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I am a student co-op worker, which means I am working full-time for a company in my field (software engineering) in between semesters of classes. I am approaching the end of my first work period (it has lasted about 6 months) and will soon return to classes for the Spring. I will be back at this company in the summer, and so am still very invested in my reputation and work here.

My boss has asked me to sit in on the interviewing process for co-op candidates who will potentially replace me and continue the work I have been doing while I am in classes. My suspicion is that this is more out of courtesy to me, and so that he can ask my opinion after the interview process, but I believe I will be invited to ask one or two questions of the interviewee.

Should this invitation arise, am I expected to stick to technical questions? What are some question topics I should consider?

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    You may want to find out what questions NOT to ask too, for legal reasons. Your boss should be able to fill you in if you are unaware. – jmorc Dec 11 '14 at 15:06
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    It might very well be that your boss is simply trying to show you how the interview process works so that when you are on the other side of the table again you'll be a bit less nervous. – NotMe Dec 11 '14 at 20:58
  • While we're all offering our two cents, I am in the same situation as your boss. I have students who work for me and when there is turnover I ask for their help with the new candidates` interviews. It's not an identical situation, but it's close. My motives for this choice are manifold. The top reasons off my head at the moment are; I want to expose new candidates to the culture of my student employees, I need an eyes-on-the-ground perspective after the interview (like you mentioned), the object of a current employee keeps me keyed into the mindset I need and I value their opinions. – Luke Dec 11 '14 at 23:33
  • @Luke thank you for your perspective. what you've said ended up being closest to the mark. i answered questions about the work i've been doing and about how the workplace expectations differ from university expectations, and was asked for my impressions after the interviews. – Woodrow Barlow Dec 12 '14 at 15:05
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There's a very good chance your boss wants you there to answer questions from the candidate, not to ask them. You can speak to what the job is like with complete authority. I would clarify whether your boss expects you to ask any questions at all. If I invite someone to "sit in on" an interview with a potential peer, I would not usually expect any pre-prepared questions from the sitter-inner at all. "What is your greatest weakness" or "where do you see yourself in 5 years" or any other standard question would be terrible choices. Anyone can ask those. IF the candidate goes to the same university as you, then "which is your favourite course this year and why?" could be ok if you're completely stumped.

In general, your best bet is going to be reactive questions, ones that occur to you during the interview, rather than in advance. Say the candidate mentions a particular technique that they've just learned and want to use in the job, and you know it is very relevant to the work. You might ask a few questions to get an idea of just how familiar they are with that technique. Or perhaps at the end of the interview, when they haven't yet demonstrated that they know a particular topic that you are sure is really needed to do well in this job, you can ask them if they've taken that topic yet or had workplace exposure to it.

In order to do a good job with reactive questions you have to think not about what you want to ask, but about what you would want to learn if it was your decision whether to hire this person or not. Then as the interview proceeds you can track whether you're learning everything you planned to learn.

Most importantly, take your lead from the person who invited you. That includes clarifying whether you're there to be an information source for the candidate, to ask questions, or just to see how interviews work from the other side of the desk (a huge gift by the way, and one you should be grateful for.) Even if you are told that asking questions would be great, it's a good idea to make eye contact with the head interviewer before asking one, to get a quick confirmation that it's ok to do so at this moment.

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    to provide a follow up: this ended up being pretty close to the mark. while i did ask a couple of questions when invited to do so, my most valuable input was to answer questions about the work i've been doing (and which the candidate would continue doing, if hired) and the workplace culture. the questions i did ask were, as you said, reactive -- mostly asking for more information about some feature on the candidate's resume. after the interviews, i was asked for my impression. it was extremely valuable to see what sort of considerations were made. thank you for your detailed answer. – Woodrow Barlow Dec 12 '14 at 15:11
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Check with your boss about questions he wants you to ask. Some places have a very specific list of questions each candidate is asked and others are more informal. He may have questions he intends to ask and you wouldn't want to cover the same ground. Usually when I have been involved in interviewing, I have coordinated with others who would be interviewing the same person on the questions to ask, so it would not be considered odd.

At your level, I would probably stick to technical questions. I do think it is a good sign that he wants you to sit in on the interviews. You will learn a lot about how to interview by watching how well (or not so well) others do. This will be really helpful to you when you go for your first full-time professional job interviews.

  • Thank you, I'll have a brief chat with my boss to gauge his expectations. If it's anything like the interview I went through, it will be an informal process, and I will be asked for my input near the end. – Woodrow Barlow Dec 11 '14 at 16:24
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In my experience HR do not allow interviews do be conducted solely by one person for legal reasons. So when he says 'sit-in' he may simply mean he wants you to sit there as a witness and not ask questions. As Luke says it may also be so he can use you to answer questions from the applicants.

There's a simple solution to all this - ask him what he expects of you!

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    this doesn't seem to offer anything substantial over points made and explained in prior answers. See Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others – gnat Dec 12 '14 at 10:27
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    Also "HR do not allow interviews do be conducted solely by one person for legal reasons" is a generalization that does not apply everywhere. – Jan Doggen Dec 12 '14 at 11:03

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