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Interviewing Experienced IT People? 835

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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  • Slashdot ID (Score:5, Funny)

    by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:22PM (#25823729)

    I recently took a job at a web hosting company. During my interview with the senior admin, my 5-digit slashdot ID gained me major bonus points... especially since I'm only 24 years old.

    • Re:Slashdot ID (Score:5, Insightful)

      by qoncept ( 599709 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:35PM (#25823985) Homepage
      I think this is exactly what the OP was talking about. Sure, you're a huge computer nerd and can code anything and make it work, but that's a very small part of a software dev job. 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.

      I was fortunate enough to be thrown in to it and gain the experience in the Air Force, and how anyone "gets their foot in the door" blows my mind. I have some very smart friends who are very capable, but in an actual work environment, they'd be completely lost, and that goes for most everyone fresh out of college with a computer science degree. Experience is what makes you useful. An experienced programmer doesn't need experience in a particular language to be at least servicable, but a hotshot young gun could know a language like the back of his hand and be worthless.

      I'm not saying I don't think you are capable or even that I don't think you have the experience. But whereas you (I'm assuming semi-jokingly) refer to how long you've been on slashdot as evidence that you know what you're doing, I would refer to the projects I've worked on and not only the work I've done, but how I've affected the team working on them as a whole and how they've affected me.

      Which brings me to the OP's question. Some of the important things I listen for in interviews is how people have dealt with adversity. Name a problem you had on a project and how it was overcome. Name a time your solution was wrong and how you dealt with it. Tell me about a time you had a problem with someone on your team and how you overcame it. The technical stuff is a given -- look at their resume. I want to know how this guy will make us successful.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by story645 ( 1278106 )

        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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by arth1 ( 260657 )

        I think this is exactly what the OP was talking about. Sure, you're a huge computer nerd and can code anything and make it work, but that's a very small part of a software dev job. 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.

        Don't forget that coding consists of 80% programming and 80% troubleshoo

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:23PM (#25823741)

    '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?'

    I think you'd find they have a keener understanding of how to bring a civil suit for age discrimination.

    • Re:What they bring (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Cillian ( 1003268 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:26PM (#25823803) Homepage
      It's very easy to suddenly whip out the discrimination card, but it's perfectly valid in this case to prefer older applicants who have more experience in the job. Obviously, if there is a preference for older applicants even if they don't have more experience, something is up, but it doesn't sound like that's the case. (The original poster wasn't entirely clear about this, I'll accept).
      • Re:What they bring (Score:5, Informative)

        by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:37PM (#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:What they bring (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Techguy666 ( 759128 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:39PM (#25824047)
      I don't have mod points but I would agree with the previous post. Even implying that age is a consideration in any way would just invite a lawsuit. When you say the old timers are more capable of "getting working products delivered on time and on budget", how do you measure this? Ask questions that might flesh out whether your measure of deliverables is the same as your potential hiree's measure of deliverables.

      What you want is not so much an employee that is necessarily older but an employee with predictable skills, attitude, and way of thinking (or at least tolerable) in your eyes. As a bonus, you end up with the most compatible person for the role, regardless of age.

      • And remember that just because someone's been working in IT for 20 years does NOT mean that they have 20 years worth of experience. They might have 1 year of experience, twenty times over.

        What I'd be interested in is how they understand the changes from when they first started to today.

        And where they agree and disagree with the changes.

        After years and years in this industry, people form opinions.

        In my opinion, WinNT was great at 3.51 and became unstable at 4.0. Moving to 2000 was okay but they've kept the s

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ccguy ( 1116865 ) *

        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?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rm999 ( 775449 )

      True, but the solution is simple:
      'IT is seen as a young man's game. My next applicant after you is straight out of a top 5 university CS program. What do you know that he doesn't?'

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ucblockhead ( 63650 )

        Sadly, having interviewed people straight out of top 5 university CS programs, the answer might be "what a hash table is".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        'IT is seen as a young man's game.

        Good job not bringing up age. Might I suggest, "IT is a field that requires constant learning to remain effective. My next applicant after you is straight out of a top 5 university CS program. What do you know that he doesn't?"

  • Wrong idea! (Score:4, Funny)

    by bigstrat2003 ( 1058574 ) * on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:23PM (#25823747)
    As a 23-year-old IT professional, I strongly recommend you interview more of them. ;)
  • I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SparkleMotion88 ( 1013083 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:23PM (#25823757)
    Are you looking for ways to justify hiring more experienced candidates instead of less experienced candidates? Are you worried that the older folks you interview won't outshine the younger folks like you want them to? If you want to build a successful team, you should probably just make hiring decisions based on who you think will be more successful. Your pre-interview biases can only hurt your company and the industry.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yiddishkite ( 525633 )
      I'd check with HR first on your interview language. Essentially, asking a candidate "Why should I hire someone old over someone young?" certainly could be interpretted as illegal.
    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:38PM (#25824037) Journal

      There was a trend to hire young IT people because certifications were the thing to have, and younger people work longer hours for less money. The problems with those types of qualifications are starting to bite the IT industry on it's collective ass.

      If you want qualified personnel, ask questions that quantify them as a good technical and social fit. Pick some script language they don't know. Ask them if they would take a few minutes to create a 'hello world' script. If all they know is one programming language as seen via one particular IDE... well, it's something you want to know.

      It's odd, but hobbies can tell you a lot or nothing about an individual. If they skydive twice a month on average, it says something. If they are working on an OSS project and can show you the sourceforge page... that says something.

      There are other considerations; There are not many young Cobol programmers. If an applicant was invovled with the team that implemented X.25 for a large IT company back in the 90s, he's probably a better fit for X.25 network systems than a 23 year old would be.

      If all you need is a [name your language here] monkey... you can find that in any age.

      Look at your requirements, find a good match to that. Age does not dictate value, but experience can. Anyone of any age 'can' have the right experience, but statistically, it usually works out a bit lopsided.

  • by VorpalRodent ( 964940 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:24PM (#25823765)
    I'd start with an open ended question:
    "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike...what do you do?"

    I'd follow it up with a more direct problem solving question:
    "I need to get all the primes less than 1000, and all I have are these punch-cards...go."
  • by ronys ( 166557 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:24PM (#25823777) Journal

    And what have you learned from them?

  • by hedronist ( 233240 ) * on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:26PM (#25823801)

    Definitely an interesting question.

    Most senior (read: geezer) geeks I know have firmly held opinions on ... just about everything. In most cases these opinions are the distillation of decades of experience. This doesn't mean that they are (necessarily) stuck in a rut, but it does mean they are unlikely to be swayed by the language/methodology du jour.

    So one thing I would want to know is can they work in the specific environment you have in place (or planned). I've got 35 years and N^2 languages behind me, but you say 'Java' and I say 'Life is too short'.

    Another valuable trait in a senior member is the ability to pass on their experience to other members of the team. This can be as a role model, as a mentor, or even as someone who gives periodic instructional seminars. A way to keep balance might be to have some of the younger members give talks on things that are more cutting edge and that the seniors might enjoy learning. For example, I've been using RCS/CVS/SVN since God was a young child, but I had someone half my age sit me down and give me a real tour of Mercurial (hg) and it blew me away.

    I'll be interested in hearing what you come up.

    • by demi ( 17616 ) * on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:10PM (#25824627) Homepage Journal

      Funnily enough, I've had the opposite experience: people who are younger, in terms of experience or age, are a lot more positive in their opinions and close-minded than older or more experienced people. I don't have a lot of theory around this, except that a more experienced person has had a lot more opportunity to be proven wrong about their preconceptions.

      This matches my own personal experience. I can really only compare my "old" self with my "young" self, but I would say that the young me was more confrontational and irritatingly positive (you can use Perl for everything!), and more willing to do a lot of pointless after-hours work and be oncall. He was a lot less reflective and somewhat less rational regarding his decisionmaking. He had little broad perspective and familiarity with a few technologies that looked to him like all there was to know.

