ask what his favorite
project was and get him to talk about what made it special. Ditto for
a challenging one. What does (or did) he like most about his current
company? (There must be some reason he took the job, after all.)
What are the frustrating aspects? What were some of the big issues
that came up in the group, and how were they resolved? What is he
hoping will be different in his next job?
If you can get the candidate to express strong opinions about something
-- tools, process, managers, users, whatever -- you'll get insight
into what this person would be like in a disagreement (either on your
side or the other one). You'll also get insight into whether this
person can maintain a sense of perspective. Don't goad, of course,
but follow up on any leads he offers you.
There are issues with probing on "personal" stuff, so while I'll follow
a candidate's lead on chit-chat like favorite books or hobbies or
whatever, I won't take it in that direction myself. You can sometimes
get some help here by asking on-topic questions that can lead into this,
such as what the most recent technical book was that the person read, or
whether he's been to useful conferences, or something like that.
To tie this to an earlier thread, my soon-to-be-defunct group (layoff
time) also used an informal pseudo-test, and you can tell a lot about
someone by how he responds. This wasn't a formal test but rather a
sample task; we gave candidates some code (this was an API gig) and
some incorrect, bare-bones documentation (billed as "out of date") and
asked what needs to be done. The good candidates spotted types of
information that we weren't providing in the example (in addition to
the actual errors), and one really good one brought up some issues in
Principal Technical Writer, Clairvoyance Corp (for a few more weeks)
IPCC 01, the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference,
October 24-27, 2001 at historic La Fonda in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
CALL FOR PAPERS OPEN UNTIL MARCH 15. http://ieeepcs.org/2001/
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