Three Questions I Ask in an Interview

To me, an interview is a conversation where two individuals are trying to evaluate if they can work together.

At vhite, I have interviewed many candidates in last five years for the position of a technical communicator, a content strategist, or a content engineer. Sometimes, the position was open for an onsite full time employment at vhite, while I had a few discussions for a contract work opportunity as well.

In the first conversation, my criteria is to evaluate a candidate for one’s clarity of thought and the ability to get friendly with me.

So, after the customary questions to get started, I ask the following three questions to help me make a hiring decision.

Question 1: How many mistakes you can find in your resume (or in the contractor’s profile) in one minute? (A print copy of resume or application is available on the table.)

The candidate starts looking at their resumes and very quickly they start highlighting or making editorial notes. One. Two…. Five. Six.

  • The font properties are not consistent
  • The paragraphs properties are not consistent (unequal space above or below text paragraphs)
  • The lists are not optimized for space, bullet style, and relevance for whether it needs to be a list
  • That one paragraph (or the whole resume) is justified for text alignment
  • Space before a colon
  • A period after a statement
  • Use of ENTER key for space
  • No use of MS Word Styles
  • Manual space in the two columns in footer
  • Sentence structure has an issue
  • The resume is not readable enough; it lacks balance, positioning, and harmony for readability

This list is often on the expected lines.

Even if the candidate has 10 years of experience in technical documentation of enterprise products in agile environment using DITA, DocBook, Markdown, or JIRA, and the world’s fanciest tools, the response to this first question is fairly consistent.

I am not turned-off at seeing such resumes [1] and then I prepare myself to live with the candidates’ inability to spot issues in their resumes (it shows their poor reviewing skills).

I am yet to take an interview where the resume or the story excites me to get started with real questions.

Question 2: What will you lose by declining our offer if we offer eighty percent of your expected remuneration?

The objective is to know how strongly they feel the need or desire to work at vhite. A few typical responses are:

  • I am not sure. I may get the same kind of opportunity elsewhere sooner or later. So it is a loss to me right now as I need to keep in mind what I need to run my financials. [Fair enough. Just enough.]
  • I would certainly love to work at vhite for this opportunity. If I have to let it go because the remuneration is a factor, I would be disappointed.
  • If we cannot agree on the working terms, I will miss out on a chance to work with the founder of ContentHug. This must be the team that puts the best bet on content in the product design process. A tough decision but I would let it go.
  • Once I have a better understanding of my role in vhite, I can think over to reconsider my expectations.

Pretty damp stuff. As if the air outside resists clarity of mind.

I do not even buy the statement when someone says “…I can think over again whether I am IN for your eighty percent offer. Can I get back on this later today, after this interview?” This is a wet effort. This is just enough on the margins but this does not excite me.

Nobody says that they will be the missing link in a wonderful story. Nobody says that the vhite story may also struggle to find such a character. Nobody says that they can be such an important sub-plot and when the audience claps will multiply, vhite may be tempted enough to change eighty percent to one hundred and twenty percent.

Nobody talks in the language of stories. Nobody sells well. Actually, nobody sells. They only apply. 

As if a resume is an ointment on a bruise that does not even matter much.

Question 3: If you get a magic wand just now and you get a chance to ask for one wish, what will you ask?

Typical responses are:

  • I will wish for helping me get an offer letter as I strongly want to work at vhite. [Candidate has all the positive intentions.]
  • I will wish that I get all my answers right and targeted and I will leave the decision to the destiny.
  • I will wish that I get an opportunity to express and to show my right skills for your questions so that you can select me if you find me suitable for this vacancy.

Candidates do not understand that an offer letter is not the goal. The goal is something else. The goal is to setup a common understanding that we can work together for the common goals. To get an opportunity to do the right kind of work is everything in life.

So for instance, I am looking for an answer as

  • “I just wish that there is clarity of thought and a common understanding of what you ask and how I respond. This is to ensure that there is right interpretation of our discussion across the either side of table so that you get a fair and clear idea of how I am the best-fit for this role. It should be a win-win for me as well as vhite.” OR
  • “I wish that I can communicate it well enough for how I can bring real business value to your goals. And if there is a tie where you need to pick one from more than one candidates, then select me.” OR
  • “I wish that I stay honest and clear in my communication so that vhite can identify my skills and see how I can be one of the A-players in their team.” OR
  • “Assume that vhite declines my application for whatever reasons. I will wish that someday I get a call or we happen to meet in a conference or at a coffee table and you say — We should have selected you that day.”

These are not the only questions that I ask. However, these three are important as I need to find how candidate’s thoughts align with our work culture.