5 Questions to Ask in an Interview That'll Reveal a Lot About the Company
You’ve heard it a zillion times:
“Remember, you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you. Ask your own (good) questions to get a feel for if you truly want to work there.”
But are you digesting this—and doing it—every time you meet with a hiring manager? If you’re not, you’re missing out on an important opportunity to dig in and really get a feel for what’s going on at your potential next employer. You’re also squandering an opportunity to demonstrate fully your preparedness, confidence, and complete non-desperation (which is always an attractive trait to hiring managers).
So, what are some great questions you can ask in your next interview? Here are five brilliant ones that, truthfully, may not be fully answered but will still likely provide you with some solid, fruitful information about your potential next boss, team, and organization.
1. Is This a Vacancy, or a New Position (and, if It’s a Vacancy, What’s Up)?
I worked with a client a few months ago who was a finalist for a VP of Sales & Marketing job at a profitable, admired company. He was, he believed, very close to having an offer in hand. And then he learned that, in the space of three years, this company had three other leaders in this same role. As in, they were looking to hire their fourth VP of Sales & Marketing since 2013.
This presented quite a conundrum for my client. He’d been so excited about the opportunity, and flattered to be this far along in the interview process. But discovering the revolving door of leadership going on stopped him in his tracks. And it should have. That kind of turnover is a sure sign that something’s up, probably starting at the top of the organization.
This client didn’t ask during the early interview stages why the position was open. But he should have. It’s a completely fair question and, even if it’s not answered in depth, you can almost always tell by the “squirm factor” of the interviewer if there’s more to the story or not.
He did get the offer, by the way. And ultimately declined. Today, he heads up sales for a smaller firm with amazing, supportive, and inclusive leaders. And the organization’s turnover? It’s almost non-existent.
2. What Is the Turnover Rate on the Team (or, at This Organization)?
Speaking of turnover. It’s fair for you to ask about this. If you ask it in a confident and non-accusatory manner, it’s also going to demonstrate that you are one who makes decisions strategically, and with care. And any good employer will respect that about you.
If, when you ask, you learn that turnover is uncomfortably or unusually high, you should then ask (again, in a way that doesn’t make the interviewer feel like you’re attacking), “To what do you attribute this number?” and “Does the organization have any plans or strategies in place to help alleviate this?”
High turnover, even in industries that commonly have a decent amount of churn, could point to issues with management, a super stressful work environment, a lack of employee recognition, crappy raises, or all of the above.
3. Do Team Members Typically Go Out for Lunch, or Do They Eat at Their Desks?
This isn’t a weird question, and you can ask it in a way that comes across as you trying to get a feel for how friendly and connected your team is (or isn’t), or how relaxed the environment is (or isn’t). But, assuming the interviewer is up front with his or her answer, here’s what else you’ll be able to ascertain: Are these people overworked to the point that they can’t keep up without working through lunch hours? (And, will your future manager expect you to follow suit?)
Teams whose members never take breaks are typically tired, unhappy teams. Sleuth this one out, especially if you’re not one who enjoys being chained to your desk for several hours straight every day.
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4. How Is the Company Doing (From a Financial Perspective)?
Oh, if I had a dollar for every client I’ve worked with who lost his or her job abruptly (sometimes, very soon after accepting the offer) as a result of crumbling profits, loss of a big client or a sudden bankruptcy—that the new hire had no idea about before coming on board.
Guys, it’s absolutely OK (and important) to ask for a proverbial peek into the books as you progress through the interview process—even if the company is privately held (or a mom-and-pop shop). In fact, it’s especially important to ask if the company’s financial information isn’t readily available via a Google search.
The last thing you want is to unwittingly be the “Hail Mary hire,” whose presence is the make-it-or-break-it, last ditch effort to dig out of a perilous situation. Certainly, you may decide that it’s a challenge (and risk) worth taking on. But maybe not.
No matter what, getting a feel for the financial health of a company is so important to have, before you dive in.
5. After This Conversation, Do You Have Any Hesitations About My Qualifications?
This is such a scary question for most people, because they’re fearful that the answer might be yes. But it’s an important question to ask because, if there are any hesitations on the part of the interviewer, you pretty much have no better shot at clarifying or allaying their concerns than while you’re still sitting in the interview.
If you’re terrified about asking this question, consider this: If something about you is giving the interviewer pause, and you don’t ask about it, he or she is going to make hiring decisions with this or these concerns factored in. Given this, you almost always have much more to gain than lose by asking.
As you progress through a job search or career transition, you’ve got to continually remind yourself to steer. Steer the boat. Steer the direction. Steer the interview. No one cares more about your finding a great new job (or wonderful organization to represent) than you.
Curate your career. Ask the interview questions that need to be asked. Be your own best advocate.
And then enjoy the spoils as you settle into that great new job.
Photo of interview courtesy of GlobalStock/Getty Images.
Jenny Foss is a career strategist, recruiter, and the voice of the popular career blog JobJenny.com. Based in Portland, OR, Jenny is the author of the Ridiculously Awesome Resume Kit and the Ridiculously Awesome Career Pivot Kit. Also check out the recently-launched Weekend Resume Makeover Course, find Jenny on Twitter @JobJenny, and book one-on-one coaching sessions with her on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author