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Technical Managers: The 5 Key Interview Questions You Should Ask to Identify Top Performers

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Technical Managers:  The 5 Key Interview Questions You Should Ask to Identify Top Performers


Choosing the best candidates for your department is one of the most important decisions a manager can make. A bad hire causes hair loss, restless nights and hurts the company’s bottom line. A great hire on the other hand, makes your job easier, makes you look great and elevates your department and company.   


After combing through dozens of unqualified resumes and leads, you have settled on a few that seem to have all the qualifications and industry experience you’re seeking. At long last, you’ve identified your finalists for an important role in your group and you’re preparing for their technical interview.   But how do you differentiate between top performers and problem hires? Here are our top five questions every technical manager should ask their candidates to help identify top performers.


1)      What interested you in this particular field initially?

Here, you’ll want to understand their level of passion for their chosen filed.  Did they grow up with a family-business in the field, did they have an early interest or did they simply fall into this career? Understanding why they are in their career in the first place will shed light into their motivations for their work.  The more detailed and authentic they can answer this question, the better.  You want employees who love what they do and have a natural curiosity and passion for their field.


2)      What is your proudest technical accomplishment in your last role?  

With this question, you’re looking for a highlight of their technical ability and an understanding of what really drives your candidate.  This will give you insight into the limits of their technical capabilities and what types of projects they’d prefer to work on in the future.  Did they write a patent for a new product, win a design award, or obtain a certification?  Understanding their individual versus team involvement in this accomplishment will help you learn about their teamwork abilities as well.


3)      What technical part of your last role did you enjoy the most? 

This question will give you insight into what really motivates them. Do they enjoy inventing or designing new concepts, or do they enjoy leading a team of technical employees?  If they enjoyed collaborating with other bright engineers or architects, this is an indication of strong leadership potential. If they really enjoyed developing a new software program or designing a new product, they may be better suited in individual contributor roles.


4)      What type of role do you see yourself in 3-5 years from now? 

This question will give you a glimpse of their career-focus and path they’d like to pursue. Do they prefer a hands-on role, or would they like more leadership opportunities in the future. Either answer is fine, but it will help you understand what’s motivating their career progression. Most organizations need both individual contributors and leaders, so this will help you plan for growth in both areas.


5)      Who could I contact to confirm your technical abilities? 

Few questions put candidates on the spot than asking for professional references.  The candidate should be quick to provide former supervisors and co-workers who can vouch for their technical abilities. Should the candidate hesitate to volunteer a former supervisor as a reference, you should question why that is the case.  If they quickly and confidently provide this information, this  is a strong indicator that they’re eager for you to contact them and verify their abilities and experiences.


 -Tom Goettl is Vice President and Principal Technical Recruiter at George Konik Associates, a technical recruiting company in Minneapolis, MN.