Unusual IT job interview questions: Let's talk sibling dynamics

Unusual IT job interview questions: Let's talk sibling dynamics

Your IT job candidates likely started showing leadership and problem-solving skills on the family room floor. Ask about their siblings to spark insightful conversations during interviews

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Editor's note: In this new series, we're sharing unusual interview questions and approaches to help leaders find the best candidates for their open jobs - and help IT professionals prepare for any question that comes their way in an interview. Here, Florence Lowe, COO of Synerzip, shares how she gets job candidates to open up. 

Ask: "Do you have siblings?"

I do feel like it might be pseudo-science and more anecdotal, but this question generally does lead to a good conversation (and I don't take it too seriously). It allows me to learn about the candidate and how they deal with situations. I am a middle child myself and appreciate challenges middle-child candidates go through and how they deal with them. I also love my younger brother, and appreciate candidates who are younger siblings. I also love my old sister and appreciate candidates who are oldest siblings. All in all, it allows us to talk about leadership and problem solving in a very vulnerable, personal way.

Birth order has an influence on how people handle situations as that is our first school of relationship management - a core leadership trait when effective. Middle children tend to be scrappy as they have had to defer to older siblings and younger siblings for different reasons. They tend to try to forge paths outside of the family unit. Younger children tend to want to please and can be effective consensus builders; while oldest siblings have the confidence and natural leadership skills, honed on the family room floor or in the backyard telling their younger siblings what's what! 

[ Can you ask for a raise during a pandemic? Yes, read: How to ask for a raise during COVID-19. ]

What I learn about candidates

When I ask this question, I give my "why" very openly. I am genuinely interested in getting to know the candidate and their work style. This removes any negative emotions or reactions the question may elicit, and it typically sparks interesting, enjoyable conversations. 

From these conversations, I gain insight into a candidate's leadership skills, relationship management, and problem-solving capabilities, which are all correlated to emotional intelligence and empathy. When interviews are more conversational, it can also have the effect of breaking down barriers and getting to the real person underneath their interview persona. Even less animated answers or conversations can give me clues into their ability to handle change and feedback, and where they are on their growth journey as a leader and as a human being.

Once, this question led to an answer about the candidate being the first in their family to graduate college and start a career as a software developer: very impressive for someone coming from a rural part of the  Upper Peninsula area of Michigan. It led to understanding the challenges the person had overcome.

Beware of bias

When taking this approach, or really any approach, it is important to try to understand your own personal biases when asking this question. For instance, if you believe first-borns are leaders, you might think that only first-borns are leaders; or that they are better leaders. But the truth is every person is a product of their environment, education, influences, and ultimately their actions and decisions. You can find leaders or doers or consensus builders in any demographic – or birth-order for that matter. 

Biases are hard to overcome, and the only way to do so is to continually challenge your own biases and expose yourself to different ways of thinking, and people you would never run into in your normal course. Be forgiving of other's faults - real or perceived - and your own for that matter. 

Traditional question to skip

Consider skipping this question: What are your strengths and weaknesses? You do need to find out the answer to this question, but asking it this way leads to pat answers or stumbling, without getting any real insight into the candidate.

[ Are you a rising IT leader? Read also: IT careers: Why you should embrace unexpected twists. ]

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Florence Lowe is COO of Synerzip, an agile software development company with headquarters in Dallas and a development center in Pune, India. Synerzip works with innovative, PE funded software product companies looking to scale for digital transformation.

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