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Interviewing Experienced IT People?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the experience-is-not-just-a-euphemism dept.

Businesses 835

thricenightly writes "After more than 20 years in IT I've learned that the most valuable people in a team are frequently the old timers. Young pups straight out of college might (think they) know all the latest buzzwords and techniques, but in the real world, where getting working products delivered on time and on budget is of paramount importance, people who have been doing the job for a decade or two tend to be the people I'd rather be working alongside. I've recently been elevated to a position where I get to interview and choose those who get hired in my department. Although I'm very much focused on choosing the right person for the role regardless of age, experience or whatever, it's probably fair to say the more mature applicants will get a more sympathetic hearing from me than they might from most other interviewers for IT roles. The question is, what do I ask older applicants to get them to demonstrate the value of their experience? My current gambit is something like 'IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?' This gets responses ranging from the vague to the truly enlightened. All next week I'm interviewing for a number of senior software designer and developer roles. What should I be asking of the more experienced applicants, and what responses should I be looking out for?"

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Get the popcorn out...! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823719)

The show's just beginning; the lights they are a dimmin'

I love this thread so much!

Here's your answer.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823723)

You insensitive clod! []

Re:Here's your answer.. (5, Insightful)

GuyverDH (232921) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824221)

You don't get rights just because you're young, old, black, white, yellow, pink, blue, male, female, etc...

Yes, all people are created equal, that does not imply that all people ARE equal.

Experience matters, as does intelligence, attitude and aptitude.

If you can say you have the experience that someone older has, as well as the attitude and aptitude of the older applicant, then you are equal, if you don't have that experience, attitude or aptitude, then you aren't, it's as simple as that.

It's not age discrimination, it's making a decision weighted on key factors that mean more than any education.

I'd rather hire someone with years of experience, a can-do attitude and the technical aptitude that enables them to almost intuitively understand a system or troubleshoot a problem, than someone with only a few years of experience, a PHD and a "I'm too good for your job" attitude any day.

Slashdot ID (4, Funny)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823729)

I recently took a job at a web hosting company. During my interview with the senior admin, my 5-digit slashdot ID gained me major bonus points... especially since I'm only 24 years old.

Re:Slashdot ID (1)

D3 (31029) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823787)

Get off my lawn whippersnapper!

Re:Slashdot ID (1)

Mindwarp (15738) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823981)


Re:Slashdot ID (1)

kabrakan (13409) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824175)

Beat you all. And I'm 23!

Re:Slashdot ID (5, Funny)

clustersnarf (236) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824253)

What do I get for a low 3 digit one? :P

Ask him if he can get you a woman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824333)

and not the kind who loses tool bags, because lad, you need one baaaahd././

Re:Slashdot ID (4, Funny)

centuren (106470) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824341)

The last word, usually.

Re:Slashdot ID (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823819)

How many years ago did we have to sign up to get a 5 figure one, anyway? Mine's much lower than yours but I can't find older posts of my own past mid '99-ish.

Re:Slashdot ID (0)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823881)

That's about how old I can find mine, too. However, I joined when I was a freshman in high school, which was 98/99 -- so, somewhere in there.

Re:Slashdot ID (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824033)

1999ish sounds about right. I was around before that but that was around the time I decided to get an ID.

Re:Slashdot ID (1)

Matheus (586080) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824239)

I got mine in '97 or so but somehow am in the 6 digits.. ??

Re:Slashdot ID (1)

2names (531755) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824297)

I had an ID in 1998 but I stopped visiting the site for quite a while. When I came back I could not for the life of me remember what my username was, so I created a new one. I sure would like to have my old low id back. ~Mem - 0 - reeeezzzz.....light the corners of my mind....

Sorry about that.


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823829)

Not Any more get back to work WE WILL REPLACE YOU WITH SOME ONE WHO WAS 5 years with WINDOWS 7

Re:Slashdot ID (5, Insightful)

qoncept (599709) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823985)

I think this is exactly what the OP was talking about. Sure, you're a huge computer nerd and can code anything and make it work, but that's a very small part of a software dev job. Collaborating with others, sharing ideas, designing, working with customers, leveraging your position to gain resources, convincing management why you're right, scheduling, so on and so on.. you don't get that coding at home and you don't get that at school.

I was fortunate enough to be thrown in to it and gain the experience in the Air Force, and how anyone "gets their foot in the door" blows my mind. I have some very smart friends who are very capable, but in an actual work environment, they'd be completely lost, and that goes for most everyone fresh out of college with a computer science degree. Experience is what makes you useful. An experienced programmer doesn't need experience in a particular language to be at least servicable, but a hotshot young gun could know a language like the back of his hand and be worthless.

I'm not saying I don't think you are capable or even that I don't think you have the experience. But whereas you (I'm assuming semi-jokingly) refer to how long you've been on slashdot as evidence that you know what you're doing, I would refer to the projects I've worked on and not only the work I've done, but how I've affected the team working on them as a whole and how they've affected me.

Which brings me to the OP's question. Some of the important things I listen for in interviews is how people have dealt with adversity. Name a problem you had on a project and how it was overcome. Name a time your solution was wrong and how you dealt with it. Tell me about a time you had a problem with someone on your team and how you overcame it. The technical stuff is a given -- look at their resume. I want to know how this guy will make us successful.

True nerds start young (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824129)

I think the big question for older people is not about how young they started. It's about the ability to keep up with the times. I know people who program in Fortran because they learned it in college and "do not have time to learn another language".

Re:True nerds start young (2, Insightful)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824345)

Try this one: "if we paid for additional training, or gave on-the-job support for it, what skills would you pursue"? And since you want experience, but you won't want to hire people who've reached their level of incompetence, ask them how much higher up the skills list they think they can go, and what they're doing to pursue that.

And do ask "what documentation you've written is still in use, and where"? Then go read it, if you can.

Re:Slashdot ID (1)

The Master Magician (4982) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824153)

I'm gonna be CEO with my 4 digit number!

What they bring (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823741)

'IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?'

I think you'd find they have a keener understanding of how to bring a civil suit for age discrimination.

Re:What they bring (3, Insightful)

Cillian (1003268) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823803)

It's very easy to suddenly whip out the discrimination card, but it's perfectly valid in this case to prefer older applicants who have more experience in the job. Obviously, if there is a preference for older applicants even if they don't have more experience, something is up, but it doesn't sound like that's the case. (The original poster wasn't entirely clear about this, I'll accept).

Re:What they bring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823959)

You have it backwards. There's usually a preference for younger candidates. Telling the interviewee that you favor young candidates and that there's a young candidate after him is practically inviting a lawsuit if he/she doesn't get the job.

Re:What they bring (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823975)

then it should be worded as such... there is quite a difference between "a 23 year old" and "someone fresh out of school".... one is agist, the other relates to how much work experience they have. Someone who is 40 and just changed jobs has less experience then a 26 year old who has been in the workforce for several years already.

Re:What they bring (2, Informative)

JoeFromPhilly (792856) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824213)

I understand what you're saying, but even if that's what you're looking for you should say it some other way. If you bring up age during interviews, you're opening yourself and your company to lawsuits. I would just demand a certain number of years of experience at the general task if that was what I was after.

Re:What they bring (1)

symes (835608) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824339)

In the UK at least, it is usual to have a list of questions that are applicable to all candidates. While answers might provoke varied discussion, this approach insures applicants each have a fair chance irrespectiv of age, etc. If you start asking applicants different questions based on some personal attribute then one might argue they didn't get a fair chance. And they might have a point. The best bet is to think of criteria that would stack the deck in favour of old folks. Such as "an interest or experience in working with legacy systems", "got a new ZX81 for Christmas", etc.

Re:What they bring (4, Insightful)

Techguy666 (759128) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824047)

I don't have mod points but I would agree with the previous post. Even implying that age is a consideration in any way would just invite a lawsuit. When you say the old timers are more capable of "getting working products delivered on time and on budget", how do you measure this? Ask questions that might flesh out whether your measure of deliverables is the same as your potential hiree's measure of deliverables.

What you want is not so much an employee that is necessarily older but an employee with predictable skills, attitude, and way of thinking (or at least tolerable) in your eyes. As a bonus, you end up with the most compatible person for the role, regardless of age.

Re:What they bring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824363)

I don't have mod points but I would agree with the previous post.

That's not what mod points are for. There's no "+1 I agree".

Wrong idea! (3, Funny)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823747)

As a 23-year-old IT professional, I strongly recommend you interview more of them. ;)

Re:Wrong idea! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824209)

Dear Slashdot,
    I have a set of pre-interview biases. How can I frame my interviews to support those biases?

I don't get it (5, Insightful)

SparkleMotion88 (1013083) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823757)

Are you looking for ways to justify hiring more experienced candidates instead of less experienced candidates? Are you worried that the older folks you interview won't outshine the younger folks like you want them to? If you want to build a successful team, you should probably just make hiring decisions based on who you think will be more successful. Your pre-interview biases can only hurt your company and the industry.

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823835)

Agreed! Take your fucked up age based biases over to the fashion industry ... we don't need that in an industry based on science.

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824169)

The IT industry is based on science? I thought it was based on the fashion industry. Could've fooled me.

Re:I don't get it (3, Insightful)

Yiddishkite (525633) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823989)

I'd check with HR first on your interview language. Essentially, asking a candidate "Why should I hire someone old over someone young?" certainly could be interpretted as illegal.

Re:I don't get it (4, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824037)

There was a trend to hire young IT people because certifications were the thing to have, and younger people work longer hours for less money. The problems with those types of qualifications are starting to bite the IT industry on it's collective ass.

