It was the middle of July 2008, and I had just bought an expensive power suit for a job interview. After being laid off during the height of the recession and unemployed for about six weeks, I was feeling desperate and willing to spend money on anything that might put my career on track.
Surprisingly, the train was running on time that day, which gave me the opportunity to take my new jacket off, sit back, and prepare for this meeting one last time. At my stop, I realized I was so intently focused that I didn’t notice a robbery happening right under my nose. The jacket was gone.
With nothing but an inappropriate tank top on, I was mortified but decided to go for it anyway. I proceeded to meet all of the organization’s department heads, during which time my thoughts repeatedly returned to my improper attire. But believe it or not, I ended up getting the job.
Even though my story had a happy ending, there’s no doubt the pressures of the interview process had me unnerved. Anything can happen before or during an interview, which is why it’s crucial to walk in feeling prepared–even if your jacket has just been stolen.
Interviewers will be focused on finding out if you’re a right fit for the position, but it’s also important to decide if the company is a right fit for you. Have a list of questions ready to help you through your next interview:
Be careful not to ask questions already answered in the job description. It’s important go beyond those general duties to understand everything the job entails.
- Can you offer specific details about the position’s day-to-day responsibilities?
- What would my first week at work look like?
- How does this position contribute to the organization’s success?
- What do you hope I will accomplish in this position?
- How does the company culture affect this role?
- What job-shadowing opportunities are available for an applicant before they accept an offer?
Proceed with caution: If rather than going into detail about the primary responsibilities listed in the job description, the employer rambles off many more duties–they may be asking you to take on more than you initially thought.
Getting to know the interviewer
Most likely, the interviewer is the first contact you’ll have at this company–they could even be your future boss. Asking questions can help you understand their attitude, company values, and where the company’s future is heading.
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- Why are you working in this industry?
- Can you walk me through your typical workday?
- What is your greatest accomplishment with the company?
- What is your team’s greatest accomplishment?
- What goals do you have for the company, yourself, and employees over the next five years?
- What hobbies do you have outside of the office?
Proceed with caution: Be wary of leaders who have trouble opening up or don’t seem passionate about their company and team.
What type of management style do you need to reach the height of your potential? Now’s the best time to see if the company’s leaders align with your expectations.
- How do leaders encourage employees to ask questions?
- How do leaders set employees up for success?
- How does employee feedback get incorporated into day-to-day operations?
- How does management deliver negative feedback to employees?
Proceed with caution: Employers who can’t list how they encourage employees and set them up for success may not deliver the support you’re looking for in a company.
From benefits and perks to the ways employees interact with each other, not meshing with a company’s culture can put a roadblock on your path to success.
- What is your work culture like?
- How would you describe the work environment here?
- What benefits are focused on work-life balance?
- What benefits and perks does the company offer?
- What is the outline of your telecommuting policy?
- How frequently do employees make themselves available outside of normal working hours?
Proceed with caution: Listen closely to how the interviewer describes the company’s benefits and environment to be sure it’s the right culture for your personality and working style.
After doing some research, you should already know a few things about the company’s reputation. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper to make sure this is a place where you’ll thrive.
- What’s your mission statement?
- How often is a new hire the result of a previous employee quitting?
- Why do most employees leave the company?
- How would employees describe the company and its leaders?
- What are the company’s biggest problems? How are they overcoming them?
- What do you want the company to be known for among employees–past, present, and future?
Proceed with caution: Quality leaders will be the first to admit that their company isn’t perfect. Interviewers who claim they would change nothing might be failing to grow and make positive changes.
Knowing a company’s expectations and how they measure goals before accepting a job offer helps you decide if their style matches with what motivates you.
- How are employees recognized for their hard work?
- How involved are employees in the structuring of their own goals and tasks?
- What are your views on goals, timelines, and measuring success?
- How often are employees expected to provide status updates on a project?
- How often do you evaluate employee performance?
Proceed with caution: Wanting constant updates and control over employee tasks are warning signs of a micromanager.
The employees at this organization could be your next team. Make sure you’re positive this is a group you want to be a part of.
- Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?
- How competitive are your employees?
- How do you develop teamwork skills among employees?
Proceed with caution: A competitive environment can be fun and motivating, but a lack of teamwork in the office could point to a cutthroat company.
Opportunities for growth
What is your ultimate career goal? Set yourself up for success by finding out how far this new position could take you on your career path.
- What type of mentor system do you have in place?
- What type of educational/training opportunities does the company offer?
- What advancement opportunities are available?
- How do leaders promote employee growth and success?
- What does it take to be a top performer at this company?
Proceed with caution: If an interviewer is unable to share how you can advance within the company, chances are you might not be able to grow at the rate you want.
Don’t leave the interview with any questions unanswered–for you or the interviewer. This is your final opportunity to make sure you’re both on the same page before you walk out the door.
- What’s the next step of this process, and when can I expect to hear from you?
- Is there any other information I can provide you with?
- Would you like to see more examples of my work?
Proceed with caution: Interviewers who don’t have a lot to offer on next steps may already have another candidate in mind or might not be in a big rush to hire. Remember to stay positive and continue to job search until you’re officially hired.