      The older me is more knowledgeable, certainly, and more familiar with lots of "allied" tasks associated with programming. I'm a lot better at handling people. I'm a lot more willing to experiment or investigate new technologies for something rather than relay what's already in my toolbox.

      This might seem paradoxical, but it makes sense to me. An inexperienced person has probably had few revelations like the hg example you give or using a functional programming language on a real project. An experienced person has a good feel for what kinds of tasks are no big deal and what takes a lot of time.

      All that said, I dislike very much the idea that programmers are characterizable by their languages, their age or experience or their domain. Frankly I would leave that out of it and just do a straight interview (though you may be interested in analyzing differences after the fact).

  • by spydum ( 828400 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:28PM (#25823825)
    I think I've found that hiring passionate people, whether loaded with experience, or fresh out of college is the key. Someone who is passionate about technology and their job will ultimately lead you to a better work place, and will continually strive to improve on their work. Some people may be good because they've been doing it for a long time, but if they don't particularly care about the job, you can't expect them to continually want to do great things for your company, nor stick around all that long.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ringl ( 895323 )

      Passion is good. But the ability to learn and problem solve is better.

      Passionate people go all out on everything. Successes are huge successes and mistakes are huge mistakes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by King_TJ ( 85913 )

      Wish I could mod you up at the moment.

      I think this is more important than many people realize. You do want to see evidence of experience and a grasp of concepts. (Some people, while eager, are simply trying to "bite off more than they can chew" by interviewing for too complicated a position for their current skills.)

      But overall, yes! The person who "lives and breathes I.T." will be FAR superior to the person who views it as "just a way to get a paycheck every couple weeks".

  • Ask about priorities (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Toe, The ( 545098 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:28PM (#25823839)

    Here's a question you can ask every applicant. There is no right answer, but it would be interesting and telling to see what they do with it.

    Organize these IT concepts by priority:

    Customer Service
    User Experience
    Fault Tolerance
    Best Practices

    Add/subtract terms as you see fit. You get the idea.

    • You forgot CowboyNeal you insensitive clod.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Well, after the same generic blah-blah that it's unique to every application, I'd try to draw up three classes that could be at starting point at least.

      For any project where the users choose your service:

      1. User experience. Else nobody uses it anyway.
      2. Fault Tolerance. They don't ask support, they're gone.
      3. Security. You'll be under constant attack once you have a user base.
      4. Uptime. You bet they expect the service to be there when they want it.
      5. Backup, as a followup on security.
      6. Customer Service. If

  • by ExploHD ( 888637 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:29PM (#25823845)
    What is your name?

    What is your quest?

    What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
  • by scarpa ( 105251 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:29PM (#25823847) Homepage

    Ask them to talk about the mistakes they've made or project failures they've been a part of.

    If they claim it's never happened, or it wasn't their fault, etc, then they probably are lying or stupid.

    If they can explain the failure, why it happened and how they've avoided the same thing in subsequent projects you've probably got a good one.

  • by hal9000(jr) ( 316943 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:29PM (#25823853)
    As a 45 year old IT person and one time manager, I would ask older IT folks about current technology that you use or plan on using. I'd also find out how current are they on the IT market in general. And I would try to figure out if the person I am talking to is willing and able to integrate with my IT department.

    I don't want to generalize much, but there is a tendency for older IT folks to fall behind, often far behind, the tech curve. You know, as we get older, we have other priorities which is OK, but you want that experience they have, but you also want someone who can take your company forward. But older IT folks are also very capable to get upto speed on newer tech often quite quickly.

    I wouldn't assume, either, that the young'uns are going to know the latest tech either or even be exposed to it. I do think it would be a mistake to think you could take an older IT person and put them into a mentorship role and have that work out.
    • by pushf popf ( 741049 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:06PM (#25824563)
      I don't want to generalize much, but there is a tendency for older IT folks to fall behind, often far behind, the tech curve. You know, as we get older, we have other priorities which is OK, but you want that experience they have, but you also want someone who can take your company forward. But older IT folks are also very capable to get upto speed on newer tech often quite quickly.

      You may require a specific skill set or technology, but the reality is that math and customer service hasn't changed all that much.