If you want qualified personnel, ask questions that quantify them as a good technical and social fit. Pick some script language they don't know. Ask them if they would take a few minutes to create a 'hello world' script. If all they know is one programming language as seen via one particular IDE... well, it's something you want to know.

It's odd, but hobbies can tell you a lot or nothing about an individual. If they skydive twice a month on average, it says something. If they are working on an OSS project and can show you the sourceforge page... that says something.

There are other considerations; There are not many young Cobol programmers. If an applicant was invovled with the team that implemented X.25 for a large IT company back in the 90s, he's probably a better fit for X.25 network systems than a 23 year old would be.

If all you need is a [name your language here] monkey... you can find that in any age.

Look at your requirements, find a good match to that. Age does not dictate value, but experience can. Anyone of any age 'can' have the right experience, but statistically, it usually works out a bit lopsided.

Re:I don't get it (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824161)

If they skydive twice a month on average, it says something.

What exactly does this hobby say about a person other than 'risk taker?'

Questions about Experience (4, Funny)

VorpalRodent (964940) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823765)

I'd start with an open ended question:
"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike...what do you do?"

I'd follow it up with a more direct problem solving question:
"I need to get all the primes less than 1000, and all I have are these punch-cards...go."

Bringing up age opens you up to litigation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823773)

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prevents discrimination on the basis of age of people over 40. If you ask a question about what the next interviewee who is only 23 doesn't have that you have and you don't hire the older employee, you might be accused of age discrimination. Good luck with that.

What mistakes have you made? (2, Insightful)

ronys (166557) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823777)

And what have you learned from them?

Re:What mistakes have you made? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823805)

I joined a company despite them relying on those stupid management-book trick questions like "what mistakes you have made". I'm not doing that again. Goodbye.

Re:What mistakes have you made? (3, Funny)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823867)

I'm a fresh graduate with a good GPA and no work experience.

In other words, I've never made a mistake ;)

Re:What mistakes have you made? (5, Insightful)

haystor (102186) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823955)

That good GPA indicates you passed up a lot of opportunities that you'll regret later.

Re:What mistakes have you made? (1)

einar2 (784078) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824139)

And in other words, you have not yet created value :-)

Interesting question ... (5, Interesting)

hedronist (233240) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823801)

Definitely an interesting question.

Most senior (read: geezer) geeks I know have firmly held opinions on ... just about everything. In most cases these opinions are the distillation of decades of experience. This doesn't mean that they are (necessarily) stuck in a rut, but it does mean they are unlikely to be swayed by the language/methodology du jour.

So one thing I would want to know is can they work in the specific environment you have in place (or planned). I've got 35 years and N^2 languages behind me, but you say 'Java' and I say 'Life is too short'.

Another valuable trait in a senior member is the ability to pass on their experience to other members of the team. This can be as a role model, as a mentor, or even as someone who gives periodic instructional seminars. A way to keep balance might be to have some of the younger members give talks on things that are more cutting edge and that the seniors might enjoy learning. For example, I've been using RCS/CVS/SVN since God was a young child, but I had someone half my age sit me down and give me a real tour of Mercurial (hg) and it blew me away.

I'll be interested in hearing what you come up.

Re:Interesting question ... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824121)

A way to keep balance might be to have some of the younger members give talks on things that are more cutting edge and that the seniors might enjoy learning.

Like those new Dee Vee Dee things they've been hearing about?

Passion is critical (5, Insightful)

spydum (828400) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823825)

I think I've found that hiring passionate people, whether loaded with experience, or fresh out of college is the key. Someone who is passionate about technology and their job will ultimately lead you to a better work place, and will continually strive to improve on their work. Some people may be good because they've been doing it for a long time, but if they don't particularly care about the job, you can't expect them to continually want to do great things for your company, nor stick around all that long.

Re:Passion is critical (3, Insightful)

Ringl (895323) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823929)

Passion is good. But the ability to learn and problem solve is better.

Passionate people go all out on everything. Successes are huge successes and mistakes are huge mistakes.

Re:Passion is critical (2, Interesting)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824307)

Wish I could mod you up at the moment.

I think this is more important than many people realize. You do want to see evidence of experience and a grasp of concepts. (Some people, while eager, are simply trying to "bite off more than they can chew" by interviewing for too complicated a position for their current skills.)

But overall, yes! The person who "lives and breathes I.T." will be FAR superior to the person who views it as "just a way to get a paycheck every couple weeks".

Ask about priorities (5, Interesting)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823839)

Here's a question you can ask every applicant. There is no right answer, but it would be interesting and telling to see what they do with it.

Organize these IT concepts by priority:

Customer Service
User Experience
Fault Tolerance
Best Practices

Add/subtract terms as you see fit. You get the idea.

A few questions... (3, Funny)

ExploHD (888637) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823845)

What is your name?

What is your quest?

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Re:A few questions... (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824177)

An African or a European swallow?

Ask about their mistakes (5, Insightful)

scarpa (105251) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823847)

Ask them to talk about the mistakes they've made or project failures they've been a part of.

If they claim it's never happened, or it wasn't their fault, etc, then they probably are lying or stupid.

If they can explain the failure, why it happened and how they've avoided the same thing in subsequent projects you've probably got a good one.

Re:Ask about their mistakes (1)

klahnako (209184) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824103)

I would have to agree. A person's experience will be littered with mistakes, so asking them about the mistakes will reveal the size and complexity of the problems they had to solve.

I am also of the mind that only real-life work will expose true skill: I wish I could hire applicants for a couple of weeks to see how they integrate, how fast they learn, and what skills they can bring to the company.

Old goats vs young whipper snappers (4, Interesting)

hal9000(jr) (316943) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823853)

As a 45 year old IT person and one time manager, I would ask older IT folks about current technology that you use or plan on using. I'd also find out how current are they on the IT market in general. And I would try to figure out if the person I am talking to is willing and able to integrate with my IT department.

I don't want to generalize much, but there is a tendency for older IT folks to fall behind, often far behind, the tech curve. You know, as we get older, we have other priorities which is OK, but you want that experience they have, but you also want someone who can take your company forward. But older IT folks are also very capable to get upto speed on newer tech often quite quickly.

I wouldn't assume, either, that the young'uns are going to know the latest tech either or even be exposed to it. I do think it would be a mistake to think you could take an older IT person and put them into a mentorship role and have that work out.

Experience vs Time (3, Interesting)

COMON$ (806135) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823855)

The question is, what do I ask older applicants to get them to demonstrate the value of their experience? A resounding YES. There is a VAST difference between the guy who has been doing the same job for 20 years riding on the coattails of consultants or fear of change, and the guy who has been doing the job for 20 years and has had 5 jobs in that time learning different networks and systems.

I have about 7 years full time experience under my belt not counting college or any small jobs through high school. I have a lot to learn and seek out people to learn it from. I have met truly ignorant individuals, age has no preference here. Wisdom comes with the right kind of experience. I have learned more this last year bouncing around different jobs than I did at the job I sat at the previous 5 years.

So yes, ask the question, and make sure you get an answer from the younger and older individuals, you will find that a couple of your kids with 10 years of experience will far outshine the older guys with 25 years doing a repetitive job. Same for a 5 year vs a 10 year.

Wisdom is what I look for, not knowledge.

no! (5, Insightful)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823865)

Don't mention age! Don't mention you are discriminating applications based on age (even if you phrase it as being "more sympathetic"). You are setting yourself up to get sued bigtime!

I consider it to be a major problem that nobody in IT is willing to train junior-level employees up, anyway. But if you are convinced you need gray hair to do the job, ask them to give examples of projects they have lead in the past. That will give you a legal, meritocratic approach to being a discriminatory bastard.

Re:no! (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824049)

I second that! Mentioning age is EVIDENCE that you are using age as a determinative hiring factor. What you say can (and might) be used against you!

Why paint a little target on your forehead?

Re:no! (2, Interesting)

Xerolooper (1247258) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824133)

Don't mention age!

I agree with Lord Ender bad idea.
Might as well let applicants browse the floor and take whatever equipment they want/burn the company down.
Focus on what you really want instead.

...the people I'd rather be working alongside...

Ask yourself why do you really prefer them. Are they more stable and knowledgeable. Look for those qualities in your applicants. Open your mind to the possibilities. You may find some younger candidates that surprise you. Also you wont be wasting time with irrelevant questions when you should be getting to know your applicants.

Ask: You have a project that is on time but just under deadline. A new technology comes out that could potentially cut development and cost in half. How do you proceed?

uh.. (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823871)

How do think people get 20 years of experience? I'd say you should hire based on qualifications, RELEVANT experience, and (if its for a programming position) quality of code portfolio. Older workers might be more experienced, but also have more time to develop bad habits. Instead of asking questions like the one you listed, think up a few scenarios and ask them what they would do in the situation.

Discrimination (1)

Silent Node (54344) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823883)

While I don't know if this is the same in the States, asking an interview question involving age in the manner you suggest would be firm grounds for a discrimination suit in Canada. I'm not saying that such things aren't asked, but it's not uncommon for these Human Rights cases to proceed under our Charter.

"A young engineer comes to you at 5pm" (3, Insightful)

purduephotog (218304) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823889)

... and describes he's having the following problems delivering a product out the door to a customer site that's overseas with engineer support staff that have been up and traveling for 24 hours to get there.

Do you

A) Tell him "Call tomorrow- it's quitting time"
B) Bend over backwards to help.
C) Grouch about it
D) Solve it in 6 key strokes or less.

We have quite a few 'old timers' around our organizations. They think they 'know' it all, too, and they don't. In fact they're much more of a hindrance. We just, after a 3 months of complaining, got one to agree to replace the motherboard in a sun station- we had gone so far as to SCOPE the signal lines on the ports to point out there was a voltage issue... and that didn't even phase them.

A newer younger engineer would have simply yanked the board and dropped a new one in- which, btw, worked perfectly.

There are no right or wrong questions- it's the attitude towards helping out your fellow coworkers that's important. They don't teach it in school but the industry does burn it out. If they're older and they still have the right attitude (including how to help skunk work a project that doesn't have funding through leftover hardware) then they're the right choice.

If they don't have the helpful attitude, they're the wrong choice- age independent.

I work with a multitude of qualified and unqualified IT folks through the military and other contractor sites. All in all it's all about the attitude- that is the one thing I can recall about every single site. Most of the young ones are better with that... but I'm open minded.

Re:"A young engineer comes to you at 5pm" (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824277)

How about E) none of the above.

I would press the young engineer into figuring out the problem. Ask him/her all the things they have tried, what were the results, and what they think the problem can be. Let them make the decision and have me there as a sounding board and help if need be.

The problem you're describing is laziness and/or incompetence and that can happen at any age.

Been There, Done That (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823905)

Got the 'T' Shirt.
So, where do we start?

I wrote my first computer prog in Sept 1972. Punched Cards, Fortran, ICL 1901.

I, like many people who have been in the IT biz this long (& Longer) have seen it all before. We know how it should all come together.
Want to follows SSADM? - No probs
Agile or Rad? - No probs.
Sandbox project? - Hold on while we roll up our sleeves.

Another advantage is that we are old enough to be able to say 'Hold on a moment' This ain't gonna work' or even 'No'.
Many younger IT hotshots can't do that. How do I know? Well I was one once many moons ago.

What is often needed to make a project run well, on time and on budget is the right mix of experience and enthusiasium as well as age. If this all gells and the team is the right size (No to big) then it will generate it own momentum and things will get done.
What successful projcts do not need are 'Prima Donnas' of any age.

Interview the person like you actually care, oh an (5, Insightful)

juuri (7678) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823909)

oh and ...

IT interviewers tend to be terrible as the person who is interviewing proceeds to treat the applicant like auditing a software application. The same terms, styles and such simply don't apply. They are people just like everyone else, only with less showering and better toys.

You interview IT people much like you would interview anyone else:

You ask them deep questions, that require more than a few words to answer.

You put them in problem situations they would normally face and find out their process for working through them.

Get a feel for how comfortable they are with you and other interviewers, culture fit is incredibly important for small organization sizes.

Actually have READ their resume and ask them questions on some of the more small or trivial things.

Ask questions about where they want to be in 5 years, how are they with shifting priorities, what's their work goal for the next two months. Get a feeling for how they deal with change over time.

Ask them what they dislike most about their field. What they LOVE about what they do.

Get them to describe any long term projects they may have been part of and what they feel was their ultimate contribution to it being a success.

Ask them about their worst fuck up, everyone has one. This says a lot about a person when they can easily tell you one and how they learned from it. ... and for fuck's sake don't ask lots of stupid little nit picky questions unless you are sure they are embellishing on their field knowledge. Asking someone about the different arguments to a specific command or sub call shows that *you* don't get it. There's more in IT than anyone person can know, find out instead how they go about learning new things and how actively they do so.

Re:Interview the person like you actually care, oh (5, Insightful)

RotateLeftByte (797477) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824115)

Don't ask the old guys
"about where they want to be in 5 years"

They don't give a toss as long as they are coding/testing etc.
Take it from me, once you get to a certain age, you don't give a shit about the greasy pole.
They know their limitations and thus can work within them and get on with the job.
And yes, I have called an old boss of mine a dipstick.
He didn't give me the sack. He just labelled me as an awkward bastard as what I told him about the project was true and it saved his ass.

I'm 55 and happlily desiging complex systems. I don't want to be a manager or team leader. I'm a Designer/coder/Architect/General Dogsbody who will tell you whats what with a proposal/project. Once my new boss understands that, we generally get along fine. Which is why I am a contractor and not a permie. I'm no threat to their job.

Im young (1, Insightful)

greatfool66 (1409367) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823911)

I'm young and I'd rather work with young people because I find they learn new things more quickly and are easier to teach. OP is older and would rather work with people his own age because of their experience and wisdom and reliability or whatever. Admit that your preference has to do with your own age and move on.

Experience (2, Insightful)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823913)

As a classic example, I often point to a database design and a zipcode field. A newbie (and for that matter most people) would declare that zip codes need to be stored as integers and should they need to be formatted with a dash, that can be handled in the application layer. Now this is true in a general sense except for one thing... east code zip codes start with a zero. What will happen when you cast that zip code starting with a zero into an integer field? It's going to trim that leading zero.

