In a previous blog, I discussed the soft skills I look for in every candidate. But once your candidate is in the room with you, how do I know whether that person meets your criteria? Here's how I assess whether is a good fit for us (and whether Inviqa is a good fit for them).
After they have settled down and feel more relaxed, I ask candidates to start by telling me about themselves, about their career, the companies they’ve worked for, projects they liked and disliked, and ones that have been successful. I also ask about methodologies, or sample of customers, as I want to get an appreciation of their commercial awareness and relationship building.
Identifying whether someone is a team player or not based on an interview sounds tricky, but must be done. We work in teams after all. I like to ask candidates to describe how they work in teams, their team structures, the daily engagements of the teams, team issues, and if/how they self-organise.
I ask for examples, which gives me an opportunity to engage in an open conversation. I like to give examples or scenarios back to them and ask for their opinion. Sometimes I’ll ask unconventional questions to see if they can think on their feet.
I like to ask about people’s hobbies. Is someone who plays football, rugby, cricket or any other team sport more of a team player than someone who plays tennis, snooker, darts? They are both good and highlight different attributes, which are vital for our business.
I like to show that I too am a team player. I give examples from my life to emphasise that we are one big team! Yes, we need to have mavericks and to hire exceptional talent, but at the end of the day it’s all about how we work together.
How do you assess someone’s passion? As our focus is PHP and open source I have realised that people who possess a passion for these subjects show it in one very visible way: their work. You can tell how excited they are to work for the best and most committed company to PHP by:
- How they want to improve the company and make it the best
- How they contribute to other open-source projects, predominantly in their own free time
- How involved they are in the wider PHP community, such as meet-ups and conferences
- How they blog and write whitepapers
- In short: how involved they are in the PHP community.
I would like to give an example of one candidate’s passion, tenacity, and desire to work for us. A candidate applied for us whilst he was in his early days as a PHP developer. He had a good degree and was involved in PHP and OS projects. Unfortunately, when our guys looked at his code, the feedback was that he was 'good, but not at Inviqa level'.
We told him that, based on his code, there were areas he needed to improve and to come back once he felt he had mastered these areas. And he did, a few months later.
As part of our recruitment campaign, we invited developers to compete for a ticket to DPC, a PHP conference in Amsterdam, and for the possibility of working for us. All they had to do was to build a complex application in PHP. We got dozens of replies, many of them were extremely well written and tested, but the winner was this chap, who was so determined, committed and eager to join us that he burned the midnight oil, covered all the areas we told him about, and did exceptionally well.
I remember well when our marketing manager came to me and said: 'You know that guy we rejected six months ago because he was too junior? Well guess what? He just won the competition'.
I was astounded, but pleasantly surprised. I actually interviewed him in Amsterdam, where I made him an offer on the spot and he accepted. I was so impressed with his passion, perseverance and determination that today he is one of our senior technical consultants, one of the highest levels within our development department.
The 'VI' in Inviqa stands for 'victorious', because we are winners – striving to be (and remain) the best.
Wanting to be the best has to be demonstrated from the top and we lead by example. If I don’t show the passion and desire to be the best, to be at the top then how can I drive and inspire my team to do the same?
When we started the company my message to the new PHP developers we hired, from around the world, was: 'We are building the A-team of PHP. Do you want to join?'
I tell that story to every developer I interview, and they love it, they are impressed. You can see the sparkle in their eyes, and then I ask: 'Ok, so why do you think you should join the A-team?'
You learn a lot from the answers and some (maybe most) are caught by surprise by the direct and unconventional question.
I always tell the story of James, a Wigan lad (and supporter) who was working in Manchester and wanted to join Session Digital, the biggest Magento partner in the UK (and part of The Inviqa Group). The interview was actually in our Liverpool office and he did very well in his code submission and the technical interview.
We had a great discussion and he really impressed me with his passion and commitment to Magento. I then asked him why he wanted to join our sister brand, Session Digital.
His spontaneous answer stunned even an experienced veteran like me, he said: 'Because Session is the king of the Magento world'. I asked him to clarify his answer, and he said: 'I have been involved in Magento for a few years, I know the big players, and without a shadow of a doubt Session is the best Magento company in the world. You have the best people, the most exciting projects, you invest in people, focus on quality and I want to be part of that'.
I really couldn’t ask for any more.
He joined us and is now one of our technical team leaders. He speaks at conferences, is involved in open-source projects and is a true leader in the Magento community. He is just a superstar!
At Inviqa, we build large-scale, mission-critical applications. Scalability, performance, testing, architecture, integration, and other complex technical challenges are part of every project we take on.
Companies engage with us because we can solve their challenging technical issues. So we need software engineers who not only have the skills, but also the vision, creativity, presence, confidence and emotional intelligence to deal with complex challenges and occasionally demanding customers.
So the candidate has to prove that he or she possesses these attributes, by giving examples, and without being too technical. If he/she made it through the process as far as seeing me, there’s no need to show off their technical skills. Instead they need to prove that they are a professional craftsman.
Our engineers engage with customers who may have a multitude of technologies, some they have never heard of but we need to use, integrate, implement or replace them so learning about them quickly is imperative to our success. In some cases a new technology, which the CTO or technical team leader has recommended for a specific project, needs to be learned rapidly. We use Agile, Scrum, BDD and other methodologies so new hires will have to pick up all these rather quickly.
So I ask the candidates questions like:
- 'Do you really love to learn new things? Can you prove it? What new IT-related topics have you learned in the last year?'
- 'What new things are you learning in your own spare time?'
- 'Do you prefer class learning or personal?'
The answers could reveal a lot about a candidate.
Quality is at the heart of everything we do. At work, home, sports, arts etc.
I like to ask candidates what quality means to them. Most focus on their code, their applications, the tests they carry out etc.
That’s not a bad answer, but I really want to see more. For me quality encompasses the emails we write, the presentations that we create, the documents we write, the code we write, and so on. I'm a fanatic when it comes to quality, because I believe that our attitude to quality defines who we are.
The questions I ask are not designed to have a correct or incorrect answer. They give me a great amount of information that helps me decide if a candidate is right for us. Will they fit with our cultural values? Do they share our passion? Our vision?
Why I interview everyone
I want to ensure a candidate possesses the attributes I believe are important to the team we are building. I want to explore their values, ambition, passion, and how they would make our company better by joining.
I want people who will add value, drive others, will want to become leaders, team players, and who want to be the best. Winners!
I try to make them relaxed and to feel comfortable with the interview. I ask them about their hobbies, sports, holidays, and so on. I want them to meet me: the founder and major shareholder. I share with them my vision, strategy, ambition, and drive. I want them to see and hear it from the top man. I believe it is very important and inspirational.
I also want to show them that our CEO isn’t this chief honcho who drives a roller, eats at the Ivy, plays polo, has flats in every major city, and friends in parliament. I am very open with them. I share my views, tell them the story of how we started the company from my loft, and how we got to where we are today. They'll have the opportunity to ask me any question they want, with no boundaries.
After an interview like that, which usually lasts about an hour, I have a clearer view on whether the candidate can join the A-team, and he/she get a better appreciation of the company and its leader.
I always say that joining a company is a two-way street. You have to want the candidate but also as importantly, the candidate must want to join you, as the leader, on the magical journey you want to take them on.