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3 Tips: How to Interview for Integrity

Debbie Madden
Feb 06, 2012

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of commotion about using technical exercises, brain teasers, problem-solving tests, and the like as the basis for an interview process for developers, as well as for other members of Agile teams. However, in the quest to nab top development talent, recruiters and tech managers alike may be sacrificing integrity for tech chops.

If you go into each interview prepared to interview for integrity, you can land yourself a top candidate who is both honest and extremely technically talented.

Here’s how:

1. Fill in the gaps

Review the résumé. Prepare questions to explore any gaps or questionable things you see. For example, many people take time off between jobs. If you see someone was at Company A in 2010 and Company B in 2011, maybe they were employed continuously, or perhaps they had six months off; it’s hard to say. If the candidate’s current job is in Alabama but they have a New York address, ask if they are telecommuting. Perhaps that job ended, and they moved to NYC three months ago but didn’t put an end date on their résumé.

2. Ask scenario questions

Prepare a handful of open-ended scenario questions that help you see how honestly a person approaches a problem. A couple of examples I like are below. The idea is to ask a question that makes the candidate think about how they’d personally handle an awkward situation. Even after asking these types of questions for years, I’m amazed by the variety of answers I get, and also continuously surprised by how often a person’s true colors come through as they respond to these questions.

  • “You are doing two-week sprints. One day before the end of the sprint, your manager tells you and your pair, ‘We have to push extra story points into this sprint, and if we skip TDD for this code and don’t tell anyone, we can squeeze it in.’ What do you do?”
  • “Your peer approaches you at lunch one day. He says, ‘I’m going to skip out this afternoon. I told the boss I have a doctor’s appointment, but I don’t.’ What do you do?”

3. Dig deeper

There comes a point in many interviews when the interviewer feels they may have just been lied to. Many of us react by doubting ourselves and backing off, moving on to the next question. Instead, dig deeper. Ask follow-up questions until you are sure you have the information you need to assess honesty. For example, here’s a sample conversation that digs deeper:

Interviewer: Tell me about your job.

Candidate: I worked on XYZ project, on an Agile team.

Interviewer: Tell me about an agile process you really like.

Candidate: I like standups, because I get to hear what everyone is doing for the day.

Interviewer: Tell me about an agile process that you aren’t a big fan of.

Candidate: I like them all. [NOTE: Is the candidate being honest, or are they not familiar with Agile?]

Interviewer: OK. Tell me why you like pair programming.

Candidate: Actually, I don’t really know what that is.

This is a simplified conversation, but you get the idea. As soon as you start digging deeper, I promise you’ll be quite interested in the answers you get.

Oh, as a side note, always do your due diligence. Background checks are a key component in ensuring the person you are hiring has accurately represented their history.

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"Debbie Madden has cracked the code on hiring and retaining women. This book is a must-read for anyone serious about diversity and inclusion." —Verne Harnish, Founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0)
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