Best Way to Interview New Members?

Our club is going to have a sort of “open house” coming up to recruit middle schoolers and new students for our high school teams in the next few weeks. While I have asked around and have some information on a few of the candidates, for the most part I will be meeting these potential members for the first time at this interview.

Since the decisions made about who to select for a team can make or break a season, I was wondering if you guys could provide any tips for a first-time captain. What traits should I be looking for? What are some good interview questions? Does it make sense to offer them a puzzle and see how they work through it? Should I focus on what they already know or what they are willing to learn?

I would really appreciate any advice you can provide!

I would ask them what they want to be in the club (software or hardware), how committed they are, how much they know if they are software, what they think a good robot for this (or any) season would be, and go from there… There is probably a lot more good questions and googling interview questions will help you a lot…

I’d say look for good interview skills (you have no idea how much a good interview can help wth awards, plus a good interviewer tends to be good at scouting). Also ask what their favorite subjects are. If they like math & science, they will probably be willing to learn higher-level material to help with a design. If they like writing/language, that can help with a notebook. I think a puzzle is actually a really good idea, if you have enough time.

Fair warning: I’m approaching this as “Where should we put this person?” more than “Should we take this person?” because that’s how my club/team operates. Do you guys have specific roles to fill? That will be more specific questions.

One of the issues we find is that some students (and parents) may not recognize the commitment required to be on a highly competitive team. Our teams meet two night a week all year, and at least a couple Saturdays before every event (we do 6-8, including states). They need to understand, up front, that it is the same level of commitment as varsity sports would be.

But, we’ve talked about the idea of having a “recreational team” or two, for those not ready to make the full commitment. If decide to start, these “rec teams” would only compete in the tournaments we host ourselves, so the won’t be costing so much for registration.

We have thrown in the term “travel robotics” as it shows the level of time and effort needed. Travel soccer (football to those in other parts of the world) or field hockey, baseball, softball, or lacrosse is an extreme amount of time (and money) for parents. Robots has that too and you can all go professional here!

I like that idea…and parents would understand immediately.

Also, important to stress you don’t get good immediately.

It takes 2-3 seasons to develop the skills and then think of the ground breaking ideas to make a mind blowing robot no one has seen before. Build techniques are learned over time as are your programming skills. You can copy, but to develop these on your own going forward is another story.

And a lot of grit and determination is needed to overcome these hurdles. So be prepared to work and think and learn. It’s a lot of fun along the way though.

There’s the famous stacking paper activity, it shows how people react to challenges, to being lead, to leading, and inventiveness. Basically you put people in groups of 3 or more (probably less than 6) and give them 10 sheets of paper and tape and they have to make a tower that is as high as possible in 10 minutes… Try to watch the creatively of the design, the way the team finds a leader, how everyone reacts when the tower falls, etc.

Dude, that sounds like fun!

In my opinion, it’s all about how much time they’re willing to put in and how open minded they are. In order to learn, you have to experiment, and when you experiment, you will screw up. A good roboteer has the commitment and open-mindedness to learn from their mistakes and keep trying.

Please bear in mind that you’re not running a business; you’re a student running a team. That being said, I’d first find out how much time they’re willing to commit. You should also see what role they’d like to be on the team. Find out their personal interests and any possible ideas. Ask them how they collaborate with others. A fun puzzle would be a good idea if you could group potential members into groups of three to see how they solve the puzzle together. Ideally, you’d be looking for a fairly bright and friendly student who’s willing to collaborate and learn.

My school’s team personally opens its doors to everyone. People who aren’t committed tend to naturally fade away.

This happens to us, too, but it’s a little frustrating for the more-committed members of a robot team when their teammate disappears without a trace. My son’s first year, he had two teammates leave the team (one for sports, one because his parents were punishing him) so by the time he got to States, he was a team of one. So if like-minded commitment levels are grouped together on a robot, they might get along better, and you could make one of those more-relaxed teams a little bigger, too.

Thank you all for your replies! You brought up some important points for me to consider in team member selection.

To clarify a few things:

  • I’m a new captain but I’m not starting a team from scratch, our club is pretty well established and I am simply the next generation taking leadership
  • I have had 2 years of experience with VEX and ~8 years experience with robotics, so I do have a pretty good idea about how to build a robot
  • Our club will have 3 teams this year composed of freshmen through juniors (I will be a junior myself next year), and since we aren’t expecting any more than ~10-15 new applicants I don’t know how well a large-scale project/teamwork exercise would work. My idea was originally to bring a small puzzle cube or a Microsoft/Google interview question to individually ask the applicants, but I don’t know how well that would work.

Obviously I need to ask some key questions, such as “How long have you worked with robots?” or “Have you taken any engineering classes?”, but do you think I should also ask specific questions like “What are gear ratios?” or “How can I calculate mechanical advantage of a lever?”, or are those too specific?

Once again, thanks for all your inputs!

math + vex = bad

That’s exactly what happens in our school team.
We cater to over 600 students in this higher section of our campus, and we only have a team of 15 or so people.
The inexperienced people tend to fade away over time as well as the people who have no commitment.

A lot of our recruitment now is providing new students their own clawbot to build and watching them do it.
You can learn a lot about the differences in people who are committed and people who are there to build robots for fun and are not concerned in doing well.

We also ask them about previous experience, we prefer people with more hands on experience with things like LEGO and other intricate activities that require more fine motor control. But we let people in regardless.

We also ask them about why they want to join. Some want to join because their friends are in it and they want to mess around. Some want to join because of their interest in robotics and they want to learn, those are the people you want.

A lot of it also comes down to how you present yourself to the rest of the collective of students. If you yourself mess around and portray the team as being an overly fun environment, then they will come into it thinking that is how they should act. But if you treat it seriously then you will attract the people who want to be there for the right reasons.

I don’t have much experience recruiting but I have seen this happen over the 3 full seasons VEX has been in Australia.

I have 33x50 minute periods in school that are “free” meaning I have no subject there because i’ve already done it the previous year.
Add to that the 2x2hour sessions after school per week and that adds up to 32.5 hours of VEX per week for just me alone.
So everyone else always sees the team as requiring alot more commitment than they think and they get scared off.
Our requirement for new team members as well as existing is a minimum of 4.5 hours or consequences will follow.

Emphasis mine.

8 periods per day * 5 days per week = 40 periods per week
33/40 = 82.5% of your time at school spent on robotics.
Can I have some of your time?

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In AUS we have 6 periods a day and forgot about mentioning that it’s 33 per fortnight
6 periods * 10 days (fortnight) = 60 Periods per 2 weeks
33/60 = 55% of my school time in a fortnight.
I wish 80% was robotics :stuck_out_tongue:

Also I didn’t count the class time that I don’t work in but sit on the forums or code, like I am now :stuck_out_tongue: