Looking for a good interface developer? Here’s what to ask to make sure you’ve got the right person

Are you perhaps looking for a talented interface developer? You’ve heard that web standards and perhaps accessibility is good to have experience with, but you don’t know how to determine the applicants’ experience.

Don’t worry anymore, I’ve put together a check list of what to ask to make sure they’re suitable and in the loop with proper and modern web interface development.

Here are some very good control questions to make sure they can deal with what will come their way:

  • Why does DOCTYPE matter?
  • What’s the difference between Quirks Mode, Almost Standards Mode and Strict Mode?
  • What is semantic coding, and why is it important?
  • What is the box model?
  • Explain the hasLayout problem and how it can be addressed.
  • What is specificity in CSS?
  • How does floats work in CSS?
  • What is WAI?
  • What problem do you stumble upon in Internet Explorer if you specify the font size in pixels?
  • In what way does Internet Explorer handle alt incorrectly, and what are the consequences?

Have any questions you’d like to add to the list? Write a comment and let us know!


  • Kanashii says:

    I can answer all of them, someone give me a job : ) Maybe a question about conditional comments would be appropriate, and perhaps how javascript should be used on a page.

  • Robert dM says:

    wow! Before I got to the questions I was a little afraid I was gonna fall short here, but luckily nothing to be scared of, I seem to be on the right track… 🙂

  • erik says:

    I can't wait to drop this in front of my next interviewee. Actually, maybe I'll have them answer these before they even come in. If they can use google to find the answers, that's a good sign. After all, being able to research successfully is very important.

  • Robin says:

    I can answer all of them, but I think asking a designer to know about 'almost standards' mode might be little too much! I definitely think that the more accessibility knowledge someone has, the more thoughtful they are about their code. Might be room for a couple of questions about WCAG and accessibility testing.

  • Questions like "What is semantic coding, and why is it important?" are good but I think some of the other questions are a little too specific. Personally, I am not familiar with "Almost Standards Mode", hasLayout or specificity. Nor would I be able to give a good definition of the Web Accessibility Initiative off the topd of my head (although I do know what the acronym stands for). This doesn't necessarily mean that I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to developing a web interface built to web standards (… or maybe it does!)

    These kind of questions remind of high school history where I was tested on the exact date of some important battle without being asked the "why" behind the reason for the conflict or "how" it affected world history.

    How about including some questions like:

    – "How do you test your design to ensure compatibility across multiple browsers and platforms?"

    – "What advantages do div-based designs have over table-based designs?"

    – "Why would you use CSS vs. font tags and a lot of inline styles?"

    Just something to consider… Cheers.

  • Ryan says:

    I'll admit, I'm fairly new to web development, but I'm willing (and wanting) to learn all I can. I love reading your site. Now, about the list… I can answer most, but to be honest, I don't trust my answers. Of course, I could look them up, but I was curious if we'll get a post showing the answers according to you? Or is it enough that these thoughts were brought to the table, and now it's up to me to find the (right) answers? Just curious… thanks.

  • Lachlan Hunt says:

    That's quite a good list, but there's just a couple of questions missing. Questions about HTML vs. XHTML, MIME types and character encodings. Those are the areas I see people struggle with most, even amongst relatively standards oriented developers.

  • No problem, except with "almost standards mode": I know it exists, and I've read the documentation on it, but as I do everything in Strict mode (using HTML 4.01 for the obvious reasons… maybe another question there?) I've never seen the need to absorb it. Does that make me a "no hire"? 🙂

    (And yes, before somebody else pulls me up on it, my own site uses the pseudo-XHMTL pumped out by WordPress. One day, I'll have time to fix that – and get rid of the default theme. Maybe another question there too: "Is your personal site using the default theme because you devote so much time to working for your clients that you don't have time to change it?" A lame excuse, but true.)

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  • Chris says:


    this collection is a good idea!


    my boss aks almost every new employee if HTML or XHTML is better. Ouch.

  • Stuart says:

    One question you could ask is:

    Who is Robert Nyman?

    If they don’t know the answer to that kick them out of the office straight away!

  • Martin says:

    Don't get me started with the HTML vs XHTML debate, it is irrelevant, and is weak when thrust into internal politics of a web development company that demand XHTML be used but support Internet Explorer 6 (unfortunately still serving pages as text/html).

    More questions about JavaScript will be good though, and why it is important to separate the so-called three layers of the client-side web: structure (X/HTML), behaviour (JS) and presentation (CSS).

