Hiring a Developer: what to ask and watch out for

If you take a closer look at the current job market you can notice that the IT sector is one of the most dominant sectors and this is not going to change in the future. On the contrary, it will increase even more. Hiring a great “IT Developer” can become quite of a challenge for a company, particularly if the company is not very tech-savvy. In that case approaching an IT Recruitment Specialist might be the best solution in order to find the right talent. They will be able to tell you what role your company needs to look for. The choice is not small: Front End Developers, Back End Developers, Interactive Developers, Mobile Developers (Android, ioS, Blackberry, Windows Phone), Flash Developers, SAP Developer, Web Developers, Oracle Developers, Share Point Developers, OSX-Apple Developers, .NET Developers, Linux/Unix Developers – it’s a real jungle out there. However, there are several requirements and skills that a developer needs to have (regardless of the IT speciality) in order to perform well.

You obviously need to test a candidate’s in-depth technical skills and here you have two options: 1) Use a skills assessment software such as Skillmeter which will help you to save considerable time as well as money. 2) Involve your technical staff in the interview and let them test the candidate’s coding skills and at the same time find out if the candidate makes a good cultural fit.

Some other non-technical skills you should watch out for are the following:

  • Problem solving skills. Software development is all about compartmentalisation (taking the big problem and dividing it into small little pieces and solving each piece separately). Thus, completing the objective of solving the big problem. A great problem solver doesn’t always have to solve all the problems by themselves as long as the person knows who else can be approached in order to sort out the issue. It is important that the candidate perceives problems as a challenge rather than a headache.
  • Being a quick, motivated learner and adapter of new technologies. As we all know technology is changing rapidly. Therefore, knowing how to learn (teaching yourself or attending courses) and adapt quickly to new programs is of paramount importance. Knowing how to keep up-to-date in this sector and being intrinsically curious is of high relevance.
  • Attention to detail. The candidate needs to be a perfectionist paying attention to every detail in order to get a software 100 % right. There is no tolerance for mistakes in order to make it work at the end.
  • People skills. Often people think that interpersonal skills, also known as soft skills, are not relevant for several IT roles. Fact is, that sometimes a person who develops software is not limited to the technical execution of a task only. Interacting with other developers or clients might in many cases also be part of the job. Having good team-working, listening, communication, presentation and influencing skills does matter. Often the best software is not created by one individual but by many others too. Being able to work in a team can therefore give an applicant the edge.

In a technical interview you should ask lots of open-ended questions, some examples are as follows:

  • What approach do you have when solving problems?
  • Are you on GitHub (open source community)?
  • What operating systems are you familiar with?
  • What programming languages do you know?
  • What was the most recent programming language that you learnt?
  • What is the project in which you were involved that made you most proud of? What went particularly well and what not and why?
  • What is the project you were least proud of and why?
  • What projects are you working on in your free time?
  • What resources (online or off-line) do you use to keep yourself up-to-date?
  • What IT-related conferences do you follow?
  • Do you participate in technical discussion forums? What was your experience with it so far?
  • Which technologies would you use for our company considering our budget and scope of work? (Look out for examples in which the candidate talks about the pros and cons of various options and why the suggested ones seem to be the most suitable for the company. How knowledgeable and enthusiastic does the candidate sound?).
  • Do you have a personal website or a blog? (The insights of the person’s blog might be much more revealing than the CV in itself).

The information the candidate will provide you with will reveal many things: what they know, what they value, what role they were playing in different companies, how they solved problems, what their thought process is, how well they explain IT-related terms and how they communicate to other people.

Two things you should do without hesitation: 1) Ask candidates to provide some links with examples of their work or show a portfolio of work samples. This will give you an additional insight into the candidate’s performance. 2) Contact previous clients or companies they were working for. They can share their personal experience regarding the applicant’s proactivity, reliability, attention to detail and results-orientation. 

Karin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is a passionate Public Speaker, eBook Author, and a freelancing Online Content Producer. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 18 years of international work experience in Italy, the UK and India.