      The servers need to work, the apps need to run and the customers and users need to be happy. If you need someone to twiddle something in the Next Hot New thing, hire the old guy and get him a code monkey.

      Additionally, what the employee doesn't do is likely to be as valuable as what they will do. By the time someone hits their 40's or better, they're unlikely to say "screw the company" and fly off for week long drunken orgy with your secretary. They're also unlikely to do socially inappropriate things in front of customers or do really stupid things with your hardware like yanking good drives on a production machine "to see if the RAID works".

      If you hire the right person, he's also likely to know how to cover your butt when something bad happens, where the young guy with nothing to lose would be just as happy to throw you under the bus.
  • Experience vs Time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by COMON$ ( 806135 ) * on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:29PM (#25823855) Journal
    The question is, what do I ask older applicants to get them to demonstrate the value of their experience? A resounding YES. There is a VAST difference between the guy who has been doing the same job for 20 years riding on the coattails of consultants or fear of change, and the guy who has been doing the job for 20 years and has had 5 jobs in that time learning different networks and systems.

    I have about 7 years full time experience under my belt not counting college or any small jobs through high school. I have a lot to learn and seek out people to learn it from. I have met truly ignorant individuals, age has no preference here. Wisdom comes with the right kind of experience. I have learned more this last year bouncing around different jobs than I did at the job I sat at the previous 5 years.

    So yes, ask the question, and make sure you get an answer from the younger and older individuals, you will find that a couple of your kids with 10 years of experience will far outshine the older guys with 25 years doing a repetitive job. Same for a 5 year vs a 10 year.

    Wisdom is what I look for, not knowledge.

  • no! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:30PM (#25823865) Homepage

    Don't mention age! Don't mention you are discriminating applications based on age (even if you phrase it as being "more sympathetic"). You are setting yourself up to get sued bigtime!

    I consider it to be a major problem that nobody in IT is willing to train junior-level employees up, anyway. But if you are convinced you need gray hair to do the job, ask them to give examples of projects they have lead in the past. That will give you a legal, meritocratic approach to being a discriminatory bastard.

  • by purduephotog ( 218304 ) <> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:31PM (#25823889) Homepage Journal

    ... and describes he's having the following problems delivering a product out the door to a customer site that's overseas with engineer support staff that have been up and traveling for 24 hours to get there.

    Do you

    A) Tell him "Call tomorrow- it's quitting time"
    B) Bend over backwards to help.
    C) Grouch about it
    D) Solve it in 6 key strokes or less.

    We have quite a few 'old timers' around our organizations. They think they 'know' it all, too, and they don't. In fact they're much more of a hindrance. We just, after a 3 months of complaining, got one to agree to replace the motherboard in a sun station- we had gone so far as to SCOPE the signal lines on the ports to point out there was a voltage issue... and that didn't even phase them.

    A newer younger engineer would have simply yanked the board and dropped a new one in- which, btw, worked perfectly.

    There are no right or wrong questions- it's the attitude towards helping out your fellow coworkers that's important. They don't teach it in school but the industry does burn it out. If they're older and they still have the right attitude (including how to help skunk work a project that doesn't have funding through leftover hardware) then they're the right choice.

    If they don't have the helpful attitude, they're the wrong choice- age independent.

    I work with a multitude of qualified and unqualified IT folks through the military and other contractor sites. All in all it's all about the attitude- that is the one thing I can recall about every single site. Most of the young ones are better with that... but I'm open minded.

  • by juuri ( 7678 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:32PM (#25823909) Homepage

    oh and ...

    IT interviewers tend to be terrible as the person who is interviewing proceeds to treat the applicant like auditing a software application. The same terms, styles and such simply don't apply. They are people just like everyone else, only with less showering and better toys.

    You interview IT people much like you would interview anyone else:

    You ask them deep questions, that require more than a few words to answer.

    You put them in problem situations they would normally face and find out their process for working through them.

    Get a feel for how comfortable they are with you and other interviewers, culture fit is incredibly important for small organization sizes.

    Actually have READ their resume and ask them questions on some of the more small or trivial things.