  • Maaike says:

    How about: what is AJAX and what are its pros and cons?

  • medyk says:

    One nice question is:

    Is this possible to have both of below statements true (and if yes.. explain why):

    1. webpage is being rendered differently in two agents

    2. Both of above agents renders this page accurately according to same specs.

  • Karl Dawson says:

    Man, I should have read this yesterday morning so I didn't fudge an answer on quirks mode lol. I'm a standards-compliant developer – I don't give you stuff that throws your browser into quirks mode haha. Ah well, live and learn (and remember rarely-used "trivia").

    Lachlan has some good questions there, not least because some of his articles opened my eyes to these issues in the first place.

  • Jules says:

    Like some of the other people here, I stumble on Almost Standards and hasLayout but the rest I have.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Maybe conditional comments, but you're definitely right that the list is missing anything about properly implementing JavaScript.

    Robert dM,

    Good! 🙂


    Oh, absolutely. Researching is vital in becoming a good web developer.


    I think we think about slightly different roles. Here in Sweden, we practically don't have any professional web designers in the more international sense, that they're doing design and CSS coding. Either you're a designer, or you're a coder and code web interfaces.

    Either way, I find it important to know about the different rendering modes. But yes, the list could've used some more questions about accessibility (although the semantic point scratches on that surface).


    In my experience, I would say that it's very important to know about <code>hasLayout</code> (to understand why IE misbehaves oh-so-often) and specificity to avoid having your CSS code riddled with <code>!important</code> just to make certain style rules get applied as desired.


    Very interesting question. I was pondering whether or not to actually give away any good answers. I might do it in a future post, but right now it's too much too write. 🙂

    If you have a very strong yearning for answers right now, let me know and I'll send you an e-mail with some brief pointers.


    I'd agree that most people struggle with and discuss those topics, but I'm not sure I'd like to bring them at the first meeting. Maybe for the second interview… 🙂


    I'd say that it's good to know about Almost Standards Mode, but it's far from the most important item in the list. So, you can probably get hired, but you'll get less pay… 😉

    Regarding WordPress and XHTML: maybe my How to deliver HTML instead of XHTML with WordPress can aid you a little.


    Good, I hope it can become of use to you.


    Yes, the three layer question should definitely be in there.


    It's a very valid question, especially with the AJAX hype blown up in every computer magazine nowadays…


    Oh, that's a tricky question. 🙂

    It will probably be over their head, I'd say.


    Aw, thanks. But we both now I'm more like the janitor of the web, not a star. 🙂


    Ha ha, yeah quirks mode is for sissies… 🙂


    I'd recommend doing some reading up on <code>hasLayout</code>, it is very important to know about (hint: "HasLayout" Overview).

  • Kanashii says:

    For those that are interested some more info on hasLayout[1] and Almost Standards Mode[2]

    On having layout

    Gecko's "Almost Standards" Mode

  • Kanashii says:

    Oh can't use ol, sorry that was meant to be a list. : )

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Good links. And now you know it's not recommended to write too good code in WordPress comments. 🙂

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  • Aaron, this question is wrong:

    “What advantages do div-based designs have over table-based designs?”

    It’s should be: “What advantages do CSS-based layouts have over table-based layouts?”
    Also it would be appropriate to ask about any known problems with CSS-layouts. 😉
    All in all I can answer to all questions except “Almost Standards Mode” 😀 What is that? I know only quirks and strict modes.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Ah, yes, it's all in the small words. I agree, if anything, it should say CSS-based layouts.

    The link to the post with the answers can be found in one of the pingbacks above. Go look! 🙂

  • Lars Gunther says:

    I would also include a question about the community of web designers. No not if he or she is "well known", but if he or she is participating in it.

    – As part of your employment here, what conferences would you like to attend?

    – What blogs do you regularily read (about web design and technologies)?

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Absolutely, valid questions; especially the one about blogs and web sites frequently visited.

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  • Danish says:

    nice, we can answer all and more – so tht retains our top level i guess – but would have to giv it to you for a nice set of questions :: Thumbs up :: on a nice compilation.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Thanks, and good to hear! But, humbly, the web site you linked your name to isn't currently a good example of that (multiple <code>html</code> elements, table-based design etc).

    However, in my experience, one's own web sites tend to be the last ones to get shaped up, since one's too busy coding web sites properly for clients.

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