Picture this: You apply, interview for, and accept a great new role—only to find yourself frequently asked to do things that were nowhere in the job description. I’m guessing that is basically your worst (career) nightmare.
Sometimes, it’s inevitable; like if your company is bought out or your manager leaves soon after you’re hired. But thankfully, more often than not, if the description has little in common with the job itself, you’ll be able to spot the discrepancies before you sign on.
You may have heard you should ask the interviewer “What will I be doing each day?” Or maybe, “What does a typical day look like?” However, these questions can be dismissed with a “there’s no such thing” or an answer about last Tuesday that’s so specific it includes details down to the lunch order—but doesn’t really tell you what you need to know.
So, when it’s your turn to ask questions, try a different approach with one of the variations below. They’ll not only make you look good—but they’ll help you get the real scoop.
1. What Are the Top Organizational Priorities? Are There Any Recent Shifts in Strategy or Direction?
It’s natural for you—and your interviewer—to hyper-focus on the position you’re applying for. So, you ask questions specifically about what database you’ll use and what percentage of time you’ll actually be expected to spend on the road.
And certainly, that’s important. But if you concentrate solely on yourself, you miss out on the opportunity to learn how new company-wide initiatives might affect your work (in the short term and long term). For example, if a different department’s going to be a launching a new product and the whole company will be rallying behind it, the reality of your day-to-day may be pitching in and taking work of the other team’s plate.
So yes, ask any detailed questions you may have. But make sure you leave time to ask this two-part, big picture question about organizational priorities and how they might be changing. It’ll make you look good, because it’ll demonstrate that you’re invested in the company as a whole. Plus, by asking what the overall goals are, you’ll learn if part of your job description may soon be phased out, or if something you know a little (or a ton) about will become very important.
2. Are There Any Upcoming Projects Not Mentioned in the Job Description?
I know: It seems obvious that major projects would be covered by the responsibilities listed in the job description. But there are some instances when they might not be. For starters, if you’re interviewing for a new role or at a company without a formal HR department, you might be dealing with someone who wasn’t quite sure what the posting was supposed to include or isn’t entirely clear what the role will entail. Or perhaps, there’s some huge project on the horizon—but the company didn’t want to tip its hand and publicize it all over the internet.
So, though the role calls for writing skills, you might not have guessed that it actually entails grant writing, and that among your other duties, your future boss wants you to bring in a certain amount of money next quarter—all from those grants. That’s the sort of thing he might have thought he could share once you’d started. (After all, you applied to a nonprofit and touted your persuasive writing skills.) But, if you thought the job would be more along the lines of press releases and website content, your day-to-day won’t be what you imagined.
Asking about additional projects will make a strong impression, because you’ll look thorough and forward-thinking. Plus, you’ll be able to see how closely your interviewer’s answer mirrors what you’ve already read about the role.
3. How Do the Job’s Duties and Goals Change Throughout the Year?
You’re a people person, and so the main reason you’re drawn to the job is client interaction. Who cares if there’s some data analysis mixed in? Well, you will, if it turns out the client interaction only happens around the holidays and the other 11 months of the year involves studying trends and preparing—at your desk, by yourself.
It’s not false advertising: The hiring manager really does need a people person and someone who works well solo, all rolled into one. (If you’re the person who loves data and hates people? You’ll still probably want to know that every day in a row for an entire month you’ll be expected to interact with the public.)
This question sound good because it shows that you’re trying to get a sense of the role over time. And, it helps you, because even if the tasks remain the same, many roles include a busy season. Before you accept the job, you’ll probably want to know if it’s January or August when everyone logs extra hours at their desks.
Of course, you can’t know every single thing about a new job before you decide to accept it. But you can ask questions to get the lowdown on your daily activities, so that you have a better sense of what you’re actually signing up for.
Photo of people talking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sara McCord is a freelance writer and editor, who most frequently covers the career beat. For nearly three years, she was an editor at The Muse, and she's regularly contributed career advice to Mashable. Her advice has been published across the web (Forbes, Newsweek, Fast Company,TIME, Inc., Business Insider, CNBC and more). Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. Learn more and send her a note through her website, or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author