Now an old timer will know this and set the zipcode field as a varchar.

The newcomer will not understand how to create objects as well as an old timer will generally as well. An old timer has alot of experience in creating objects and relationships and they have an easier time duplicating real life scenarios into a program or database.

Re:Experience (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824249)

That is a tough call. It could be the code is doing processing on the zip-code at 30 hz and it is important to make that trade off and just deal with the formatting on display even with the potential for error if someone else displays it. Maybe not for zip code, but I've had similar cases where senior developers wanted to use string where they just didn't need to. I think the real key is having a developer that can make a sane choice there, back up their decision making process, and deal with it when their solution isn't the best one or even the chosen one.

Re:Experience (1)

Emb3rz (1210286) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824279)

Now an old timer will know this and set the zipcode field as a varchar.

I'm 21 and I learned this lesson years ago. Is there something wrong with me?

Not coincidentally, anyone need programming work done?~ ;)

Re:Experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824293)

If your gauge of what makes someone experienced is whether they know that a zip code (or CC) shouldn't be an integer, then you need to get a new gauge. Anyone who doesn't understand this should be kept miles away from your database.

All the correct answer to that question tells you is that your interviewee has a pulse. And while it's an admirable trait, you may want to demand more out of your workforce.

Re:Experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824369)

That has more to do with knowledge about the real world than software development (and thus it depends on how much time the geek in question has spent outside his parents' basement). In many European countries nobody would think of using an integer since those countries have letters in zipcodes.

Real-world scenarios (2, Interesting)

dedazo (737510) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823915)

If you have 20 years in IT then you should be able to come up with a scenario that goes like "X happens, then Y happens, what do you do?", because ideally you've gone through that kind of thing enough times.

I like the one where I ask them to work through setting up a build system and proper source control for an already-in-the-second-phase project they're taking over as architects. The key there is not only how they do things from a technical perspective, but also if they ask questions like "is there an existing system or procedure in place and who designed/owns it" or things like that. Coders I can get for a dime a dozen; software developers that can function within a large project on the other hand, are few and between.

I also sometimes ask them to do a high-level design of a software application that controls an elevator system in a building. The way they approach that, especially how they abstract problems and manage complexity, is very revealing.

Other than that, the standard 50 question deep tech rounds up quite nicely.

Your experience level (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823943)

How experienced are you? It sounds like you don't have much experience and are thus having trouble gauging others. Is there anybody more experienced in your company who would be able to make better choices? Or are you trying to hire yourself a new boss or lead to report to?

Ask questions that test pragmatism (5, Interesting)

Petersko (564140) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823947)

I'd rather have a pragmatist than an idealist any day.

I also don't want to hear never-ending whining from an open source evangelical. If I ask your opinion, and you say Microsoft sucks, that's fine. I asked. But after that, if Microsoft is part of the job, I want to know I don't have to listen to you bitch about it.

In fact, you might describe the environments/toolsets and ask the candidates how they feel about them.

Experience with disasters (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824009)

Mention how your company is committed to Total Quality Management and ISO 9000 processes. If the guy doesn't start running for the exits, he's not learned anything from his experiences. Try and have someone track him down and explain that you were just testing before he makes it to his car, or you'll never see him again.

A lawsuit? (4, Insightful)

Trojan35 (910785) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824013)

My current gambit is something like 'IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?' This gets responses ranging from the vague to the truly enlightened. All next week I'm interviewing for a number of senior software designer and developer roles. What should I be asking of the more experienced applicants, and what responses should I be looking out for?

I think what you're doing is probably a worker's rights violation (disclosing others candidates' ages, asking candidates to make a case for a job based on their relative age). Even if it isn't or you don't get sued, no good employee would want to work for someone who interviews like that.

You should not be a manager. Nor should you be interviewing anyone. You represent your company extremely poorly and open them up to legal action. Or did I (and the editors) just get trolled?

Re:A lawsuit? (1)

jakegub (1411067) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824159)

I won't go as far as to judge your suitability for your job. Unfortunately most companies need HR services so infrequently that it isn't worthwhile to get someone who is qualified to be the HR rep. However, even expressing the idea that your opinion may be swayed or even influenced slightly by an applicant's age would get you pulled from the decision making for that position immediately.

Re:A lawsuit? (1)

gksmith (1277536) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824251)

I agree. If I were interviewing and got such a question I would be shocked. I would think this company is comprised of rank amateurs. This is the case whether I were 23 or 38 or 55 years old.

Re:A lawsuit? (1)

Trojan35 (910785) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824303)

Also, if someone who has 20 years experience is interviewing for the same job/pay as someone fresh out of college, there's probably a reason why they're still entry level.

