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.
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:
- "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.)
- "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.
- "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.
Toni Bowers is the former 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.