Saturday, January 2, 2010

20 Job Search Answers You Need To Know | #10 What questions should I ask the interviewer?

A: Questions that show interest and understanding as well those that give you answers you need to make a descison

Before we get to the meat of this post – a little rant: I friggin’ hate stupid interview questions (I know - going way out on limb with a controversial take on topic) and the big, red-floppy-shoes-wearingManholeCoverTakarazuka2-bozos that ask them.

You know the kind I am talking about- when a knucklehead hiring manager or some HR neophyte asks you, “Why are manhole covers round?”. The (only) correct answer to give to that obtuse exercise is, “Because you are a douchebag!”.   However, I would not recommend that answer if you still want the job after that question.

I’m not talking about analytic or problem-solving questions so the interviewer can see how smart you are (although – I am not a big fan of those either – like a variation of the worn-out Duel question one of my former peers was so fond of). If you can’t tell if someone is smart during an interview without a quiz – then you are a slappy, too.  The questions I speak of are those “no wrong answers”, “just want to see how you handle being thrown a curve-ball” type of question (as if interviewing with a douchebag like you wasn’t enough stress).

Not only is it the douchebagity (if I may make up a word) of the question, but the real problem is your answer doesn’t give the douchebag asking it any useful data. If I answer “Manhole covers are round because rhombus ones would just be wrong” – are you going to screen me out?

So my hope for the coming year (since we weren’t evolved enough to end them in the 20th Century) is a pact to banish those types of questions in the interview process (let’s call it 21st Century-10).

Knowing you, Knowing Me

After that aside-like rant, let’s get back to our topic at hand. In the last post, we talked about what questions not to ask (especially early on) in the interview. That begs the question, what (pray tell) should we ask?

There are two categories of questions to ask during an interview:

  • Questions that show you’ve done your homework (learning about the company)
  • Questions you need answer to decide if you want to work there ($5,000 less a year might be a okay if you’re going from a Dilbert company to a ROWE type of company)

Note: By stating there are two types, I’ve skipped the whole, “Should I ask question during the interview?” (because that should be obvious). You should also come with a list on paper (some folks disagree with that – but again, I think it shows you are invested in this opportunity).

Also – many times when I am interviewing and get to the part where I say “Are there any questions I can answer for you?” – and the answer is “No – you’ve pretty much covered all the questions I have written down”.  That’s a wrong answer (and I know I talk a lot in the interview – so I am sorry if I ate up your list).  You still need to find some things to ask – and perhaps (even better) ask a question on topic that came up during the interview and have the interviewer elaborate on a fact they have already given you (it shows that you can digest information in real time).

Any hot chick in my department?

In this first set of questions, you are really probing for information about the company that you were not able to obtain in your secondary research based on information you were able to ferret out.  And - these are not questions about which floor the break room is on.

These things include:

  • How is the company doing?
  • What are its growth plans?
  • What differentiates it from its competition?
  • Does it have good leadership?

Of course – just like when the interviewer asks you “What was the most bonehead thing you ever did at your last job?”, you’re (hopefully) not going to say “I banged the entire mail room”.

But just like when you are asked questions – you’re hoping their answers reveal a truth in them.

However, you do not want to ask simple questions that should have come up in your research (“When were you founded?”, “What is it that you make?”, “Who runs this company, anyways?”). In fact - by marrying your research and your questions (“there a number of companies in your space - Acme Inc, Manufacturing Is Us – what qualities makes your company as unique and competitive as it is?”).

Your hope – in addition to learning more about the company – is that they give you another opening to more specifically drive home why you are the best candidate.  “Oh. That’s exciting about a new branch in the Uzbekistan; I oversaw our factory build-out in Uzbekistan…”.  I know - you’re not always going to be served up a specific hole-in-one like that (but you get what I mean).

Remember also - these are difficult questions to ask (if you are new to all of this) since they do require a modicum of decorum. You need to chose your words and adjust the tenor of the questions based on the level of the person you are asking and their openness. You want to appear interested and informed but not nosy and creepy (ala Slugworth looking for the secret of the Everlasting Gobstopper).

Things that matter

For the second set of questions, we’re looking for things that will help you decide that if offered a job would you take it?  Again – we assume that salary (and other compensation and benefits) will be addressed in negotiations, however we need to ask questions that put a value on that compensation (when we get there).

For me – I’m looking for those environments that I work best in (and therefore will more likely be successful in):

  • Level of ROWE vs. Micromanagement
  • Collaborative environment (real collaboration – not that they just installed SharePoint)
  • Innovation culture (not just a buzzword they do when they brainstorm once a month– but down to the marrow)
  • Flexible work options
  • Happy colleagues (tour the work space that you will occupy).

That last bullet (happy) is so import. A friend of mine went on an interview for a Senior IT Architecture posistion once and they would not take him around to see his peers or where they worked (“oh – we don’t do that”). What kind of cube horrors were they trying to hide? Needless to say – he skipped the next round of interviews.

Asking questions like “What are qualities employees that have exceed your expectations in this position share?”- you are  hoping to get to those answers (one way or another – as Blondie would say).

Up Next. A short post with a few points on the phone (or video) interview.

No comments: