My company is hiring for a technical specialty which is quite different from my own. I really can't speak to candidates' specific skills, but I can ask more general questions about preferred work environments, methods of approaching problems, etc.

What should I ask that will have the greatest possible value, given that it's a technical position but discussing technical matters won't be possible?

Similar, though I won't be managing the people hired: How can I manage technical workers when I have no experience in their position?

  • Yes, at least three other people, including two working in the specialty. So I'm basically just there for an opinion - but I'd liked to make it useful. I'll be involved, but tangentially.
    – user1113
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 19:20
  • 1
    I've always thought that a candidate's ability to learn for themselves and thier problem solving skills is far superior than what their current technical knowledge is. Technology changes so fast, so unless I'm interviewing for a short-term contract position, I would much rather have someone who can adapt quickly and learn what they need to know fast to get the job done, over someone who can ace a technical quiz, but doesn't adapt to change very well.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 19:21
  • 2
    And if you're in the room with someone else that does know the technology, simply explain you're not as familiar with the technology, and ask them to explain some aspect of it to you. Your colleague will be able to tell you if the candidate is correct or not, and you can judge their communication skills based on how well you understood the candidate's explanation or not.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 19:23
  • @Rachel: I agree 100%. The trick is identifying such people, short of working with them for a year or two.
    – user1113
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 19:23
  • Hi @JonofAllTrades and thanks for bringing your question here. This has actually been asked before, so I've marked it as a dupe. I hope the answers there help you. If you think your question is different from that other one, please edit to explain how and we can look at reopening. Thanks. Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 3:47

4 Answers 4


What should I ask that will have the greatest possible value, given that it's a technical position but discussing technical matters won't be possible?

When I set up interviews for folks I'm trying to hire, after an initial phone screen, I usually have them meet with several people during their visit. I talk to these interviewers ahead of time, assign a "role" and give them an idea of what I'd like them to learn during the interview:

  • Me first (since I'm the hiring manager)
  • Someone to discuss and assess technical fit
  • Someone to discuss and assess domain fit
  • Someone to discuss and assess company culture fit
  • Me last

Sometimes, I'll handle the technical/domain/culture assessment myself - depending on the nature of the role being filled and the availability of others to help.

If you aren't in a position to assess technical fit, and you aren't the manager, you might be better suited to fill the domain or company culture role.

If you are in the domain role, you ask questions related to the domain in which your company works. For example, you might be hiring a DBA to work in a Pharmaceutical company. In this role, you would talk to the candidate about the pharmaceutical industry. You would be learning what the candidate understands about the industry, if it is of interest, and if it fits the candidate.

If you are in the company culture role, you ask and answer questions as to the candidate's fit into your company's culture. For example, if you are a startup company, you might problem to see if the candidate is comfortable in a startup environment (where perhaps not everything is pre-defined, and it might be necessary to pitch in and work in areas outside your comfort zone).

Also remember that these interviewers are there to answer questions, as well as to ask them. If you have been in the company/department for a while, you may be able to provide answers to the candidates that will show them what a great company you have and why they should want to work there.

Hiring is important, particularly in a small shop. IMHO, a good hire is well worth a few hours of extra work.

  • This approach sounds good but for a small shop?? Id have to devote too many resources to this
    – Brandin
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 20:39

I think you should discuss this with your manager to find out what they expect of your involvement in the interview. Our answers are just going to be guesses at their intent.

You mentioned that 3 other people will be conducting the interview as well. To be frank, your involvement sounds like a complete waste of everyone's time.

If this is a small company (less than 10 people) and you will likely work with this person on a daily basis then I could see having you involved to make sure there isn't a personality conflict. At which point you should stick to general office questions and stay away from anything in the field.

Someone suggested that you ask the candidate to explain something about their technical background to you. This only has value if the position requires a technical person to explain those things to non-technical people. If it doesn't then does it matter if they can explain it or not?

At the end of the day I stick to "go / no go" questions in interviews. In other words, the only questions I ask are those whose answers will directly lead to a job offer or a polite "thank you for coming in." Having someone sit on the interview who can't solicit that information isn't helpful.


Do not shy away from asking technical questions. Perhaps ask them to explain specifically what work or problems they've solved on their last job, or in hobby experience. Even if you don't understand the jargon they use, if you fake knowledge, and they are forced to use jargon correctly, and actually explain themselves, you'll be able to see just from how they answer it if they are right for the job. If they seem to have no idea what to say, or their answers seem vague and clueless, then they probably aren't as experienced as you'd like. Don't use it as a knowledge test, but as a test to see if they actually know the field they are entering.

Asking personality based questions when you need a skilled worker won't be as useful as seeing if they know their field.

  • Good point - you want someone who can do the job, yes; but having someone who can not only do the job, but explain it such that nontechnical people (project managers, upper management, ppl on nontechnical groups who need the team's technical help) is highly valuable and - in my experience - not often actively looked for.
    – user22432
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 21:26

You don't need to know everything. You can ask questions about fundamentals, as long as you can tell a viable answer from a b.s. answer. My MD doesn't know everything I do but she keeps me honest because she has a phenomenal b.s. detector :)

You don't even need to talk. But you need to know how to listen. Listen for the b.s. And when you hear something that feels like b.s., keep digging until the truth comes out one way or the other.

Hopefully, as you learn your trade as an interviewer,you learn that listening is at least as valuable as talking. Listen to what the candidate is saying. Listen also to what the candidate is NOT saying. If the candidate spins, make the candidate cut it short to the nitty-gritty. Learn to trust yourself and your instincts. Also learn to lean on your fellow interviewers for expertise that you don't have. No one knows everything and can know everything.