18 April, 2013

Online interview SharePoint professional – 4 pragmatic questions I asked

Finding and getting right people to work for your company isn’t as easy as you think even you find many awesome things in resumes. To SharePoint field, the difficulty of recruitment becomes more true because of complexity of SharePoint platform and different uses of it. Have you ever been responsible for interviewing SharePoint professional working for your company? Which questions would you like to ask your candidates?

Recently, I’ve been assigned to be part of recruiting team in my company, responsible for online interviewing some candidates whose good-looking resumes on my table. I, although, did quick search on Google using keyword “SharePoint Job interview questions” but I never used any of them to ask the candidates. I didn’t ask something like “What is the X method?” or “Is there any difference between X and Y?” or “How does execution of X code impact on Y environment?” because I did know someone could readily put his fingers on the Google search box and then quickly found good results. So what did I ask when doing an online interview? In this post, I would like to share only 4 pragmatic questions I asked for SharePoint Solution Director candidates.

Can you tell me about two most favorite projects you have worked on?

A brilliant candidate should get started with brief introduction, his role and responsibilities, project size and duration. Through his answer, you probably know he has hands-on experience, especially his passion on those projects. Candidates can’t find the answer to my question on Google or another search engine.

Let’s see a sample answer: “One of the most favorite projects done was to build a logistic management application built on top of SharePoint platform. I worked as Lead Architect, responsible for planning and designing architecture covering infrastructure, capacity, storage, security and development. We had 6 team members working within 4 months to complete the project.”
After getting such a clear answer, you can possibly have a few extra questions such as:
  • Can you concisely describe features of the logistic management you completed developing? Using this question, you can figure out how complex this project is.
  • How many roles in this project? Which was the most important role you think? I know this question should be focused for SharePoint project manager but if he actually has good mindset, he should probably get to overall picture of the project.
  • Can you describe a little bit of the environment? You may get an overview of SharePoint farm maybe with a staging farm. It looks really cool, isn’t it?
Which challenges/issues did you get in the two projects?

A real experienced SharePoint professional has to note challenges and issues or at least remember during his project. The reason I ask is to know how he solves problem if occurred, and more details in solution architecture and probably soft-skill he has. Sometimes you expect to see soft-skill a candidate has rather than technical skill used to solve complexity of SharePoint project. That said, when asking an Indian candidate, I was expecting to get more of X management challenge such as risk management, change management or so on. However, he mostly focused on answering code stuffs, e.g, “They didn’t have the latest code available for the custom code solutions deployed in SharePoint 2007”, or “We had to update the existing code and then build it on x64 platform before upgrading to SharePoint 2010.” At this point, you can see this guy can fit developer role rather.
I know code related issue is one of the most common challenges in SharePoint project but I need to know if there is something else that keeps me asking in more details because of my curiousness.

Let’s see a sample answer: “Although we used Microsoft Solution Framework to manage SharePoint project, we still had problem with customer requirement that were changes of functionality. We had to deal with that, and built a SharePoint site collection used to track changes and manage the problem. Another issue was that we didn’t have a Team Foundation Server professional so our collaboration process got some times delayed.“

The Indian guy I interviewed worked with a customer that had SAP system and they wanted to pull data from it to push to SharePoint. He had to write a custom web service. I know he is really good at customization but what I was expecting to see from his answer should be like: “The customer had SAP system and they wanted to pull data from it and then push to SharePoint. We knew that Duet enterprise was an epic but the customer didn’t have enough budget so we had to customize web service to meet the business requirement and fit the budget.” Duet Enterprise was my focused point that would denote his breadth knowledge.

What are different/same things between any two projects you have done?

I don’t need candidates to elaborate differences, or list all different/same things. What I expect is to see if candidates have good brain to remember what they have done, and how they response in systematic way, and their brain be organized logically.

Let’s see a sample answer:  “We had two SharePoint document management projects (A and B) but A had document processing workflow but B didn’t. Conversely, B required digital signature issued by a PKI (Public-key Infrastructure) but A didn’t. One of the same things were the functionality of search based managed metadata.”

What do you think about the concept of SharePoint Out-of-the-box (OOTB)?

There are many .NET geeks turned SharePoint developers often do many customization on SharePoint-based application because they think they can do everything on such a platform built .NET framework. I really expect to see how much candidates are familiar with SharePoint OOTB in order to reduce effort of customization. There are many business solutions that can be done very quickly by using OOTB but folks often go with really hard ways. Workflow that has multiple approval processes is an example. Building dashboard by Dashboard Designer and PerformancePoint without writing code is another one. I’m not talking about complex dashboard. By the way, I strongly recommend reading “Microsoft SharePoint 2010 – Creating and Implementing Real-World Projects” book and “Professional Workflow in SharePoint 2010 Real World Business Workflow Solutions” and “Beginning SharePoint 2010: Building Business Solutions with SharePoint“. The books cover real-world no-code business solutions.

When having a blueprint in your hand, take a glance at SharePoint OOTB to see if it can meet business needs without code, or write a little code putting in Content Query web part to trigger something, for example.  At this point, you can supposedly bring out a scenario, e.g., ABC is the marketing company that helps customer in promotion of products and services by organizing conference. Each conference has its own a set of documents that likely consists of marketing plan, budget plan, program plan and other documents related to the conference. ABC is using SharePoint and wonder if it can help manage such a set effectively. As an experienced SharePoint professional, what would you like to suggest them? I’m guessing many of you immediately propose Document Set feature that actually addresses to the concern. Ironically, you might forget asking which SharePoint version the marketing company is using, right?

Conclusion

In my opinion, these questions do qualify someone who indeed has much experience on SharePoint platform and he has done many real-world SharePoint projects whether those are big or not. These questions are connected logically so if you don’t really have much SharePoint experience, you could get stuck at any of the questions. Besides, candidates can’t find good answers from Google or even they refer to friends of theirs.
When you do an online interview, try to avoid your candidates doing search by asking intelligent questions. You shouldn’t ask kind of “How-To” question or technique focused. Having good technical skills is really good these days but it’s not enough for working in the harsh world.

Thuan Nguyen - SharePoint MVP

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