Many hiring managers have tunnel vision when it comes to hard skills. If you’re filling the role of a software developer, knowing programming languages like Python and Java are non-negotiable. Thus, you’ll probably end up asking a question or two about these skills during the interview. But how will you ask them? There’s a way to ensure candidates have the credentials and can also apply them.

This is the fourth blog in our Tech Interview Guide series. Whether you’re looking for a new DevOps hire or the latest talent in artificial intelligence, hard skills questions are far from throwaways to fill time. Just like the other types of questions we’ve touched on, coming up with a quality query will help you find quality candidates. Let’s jump in:

How to Formulate Hard Skills Questions

Hard skills questions are all about competency. They confirm what’s listed on paper or expose a gap that helps you narrow down your candidate pool. When it comes to formulating hard skills questions, it’s easy to take the simple route, for example, “What are the main types of malware?” Instead, consider a process similar to the one we proposed for probing questions. Start from the top and work your way down to ensure you cover all essential bases. 

  1. Start by clearly defining the specific hard skill or technical area you require.
  2. Consider the level of expertise you want the new hire to have—beginner, intermediate, or advanced. This will guide the complexity of the questions and the depth of knowledge expected.
  3. Choose the question type. It’s best to avoid knowledge-based questions here as they don’t provide much insight into how the candidate uses these skills. Instead, consider:
    1. Application Questions: These require applying knowledge to solve specific problems or perform tasks.
    2. Problem-Solving Questions: These are more complex and involve diagnosing a problem, analyzing it, and proposing a solution.
  4. Where possible, incorporate realistic company scenarios that mimic challenges the candidate might face in their role.
  5. Decide ahead of time whether an answer might need justification or an explanation and how you will ask for that.

Avoiding Rehearsed Answers

Most interviewers will find it easier to come up with hard-skill questions together over soft-skill or probing ones. However, don’t make the mistake of making them overly straightforward. This can lead candidates to rely on rehearsed responses, presenting an exaggerated sense of their capabilities.

As a general rule of thumb, strive for an open-ended question rather than one that will generate a one-dimensional answer.  

  • Example of a Basic Question: “Explain what arrays are.”
    • A candidate can easily memorize the definition of an array, stalling your inquest into their knowledge.
  • Pose questions that encourage candidates to apply concepts in practical scenarios, such as, “When do you think it’s beneficial to use arrays in programming?” 
    • Such questions compel candidates to provide detailed responses, offering insights into their practical application skills.

Examples of Open-ended Questions on Hard Skills

  • Data Visualization: “How do you effectively incorporate colour in your visualizations?”
  • Programming:  “What coding best practices do you adhere to and why?”
  • Project Management: What PM planning tool is most essential to your success and why?
  • Security: Explain when you would use Symmetric vs Asymmetric encryption.
  • DevOps: How does continuous monitoring help you maintain the entire architecture of the system?

Key Takeaways

The precision and relevance of hard skills questions during interviews cannot be overstated. Even as many companies focus their hiring practices on soft skill attributes, hard skills remain crucial in decisions on new hires. The goal with these queries is to encourage a demonstration of skills and problem-solving abilities equitably alongside other important capabilities, ensuring a well-rounded potential employee.

Interviewing can be an overwhelming process with plenty to consider. But not to worry, Talentlab has your back. We know the ins and outs of hiring in the tech industry and are ready to help you find the most qualified candidates. Reach out to us today.

Sarah Doughty

Sarah is a seasoned recruitment advisor, with a background in hard-to-find technical talent searches. Over the course of her career she has worked with hundreds of clients building high-tech employment brands, leading recruitment teams, marketing candidates, executing passive search strategies, and developing expansive passive candidate pools in key markets across North America. Sarah excels in tough situations that require creativity and tenacity to overcome challenges.