I am expecting to host my first job interview soon. We received lots of CVs for a PHP Programmer, and the best one that fits our needs was invited to the interview.

The issue for me is that this is the first one, and I need to prepare carefully as my decision will basically form the final decision for this applicant.

I decided to take the other PHP Programmer working with us, who is really experienced, and asked him to prepare 3 simple tasks to test his skills. Regarding the technical point of view, he will help me with the decision. My goal is to decide if he has the right personality; he will work remotely (not in the office) so I need to know the following answers:

  • If he will work with us 8 hours everyday (good self-discipline)
  • If the communication via e-mails, phone and messengers will be effective
  • If he can work well with the designer (he mentioned in his CV that his previous website(s) was designed by himself)
  • If he is fine to work with either Agile or Waterfall (whatever is necessary)
  • If he is solution oriented, not only a programmer that follows instructions

Like mentioned, from the technical side, the other programmer will help.

I would highly appreciate every idea - thank you in advance.

  • +1 It looks like you're getting some great answers with lots of detail. If these answers are not exactly answering your question, next time you ask a question, consider being more specific in terms of what exactly you're looking for. It's not clear what you're specifically asking, in my opinion. However, as long as the answers you're getting are actually answering your question, then that's great, and this is a great question :)
    – jmort253
    May 14 '11 at 19:57

Interviews are about as effective as flipping a coin. Realizing this, many companies use recruiting companies to try to filter things down, although this is expensive for everyone involved. To get away from this dilemma, many companies are moving towards "competency based interviews" instead of the trivia based questions (such as "Q: from what object are all .NET objects derived? A: system.object.").

Sample 1
Sample for a programming position Oddly enough, nowhere in that sample do they try to list "programming" as a competency, but then I don't think because the vast majority of interviewers couldn't identify what one looks like (uh, t-shirt and Mt Dew addiction?).

I'll take some of your issues and come up with some questions you might try:

if he is fine to work with either Agile or Waterfall (whatever is necessary)

Tell me about when you worked in an agile environment... Sometimes we have to use waterfall, tell me about when you worked with waterfall... Some follow up questions should be done to get some more details.

if he will work with us 8 hours everyday (good self-discipline)

What other jobs have you worked remotely on? Describe your typical day telecommuting?

if the communication via e-mails, phone and messengers will be effective

  • What IM clients do you use?
  • What were the difficulties you encountered?
  • How do you handle people who want to talk on the phone and not use email (we had exactly this problem with a remote worker who was email oriented [long detailed emails that were long] asking questions of a guy who was verbal oriented [he hated email and you could never get him to answer it])

Look for answers that indicate that they actually did it, such as "well, a couple guys would never answer their phones, or respond to email, so I..." or have an idea what's going to happen. If all your workers have 2000 unanswered emails in their inboxes (that verbal-oriented guy usually had that many), you'll be sorry if you hire an email oriented person.

if he is solution oriented, not only a programmer that follows instructions

I'll leave you with smart and gets things done versus done and gets things smart.


First, let me refer to the CV filtering process, or the expected funnel of candidates in the various stages of the recruitment process. You said that out of all the CVs you received, you picked only one and invited him for an interview. From my experience, and it really depends on what you're looking for, the percent of the candidates that passed interviews out of all the candidates I invited was around 5-10%. Now, out of all the CV's I received I usually invited only 20% for interviews. These are very rough numbers, but what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't expect to find "the one" by picking a single CV out of the pool. If you're not experienced with interview yet, invite some more, exercise and build-up your "senses".

Then, I'd recommend that if possible, join a veteran interviewer for an interview as a spectator. You'll pick some tools and ideas on the way.

Next, I recommend reading the Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing by Joel Spolsky. It's an interesting read and you'll get some ideas around how to approach this.

Now, for some tips for your question:

  1. If the candidate is supposed to work remotely, conduct a phone interview and see how is his verbal communication, how can he receive requirements, handle them and communicate back the results, how he asks questions and clarifications.
  2. Have some correspondence with him over email to see how is his written communication skills.
  3. In the interview ask what he loves about his jobs and what are the main challenges. Try to listen to what he says as well as what he doesn't say.
  4. Ask for references that could talk about his past experience and performance in similar scenarios you're expecting him to work in.

There's much more but I hope this helps for starters.

  • +1: good point about building up your "senses." It takes practice to develop this skill. Your screening ratios also match my experience.
    – Steve Roe
    May 13 '11 at 17:49
  • +1: great advice all round, but particularly the pragmatic side of things: do those things with him that you need to test him for (phone, email...).
    – asoundmove
    May 14 '11 at 15:31

CV review and the interview process are horribly unreliable. As an interviewer, you come to the table with a host of biases and prejudices through which you will interpret how the interviewee presents and how he answers your questions. Most likely, there is very little correlation between your interpretation and his/her future performance. Studies have shown that the interview process yields only a bit better than 50% favorable results. That is a coin toss.

Also, studies have shown that there is usually a single criterion that is the best indicator and that other criteria we usually attach offer little assistance in our prediction of future success. Find that single criterion that best meets your job requirements.

Be suspect of some typical biases that we all have: how someone dresses, introverts versus extraverts, stereotypes, etc. Consider some unique biases that you have and truly ask yourself if your belief is grounded in reality. Start with 'no' because that is likely the true answer.

There are some good tips in the article Oren suggested. I personally like the multiple interviews by several peers as well as allotting more than an hour to really get to know the candidate.

The best thing you can do is check your biases at the door the best you can. If you have a belief that you have a talent of really objectively assessing someone or something, you likely are poor at it. The more in touch you are of your prejudices, the more you know it is super hard to control and there is a lot going on outside of our conscience.

And accept the fact that you have a 50% chance of getting it wrong and your best efforts, including following good advice from that article and others, will only up your chances a few points at best. The interview process is simply one of the worst indicators we have.

  • 1
    +1 Great advice on thinking "no" to start with. The candidate should convince you to say "yes" not convince you to say "no".
    – jmort253
    May 14 '11 at 19:52

It is important that you dig beneath the surface to uncover the depth of knowledge and experience that the candidate has, and to check that the answers are not just theoretical. Ask structured questions for each area that you want to explore. A good series that I was given, and that I have used successfully, is as follows:

  • Tell me about a time that... (e.g. you worked in an agile environment);
  • What specifically was your responsibility at that time?
  • What decisions were you expected to make? - Give me an example.
  • How did you make that decision?
  • What was the outcome of your decision?
  • Would you make the same decision again? - explain your answer.

I would also echo many of the other comments: don't expect a single candidate to be the right one, and interview several to get a better chance of identifying someone who can be effective both technically and culturally. Interview "remotely" if the working environment requires remote working; use other people to support the process, and try to test both technical and personal competencies.

Good luck!


Our company is 100% distributed, so we had to solve this first.

My finding is that no type of questionarie or interview will reliably indicate how successful the candidate would be. Neither would do a set of simple tasks.

What we did was to assemble a mock project with 10 tasks that would scratch about every major piece in the frameworks we're working with (python + django + jquery). Accompanied with detailed howto on our development workflow, this now gives pretty good feeling how the candidate tends to work remotely, given sometimes imprecise or contradictory assignments and how good he is communicating with remote peers.

Hope this helps.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.