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The Expert: Johanna Rothman ’77 freely admits to being a nerd. She’s earned her place in the tribe with a bachelor’s in computer science and years of experience in software development. There’s wisdom in the playground taunt of “It takes one to know one,” a truth that Rothman puts to fine use in her new book, Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers Techies & Nerds: The Secrets & Science of Hiring Technical People. But Rothman’s inner techie is balanced by another dimension, the side of her that simultaneously earned a BA in English while she was earning that BS in computer science. From early days on the help desk in the Cook Building computer labs to her 17 years in development and managerial roles in the software industry to 10 years on her own as Rothman Consulting Group (jrothman.com), she has proven adept at bridging technical matters and the human relations kind. Though she says her daughters would deny it, “I do have some social skills,” Rothman jokes.

The Question: OK, you can’t put the word “secrets” in the title of your book and not give us at least one.

The Answer: Rothman says that “behavior-description” questions can be one of the most effective ways to get a clear sense of a job candidate’s personality and skills during an interview. For instance, you might ask a software developer, “Can you tell me about a time when you had trouble designing a product?” Rothman says that such queries elicit particularly relevant information and allow candidates to open up a bit. “You’re asking for the story of their work,” she says. “They’re telling you the actual things that they performed. As that unfolds you see where they’re excited and you see what they didn’t like.” Rothman adds that this strategy lets the job candidate do most of the talking, the way it should be. Her rule for interviewers: “If you’re talking more than 20 percent of the time, you’re talking too much.”