IT Employment optimize

Three interview questions to ask the interviewer

People sometimes forget that a job interview is a two-way street. You're there to market yourself, but you're also there to find out if the job is going to be a good fit for you. Here are some questions to ask to help you.

So many people are concerned with making a good impression during a job interview that they forget it's a two-way street. You're there not only to market yourself but to find out if the job and the company are a good fit for you. You should use the interview to ask questions for yourself.

People sometimes mistake that suggestion, however, and think that probing questions about the company include "How much time will I get for lunch?" or "How many vacation days will I get per year?" While important to your choice in the long run, the answers to those questions will not get to the meat of the issue -- whether the company is a good fit for you. Those types of questions also may give the interviewer a bad impression, so it's best to save them until the point when you're offered the job.

So what type of questions should you be asking? Here are a few:

What's an average day like here? The question may prompt the interviewer to go into great detail about the day-to-day workings of the company, which is great information to have. But even if the answer is, "There's no such thing as an average day here," it's useful information. If you like to know what you will be doing day in and day out and like the comfort of ritual, then you already have a hint that the environment might not be best for you. How would you describe the culture here? The interviewer may answer that it's pretty laid-back or it's all business, or there's a good mixture of gender and cultures. Of course, he may also lie through his teeth. But if you're any good at reading people, even that might be valuable. What qualities are you looking for in the person who fills this position? You're looking for answers like "Someone who is good with details" or "Someone who can communicate technical issues to end-users," etc. If the answer is "Someone who doesn't mind doing without lunch on a regular basis or being on call every day of his life," then you have some solid information on which to base your decision about the job. If the question prompts the answer, "Good hair and a winning smile," get up and leave.

Final note: Don't precede these questions with qualifiers. In other words, don't say, "I'm a person who likes to be busy all the time. What's an average day like here?" If you ask that way, you're just giving the interviewer clues as to the answer you want to hear, which may not be the real truth. You want your questions to point to the company at which you're interviewing and that don't reflect on you or your personal opinions. That's the best way to get objective answers.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

34 comments
bit24sh0cker
bit24sh0cker

When thinking of these questions, I become very wishful of being self employed... Just saying!

rogerflynnbaatjes
rogerflynnbaatjes

Here is another one of my questions: How important is initiative in this position, and is there a platform on which this can be explored? If so, how do you ensure that there is a balance between this quality and what the business needs?

GregKasarik
GregKasarik

One of my favorites to ask is "What were the main challenges encountered by the previous incumbent?", or "What do you anticipate the main challenges in this role to be?". I've asked this in the past and had a visibly stumped employer stumble around for an answer, before saying, "Well, its not like we do rocket science here, or anything!". Subsequently, I got the job. Another is to refer to some of the research that you have done on the company, or industry and ask a question that relates to that. For example, "I've noticed that you (or a competitor)are anticipating the release of the new XXX software. What impact do you expect this to have on this role (or your core business)?"

Darltk
Darltk

I will remember to use some of these. Especially concerning the day to day and company culture. I have been in the field for 25 years and I have seen the affects of this. I am currently in a role where the company culture is slim to none and it shows. Unfortunately culture does seem to matter depending on what is the acceptable norm in an organization. This can really take a toll on a career at certain companies. I turned down an opportunity in the past where the company was in an area where it was known to be "Uncultured". So I decided against it. No sense in going from bad to worse.

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

1) Is there some policy that states that the salary listed is actually what is paid (I've seen a lot of bait and switch on job boards) 2) Who pays/provides the equipment & software 3) Is there a "teaming agreement" or something similar between the company and the HMO/PPO where I'm required to use the medical personnel closest to the worksite? 4) Do benefits (like 401K, medical/dental, etc)continue should I move from one project to another?

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

With neither actual HR nor IT credentials, why should someone working in IT take second hand career advice from someone not actually working in IT?

Smilodon
Smilodon

Excellent suggestions to get a feel for what the company is like.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

Step one is to research the company first, you may not even want the job. Most people don't do this and rue the day they accept positions because they didn't do research. Now armed with the facts, go forth and make your questions. However, the real sleuth goes to company watering holes and other events so that they can slip in and find out the real story in unguarded moments. I keep names, numbers and emails, which I refresh regularly because you can often get direct information from someone who knows someone.

BillMlod
BillMlod

One that helped me in the past, as a last question, What can I say right now that would help you offer me the position? Shows you really want the job (provided you really do!)

TommCatt
TommCatt

I got this one from my headhunter to ask toward the end: What is there in my background that would most tend to prevent you from hiring me? When you have over 30 years experience, you can't give them a detailed accounting of everything. The answer to this question will allow you to go back and expand upon anything you have skipped or just touched on. It also allows you to correct any of those little misunderstandings that happen now and then, "Oh, I thought you said you HAD been fired for cause."

john.jelks
john.jelks

how do you handle them?" Great question for large companies, consulting firms, and call centers !! Sign me, been there & done that.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Would I so love to sit across from you at that table. I would begin with, "You should" (third sentence in). I would bore in on "real truth" and "the best way". Would this get me fired before I were hired?

williaa6
williaa6

Excellent questions. I'll have to remember these and hope I never have to use them. :-))

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Applying for development role, I often ask how QA/Testing is done, as it's rarely mentioned yet must be a key part of the job. Whether and if they use agile methodologies and if not why not. But don't leave that for the winding up "Have you any questions" , the one I ask there is "Have I said anything that's put you off", if I don't ask it the inteviewer already has put me off.

jck
jck

like "Someone who doesn't mind doing without lunch on a regular basis..." is almost impossible. They will phrase it as "We want someone who likes to work in a fast-paced, aggressive environment." I know. Before the job I have now, I spent 6 months working for a "cutting-edge" firm who was using Silverlight before it was even ready to be used. I was told it was an "aggressive" environment and that I would "work hard and play hard". Ended up, there was no play. Days went from 8.5 per day to 10 within 3 months. There was no schedule flexibility. Even when I got ill once, my manager had an issue with me being "out". At the job I have now, I told my boss I didn't like being cubby-holed into a "x to y" work schedule and that sometimes life happened and a car breaks down, medical appts happen, etc. He has been pretty cool with it, and helped me a ton when I was out with my broken neck. Pretty much why I stayed here still. He showed me a level of loyalty that most other bosses wouldn't by going to bat for me at the top. Lots of good items tho, Toni. Thanks for the good article :)

Slayer_
Slayer_

These are great, I shall have to remember these.

Mielkman
Mielkman

Very good, conversation-inducing questions. I'll have to remember them the next time I'm on an interview.

ctraynor
ctraynor

Dear PS.TECHREP, This is a reply to your eye-catching post of 8/11 in which you questioned the author's value and relevance in her good faith attempt to provide some helpful career advice for interviewees. I know it's unlikely you'll ever see this reply. If you did see this note, I'm certain you'd be unmoved by it anyway. My objective is simply to provide an opposing force so that your crass, negative and ultimately useless post has a lid on it. The most effective garbage cans have tight fitting lids to hold in the putrid stink. I can only hope that, for the sake of mankind, the planet's vulnerable ozone layer and all of God's flying creatures, this lid holds firmly against your trash talk. What was your point in criticizing the author, Toni, so harshly? Has she wronged you in some way? Why would you have to make your post a personal attack when you could have simply written your ideas for more effective questions on the interviewer? How about a contribution rather than retribution? I?m sure your background would make your every word a gospel for us all to follow and worship. If you had nothing to offer, with the exception of your smug little comment on her lack of credibility or relevance on the topic of IT career management, then do us all the favor of stowing it to spare her your pithy post and any hurt feelings you caused. The funny part to me is you paid nothing for her thoughts - so what was your beef? If her views carry no weight then skip them. You're like a non-contributing Public Television Viewer who calls up during a pledge drive to comment that Big Bird's "lost his edge." As a business writer and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) myself, allow me this last bit of explanation; her advice wasn't IT-based ? it wasn?t meant to be. It was a helpful hint for any person, of any specialty, interviewing anywhere. It was solid advice. It wasn't earth-shattering but if everyone took her advice we'd have a world with far less job-hopping due to a new employee finding out far too late that their new job was NOT for them. My advice for Tobi, the author, is to flush again and again until this troll learns to seek his own level. My unsolicited advice to you, PS.TWERPWRECK is this; avoid slamming those who outpace you by outperforming the limits of their own backgrounds. Our world is already overcrowded with mediocre critics brimming with envy and nay-saying obstructionists who still believe in the pathetic power of sticking out their tongues. To go linguistically old-school, I'd say that you've shown yourself, so unnecessarily, to be a creep and a tool It's a tough economy - best of luck attracting sponsors for Kitten Stomp '09! Chris

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

You'd get better info out of a dead potted plant. Toni, is giving you a management point of view. As someone with experience with HR and management and in business IT, she's not wrong on this one. You'll be recomending university career advisors next. HR (Insert shakes head in disbelief emoticon here)

SirWizard
SirWizard

In this economy, many of us don't have the luxury of sleuthing for company details and staff opinions. To use a metaphor: When you're at home planning a cruise, you get all the information about amenities and cuisine. But if you've been adrift a while in a lifeboat without any supplies, when a ship comes by, you don't expend a lot of effort or time finding out if the crew is courteous. If a new gotta'-pay-your-rent position turns out to be problematic, you can conduct research later about potential new positions from a non-emergency state.

SirWizard
SirWizard

The heck with the sociopaths already there. Follow Jack Handey's advice: "When you go in for a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges."

MrBillG59
MrBillG59

Better than your question would be: "Based on my skills and experience and the things you've learned in the interview, is there any reason you wouldn't offer me the position?"

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

I'm just the opposite. If they're using agile methologoies I ask "why?". Oh-by-the-way engineering has never impressed me much.

robo_dev
robo_dev

The more positive statement would be 'Do I seem like a good fit for the position you're looking to fill?' Some interviewers would get flustered if you asked them if 'you said anything to put them off'. I think that's a question you read by their facial expression, body language.....

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

During an interview with a medium-sized healthcare organization, the CEO told me that they wanted someone who was [unusually] dedicated to the position and who's "thoughts wouldn't leave the office" when they went home. I took this to mean, lots of long hours, lots of weekends and 24/7 on call. This was coming from a freakin' CEO. He doesn't have a choice when it comes to this, but then again, he makes well over six figures. If I was guranteed $250k a year, I'd buy a camper and park it in the company parking lot! I hope they would let me tap into the water and power! They probably wanted someone who would give their soul to the company for a measly $50k per year. Interestingly, they still haven't filled the position to this day.

desirawson
desirawson

You must all live in areas where there are jobs to be had. Most folks where I live in our field would just be happy to have a job whether it fits perfect or not.

rfolden
rfolden

The question I ask goes like this: Do you provide and expect me to wear a paging device and/or cellphone? This, naturally, leads to further inquisition regarding on-call hours, on-call compensation, and whether or not I am expected to answer calls at 3 AM Sunday morning or whilst on PTO. This gives me a VERY lucid picture of just how things operate at said company.

john.jelks
john.jelks

When asked to sign a non-compete agreement, always ask "how much do I get for signing this?"

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

how strict and formal the interview was. Could be something quite prosiac. Like it's a big commute, but then you can tell them you've done further for years. Not so much looking at ticking the box, as making sure they don't turn blank into an X. Once you get to the shortlist, it tends to be more of a search for negatives as the tie breaker, instead of positives.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I care whether they are choosing the correct one for what they are doing or they've bought into some semi-religious dogmatic this is the way to do it BS. I've seen very few projects where waterfall was the right choice, but I've also seen a lot where there was alot of Agile BS where say MoSCoW or Spiral was a better choice. Most agile ends up as rebranded QAD. I like that no more than I did all the Gatekeeper BS.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Your phrasing could come across as negative as well. Which one you use is a judgement call you have to make in each sitution, which is why stock questions can be misleading. The intent of either is the same, a last chance to address any omission or misappehension. THat's the important bit. I was interviewed once by a very attractive blonde in her early thirties, wearing a short tight skirt, who kept crossing her and uncrossing her legs. Body language, I know what my body thought her's was saying. Didn't get me the job though. :( , Or a date far that matter. :( :(

bburgess66
bburgess66

I dont see anyone mentioning 'perfect fit' here. So many of us are 'glass half full' people agreed. But it occurs to me that even more of us are 'glass not full' types.