Two Points (1)

Lisias (447563) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824023)

a. Tell me the best thing you ever did, why you think it was the better thing you did, and what you learnt from it.

b. Tell me the worst mistake you ever did, why you think it was the worst thing you did, and what you learnt from it.

Experience Ageism (3, Insightful)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824029)

While I'm sure your heart is in the right place, you're looking for something specific and are labeling it in a very unfortunate way.

There's nothing wrong with wanting experience. Try to bear in mind, though, that this experience COULD be obtained in other ways. Fill in whatever examples you want, but YEARS OF LIFE are not necessarily at all what you are looking for - instead you want to know what was learned in that time.

So, by that metric, "My next applicant after you is 23 years old" is a horrible lead-in. You're just begging for an old-coot response, and that kind of environment certainly doesn't make HR Directors smile.

Try something more like, "Tell me something about your work experience that qualifies you for a 'senior level' position". Or, "Give me an example of a time where your work experience really worked in your favor."

Again, replace the desire to find age with finding experience instead. It really, mostly means the same thing, and it doesn't have to be IT-related experience either. One of my best employees used to drive trucks, and I consider him very experienced indeed.

Do not mention age or make comparisons like that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824057)

Agism is a common problem.

Do not mention age as a threat: 'The previous applicant is 23 years old, what can you do [geezer]?'

Age discrimination is bad.

You should know these answers, already. (1)

Zoson (300530) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824059)

If you are actually in a position to be doing interviews. You should know the direction your company is headed, the technologies used, and the common issues you have internally.

The right questions and answers are truely ONLY applicable to your own site. Nobody on /. should be able to tell you what to look for, because we don't know the actual situation.

How old are you? (1)

KZigurs (638781) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824083)

You are looking for the wrong thing here. What if you would define what exactly in your experience shows that senior members work out better and work out from there?

  - Experience and attitude matters. Certainly. There are different kinds of experience and different kinds of attitude. Define what are you looking for.
  - People that are not uptight on proving themselves when they are not yet ready for are important, certainly. Balanced work/home relationship - important. Look for signs, not assume things based on age.
  - Candidate that will freely and meaningfully discuss his favorite or most missed features from tools he supposedly knows - priceless.

yuo Fail It... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824107)

to d:ownload the bought the farm...

The interviewer's delima (4, Funny)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824181)

Sounds like: "I am wanting a senior developer, but he needs to be less that 25 years old". Do you work for HR by any chance? You will probably want some who has 20 years of Java development next!? ;)

Two Words (1)

dhermann (648219) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824183)

Project. Estimation.

The skill of determining how long an IT development effort will take is something only expereince can give. It was never mentioned during my computer science education and I doubt is emphasized by anyone in academia today, but in the profession it is sacrosanct. Ask them about their last estimation effort. Then ask the 23-year-old what he would do. I can practically guarantee the experienced programmer's answer was superior.

A few ideas (0)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824189)

Have they ever been a team lead? I understand not moving into management proper, but if they are a 20 year veteran and have never been a team lead, chances are they've never really operated on a very high, senior level of work expectation unless they're in a niche field. If they're a general purpose software engineer, and have never--not once--taken a position where they were directing other engineers, chances are they were never trusted by their employers to operate as a true senior engineer.

Before anyone blasts me here, I have never known a single senior engineer with 20 some years of experience who has been a good employee worth having and has never had a few people they regularly tasked who had little experience. They weren't managers, but they were responsible for giving tasking and work to junior employees.

No, No, No. (1)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824193)

My current gambit is something like 'IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?'

Any statement you make like this will cause a variety of responses, of which only a few are positive. To find out what these guys have going, you do what you'd do in any intelligent interview. You pose a few problems and see what comes out of them. In particular, you'll want to find out something they cannot do, then make them do it. I know that seems cruel, but you can watch how they think, watch how they learn (when you hint them with parts of the problem) and learn whether they just stop and say "NO. I don't know that. I won't try."

Expect that old timers are sometimes just as much incompetent lying little know-nothings who cannot write a FizzBuzz program as the younger set. Test them. See what they can do. And when you find one who can code and think, hire them!

What I know at 46 that I didn't at 18 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824199)

I know the different between what I know and what I think I know.

How do you get Experence (1)

VEGETA_GT (255721) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824217)

This also brings the issue of how dose one get experience. Now first is it a Senior position you are hiring for then yes 20 years experience wins but for a junior and intermediate position, 23 year old vs 40 year old should be treated fairly as that 23 year old could be the best kid since sliced bread in 5 years while the very experienced person in a junior/intermediate position may not be pushed to limits, may just slide buy and may just be lazy and over speak there experience.

