What’s an Interview?
Well now that’s obvious isn’t it? It’s the chance you get to convince someone you’re the person they should really hire, right? Well sure, that’s part of it, but the real purpose of an interview isn’t for you to say the right things and convince someone you should work for them, it’s a chance to get a view into a company most people don’t get, and to determine if you really want to lend your skills and abilities to these folks for a while.
I Have One! Time to Worry!
Quite often someone already knows you have the skills you need for the job because they’ve already looked at your resume and it’s passed the smell test. That’s how you got the interview. Now they need to know that you didn’t lie on your resume and that you’ll fit in with their team. That’s easy, just don’t lie on your resume, and be yourself. If you have an incompatible personality, you don’t want to force it because you’ll be miserable at work if you are hired, and if you lied on your resume, shame on you, you deserve to squirm. So don’t worry, be yourself, let “you” flow during the interview, and if they don’t like that, check yourself to make sure you aren’t a jerk, and then move on to a company that you’ll actually fit into.
Do I Want to Work Here?
That’s the right question to ask. Interviews are two way streets. You are interviewing the interviewer just as much as the interviewer is interviewing you. Ask a lot of questions. You need to know these answers. What do you wish you had known about your other companies before you went to work there? Don’t you wish you had asked someone about that before you started? Well, do it. As long as you aren’t asking about benefits, pay, and perks, it’s just fine.
What Shouldn’t I Ask?
Don’t ask about benefits, bonuses, paid time off, nap time, social media policies, flex time, and other wonderful things until there’s an offer on the table. These things are important, but not right now. First lets see if you actually want the job, and then we’ll see about whether they have the incentives to make the job lucrative.
Don’t ask what the company does. You should know this by the time you’ve earned an interview. Google the crud out of them. Used LinkedIn to search the company’s profile. Like the company on Facebook. Read the company’s press releases and the industry’s news about the company.
So What Should I Ask?
Here are a few recommendations for questions to ask hiring folks. These will help you get a picture of what it’s like to work there and then give you some really good data to compare to other companies you’ve worked for or other companies you’re interviewing for. Most of these questions are for general interviews, not technical interviews. Just a quick note, these questions are here to help you learn some great information from an interviewer, not to manipulate them. Use this power for good!
Culture is a catch-all word that encompasses the vibe and flow of the employees of the business. It’s intangible and therefore cannot be listed adequately in a job posting. You need to pump employees for their experience to learn about this.
What’s the culture like?
This seems like a buzzword question, but it can give you some great insight. Listen to the response you get. It’s general enough that it will draw out someone’s thoughts on what life is like inside the company. Watch for hesitation and stumbling. You might get the feeling they’re trying to sell you on the company instead of giving you a look into the soul of an organization.
What brought you to this company?
This will show you what someone thought was a great selling point for the company and it might be a good one for you too.
What makes you stay at this company?
What makes the person stay here? You know what brought them in, but what keeps them loving their job?
What is your favorite part of the week?
If they say 5PM on Friday, you’re in for a rough experience with this company. Otherwise they might bring out something valuable that’s not generally known about the company.
You really need to know what your boss situation is going to be like. Some people can’t stand certain management styles, and it would be terrible to start a nice shiny new job and hate working there. Find out all you can about your new boss before they’re your boss!
Who will my manager be?
The person might give you a name. If they day, it’s time to use LinkedIn/Facebook to do a bit of stalking. Find out who the person is, what they post about and what other people say about them. Look for recommendations on LinkedIn.
What do the people that work for that person say about him?
You may not get an honest response, but if you do, listen well. This is much more effective if you are interviewing with team members. You can find out if your new boss will be a micro-manager, an absentee boss, or someone that really deserves a #1 Boss mug.
What is their management style?
Hope for an honest answer. Nobody is going to say, “Yeah, he’s a micro-manager and suffocates his employees”. Well, at least I don’t think they will. If you like being on cruise control and having daily meetings, you might enjoy having a micro-manager for a boss though.
It’s important to know what sort of things you’ll be doing and spending your time on. If you really can’t handle three two hour meetings a week, you don’t want to work at a company that has those sorts of things as a mainstay of its workflow.
What is a typical week like?
This may be a question for a hiring manager instead of an HR person, but a good question to get an answer to. Good answers will tell you the approximate percentage of time you’ll spend on your “real” work and how much time will be meetings, administrative tasks, etc.
