For many during the interview process, it feels as though we’re constantly jumping up and down, praying we don’t get picked last for the team. Oh wait, maybe that was just a middle school flashback. Regardless, while you’re trying so hard to be the best candidate for the job, you could be forgetting a key component to the interview process:
Do you want to work for that company? Does it meet your needs? Would it be a culture fit? Is your boss going to drive you insane?
And then we wonder why we’re so unhappy in the job a year down the road. Not every job or company is a good fit for you — and the interview process is all about figuring that out, for both sides. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Apparently the company side has things figured out, so let’s focus on you to ensure you aren’t blinded by the desire to want to be picked first. Below are four important questions you should be asking the interviewer.
1. Why Is This Position Open?
There can be several reasons why a position is open, and each tells you a different story. Here are some things you can read into each answer:
- “It’s a new position that was just created.” Awesome. So the company is growing and expanding and needs more people to help do the work. This is probably one of the “safest” answers for you hear through the process, as it means they’re willing to bring people on when they need it and they’re stable enough to have someone new come on board.
- “We’re replacing someone who left the company.” This isn’t always a bad answer, but it can mean many things. This answer tells you the previous holder of this position either quit or was fired. Essentially, you’d be walking into a role with expectations based on what the previous person was responsible for. This means there’s some opportunity for you to outshine, but not really make the position your own. I’d suggest you ask for a bit more information if possible. HR tends to be the best person to ask for more info, as they will have the least bias. You just want to know if someone left because they did everything they could in the position, or if their boss drove them insane.
- “We promoted the previous person.” If the person was promoted into a new position within the company, your next immediate question should be, “What is that person doing now?” If the answer is in any way, shape or form followed up with, “She’ll be your boss,” do not accept the position. This is the biggest red flag for your opportunities at the company. While it’s awesome that they promote from within, stepping into the shoes of someone who will now be your boss is a lose-lose situation. In fact, I have never seen it work out.
- If they fumble for an answer… If all you get is a bit of mumbling or a pause before the answer, that means it ended badly. In other words, the position is not for you.
2. How Long Have You Been At the Company?
While length of service doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness or staying power anymore, it will give you a sense for the knowledge base of your soon-to-be manager. It will also help you understand how much flexibility you may have in navigating the company and potentially changing the status quo.
If the interviewer has been with the company for more than three to five years, chances are he’s pretty set in his ways. If he’s been there less than a year, he’s still trying to figure out the place himself. While this will definitely allow for more flexibility for you, it means he hasn’t yet fostered deep relationships and influence cross-functionally. And if that will be a critical component of your job, just know that you’ll be spending a lot of time convincing people to pay attention.
3. What Are Your Hours of Operation?
Depending on your own thoughts towards workplace flexibility, understanding if the company has strict hours or flexible ones — and how you feel about that — is a critical culture-fit decision point. As we become more and more connected and capable of getting things done from anywhere in the world at any time, this question will start to play a bigger and bigger role in all of our lives.
If the interviewer answers that their hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or any other time range without any additional explanation, you should assume you’ll have to report to work at those times. If you’re the sort who prefers autonomy over adherence to a rulebook, be forewarned.
If their answer is more along the lines of, “Our official hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but we tend to have people come in and leave depending on their own schedules,” this is a good indication they’ll flexible with their hours as long as you get things done.
In addition, be sure to ask this question of your potential direct manager, if this isn’t the same person who’s interviewing you. It doesn’t really matter what the company thinks on this topic, but rather what your manager thinks and will allow.
4. What Is Your Vacation Policy, and How Do People Use It?
This is a question that’s seldom asked during the interview process for fear of coming across as eager to take time off before you even start. But here’s the thing: you need to know what you’re getting into with regards to boundaries.
Many of us have had a job where we were on vacation but we still got urgent emails and phone calls and were expected to be available. I’m not sure if anything is more of an employee engagement killer than that, regardless of who you are. So ask your potential boss about it.
See what he says about vacation. Do people usually use it? Are there length restrictions? Does time roll over? Is there someone to back you up when you’re on vacation? And so on. Get a feel for the company’s expectations when you’re taking some time to recharge.
Overall, asking the right questions during the interview process will not only help you determine if the company is the right fit for you; it will also help you avoid having to look for another job in the near future. Remember that there are jobs out there, and simply being enamored with the opportunity in front of you without fully understanding what you’re getting into won’t bring you success in the long run.
What other questions do you wish you would have asked before taking your current job or a previous job? What would you like to have known going into it?
Melissa Anzman is a former human resources leader and founder of LaunchYourself.co, where she helps people fall in love with their jobs and understand how Human Resources works. She is the author of two books, How to Land a Job: Secrets from an HR Insider and Stop Hating Your Job: How to Be Happy at Work Without Quitting, and can be found at @MellyMelAnz.