I’ve had a few interviews in my career. Each time, at the end of the interview, they always ask “do you have any questions for us?” I used to get caught off-guard by this question and fumble for something to say. Many career web sites suggest that you should have two or three “meaningful” questions prepared but they never seem to give you good questions to ask.
In reality, you know that there are a few questions you would really love to ask but you probably wouldn’t get a straight answer:
- Am I going to love this job or hate it?
- Overall, will I be working with good people or not?
- Is the boss soul-less?
- How bad is the worst person that I will have to work with?
- Do these people hate their jobs? (You said everyone loves it here, but how honest were you being?)
- Every place has some politics. Are the politics around here unusually heavy? Will they make my job impossible?
- Does this company actually care about the employees?
- One year from now, will I want to stay here forever, or am I going to be wanting (or needing) a new job?
Of course, there is no point in asking questions like these because, you won’t get a straight answer. This is an interview. They want to hire somebody, you want to get hired. It would be easier if you both said “yes”.
No place is perfect, but still, you really would like to get some idea of what you are walking-into. If you would be better-off somewhere else, then it would be good to know that now and perhaps pass on this one.
Here are a few interview questions that you should ask, because you will probably get an honest answer. Ask these questions politely and casually. Then watch the reaction of the interviewer to see if there are any indications that you are not getting an accurate answer. (You might need to stare into the soul of the person who answers this question, but try not to make it awkward)
- Q: Why is this position open?
- A: We are growing. This is a good answer because the company is in the green. Ask a follow-up question to confirm this.
- A: The previous person left. This is a red flag but not the worst. Find out why the person left.
- A: [Any hesitation followed by an any answer] – The person got fired. Wait a few minutes and ask a question or two about the rate of staff turnover and insight into why the turnover is above zero.
- Q: How is this team doing?
- A: They are doing well, but there is lots of work still to be done. – This is good because you got an honest answer. There was some good and some bad. The bad, is the right kind of bad: more work for you.
- A: Great, everyone loves it here. – sounds a little rosy. Try not to sound skeptical as you ask why things are so good. Also try not to sound negative when you point out that every team has some problems & challenges and you would like to get a feel for what kinds this team is dealing-with. Don’t push your luck. If the HR person won’t budge, then you have your answer: they are hiding something. Done.
- A: we really need you here. – This is the best kind of answer, because it is unusually truthful. You might be able to determine if the root problem is something that you can truly fix or not. You just got so lucky.
- Q: Tell me about some challenges that you’ve recently overcome.
- A: Any answer that is too general or too specific is probably not good. Try again and ask for the opposite “could you be more specific example” or “could you talk about something more general that affected several people”. Again, don’t push your luck. Two tries is enough to tell you.
- A: An answer that implies improvement to their process or indicates growth, is the best kind of answer. Anything that shows teamwork is good too.
- A: Here are a few bad answers: “we had a tight deadline and we worked hard” or “we had a broken system and we worked hard”. These only indicate that there are recurring problems and the solution is to work harder instead of working smarter.
- Q: Tell me about a way, in which the team has grown, within the past year.
- A: Increase in personnel, or something else that can be bought, is not a good answer “we upgraded servers”, “we got some training”
- A: If someone is honestly working on improving processes and growing, then they will be excited to brag. They will sit up strait and proudly talk about a win. If you don’t get an answer like this, then fish once more and stop.
Keep in mind that your goal should not simply be to get the job. I know winning feels great but that is not your goal here. Your goal is to find the right level of challenge and the right environment in which to succeed. Hopefully HR has the same goal. So you can work with them (during the interview) to find out if this is going to work-well or not. In contrast, if either of you is desparate, then you might feel compelled to do a sales job and go for a win, instead of finding the right match.
In the end, it takes some refined “people skills” to tell if you are getting the whole story, and even then, there is still a chance that you might be wrong. I’m not delivering a sure-fire, guarantee here. It is just a good idea to (try to) know what you are getting into and not be distracted by the excitement of the situation or the cash and prizes. They say “winning isn’t everything”. Just keep that in mind, and think beyond the interview for a moment.
Good luck with your interview.