"What I want to identify is someone who can find the bright spot about traveling -- 'Getting to San Francisco was a pain, but once there, I took in a ballgame and went to the wharf.'"
To evaluate a candidate's critical thinking, Neal asks about a project he or she worked on. "What I attempt to do is key in on a specific nugget of information that the candidate shares and drill down into that to determine how they conduct themselves," he explains. "If they give me every facet of the project, discuss the environmental factors they faced, the personnel challenges, the complexity of the tasks, the constraints and so on, then I get a feel that this person who looks at every angle."
In his questioning, Neal tries to push hard enough to find out two things. "First, does this person know when they've hit a wall and need help? Second, are they not so ego-driven that they can ask for help?" he says. "If I get a candidate that says, 'I don't know the answer to that question but I know how to find it,' that's a win."
"Tell me about Java's 'synthetic' keyword."
Netsmart's Morgan has a few tried-and-tested BS-detecting questions in his arsenal, including asking Java programmers in what situations they should use the "synthetic" keyword.
"Many programmers don't know a thing about this keyword, so I would definitely expect most to give an 'I don't know' answer," he says. "If they do know what 'synthetic' means, they better know they can't use it, so it's an easy determination of both their skill level and their desire to bluff."
But Morgan doesn't stop there. "For those that do know the answer, I might follow up with something like, 'How do you get a pointer to the hyperbolic inhibitor of an inverse singleton instance?' Anything other than either 'I don't know' or 'Have you lost your mind?' and they're out."
Wilkinson, a Lexington, Va., writer, is the former publisher of Brain, Child Magazine.
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