Every time there is a new position, most of us face the challenge of coming up with good questions for an interview.
Hiring is hard, so it is important you make the most of the process and get as much information as you can from candidates.
The very first step in this process is to make a list of qualities that are most important for the open position.
Then I go through each of the qualities that make up the role and come up with 2-3 questions that have answers that would help assess that skill.
I recently did this exercise to come up with some good questions to ask potential Technical PM (program manager or project manager – depending on scope) candidates.  The results of this exercise are below:

 

Qualities:

  1. Really organized
  2. Detail oriented
  3. Regular follow up, reliable, doesn’t let things drop – on time
  4. Cool under pressure. Able to deal with conflict and handle many challenging personalities/situations
  5. Smart and able to figure things out quickly
  6. Able to understand the different parts/areas of the system and how those pieces fit together
  7. Technical (knows the basics of web applications – doesn’t necessarily have to write code, but should know what an API is and how it works)
  8. Strong communication skills (both oral and written)
  9. Culture fit
  10. Strong problem solver – creative ideas
  11. Customer focused
Questions to address those qualities:
1. Really organized
  • How do you stay organized?
  • What is the most emails you have ever received/handled in one go?  How did you handle it, did it work?  Would you do anything differently?
  • Tell me about a time when you have had to keep track of a lot of things.  How did you do it?  What would you do differently if you had to do it over?
2. Detail oriented
  • How do you keep track of all the details in the project?  How does that work?  How would you improve it?
  • How would you test {vending machine | elevator | shopping cart | etc}? [this will tell you how many details they consider and how they organize their thoughts in a coherent manner]
  • Tell me about a time when you were responsible for the execution of a product or program.  How did it go?  What would you do differently in the future?
3.  Regular follow up/reliable
  • When have you gone over and above on a project?  What was the end result?  How could you have done even better?
  • Have you ever had a project slip?  What happened?  What could you have done differently to change the outcome?
  • What would you do if a developer continually was late on his deliverables?
4. Cool under pressure.  Able to deal with conflict and handle many challenging personalities/situations
  • Tell me about your greatest professional failure.  What would you do differently if you were in the same situation?  What could others learn from your experience?
  • Have you ever had a project fail?  What happened?  How did you handle it?
  • Have you ever had a difficult boss/coworker?  If so, how were they difficult?  How did you handle it?
5.  Smart and able to figure things out quickly
  • Tell me about a time you have had to learn something new.  How did you approach the problem?  How long did it take?  What was the outcome?
  • Your computer is slow.  How would you try and diagnose the problem?
  • Has anyone ever asked you to fix something at work?  Tell me about it.
6. Able to understand the different parts/areas of the system and how those pieces fit together
  • If you were tasked with building a { remote control | ebook reader | news website | elevator | etc } what would you consider.  How would it fit together (what are the pieces and how to they relate)?
  • You want to build a business that sells candy via vending machines.  How can you make the most money at such business?  What do you think will be the biggest challenges?
  • Have you ever had to support a product that you built?  How did it go?  What did you learn?
  • What is the most complex system you have worked with?  Draw it on the board.  Ask about how data/requests flow through the system.  What are the bottlenecks or highest potential places for errors/issues?  Drill in on specific pieces to see how deep they really understand how things fit together.
7. Technical (knows the basics of web applications – doesn’t necessarily have to write code, but should know what an API is and how it works)
  • Are you familiar with AWS offerings?  What are they?  How do they work?  Have you used them?
  • What is the different between REST and SOAP?
  • What is so great about web services and cloud computing?
  • Ask them a basic coding question (assuming some development experience or cs degree)
  • Write out the class file/header file for an { elevator | cloud storage | twitter-like application | to do list application | etc }
8. Strong communication skills (both oral and written)
  • What makes a good email? Give me your crash course on email communication.
  • What are the important components of a status mail?  A specification?  A bug?
  • Tell me about a project you started and finished.  What were the steps? How did you determine success? (you are looking for strong oral communication and organized thinking – do they take you through the process?  any visual aids?)
  • You decide to take up twitter and run a social media campaigns for your website.  How does it work?  What approach do you take?  How do you determine if it succeeded or failed? (awareness of social media, able to brainstorm a plan and communicate it to you)
  • You are in charge of a produce department in a grocery store and your boss wants a weekly status mail on how well your department is performing. What do you report on?  How do you structure the email? (looking for asking the right questions and tracking the right things – and then how the data is organized and reported on)

9 . Culture fit

  • When have you had the most fun at work? (btw is one of my most favorite interview questions ever)
  • Tell me about a time where you had to deal with a difficult situation.  What happened, what did you learn from the experience?
  • What is most important to you in the role?  What is this job going to do to help you towards your long term career goals?
  • Are you weird?  Why or why not? (Or how weird are you on a scale of 1 to 10)
  • What do you think are the elements of a great team?
  • What are the traits of a great boss or leader?  When have you worked with someone with or without those qualities?  How did that go and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Tell me about a time you did something you were really proud of, but no one else knew about.
  • What do you do to improve your self and grow your skills?
  • What makes you a great teammate? Employee?
  • If I were to talk to your boss what would he/she say about you?  Your coworkers?)
10.  Strong problem solver – creative ideas
  • You want to know the information about visitors to a web site.  What are some things a business might want to know?  Pick a few and ask them how they might go about figuring those things out.
  • You want to collect twitter and Facebook data for a customers account.  How would you model how much data that would represent?  What information do you need or experiments would you run?
  • We want to classify all the links in the Linkscape index, how would you solve this?  What are the different costs (time and money) for different solutions?  What is the greatest areas of uncertainty?  How would you mitigate it?
  • Tell me about a time you solved a really hard problem.  How did it go – what was the outcome?  What went well and what could have been improved?
11. Customer focused
  • What are the things that make great customer service?
  • What are some good ways to collect customer feedback?  What are the pros and cons of each?
  • Tell me what it means to be a customer focused company.
  • How would you build products if you were in charge of the process?  What features do your prioritize?
As you can tell that is a lot of questions!  However this should at least help you focus and make sure you truly address all the skills that matter in your role.
Hope it helps, feel free to leave additional questions in the comments.