How do you get people to relax and  open up during an interview? While I have met a few rare managers who like to manage by fear (and interview by fear!), my goal is always to create a team that can converse well with each other and that I can feel comfortable talking to.   I like to throw hiring candidates a curve ball, ask the unusual question that they aren’t expecting and that they might not have had a chance to rehearse. These are a few that I like:

1. Do you like puzzles? What kind are your favorite?

I have found that good QA people love puzzles.  I worked at one company where the HR people put together some games and books in the lunch room.  Our entire QA team flocked to the jigsaw puzzle and spent every lunch  hour pouring over it.  QA is all about the solving the puzzle – how should this work? how did this go wrong?  How bad is this problem?    People who like logic and Sudoku puzzles are a great fit where requirements are often not complete and they won’t get hugely frustrated by gaps in the solution, they will see this as a new kind of puzzle.  People who like crosswords are wonderful in environments where good communication is key.  The better your vocabulary, the more tools you will have to make yourself understood.

2. Tell me a story

It could be a story of a typical day in QA, a difficult release, a bug that was hard to reproduce.  Much of QA requires the ability to tell an often complicated story.  There is setting the scene, the expectations, the events and the conclusion.  If you are a story-teller, this comes very naturally.  People who can’t tell a story well might skip steps, forget to set the stage, maybe never reach a conclusion.  Developers could  easily spend more time trying to figure out what you are trying to tell them than in solving the actual problem.  You could be a great tester but if people can’t figure out what you are describing, you will not be successful.

3. What is the worst news you have had to deliver?

One of the hardest tasks in QA can be to deliver the bad news about a release.  Our job is to be honest, even if it is something you know that your audience doesn’t want to hear.  It is important to have a team that won’t shy away from this but also does not enjoy it too much!  You can’t have a team shouting “Fire!” all the time.  How they answer this question will give you clues to how tactful they can be and what judgement skills they have. 

4.  What is your work style?

Do you like a lot of meetings or a few quick short meetings?  Do you like a well-defined process or do you want the freedom to be creative with the process?  Do you like to lots of detailed tasks or do you want lots of independence to decide what is needed?  Can you work well on a team or do you prefer to work alone?   Can you manage situations where there might not be adequate documentation or vague requirements?  Many companies are weak in this area and it can be frustrating for people who are used to waterfall methodology with well-defined documents.  

5. Describe the most challenging person you have had to work with.

The answer to this will give you clues to what kinds of personalities will irritate this person and what kind of people they can work with.  It says something about their diplomacy and how sensitive they are.   If they can’t think of a person that challenged them, they are either very lucky or not willing to be open about it.  

6. What drives you crazy? What do you love doing?  What do you feel passionate about?

I like a team that has a blend of all type of work styles and characters. You want their strengths and weaknesses to balance off against each other and great brainstorming often requires different perspectives. BUT, if there are things that are real hot button issues for people, you need to be sensitive to this as it will ruin team spirit in a hurry. If you have developers who hate spending days doing documentation and want a more agile environment, you can’t pair them with QA people who want a thoroughly documented solution.   By using strong words like “crazy” “love” “hate”, you are encouraging the interviewees to respond with feeling.

7.  What do you like about Quality Assurance?

I actually had one person respond to this question with “I like the work hours”!  While I realize that they were coming from a customer support role where they were on call all the time, this was the only positive thing they could say about a QA role.  I generally hope to hear a bit more than this!  You want to find people who really enjoy what they do and who feel passionate about.