Interviewing is hard. We also know that most of us don’t do it well, as evidenced by the choices we make when hiring. How many people have performed at the level you expected when you hired them? There are people that outperform your evaluation, but many more underperform your expectations. I think this is partially that it’s hard to evaluate someone’s skills in a short period of time, but also that the performance someone gives is impacted by the environment they work in. That’s hard to simulate in an interview.
However, if we ignore that and look to find some method to at least evaluate a technologist’s skills, what do we do? We test, we quiz, we try strange questions. I read an account from a programmer looking to hire other programmers, titled How I ended up conducting the most successful technical interviews with a single question. It’s a good story, and it drew me in as the author followed the same path I’ve followed before.
Then he exposed his question: tell me about the best project you’ve ever created. It’s simple, and I think it probably works well. Programming is a creative endeavor and those that love doing it, keep doing it. They will have projects they are proud of, if they continue to work to improve their craft. They’ll also be passionate about what they do. I don’t know if this would work in other areas, like system administration, but I’d like to think that most people have done something they’re proud of.
However I don’t think this guarantees great workers. I guess you can evaluate the way someone approached their project, and how they dealt with issues, but passion does not always equate to great work. I’m an amateur woodworker, and I’m quite proud of my flagpole, but I’m not sure many of you would want to pay me to build one for you. My skill have a long way to go before I could make a living at that craft.