The Revealing Interview Questions Candidates Never Think to Ask
Over the weekend, my friend texted me a link to the New York Times piece, “Congratulations! You’ve Been Fired.” As I read it, my jaw dropped, my eyes opened wide, and I shook my head in disbelief—I did all of the things that, you know, you do when you can’t believe what you’re reading, seeing, or hearing.
Dan Lyons’ article discusses the disposable nature of employees, specifically at tech startups, and the headline is jarring and offensive. He explains it as such: “Treating workers as if they are widgets to be used up and discarded is a central part of the revised relationship between employers and employees that techies proclaim is an innovation as important as chips and software.”
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a loyal employee for two or five years; if a company suddenly deems you unnecessary, it’ll send you on your way. I chose those words—send you on your way—carefully, for Lyons depicts the new-order firing model in similar fashion.
Lyons, a former HubSpot employee, alleges that the tech company offers a congratulatory farewell when someone gets fired, sometimes in the form of a praise-filled email or a goodbye party. Lyons’ own experience working at this particular company makes him a credible source of reporting, and yet, I refuse to accept that his assessment of the startup world in general is all full of garbage.
For every company that feels at liberty to dispose of workers as it sees fit, I believe there is one (or more!) that values the staff and places a high priority on retention rates. In spite of the fact that more and more Millennials have taken to job hopping as they build their careers and work to gain better titles and salaries, there are still tons of young professionals who aren’t beginning a job search every two years, who long to find a workplace in which to grow and prosper. And, there are plenty of organizations that value this notion. It’s not a hopeless situation.
Lyons says that tech startups, in particular, expect employees to “feel complete devotion and loyalty to their companies, even while the boss feels no such obligation in return,” and what that tells me, even if it’s only coming from his own experience, is that it’s doubly important that you do due diligence.
It’s no longer good enough to just research an organization’s mission and values—now it’s necessary to do what you can to figure out if the company you’re interviewing at has an interest in your long-term growth within its walls. Don’t assume you’ll be fired as soon as you’re no longer the team MVP, but don’t also assume that an organization with a cool culture and a ton of perks is looking to retain you either—whether it’s an early-stage startup or decades-old corporation.
When you get to the interview stage of the process, you should consider asking about retention:
- Does the organization have any programs in place for keeping employees?
- Are there any employees who’ve been with the company since its inception or shortly thereafter?
- What’s the average length of employment?
If you frame it as wanting to find not just a new job, but a place to grow your career, it’s hard to imagine the person you’re speaking with will be offended.
If your interviewer seems extremely taken aback and struggles to respond, you may have an inkling that retention is either low or nonexistent on the list of priorities. If you’re uncomfortable diving into this line of questioning, you might consider reaching out to former employees through LinkedIn. While you might not find anyone who’s willing to talk smack about a former employer, it’s very possible that someone would offer up some info on average length of stay or a sound bite on why or how people leave after two or three years.
You are meant to be fostered, challenged, and pushed in your place of employment, not burned and churned until “someone better, or cheaper, becomes available.” Know that the former is the plan of many sound companies out there and you deserve to find that.
Yes, figuring out an organization’s plan for you further down the line does add another step to the job search process, but it’s worth it. Because, while there’s nothing wrong with hopping around, there’s also nothing better than working at a place you want to be at day after day, year after year.
Stacey Gawronski is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author