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Interviewing Experienced IT People? 835

Posted by timothy
from the experience-is-not-just-a-euphemism dept.
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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Interviewing Experienced IT People?

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  • Re:What they bring (Score:2, Informative)

    by JoeFromPhilly (792856) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @04:48PM (#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.
  • Risking a lawsuit (Score:4, Informative)

    by syousef (465911) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:17PM (#25824741) Journal

    Don't ask anything that even remotely looks like it's age related. If it gets out to the younger applicant, though unlikely, you may have an expensive age discrimination lawsuit to ask. It doesn't gain you or your company a thing to be so candid.

    Do not mention other applicant's at all. Simply ask what experience they bring to the table that's relevant to the job, and what similar work they've done. Ask this for each applicant. "I spent 10 years working on critical system XYZ" is a much better response than "I helped the cute chick at the IT lab get her assignment in on time". Also, if an applicant answers this question well (regardless of age) it can lead in to more detailed questions and you follow up with the younger candidate if he or she gives a good answer.

  • No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shade of Pyrrhus (992978) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:19PM (#25824769)
    It's not politically correct, and it's also not legally correct [eeoc.gov]. All of the other questions don't matter once you throw age out there. It'd be very easy for them to face you with a lawsuit.

    For kicks, here's a clear-cut quote:

    (c) It shall be unlawful for a labor organization-
    (1) to exclude or to expel from its membership, or otherwise to discriminate against, any individual because of his age;

  • Re:What they bring (Score:3, Informative)

    by ccguy (1116865) * on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:19PM (#25824773) Homepage

    old timers are more capable of "getting working products delivered on time and on budget",

    There is some truth to this: They fight for more reasonable deadlines and budgets to start with.

    In fact, I've seen inexperienced programmers say out loud things like "7 weeks? What will I do with the other 5?"

  • by MattW (97290) <matt@ender.com> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:30PM (#25824981) Homepage

    By the same token, young people often have things older people lack. Drive, ambition, flexibility, curiosity, and a lot more hours they're willing to work on salary.

    Not every older person lacks those. Heck, I've been posting on /. since I was "the young IT worker", and now I'm approaching the time I'm supposed to be put out to pasture.

    The real issue, I think, is that too many people suck at learning on their own. They come out of school with Java, and if they can't do that, they fail.

    I interviewed an older coder in the past year. He was over 40 for sure, maybe 50, but was playing with RoR, knew python, but still had his C and bash under his belt. The *only* reason I didn't hire him on the spot was he was very expensive and it was early on in the interview cycle. (In retrospect, I'd have pulled the trigger; it turned out to be much, much harder to find good people than I had expected.)

  • Age discrimination (Score:2, Informative)

    by EvilIntelligence (1339913) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:34PM (#25825047)
    That is age discrimination. You shouldn't mention anything about age, nor should you immediately judge based on age. There are a lot of older people that are still doing the same damn thing they did 15 years ago because they haven't grown. And there are a lot of "younger" guys out there that are real rock stars, learn very fast, and contribute a whole lot more. theYou should base your judgment on their actual skills. And if you can't tell that from an interview, then its not the candidate's fault; your interview skills just suck.
  • Re:What they bring (Score:5, Informative)

    by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:37PM (#25825107) Homepage

    It's very easy to suddenly whip out the discrimination card

    I believe that was the GP's point.

    Seriously -- my mom worked in human resources for many years (not her proudest moment), and bringing up age is not something you want to do in an interview. Another good way to get slapped with a lawsuit is to tell someone who is calling for a reference that the candidate in question was fired from your company for stealing -- even if he was. If you don't understand these things, I would seriously suggest requesting a sit-down briefing with your own HR department and have them fill you in on the labor laws in your state.

  • Re:Slashdot ID (Score:3, Informative)

    by story645 (1278106) <story645@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:46PM (#25825253) Journal

    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.

    Really? 'cause being on a senior design team doing a build for a competition means I've had to do all of that, plus budgeting & reimbursement nightmares. Add on being team leader for extra headachy fun. Throw out senior design and I've gotten a lot of that just working for a research lab, or at least the one my professor runs. (And filling out purchase orders, so I've got sympathy for the project manager.) It's kind of like what another poster was saying: experience is everywhere, a kids just gotta know how to recognize it and convey it on the resume and to the interviewer.

  • by gujo-odori (473191) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:56PM (#25826311)

    Asking different interview questions of IT veterans than you would of fresh-from-college types interviewing for the same job mostly (to be brutally honest) indicates that you have been promoted to a position for which you are (not yet) prepared. I don't mean that as a put-down; it's actually pretty common for people to be promoted to management without interviewing skills. Technical skills often get people promoted, but without a skilled mentoring manager to prepare the technically competent for management, they usually get thrown in green. In too many companies, interviews are conducted only by managers. I had the good fortune to have done a lot of interviews when I was an individual contributor, so that when I became a manager, I was already good at interviewing and used those skills to build a great team. But most people aren't fortunate enough to work for such a company.

    Whatever the job is, the questions you should be asking on the technical side should be specific to the skill set for the job. If you're hiring somebody to work on a Java project, ask some Java-specific questions that will show whether the candidate can walk what s/he talks. Or Python, C, whatever. If you're hiring a network engineer, ask networking questions. Also, asking about some problem that solved and how it was solved is good. After all, you've already said that you know more experienced staff tend to be better at bringing in the project because of their experience, so don't ask about that. If interviews need to be re-tailored at all, it will probably be for the new graduates rather than the experienced people. For the n00bs, you know they won't have the depth of experience, so your questions need to help you build an informed opinion on whether or not they have sufficient skills or potential to enter your organization and be successful, learning well as they go along and under the guidance of yourself and other more senior staff.

    Finally, get your own technical staff involved in the interview process. They can not only be very helpful in vetting people on technical knowledge, but also on personality fit. Personality fit is crucial; I've never made a hire recommendation for someone I felt didn't have personality fit with my team. That's so important that if a candidate doesn't have it, then the technical qualifications just don't matter. Additionally, it will help prepare your team for the day when some of them will themselves step into management roles.

  • by the_banjomatic (1061614) * on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:30PM (#25827773)
    exit
    | |
    | |_____
    |  ___  |
    | |   | |
    |^|___| |
    |_______|

    ^ = you facing up

    With your right hand on the wall you'd keep walking in a circle... with your left hand on the wall you'd find the exit
  • by Jeff Hornby (211519) <jthornby@NOspAm.sympatico.ca> on Thursday November 20, 2008 @12:11AM (#25828855) Homepage

    Neither.

    if ($variable) ...

  • by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Thursday November 20, 2008 @03:08AM (#25829775) Homepage Journal

    ... Remember, most organizations are pretty much the same; they'll soon be grumbling about yours too.

    Oh, man. I have to take exception to this one. I've worked in a handful of jobs (7ish?) over the past 20ish years. I've had great managers and I've had clueless ones. Often at the same company, and sometimes in the same organization. I've walked away from one company because management was beyond clueless.

    There have certainly been times in my life where I would give an earful about my then-current management - including my first job, where I'm really quite proud of the work I did, in spite of what I had to work against.

    I guess it is more important that the applicant and you see eye-to-eye on what management is for than whether or not they've been happy with their previous management.

  • by V for Vendetta (1204898) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @12:07PM (#25834061)

    I've probably saved a man-year of time by taking a task involving a billion little tasks and asking myself "How can I automate this? What decisions do I personally need to make?"

    This is what I call 'Positive Laziness'. Intelligent lazy people think first if there's a way to shorten/ease an otherwise work-intensive (and often monotonous) task and come up with a nice, (semi-)automated solution.

    Whereas real lazy people think of how they can avoid the work at all.

  • by Sj0 (472011) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @02:11PM (#25835827) Homepage Journal

    An article I read in Scientific American Mind basically suggests that the key to above-average or genius level intelligence is that sort of laziness.

    It suggested that in mental tests given by researchers among two groups; one group of people with average intelligence and one group of people with above average or genius level intelligence, the difference seemed to be maximizing the resources we're all born with by minimizing the things they had to do in order to come to a solution.

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