What Hiring Managers Want to See During Job Interviews

When tech candidates interview for a position, they often wonder if they gave the hiring manager the correct information, or answered the questions in a concise and compelling way.

For most hiring managers, things are much more clear-cut: when it comes to interview answers, here’s what they want from tech candidates.

Describing a Challenging Project in an Interesting Way

Describing a complex and challenging project in an exciting way is by far the most important evaluation criteria for tech hiring managers. They not only pay attention to the specificity of an answer; they are assessing the candidate’s level of passion.

“’Don’t make your story too dry or too technical,’” is how Glenn Pitchford, IT director for Permian Basin Community Centers, advises job candidates. “The way a candidate describes a project he’s most proud of tells me how he feels about his accomplishments and his level of enjoyment and job satisfaction.”

What makes a compelling story? Hiring managers, and even technical evaluators, want to see if tech candidates can solve real problems, noted Ron DuPlain, a practicing software engineer and former CTO who serves as partner and recruiter for Myth Talent.

“Provide just enough context for others to get it, then let yourself go deep in discussing the engineering challenges,” DuPlain added. He suggests that tech candidates address the following questions:

  • What was the genesis of the project?
  • Did you start with a clear set of requirements, or just a simple objective statement?
  • Who was on the team, and what was your role?
  • What problems were you solving, and how did you solve them?
  • How did you collaborate within the team?
  • How did your work impact the success of the wider team?
  • What methods did you use to put the project into production?
  • How did you evaluate what you built?

In addition, recruiters should advise tech candidates to hone their storytelling technique by practicing stories over and over again with real people. Having someone to act as a sounding board, or even a mentor, is key.

Owning Up to Mistakes

At some point, a hiring manager might choose to ask about the candidates’ mistakes. When candidates are put on the spot, the worst thing they can do is “pass the buck” or refuse to come up with an example of something that went wrong.

The ideal response: Acknowledge a bad decision or take responsibility for a technical error before quickly pivoting to what they learned from the experience. That’s a sign of emotional maturity and a desire to grow and stretch—qualities that hiring managers look for in potential employees.

Dealing with Missed Deadlines

Hiring managers often ask the following behavioral question to see how candidates are likely to act when adversity strikes: “Tell me about a time you missed a deadline.”

Unfortunately, many candidates don’t answer it well. They immediately jump to how they worked around the clock to fulfill the deliverables, and forget to mention the importance of keeping their manager, the project owner, and stakeholders updated and informed. Tech managers want to be assured that candidates are likely to make good decisions, take ownership, empathize with the affected parties, and over-communicate when the team misses an important deadline.

Conveying Passion for the Company’s Mission

In most companies, technology plays a vital role in supporting the mission, growth and achievement of key objectives. Moreover, studies have shown that employees who relate to the company’s mission are more productive and less likely to leave for another opportunity. That’s why hiring managers look for alignment with the company’s values and environment when assessing a candidate’s cultural fit.

In order for qualified candidates to actually land the offer, it’s vital to convey an understanding and passion for the company’s purpose, and what needs to be delivered to ensure a great product or service. Those candidates have done their homework, and exhibit curiosity and interest by asking questions about the challenges facing the organization.

Like most managers, Pitchford says that it’s easy to learn another programming language or dataset. What’s far rarer is someone who is genuinely passionate about a company or mission. Hiring managers should be on the lookout for candidates with that passion.