Interviewing Hacks - 'ML - TL'

I’ve been involved with the interviewing process for my employer, Centare for a few years now. I have been fortunate to interview so many amazingly talented people. Every individual brings a unique set of skills and problem solving capabilities, and among all these differences there is one thing that remains the same that has helped me understand their skills. I refer to it as ML-TL or Most/Least and Teach/Learn. I’m certain that this interviewing tactic can be applied to other industries, but as a disclaimer — I interview developers.


When interviewing someone to join the team, we’re always looking for the ideal team player. The book “The Ideal Team Player” goes into much more detail. To summarize, an ideal team player is humble, hungry and smart. I’ll explain how the tactic of understanding an individuals ML-TL can be applied and detail the assessment of each outcome. This can be a very short portion of the interview itself, taking no more than five to eight minutes in total.

Most / Least

Ask the candidate to share their most and least comfortable programming language, platform, framework or technology listed on their resume. Now, as the interviewer you have two keys pieces of information that are insightful — but we’re going to take it further.


Teach Me Something!

Taking the candidates most comfortable area that they expressed, ask them to teach you something about it. It could be anything, a general concept, a syntactic enhancement that they’ve enjoyed, a low-level implementation detail, whatever.

As the interviewer, it is best to be familiar with the technologies on the candidate’s resume. This is a great opportunity to determine whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Other benefits include:

  • We gain an understanding of their communication skills
  • We realize their ability to reason and express coherently
  • We determine their ability to articulate thoughts and concepts
  • We gauge their technical expertise, technical authority, depth of knowledge vs breadth
  • We can assess their comfort level in potentially awkward or unpredictable situations

The individuals’ ability to teach you something is a very valuable exercise — especially as it relates to their most comfortable area on their resume.


Are They Learning?

Now that we’ve had the candidate teach us something from their most comfortable area, we move on to how the candidate learns. Taking their least comfortable area, ask them what actions they are taking or plan to take to learn more about it.

If they are not doing anything at all or have no plans to act on improving this area. It is possible that they don’t have time to do so, or that they’re focusing their time elsewhere. This is perfectly acceptable and justifiable given certain circumstances — it is important to understand how hungry they are.

They either have a plan or are actively taking action to learn. Very often I hear developers mentioning Stack Overflow as a source for education. It is important to understand how they use this resource, are they simply copying and pasting answers — or are they truly learning from it? Are they taking the extra step of reading through documentation and considering other options? Here are some other things to look for:

  • They have identified various technical documentation as a valuable resource: books, white-papers, how-to tutorials, reputable blog posts, etc
  • Pluralsight, virtual / code academies, continued education, online learning, etc
  • Peers, mentors, pair programming, etc

The ideal team player will showcase a willingness to accept that they do not, nor will they ever know everything. This realization and acknowledgement is an indicator of being humble, and touches heavily on their hunger to better themselves.

ConclusionThere are plenty of key-takeaways that can result from this simple and short exercise. Their ability to teach shows both their level of competence and confidence. Their desire to learn shows their motivation to grow, and listening to their past experience helps gauge their attitude. Leveraging this interviewing hack we will reveal how well the individual aligns with the organization’s culture, their potential to excel and their current level of technical expertise. This is a powerful tool that I hope will assist you with your interviewing process.

Reviewed by: Steve Hicks, Jenny Munn, and Todd Schmitt

This content was originally published by the author at

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