IT Employment

Three questions you should ask an interviewer

Job interviews are not just a means by which prospective employers judge your suitability. It's also a mechanism by which you can see if a company would be a place you'd want to work. Here are some questions you can ask an interviewer that will give you information about what the company culture is like and what the manager's expectations will be.

Job interviews are not just a means by which prospective employers judge your suitability. It's also a mechanism by which you can see if a company would be a place you'd want to work. Here are some questions you can ask an interviewer that will give you information about what the company culture is like and what the manager's expectations will be.

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Many people approach job interviews with a deer-in-the-headlights "please don't let me say anything stupid" mentality. And that's understandable since no matter how many times career experts say otherwise -- that you should also use an interview to size up the company -- the job interview is a means by which you're being judged.

Sometimes when people attempt to size up a company and its job offering, it goes terribly wrong. Some candidates misinterpret that mission and end up asking "What about me?" questions such as, what's the vacation policy and how long do employees get for lunch? Interviewers like questions from candidates, they really do, but you have to learn to ask the right kind. If you ask the right questions, the information you get back could help you tailor your own presentation. Here are some examples:

  1. "What can you tell me about the people I'll be working with?" You can tell a great deal about an interviewer from how she answers this question. Does she speak in glowing terms about the team? Or does she go into too much detail about their quirks? Maybe the question tips off a tirade from her about how worthless and unproductive her staff members are. (That last response should send you running for the hills.)
  2. "How do you approach problem solving?" If the interviewer responds that he expects problems to be solved in nanoseconds and you know yourself to be the type of person who likes to weigh all aspects of an issue, then you can pretty much discern that a working relationship between you two will be like oil and water. This could work out nicely if you think you're being a yin to his yang could be ultimately productive, but it's something to think about.
  3. "What do you see as the ultimate goal of your department or team?" A good manager will respond in terms of company value and employee satisfaction. If he responds that his ultimate goal is to not screw up and to stay under the radar, you should be able to infer that that culture will not be the most supportive to growth. Also beware if this question causes the interviewer to veer off on a long tangent about his personal career goals. (This actually happened to me once. About 20 minutes into his self-expressive monologue, I wanted to wave my hand and ask, "Hey, remember me?")

Hope these help in your next job interview.

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.

41 comments
highlander718
highlander718

"Maybe the question tips off a tirade from her about how worthless and unproductive her staff members are." "he responds that his ultimate goal is to not screw up and to stay under the radar" Yeah right, it is very likely they will do exactly this...

ExecQuest
ExecQuest

The most important one is missing from the list: "Is there anything you have learned from this interview that would keep you from making me an offer because I want to come to work for you?" Yes it seems bold but it is incredibly powerful at setting you apart from your competition, uncovering any objections and address them, and clearly stating your interest in the opportunity.

info
info

Hi Toni, Nice article. From my experience, of interviews and interviewing, the very best strategy is to throw out the notion that it is an "interview" and replace that with a "business meeting". The reason people have a "deer in the headlights" approach is because they set themselves up that way. You know when the "interview" has been a good one, when it has been an enjoyable and natural conversation between two or more individuals with a common interest. I've coached a lot of IT people in interviewing over the years, and the biggest problem they face, comes from the the notion of the "Interview" and all that comes with it - essentially, a trial by question. Meetings are conversations for a mutual purpose. Best! John The IT Coach www.theITcoach.co.uk

zooryf_a2k9
zooryf_a2k9

Perfectly okay. But what about if the package is not all that satisfactory?

nishithrma
nishithrma

Great help in the days of difficulty. Nishith

reisen55
reisen55

That following along my thinking that the interview process should be viewed as the reverse of power: that when I interview, I AM INTERVIEWING THEM to see if they are good enough for me!!!!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

What's your approach to Quality? What made me worth talking to? Both questions, that let me drive the interview onto to my strengths. I don't wait until the end for them either. This one though.. Have I said anything that has put you off in anyway?

