I’ve done a fair amount of interviewing in the search for my “dream career,” and I’ve also had the luxury of being the interviewer enough times to know what both sides of the table are looking (or should be looking) to get out of the interview process.
The interviewee is often so focused on trying to give the “right” answers and impress the interviewer that they forget to take the opportunity to get some key insights into the position and company to find out if they even want the position.
I’ve read countless lists on “What questions should you ask when being interviewed?” and they are usually 30-100 questions long. While these lists are great, and I often review them before interviews myself, I think there are truly three key questions that are must-ask. These questions are helpful in alerting you to any red flags and can give you insight on what the position and company are truly like. They’re also great gateways for you to lead into follow-up questions that might help explain things to you even further.
So, in addition to asking questions specific to the company that show you are intuitive, genuinely interested and engaged in your industry, here are my top three questions to help figure out if the position truly is a good match for you:
1.”What Will Be the Biggest Challenge for the Person Filling This Position?”
This question gives you insight into what you might be walking into, as well as the opportunity to explain how you are qualified to handle the challenge. Only elaborate if you truly are qualified, and avoid asking the question simply to allow yourself to brag. Remember the interviewer’s answer will tell you a lot about the prospective position, and you want to focus on listening to their response versus plotting the next words out of your mouth.
Sometimes what an employer considers a challenge is exactly the excitement you might be looking for, but if there truly are no challenges, you might want to consider if the job will be fulfilling enough for you.
If the challenges seem unreasonable or outside of your control, you may want to consider if you’ll be entering a losing battle, or take the opportunity to ask them what assistance you would have in tackling the challenge. Their response can tell you a lot about the teamwork dynamics of the company and how much autonomy you’ll be expected to perform under.
A follow-up or alternative question here could be, “What is the number one skill someone would need to be successful in this position?”
2. “Why Is This Position Available?”
If the company doesn’t come right out and say why the position is available, you should do your best to find out.
If it’s a new position, find out what they hope the new position will add to the company or what problems it may solve.
If the company is hiring for a lot of new positions, ask about their growth plan and what products, services or programs the growth is based on. I have turned down two positions before where the roles didn’t seem sustainable. In both cases, I was correct and neither of the positions were still around within a year. If I hadn’t done some digging into their intentions, I could have found myself back on the job search sooner than I wanted.
If the employer is vague with their response regarding a previous employee, make sure to respect their discretion but don’t be afraid to ask about the average turnaround of the position. If they’ve gone through six employees in the last year for the same position, is it because the employees were promoted within the company or because they were all “not a good fit”? If they weren’t a good fit, what does the employer think was missing and what would you need to survive?
Believe me — this is one question I learned the importance of the hard way. After I began what seemed like a great position, I quickly learned that company turnaround was so bad they could barely remember the names of all the employees that had come and gone in the last year — yikes!
3. “What Would Other Employees Say Is the Best Part About Working Here?”
I like this better than the alternative, “What is your favorite part about working here?” because it allows you to see what they perceive other people to value and gives you a chance to see if that’s truly valuable to you. If you simply ask them what they like, you don’t really have a good picture of whether that’s a general consensus, and you also have less of an ability to verify it as truthful.
Be aware of body language here and whether the question seems to take the interviewer off guard or make them uncomfortable. Companies should have a whole bunch of reasons why employees love to work for them! Does their response seem genuine or generic?
Next step, reach out to some of the current employees and ask them the same question. Do you get a similar answer, or do you get the feeling things aren’t quite what they seem?
Keep in mind that employees may not be willing to be too candid with you, but you should be able to pick up on subtleties in their demeanor. Do they look away, do they light up with a smile, do they start with a long “Uuuuuuummmmmm” or do they simply give you a polite answer and move along.?
Note that it’s best to ask the employees privately, not in a group — and certainly not in front of anyone in a leadership role if you truly want a genuine response.
The interview goes both ways and you want to make sure you’re fully informed,so don’t feel obliged to stop with just these questions — but definitely make sure to fit them in.
Image: TalentEgg.ca Hatching Graduate Careers