    Ask questions about where they want to be in 5 years, how are they with shifting priorities, what's their work goal for the next two months. Get a feeling for how they deal with change over time.

    Ask them what they dislike most about their field. What they LOVE about what they do.

    Get them to describe any long term projects they may have been part of and what they feel was their ultimate contribution to it being a success.

    Ask them about their worst fuck up, everyone has one. This says a lot about a person when they can easily tell you one and how they learned from it. ... and for fuck's sake don't ask lots of stupid little nit picky questions unless you are sure they are embellishing on their field knowledge. Asking someone about the different arguments to a specific command or sub call shows that *you* don't get it. There's more in IT than anyone person can know, find out instead how they go about learning new things and how actively they do so.

    • by RotateLeftByte ( 797477 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:43PM (#25824115)

      Don't ask the old guys
      "about where they want to be in 5 years"

      They don't give a toss as long as they are coding/testing etc.
      Take it from me, once you get to a certain age, you don't give a shit about the greasy pole.
      They know their limitations and thus can work within them and get on with the job.
      And yes, I have called an old boss of mine a dipstick.
      He didn't give me the sack. He just labelled me as an awkward bastard as what I told him about the project was true and it saved his ass.

      I'm 55 and happlily desiging complex systems. I don't want to be a manager or team leader. I'm a Designer/coder/Architect/General Dogsbody who will tell you whats what with a proposal/project. Once my new boss understands that, we generally get along fine. Which is why I am a contractor and not a permie. I'm no threat to their job.

  • Experience (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Foofoobar ( 318279 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:32PM (#25823913)
    As a classic example, I often point to a database design and a zipcode field. A newbie (and for that matter most people) would declare that zip codes need to be stored as integers and should they need to be formatted with a dash, that can be handled in the application layer. Now this is true in a general sense except for one thing... east code zip codes start with a zero. What will happen when you cast that zip code starting with a zero into an integer field? It's going to trim that leading zero.

    Now an old timer will know this and set the zipcode field as a varchar.

    The newcomer will not understand how to create objects as well as an old timer will generally as well. An old timer has alot of experience in creating objects and relationships and they have an easier time duplicating real life scenarios into a program or database.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ma8thew ( 861741 )
      This seems such a trivial question as to be laughable. In my sixth form computing course (high school level) we were taught not to use integers for things like phone numbers. Anyone who's spent five minutes with a database would know this.
  • by Petersko ( 564140 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:33PM (#25823947)
    I'd rather have a pragmatist than an idealist any day.

    I also don't want to hear never-ending whining from an open source evangelical. If I ask your opinion, and you say Microsoft sucks, that's fine. I asked. But after that, if Microsoft is part of the job, I want to know I don't have to listen to you bitch about it.

    In fact, you might describe the environments/toolsets and ask the candidates how they feel about them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:36PM (#25824009)

    Mention how your company is committed to Total Quality Management and ISO 9000 processes. If the guy doesn't start running for the exits, he's not learned anything from his experiences. Try and have someone track him down and explain that you were just testing before he makes it to his car, or you'll never see him again.

  • A lawsuit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trojan35 ( 910785 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:36PM (#25824013)

    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?

    I think what you're doing is probably a worker's rights violation (disclosing others candidates' ages, asking candidates to make a case for a job based on their relative age). Even if it isn't or you don't get sued, no good employee would want to work for someone who interviews like that.

    You should not be a manager. Nor should you be interviewing anyone. You represent your company extremely poorly and open them up to legal action. Or did I (and the editors) just get trolled?

  • Experience Ageism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:38PM (#25824029)

    While I'm sure your heart is in the right place, you're looking for something specific and are labeling it in a very unfortunate way.

    There's nothing wrong with wanting experience. Try to bear in mind, though, that this experience COULD be obtained in other ways. Fill in whatever examples you want, but YEARS OF LIFE are not necessarily at all what you are looking for - instead you want to know what was learned in that time.

    So, by that metric, "My next applicant after you is 23 years old" is a horrible lead-in. You're just begging for an old-coot response, and that kind of environment certainly doesn't make HR Directors smile.