Jacky Howe
Jacky Howe

I will put that into practice if I get the opportunity.

aashuirch
aashuirch

I always fall blank when it comes to an interviewer asking me do you have any questions? I ask about other facilities available, job conditions etc at work. now I know what exactly to ask in order to get the right perception of the company.

jperick.mbei
jperick.mbei

RE: "Great! Now, just where can I ask these questions?" hey, I would have expected to read something like: "When during the interview can I ask these question?". Without preempting Toni, I think that one good strategy of an effective interview is to "lead" instead of being in the defensive throughout the interview. As an interviewee, I think that it is a good strategy to prepare your own plan of action (POD), and that means, or includes specific questions you would ask the interviewer. Toni gave these three critical questions. I think that if you have enough time and want to, you may add one question. One of the questions I have in mind is: "How does your organization or department/unit compare to others?" Well the interviewers will put that in context or ask you to clarify if you used "organization" because many use organization to mean a company, an academic institution, or a business unit (which can be a division--or group under a senior manager), or department. But like Toni mentioned, a good manager should be able to know the cultural boundaries between her own group and other internal groups (an organization has ONE Vision, and ONE Mission, but there are certainly micro-visions/missions which all support the ONE macro organizational vision/mission). A good manager should also be able to know his management approach/style/philosophy, including problem solving and be able to have a clear understanding of the personalities of their team. I think that answering when/where to ask these questions can be tricky. First, one may think by the end of an interview. However, too often, the end of an interview can be decided by the interviewer in ways one cannot always predict. So, the best tactical approach would probably be to to use follow-up opportunities to fire. For instance, if the interviewer asked you about your problem-solving approach, you would ask Toni's question # to follow-up. If the interviewer asked you "what would be your ideal team/group?", you'd ask Toni's question #1 after answering. Otherwise, good interviewers will always ask you: "Do you have questions for me/us?" This would be the time to ask. Or if you had asked questions before the assumed end, the interviewer may ask: "Do you have any questions for me/us?". So, in my modest opinion, it is always good to come prepared, and be on alert throughout the interview. This means knowing when it is time to ask a specific question. Just my two cents. I want other to contribute so that I can learn from you guys. J-P

JamesRL
JamesRL

If yes, why did you create it? If no, are you considering any changes to the role/position. James

matt.rosloniec
matt.rosloniec

I think this was a great article. Interviewers LOVE to be asked questions - it keeps your conversation going, and lets you get a feel for eachother better. Of course, you should restate these questions in your own words as to not sound like you have copied them from somewhere :)

jan_hendrik
jan_hendrik

Great questions !! These are the ones I use often: - Why has the position become available? - What are the main objectives and responsibilities of the position and how does the company expect these to be met? - What obstacles are commonly encountered in reaching these objectives? - What are the measures used to judge how successful I am in the role? - What can I expect from you in terms of development and support? - What aspirations do you have for me at the company? - Where will the job fit into the (remote) team structure? - What?s the best thing about working at your company? - What is the main thing the organisation expects from its employees? - How do you build good relationships within teams? - What is the turnover of staff like throughout the company? - How would you describe the company culture and management style?

klaasvanbe
klaasvanbe

Interesting as well is to try and find out about the way communication is handled. e.g. What tools we need to know about to communicate? Hopefully you get an answer in the line of ITIL or another in that field. You can try and start a discussion to find out if the internal communication is well organized (top-down, bottom-up or ideally both) and externally with other departments, clients, customers, partners, suppliers, the whole nine yards...

claymation
claymation

Great! Now, just where can I ask these questions?

bsmith30005
bsmith30005

I was told a good question to ask is "What would be the first thing you would have me do when I start?" This gets them to view you in the position as well and may give you some idea what is important to the company. You can then address the value you could bring to the table.

jan_hendrik
jan_hendrik

When the package isn't ok, then you need to bring it up or ask yourself is it worth working there? If you're out of a job, then you can always accept and keep looking for better, however, the catch is that you have to give references and they alwyas can contact your previous employer when you switch. ~JH

KSoniat
KSoniat

I always do research on the company and ask a company specific question. I work at Park Seed which was always Family owned until recently when it was bought out. I asked how that impacted the company and what changes were being implemented. It let them know I knew something about the company and my IT manager is part of the push to regroup and do things the "right way" so this was near and dear to her heart.

KSoniat
KSoniat

I always have interviewers ask me: What are you looking for most in a company? I turn it around and ask: What are you looking for most for the person who takes this position? Especially if it is to fill an existing position, I usually get why the person left or why they fired him/her. Then the attribute the person was missing that they feel is critical for job success: self-starter, meets deadlines, attention to detail etc. It has also frequently had the interviewer clarify the most important aspect of the laundry list of required experiences: As/400, RPG, VB.net, EDI, SQL in ad - Yet the interviewer states "Well we were originally looking for mostly a VB.net programmer, but we are going to revamp that system so the RPG strength is really what we are looking for now." How they answered let me know whether I wanted to work there. (In the old days when you may have had a choice of jobs.)

jdclyde
jdclyde

how do you ask the question, to try to find out about employee retention? If a place goes through a lot of employees, it is generally for a reason, and would be nice to know in advance. How do you find this out?

pwoodctfl
pwoodctfl

I would ask any, if not all of the above before I got involed with a company if the inteviewer had not already supplied the answers in his opening spiel.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

1. Is this a new position? If not, why did the last person leave? Did the last guy bail because they are cheap? Did he get fired? Was he too stressed out? 2. What's a typical day like in this position? Is it balls-to-the-walls crazy day in and day out or do I have periods of lulls where I can do some research, tinker with stuff or update documentation? 3. At the end of the interview I like to ask this question: "Is there any area that you don't feel that I'm not strong enough in that's critical for this position?" This is a ballsy question, but after multiple interviews where I didn't get even a rejection letter in the mail, I'd like to know my prospects the moment I leave. Hell, one time I finished an interview that I thought I aced only to find out from an insider that my "Cisco experience wasn't strong enough" even though my resume listed Cisco experience and they didn't even ask ONE Cisco-related question. The real reason was that they were a cheap government gig and wanted to pay me less than I was making currently. 4. This is the most important question, IMHO, "What's the next step!" Let them know you're interested in the positon.

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

After dealing with mass layoffs (thanks in part to poor management) in the Washington DC area from a major government contracting company a few years ago some friends and I had to deal with many misleading recruiters and the companies they support and eventually developed this questionnaire. ========================================== 1) Can you provide proof that the position pays more than $25/hr? I worked in a shop where the average pay was $45K/yr - $50K/yr for developers with 5-10 yrs experience all with TS/SCI/FS poly. 2) Does the company provide the equipment (such as PC/laptop and IDE), and if so can you provide proof? I worked for a company where only the more senior people had company equipment furnished - everyone else had to buy their own. 3) Is there money for clearances? Does the company pay for clearance reinvestigation, and if so can you provide proof? I've seen where to cut expenses a company decided to lay people off when their security investigation came due. 4) Am I allowed to contribute towards a 401K, and if so, when? I had to deal with a company where the employee could not contribute towards a 401K, but the company opened an account at Vanguard and made the corporate contributions. 5) Will benefits continue should I change projects within the company? Eligibility was also position based, so if you moved around you may or may not have been eligible. 6) Will I be reimbursed for customer directed travel, and if so can you provide proof? The PM decided to save on project funds to only half the group got reimbursed - a bad situation to be in once you find out after you get back from TDY 7) What are working conditions like? Will I have to share a cube or time-share a PC? I've been in a situation where a cube and PC had to be shared - generally someone got the AM shift, and the other person got the PM shift 8) When does the contract end? And if the company is a subcontractor, when does the contract with the prime contractor end?

