Best job interview questions to ask, from leading IT executives

IT departments play a vital role in advancing business objectives, so how do leading enterprise companies create a staffing strategy that makes the most of this crucial department? To start, determine the best job interview questions to ask prospective candidates in order to find individuals who don't simply suit the role, but truly improve the IT team.

At the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012 in Orlando, Fla. this past October, where some of the country's top IT executives gathered, SearchCIO-Midmarket.com site editor Wendy Schuchart asked IT leaders in various industries, "What are the best job interview questions you ask your candidates?"

Read the transcript from Schuchart's interviews below, and watch the video to learn how your IT peers are asking good job interview questions in order to build dynamic IT teams at their organizations.

What interview questions do you love asking your job candidates and what do they tell you about them?

Maridan Harris, vice president of IT, Royal Philips Electronics: You ask them the normal questions about what their biggest challenge is. What are you most proud of? And what is it that you want to do later on? You know, what is it that inspires you? And it's interesting to hear what inspires them, what they're proud of, because that tells you what motivates them, and whether or not they fit, you know, if they've got the same kind of drive as the team you're trying to put them on.

If there's somebody that is an innovative thinker, they're creative, they're not so structured, you fit them in with groups that that's complementary to. If they're somebody that's fast moving, and you have a group that would need that type of personality, then you fit them into that. So, it just kind of depends on how you're creating your team, because not only do you want the diversity and the genders and the cultures, but you also want it in the personalities and the characteristics.

Every interview is a little bit different. I actually don't do so much of an interview anymore; I do more of a meeting and just trying to figure out who they are and who I am and if it's going to fit, and what type of teams they'll fit into or what type of customer would they work best with.

Nathan McBride, vice president of IT, AMAG Pharmaceuticals Inc.: First job interview question I usually ask is, "What do you know about the cloud?" I recently had a hire that I hired in March, a help desk manager, who had come from a brick-and-mortar environment -- servers, Exchange, the whole thing. I asked him, "What do you know about the cloud?" "Oh. I've heard about the cloud. I have heard all these great things in the cloud." "But what experience do you have in the cloud?" I asked. "What have you done? What have you built? What have you plugged in together in the cloud?" There was silence. And I wasn't too taken aback by that, because this was March of this year. I didn't expect a whole lot from the answer. But what was startling was his conception of the cloud at the time. This was six months ago, seven months ago.

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When we began to dig in a little deeper, he had actually been extremely integrated with the cloud, he'd just not known it. He had been using a help desk application that was cloud-based. That was essentially a [Software as a Service]-based cloud app for help desk. He did not even realize it was the cloud.

The [other] questions I always go to in the interviews are [about] your experience with the cloud -- not just, "Tell me what it is, but really, on a day-to-day basis, what do you do that's cloud-based?" And I think what's surprising is that most people don't realize how much they interact with the cloud every day or have been for years.

Stewart Seruya, chief security and network officer, University of Miami: It was once asked of me, and it was very unique, and I've used it ever since: That job interview question is: "How can I improve my interviewing?" What that tells [about] the person, it puts them on the spot, and [assesses] how honest and how creative they are on the fly.

Luis Garzon, senior director of enterprise architecture, Coach Inc.: You know, it's really funny; I get the idea of who the candidate is going to be within five to six minutes. I can almost clock it at this point, but it's really not necessarily a question that I ask. It's really more of a situation that I ask about. Depending on what the job is or what the situation is, I really try to put them in a situation where there are multiple answers, there are multiple approaches.

It's really a question that asks them something on multiple dimensions. So it's not necessarily asking them about, "How would you solve this?" technically. It's also, "How would you communicate with different areas? How would you deal with problems when there are disagreements? How would you look at the cost aspect of it?"

Also, thinking about it from a planning perspective, I'm looking to see, are they planning it out in their mind? The situation has no right or wrong answer. It's really how you approach tackling that job interview question. That's really how I go about it.

Tammy Barr, director of IT, Continental Mills Inc.: The first one I always ask is, "What brought you here today?" So that I understand what they know about our company, why they're looking for a job. The other thing I ask them is, "On your first day here, what are you going to do?" I want to know, really, how do they approach a new job? What is the most important thing to them?

I really am looking for there ... [that] they want to form relationships with people; they want to learn the others in their department. They want to learn the people that they're working with in the business.

Again, it's not about the technology as much as it's about the working relationships. Because most people can get the skills, but to get the relationships and get the success, they need to be able to work with the rest of the business.

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I like that the purpose of these best questions is not to find out whether a candidate is a fit for the position, but to find out who they are as a specialist and as a person. Then the executive decides what would be a position fitting the candidate.
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