    Try something more like, "Tell me something about your work experience that qualifies you for a 'senior level' position". Or, "Give me an example of a time where your work experience really worked in your favor."

    Again, replace the desire to find age with finding experience instead. It really, mostly means the same thing, and it doesn't have to be IT-related experience either. One of my best employees used to drive trucks, and I consider him very experienced indeed.

  • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:46PM (#25824181) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like: "I am wanting a senior developer, but he needs to be less that 25 years old". Do you work for HR by any chance? You will probably want some who has 20 years of Java development next!? ;)

  • Way To Get Sued (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:49PM (#25824231)

    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?'

    It is illegal to discriminate against anyone over the age of 40. (For the US. Differs elsewhere.)

    A question like that demonstrates, clearly, that you see age as a factor.

    You see it in terms of encouraging older applicants.

    People who don't get what they want are often somewhat bitter and tend to remember things differently.

    They are going to simply see, "He openly voiced an issue with age. I'm over 40. I didn't get it. I'm suing."

    Lawsuits aren't about who's right and wrong. They're about how much it costs you to defend yourself even when you are right. Your company may settle, even though you know you're in the right, to avoid court costs. They may win but still be out the tens of thousands it cost to defend themselves. Either way, you're the idiot who asked a stupid question and cost them a fortune.

    Don't put age in to any question. Don't put gender in. Don't put marital status in. Don't put sexuality in. Don't put race in. Just leave them alone.

    If you really want to give older people a chance, ask a question that's so removed from "age", no one can sue you over it. Try, "We've talked about specific experiences. What do you think the benefit of your culmulative experience is?" Then the guy who's got 20 years of it can be guided to what you're looking for.

    But mention age, sex, race, sexuality, marital status, etc. and you're begging to get hurt.

    You'd never ask, "I've got a male coming in next. Tell me how your being a female gives you an advantage he doesn't." or "I've got a white guy coming in next, tell me how the experience of growing up black in America helps give you the edge." Don't be stupid enough to do the same thing with age.

  • Know? (Score:5, Funny)

    by greg_barton ( 5551 ) <> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:53PM (#25824299) Homepage Journal

    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?

    The proper response from this geezer would be, "I know that I can and will crush him under my boot heel, and then then you if you dare ask that question again."

  • by LifesABeach ( 234436 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:57PM (#25824381) Homepage

    My next applicant after you is 23 years old. What do you know that he doesn't?
      I know what "Failure" means. Another thing I know that the 23 year old has no concept of is, "What takes to have a medium to complex project completed."

  • by Orion Blastar ( 457579 ) <orionblastar AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @05:59PM (#25824409) Homepage Journal

    which are like Burger Flippers.

    They will write code for near minimum wage or under $25,000 a year with a comp sci degree or Microsoft certification. Usually aged 22-30, no spouse, lives at home with parents, and works 80 hour weeks with no extra pay.

    But does a sloppy job and systems crash 12 times a day or more, but good enough to get work done.

    The 35 to 65 aged IT workers will draw too much salary via their experience and will be worth $45,000 to $150,000 a year as Master Programmers. They will do quality work and the computer system never crashes because they close every object they use and free up memory and other advanced programming techniques. But since quality takes longer to code that sloppiness the Bit Flipper is usually hired over the Master Programmer as most managers don't understand how computers or programming works and hires and keeps the ones that can code the fastest. Not the best at the job, not the higher quality work, and not the more experienced or professional either.

    Bit Flippers are usually narcissistic and selfish, or more like egomaniacs, but they tend to keep to themselves and write code most of the day while cussing out coworkers and managers under their breath.

  • by Rastl ( 955935 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:01PM (#25824465) Journal

    One common thing I noticed on resumes of younger IT candidates was the '18 month bounce'. The string of jobs they list all had right around 18 month durations. Which is just enough time to get familiar enough with a technology/process and put it on your resume before hunting for a new job.

    The older candidates had longer stretchs of time at companies unless there was reorganizations/acquisitions or other events outside of their control.