IronCanadian
IronCanadian

Prepare, prepare, prepare. It's always good to research the company your interviewing for, it will help you to feel more at ease during the process. It will also help you to develop several meaningful questions that can be asked during the interview. It won't by any means rid you of all the butterflies, that's just natural, but remember the interviewer may be nervous too.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

This question works great in a panel interview. It gives you a good sample size.

Maevinn
Maevinn

I ask this and it usually answers why the position is open. And, if the previous employee has moved on to something that sounds better in terms of responsibility and growth, then it indicates this job has a lot to offer. If it sounds like their new job isn't much better...maybe this job isn't great. And I also ask how long they'd been doing the job. If they were in the job less than a year and moved on to something on the same level--yikes!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

First of all, I understand that it is merely coverin gbases and watching your back. I am a real nitpicker when it comes to company contracts, if there are wording issues or clauses that are inapplicable in Canada (very common as people pull these documents from free US websites instead of lawyers)I will throw it back at them. I turned down two such offers in the beginning of the year, one for an inapplicable non-compete contract and the othre because the discussed numbers and contract numbers didn't jive. Anyway, with that aside, why wouldn't all of these questions and proof be put into an employment contract? They seem like the standard employment contract issues and promises to me, besides all the clauses to protect the company from me.

KSoniat
KSoniat

(oh yeah, you did say Washington) How in the world can you be productive in that environment? Eeeeek.

dcboughner
dcboughner

Sorry guys I know I am new here but after 30 years of being the person that gave interviews and the one that was interviewed. I learned that asking what a person knows about my company is meaningless. I really don't care if they know my business has been around for 50,100 or 1000 years. I don't care if they know my middle name is bob. What I care about is if they understand and have the knowledge that I am looking for. Now a days one can google any company and anyone can tell me the information placed on our about us page. To say it shows the person did their homework or shows some sort of initiative towards success is wrong. I look at the person. Do they make eye contact with me. Are they straight forward with their answers. Are their qualifications what I am looking for. With Today's internet an eight year old can look up a website and memorize the company hype. What can I say, with age comes wisdom only if you are willing to learn.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I find most people love to talk about their business, a little research should help you raise a few real questions about what they do. Of course that opening dialogue just loosens the tension and you should then start asking more imperative, job related questions, but as you say, PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE. You can NEVER be overprepared but you can easily be underprepared. Any time I've interviewed a prospctive employer it ALWAYS results in use shooting the **** for a good half hour longer than the alotted time set aside for the interview. In fact my current employer started out with a three hour interview, half hour in the office and 2.5hrs in the pub after we got talking and decided to take it elsewhere. I did not know their line of business just one company owner that they deal with (whom I knew from when I was a kid selling audio), it spurred a conversation going back 25 years and he accepted my offer before I left. Screw recruiters ,they are just for lazy people who don't mind losing money for someone else to find their job for them.

JamesRL
JamesRL

By asking the prospective employee what they know about my company and our business. Its a good opportunity to see if they have done their homework. If they have, it shows initiative. I'm not nervous as an interviewer, but can be nervous an an interviewee. James

bsmith30005
bsmith30005

"Could you give me an idea of what a typical day for you would be?" Based on the response could give you a good idea of the culture and perhaps what you might expect if hired. If they turn and look at each other that might be a sign perhaps its a high stress environment.

highlander718
highlander718

I do not expect many employers will feel any obligation to answer this question. I think in most cases the previous employee moved altogether to a different company. If he moved within the same, it seems like the company encourages internal promotion and would only look outside in special cases. So while I agree it could be a good question, I think it applies properly to very few cases.

dcboughner
dcboughner

Once you have a verbal contract stating the salary a position is offering the company can not change that salary after you accept the postion. If a salary is posted at amount x and during the interview process it is not stated that the salary will be less than posted it is illegal to change that amount. If the employer does change that amount then he/she must inform you of that change during the interview and put that change in writing and have you sign that agreement. To protect yourself it would be wise to print the job advertisement to have a hard copy of the salary offered to avoid a he/she offer.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Firstly, bait and switch is illegal, wwhether in marketing or in employment. These are all standard contract items. I don't know if you have been given generic employment contracts but I only accept contracts aimed directly to me and titled with my name on it. If I accept an employment contract it has been written spsecifically to outline our conversation and the company's promises to me, not 'dear generic staff member'. Yes, it always entails use of equipment and what is provided. I am a BDM, meaning I require car allowance, lease, travel expenses, client budgets (how much I can shmooze them before it comes out of my pocket) etc. My personal salary, bonuses (and bonus guarantees), review dates, increases over the next 5 years etc. Anything less is just unprofessional BS and I walk away. Ex. I recently turned down an employment offer with a good salary, new lease car, absolute freedom of hours, working from home/on the road/in an office as I chose, tons of optional travel to trade shows, wining and dining clients etc., which is retty much what I do now but with more money behind it. I knew the ownser of the company, an old vendor for another company I once worked with, and often have lunch/drinks with. He is credible, it was a good opportunity. When I turned down his non-compete due to verbage and restrictions that cannot be applied in BC, because he copied it from a US website (it even had restrictive distances listed in miles instead of kilometers, LOL), he refused to pay to have lawyer ammend it. I offered to have my lawyer sit with him at no cost to him and go over allowable BC regulations and restructions and redraft/ammend it with him. A US non-compete agreement is allowed ot be very restrictive. In BC, you cannot restrict omeone's right to fair trade, especially in a field using training and expertise that was not provided by the company itself. He refused to look into it, staitng it was a standard NC contract and they don't really pay much attention to it, so I turned down the offer; it shows he was not willing to meet in the middle and we both stayed as is. I still see him regularly and we conduct business, no hard feelings, we just couldn't cut a deal that suited us both. My point is, that a contract should be personal, well defined and cover ALL aspects of employment. Recruiter payments are a given, 12 -16% avg, of the employees first years salary. That's one key reason I never use recruiters and show peoplen how they can find better jobs with better pay without a recruiter, their job is not to find YOU employment. Their job is to fill a seat for one year, after that they don't get paid, so they offer over qualified candidates that will move on in a year, that way they can find another pverqualified candidate and get paid for another year. The company doesn't mind as they keep getting more than qualified hires at low salaries. I was a BDM for one of the largest recruiters on the planet, it is a complete scam from beginning to end. As for the PC provisions, I wouldn't let the first interview or meeting pass without that being clear and on paper. If I took a job, meaning I accepted and signed a contract, and the HR staff said the pay was just a bit lower, I'd walk out the door and see my lawyer on the way to the Employment Standards Office. Conrtacts, Contracts Contracts, why do people accept BS and word of mouth when contracts can/should be put in place? I wouldn't even dream of taking on a position that wasn't laid out in fine detail first. Perhaps when I was 16 and naiive, but certainly never since age 18 and being much sharper.

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

Various bait and switch tactics are common. Things that most people/professions would take for granted need to be spelled out. There's not a company in existence that would ask a chemical engineer to provide their own chemicals but companies around here won't hesitate to have employees provide their own PC or copy of Visual Studio (or whatever else). The salary game is entertaining here as most people see the big numbers on job boards, but the behind the scene action is like three card monte. You go through the recruiters, sr recruiters, recruiter managers, technical recruiters, sr technical recruiters, and technical recruiter manager and in order to go the next person in line you have to drop the pay. If you don't drop the pay, you don't pass Go. I have had the hiring authority tell me that a company couldn't pay the advertised salary because they spent too much money for the headhunter ($30K) for the position, so the salary would be about $10K lower. Even if you do get an offer letter it's not uncommon to have the HR rep tell you the first day on the job that there's been a minor error, and that the pay is just a bit lower.

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