I hadn't intended to write another interviewing article so soon, but I have done a number of interview preparation sessions recently. In those sessions, I would ask what questions they intended to ask their interviewer. Some answers were fine, others weren't great.

The impression I got was that people generally didn't take the questions at the end of an interview seriously. "I'll think of something," they said. That's not good enough. Every part of an interview matters, and every part needs to be taken seriously.

As a side note, the family is feeling much better after Covid, I'm in the middle of building a chicken run, and just purchased some baby chicks. They're staying warm in a DIY brooder in our bath tub. So perhaps next post I'll share some photos of baby dinosaurs to mix things up.

The interviewer says that they have asked their last question. They say that the interview is complete. They ask if you have any questions.

Whew! The interview is over. You take a deep breath and relax. Right?

They might not take notes. They might lean back and relax. Yet I assure you that the interview is not over.

You send signals in your interview with every action and word. How you dress matters. How you smile or shake hands matter.

One of the most important signals you can send is the questions you ask at the end of the interview.

How could my questions impact me?

You'll interview with around five people, sometimes more. In the majority of cases, people do not receive all yes or no votes. Even for great candidates, one of the five interviewers will find something objectionable.

Most times, you have a split vote. Three yes, two no. Four yes, one no. At Amazon, you then have a formal debrief process where you discuss the candidate, and decide if you want to hire them. Other companies have their own decision process.

This is a risk vs reward balancing act. You are deciding if the positives of the candidate outweigh the risks of them not working out.

What type of information goes into the debrief? Everything the interviewers remember.

  • Interviewer 3: "I was worried about their bias for action. They kept talking about thinking carefully before acting."
  • Interviewer 5: "Well, they asked me how much we followed an agile process, and our sprint length. They seemed interested in having shorter sprints to get code out more quickly. That's a sign to me that their bias for action won't be a problem."

Even more than explicit interpretations like the above, there is the general appeal of candidates to consider.

You're talking about a candidate you know very little about. Some things seemed good, some things seemed risky. How do you decide if you should fall on the yes or no side? When do you take a risk or pass?

In my experience, I think it often comes down to the candidate's general appeal. I don't mean their good looks, I mean did we feel like they were going to be good co-workers? Not everything is a concrete signal.

Sometimes we are looking for excuses to hire someone. Sometimes we're looking for excuses to not hire someone.

But I thought this was my time, not part of the interview?

That's a cute black and white interpretation of things. But it's not reality.

If you are walking out of your interview and mention that the recruiter is attractive, you will probably not be hired. Yes, I've seen this.

(Do co-workers sometimes find each other attractive? Absolutely. Do we talk about it with others in public, or during important events like an interview? No.)

If you dress in ripped jeans, and put your feet on the table while interviewing, you will probably not be hired. Yes, I've seen this too.

(Do people dress in ripped jeans at Amazon? Sure. Do we expect you to take the interview seriously and look at least a tiny bit professional? Also yes.)

And if at the end of the interview you ask, "How soon before I can take a sabbatical? I want to take a few months off to travel soon.", it's unlikely you'll be hired. Yeah, I've seen that.

(Do we support people taking vacations, or unpaid sabbaticals? Certainly vacations, sometimes sabbaticals once you've proven yourself. If this is your top priority during an interview, you probably should take a new job after you travel the world.)

As long as you're in visible or hearing range of the company you're interviewing at, you're currently in an interview. Act that way.

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