But besides that the side and interesting note here is that if you rule out the younger guys/girls, and most do then in 20 years how did those 23 year old now 43 year old get his/her experience. This is something I have noticed that people don't want to hire the 23 year old for reasons you stated but then that person who would become what you need, and willing to learn and can FAST dose not get experience and is just slowed down. Young It people have a EXTREAMLY hard time getting decent jobs in the junior to intermediate areas as there is always someone more experienced who will take the pay get it. I am only 27 and got a LUCKY BREAK and I stress LUCKY but I know people who where A students, had soem work experience end up working at the mail as no one would hire as not 10 years experience for a junior position. that was me a few years ago, but not everyone will get a lucky break or have a unkle who is a CEO of Dell or something.

I don't mind the idea of the kids getting less pay and not getting seniour position but when they can't get a junior position as the guy hiring wants a senior guy it can end up hurting the up and comers who are the future of technology.

Way To Get Sued (5, Insightful)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824231)

My current gambit is something like 'IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?'

It is illegal to discriminate against anyone over the age of 40. (For the US. Differs elsewhere.)

A question like that demonstrates, clearly, that you see age as a factor.

You see it in terms of encouraging older applicants.

People who don't get what they want are often somewhat bitter and tend to remember things differently.

They are going to simply see, "He openly voiced an issue with age. I'm over 40. I didn't get it. I'm suing."

Lawsuits aren't about who's right and wrong. They're about how much it costs you to defend yourself even when you are right. Your company may settle, even though you know you're in the right, to avoid court costs. They may win but still be out the tens of thousands it cost to defend themselves. Either way, you're the idiot who asked a stupid question and cost them a fortune.

Don't put age in to any question. Don't put gender in. Don't put marital status in. Don't put sexuality in. Don't put race in. Just leave them alone.

If you really want to give older people a chance, ask a question that's so removed from "age", no one can sue you over it. Try, "We've talked about specific experiences. What do you think the benefit of your culmulative experience is?" Then the guy who's got 20 years of it can be guided to what you're looking for.

But mention age, sex, race, sexuality, marital status, etc. and you're begging to get hurt.

You'd never ask, "I've got a male coming in next. Tell me how your being a female gives you an advantage he doesn't." or "I've got a white guy coming in next, tell me how the experience of growing up black in America helps give you the edge." Don't be stupid enough to do the same thing with age.

Sure Test of Resourcefulness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824247)

Ask the applicant to set up Wollongong TCP/IP networking on an AT&T 3B2-400.

You can't make a hiring decision based on age... (1, Redundant)

will381796 (1219674) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824275)

Employers are not allowed to use age as a determinate when it comes to who they should hire. I hope you enjoy being sued.

Know? (4, Funny)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824299)

IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?

The proper response from this geezer would be, "I know that I can and will crush him under my boot heel, and then then you if you dare ask that question again."

Ask if their experience is an asset to your work (1)

celest (100606) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824301)

It is taken for granted in this industry (and many others) that more experience == good. There has been some recent research in this area, specifically in engineering management, and the management of innovation, that suggests that when working in innovative, rapidly evolving areas, trying to come up with novel solutions and build novel systems, experience can be /detrimental/ as it acts as a ball and chain to the way things used to be done, and hampers an innovative mindset that tries to figure out a better way to do things.

See, for example, "Innovators' Insights - Which Schools of Experience Should Your Executives Attend?". Anthony, S. D., & Christensen, C.M. Nov 2004. Harvard Management Update. Harvard Business Publishing []

Describe the work you are hiring the person for, and ask them why their experience would be an asset and not a detriment to the work you are doing. Ask them to explain their thoughts about learning new skills, using new methodologies, vs doing what they have always done for the past x years over again.

It is my firm opinion that an ability to grow and learn and evolve is the single most useful skill for any employee.

Past Problems (1)

srothroc (733160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824337)

Give them examples of past situations or problems that have come up in your personal experience; ask them how they would deal with those situations. They don't necessarily have to be technical -- indeed, it would probably be a good idea to ask about how they would deal with interpersonal friction, too.

And for the younger candidates, you can reverse your original question: "My next candidate after you has X more years of experience than you; what can you offer that he doesn't?" It may help you sort out the cocky pups who think a college degree makes them king of the world.

Dangerous Question! (1)

Darth_Vito (693141) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824343)

You should reconsider asking that question, at least the way you have it worded currently. You could get into trouble. I realize from your post that you are actually favoring the older, more experienced candidates, but if you ask the question

'IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?'

You are asking for trouble. If you end up not selecting this individual, he may feel that it is because of his age and if you get sued the question will sound biased to a judge and jury. Consider something like "How has your experience benefited you in problem solving, and what is it that you have learned from it that less experienced applicants might not have yet realized?" or something similar.

What 20+ Years Have Taught Me (3, Interesting)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824381)

My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?
  I know what "Failure" means. Another thing I know that the 23 year old has no concept of is, "What takes to have a medium to complex project completed."

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