    I think it's a mindset thing. I don't know if younger candidates understand that a pattern of leaving just when you should be starting to add real value is a very bad thing to do to the company that hired you. It may be a 'what can you do for me' mindset.

    Yes, I'm a bit of a codger myself in the IT field. When I was interviewing I would always ask what the candidate could do for the company. It's amazing how many of the candidates had no idea how to answer that but had plenty of statements of what the company could do for them.

    If an interviewer asked me what you did I would thank them for their time and stand up to leave. If they don't know the difference between almost two decades of relevant work experience and a newly minted college degree then I don't want to work there much less spend the time explaining it to them.

  • by unix guy ( 163468 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:05PM (#25824545) Homepage

    If you want to get information on how your older geeks think, just ask them, "Of what project you've worked on are you most proud - and why?"

    If their eyes light up and you get enthusiastic responses then you know they do this job for the love of the project - the thrill of the chase... And that means they'll be an enthusiastic and contributing member to your team. If you get dull responses then they are in it for the money - or are burned out and might not be the asset you want..

  • The Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rumblin'rabbit ( 711865 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:06PM (#25824557) Journal
    Our interviews always feature "The Question".

    The question is this:

    Given a software project such as (briefly describe a project the candidate might typically be asked to handle), how would you do it? What steps would you take?

    We then let them speak. Everytime they stop speaking, we say "And then what would you do?"

    The Question is terrific for evaluating a person's approach to software development. For example:
    • Do they question the necessity of the project, or do they assume that managment is always right?
    • What software engineering practices do they mention?
    • To what extend do they involve the user?
    • Do they think that once the software is released, the project is over?

    and so on.

  • Risking a lawsuit (Score:4, Informative)

    by syousef ( 465911 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:17PM (#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.

  • by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:24PM (#25824853)

    Honestly, the question doesn't make much sense. I don't mean the one you ask your applicants, I mean the one you asked us.

    Is your salary range wide open? Most positions I know of that might attract qualified senior people are completely out of range for someone who's 23. If I were asked this (and I'm not THAT far past 23, though I started professionally at 21) I'd be surprised. No one that young has really had a chance to accumulate the experience required for the positions I interview for.

    So if your salary range is low, you actually might want to discard your more experienced candidates. They should all hold better positions, and the ones that don't you don't want. There will be exceptions of course, but finding them might be rough.

    But let's assume it is wide open, or at least a large range. What are you actually looking for? It sounds like you want people who are 'good'. That's pretty vague. Are certain skillsets required? Are you willing to let them learn on the job if they show promise (my current position uses a language I was unfamiliar with, but I made it obvious during the interview that I knew how to program)?

    If you're looking for generic questions, then ask them how they would go about solving a variety of problems, from simple to complex. While what they consider a good or not so great solution is important, far more useful is the decision making process that made them arrive at the answer they gave you.

    Also, a fun interview question I like to throw at people: I'll look at something they list multiple types of on their resume (usually OS and Database). Let's say they've listed MySQL, Postgres, Oracle, and MSSQL. I'll ask which is their preference. I don't actually care. It's a setup for the following question, which is why? Many candidates will pick one and not have a reason.

    Me: What about Oracle do you prefer?
    Candidate: It's the best database.
    Me: In what way?
    Candidate: ummmm

    in contrast, I was perfectly okay with:
    Me: Why do you prefer Solaris?
    Candidate: It's the one I'm most familiar with.

    Bottom line, figure out what you want. It'll make it much easier to know when you find it.

  • by GooberToo ( 74388 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:30PM (#25824979)

    My next applicant after you is 23 years old.

    This is a great way to create liability for your company. Age discrimination is against federal law and simply mentioning it is cause to be sued. Simply put, don't!

    My next application after you has a penis. What do you and your vagina know that he and his penis doesn't? Obviously that sounds bizarre but hopefully it make my point. Asking questions which imply age is part of the equation is simply asking each applicant to sue as they leave the interview room.

    Simply put, don't!


  • by cowtamer ( 311087 ) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @06:32PM (#25825003) Journal

    What is the most fascinating technical problem you've ever solved?

"For the man who has everything... Penicillin." -- F. Borquin