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Interviewing Tips For The Small Company

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Every candidate, from junior to senior level, has to have the right amount of technical prowess for the intended position. However, small companies have a smaller margin for error when hiring a candidate, so you need to look beyond just hiring a candidate who can produce billable hours. In this article we’ll take a look at the some of the less technical areas where you need to asses a candidate before making the commitment.


Small company life can be difficult at times. Momentum swings up and down, priorities shift quickly, the benefits aren’t always the best, and the hardware doesn’t have last months fastest processor. It is important to keep a positive outlook on the situation, but even more importantly, it is disastrous to have someone on the team with a negative attitude. Complaining is contagious and destroys teamwork and communication.

During the interview, judge the candidate to see if they subscribe to the “glass is half empty” or “glass is half full” view of the world. Do they remain positive even if the miss a technical answer? Do they have only bad things to see about previous work experiences? If you are picking up negative vibes during the interview, you can be certain the person will only be worse once they are working there on a daily basis.


With limited resources, your team needs every edge possible. You’ll need people who have a desire to build excellent software, and a desire to consistently improve. Passionate developers are not passive about learning, they won’t wait for the company to pay for a conference trip to learn new techniques.

Ask the candidate questions during the interview to see if they are passive, and wait for information to reach them, or passionate, and seek out ways to improve. Do they blog? Do they read blogs? Do they attend a user group? Ask them what magazines they read or how they stay current. Ask them to tell you if they learned something new last month.


The curious developer likes to find out how things work, and then wants to improve them. The curious developer is more likely to track down a bug before it reaches a customer because they spot something odd about the software and find out why the oddness occurred. These are great qualities to have in a developer on your team. Curiosity gives a person a pro-active nature – instead of waiting for someone to tell them how the software or process works, they’ll help spread knowledge by finding out for themselves.

A curious person should be asking questions during the interview, but not just questions about their circumstances. For example, everyone will ask questions like where they will fit in on a team, or how many holidays are in the company calendar. A truly curious person will be asking about you, and your software. Take some time to walk through the architecture of your application and make sure to highlight unique or interesting areas. You should be fielding questions from the candidate who wants to know how you have it all working.


Ideas are the life force of a small company. Many of the challenges faced by a startup require creative thinking, and not just in code. Selling, marketing, designing, and brainstorming a feature set all require some thoughtful imagination, and everyone, no matter their role, should be able to help with the contribution of brainpower.

You can have your pick of creative thinking questions from lists you’ll find on the Internet, or feel free to use a scenario from real life work inside your office. There are also two other key areas to judge during open ended questions – and that is effective communication and the ability to stand by an opinion. Ask open-ended questions and challenge the interviewee to see if they can argue their position. The best teams will forge ideas together instead of relying on a single person to make decisions.


No, we aren’t trying to see if the interviewee has a constant smile on their face during the interview, but if they’ll be happy after three months in your environment. Use the resume and questioning to find out what types of work environments the candidate has worked in, and point out the differences. In your company do developers field support calls? Travel? Help move furniture when the office moves? Make sure to set the expectations up front so there are no surprises in a few months.


Don’t concentrate just on the technical stuff during an interview. A small company needs a happy, motivated team not only to stay afloat but to move on to bigger successes.