How are new tasks obtained?
If your job will be task or project oriented and you aren’t the person making decisions on which projects will be worked on, it’s probably a good idea to find out how your next task is obtained. If you know the company has a formalized workflow, like Agile software development, don’t ask this question. They probably expect you to know, or be able to Google, how their processes work.
What tools do you use?
Sometimes a job posting is vague on the tools the company uses. If it is, ask them what they use in particular. In the software world, quite often we know what our compiler will be from the job description or languages requested, but other things like Continuous Integration tools, bug tracking, story management, code repositories, and all these other things are good to know.
If you have the luxury of being onsite for the interview, take the time to look around you and see who the people that will be your coworkers are. Try as hard as you can to feel like you’re a part of the team before you actually are. Project yourself into what you see or know about the people and see if you like what you see.
Who would my coworkers be?
Write these names down and maybe do a bit of Facebook/LinkedIn stalking. See what they think of their jobs and what they say about their industry. A great indicator of someone’s knowledge and productivity is if they post about their industry online somewhere. Some of my most knowledgeable colleagues have run IIS blogs and post about their experiences on social media.
What does the team do to unwind?
This is a great question to see how cohesive a team is if you care about that sort of thing.
Does the team usually go out for lunch?
If you don’t like to do this, it’s good to know up front. If you do, then it’s good to know you’ll fit in easily. One of the coolest jobs I had involved most of my coworkers playing Magic: The Gathering every day at lunch. I didn’t participate much, but it was really awesome, and some companies do that sort of thing. Also, asking about where the team goes is a great bonus follow up question.
Where is the team located?
If you’re the kind of person that would rather catch a glimpse of sunlight rather than languish in a dank dungeon reminiscent of “The IT Crowd”, you need to ask this question. A lot of companies are proud of their office setup, or they have a cubicle farm. Also, check to see how the team is organized. The team you work with might be spread around the office to help more people or you might be corralled together to facilitate communication. Another insight into the company.
Make sure to ask some questions which put you in the role you’re interviewing for and help the interviewers visualize you in their team, working. This helps them evaluate you and helps you evaluate them.
What traits does the person that takes this position have?
The interviewers probably have a particular skill set their looking for to augment the team. This is where they will say what is most important to them. This is valuable for you. If they want someone to translate between designers and engineers and you just want to be an engineer, this might not be the position you thought it is. Run now before you hate your job!
How will I receive feedback?
This is mostly just to establish that their management is mature enough to be providing you with feedback. You need to feel confident that your job is secure and that what you are doing is correct. Being fired when you had no clue anything was wrong is probably pretty crushing. If you still like the job and they don’t provide feedback, you can still be proactive and seek out feedback. It’s probably a good idea even if they do have a feedback system.
All good things must come to an end, and interviews too. Once you feel that the interviewer is getting bored answering your deluge of questions, fire off the most important ones to you, and then ask a few closing questions. You need these answers.
What is your timeline for making a hiring decision?
You might need to know if you can even consider this position. If they are hiring two months from now and rent is due in two weeks, it might not be the right timing for this company.
What did you hate about my resume?
Strange question right? They might give you some valuable insight on how to fix it for the next company.
What skill or trait made my resume stand out from others?
This will identify a skill that you might want to hit on for other interviews with similar companies.
You need to know when they intend to contact you next, and who to contact if they don’t. They will probably outline the remainder of the interview process. In some industries, like games, the process is lengthy, where you probably have your code test, HR Interview, team interview, and technical interviews at a minimum.
The interview is done, and now you have a notebook (you did bring one for taking notes right?) full of information about this company. It’s time to make a decision. What did you think?
If you liked the company and are still interested, be proactive. Contact the hiring managers in a week or whenever they said to, and check in. Write a thank you note. These people just gave up at least a half hour of their day (or a few hours if you ask a ton of questions like I do) to spend some time sharing the heart and soul of their company. That’s worth a thank you email at least.
If the company didn’t live up to your expectation or you found some serious red flags, take some time to check those out. Some companies might have enough information on the internet you can confirm or deny suspicions. Having a contact in the company can be helpful. If you still can’t reconcile the issues you have, thank them for the time and consideration, and move on. This can be hard, especially if you are in need of a job, but sometimes, for your mental health, it’s okay to turn down an offer.
Have any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment and discuss!
Other Helpful Links
- 48 Days to the Work You Love: Preparing for the New Normal
- Jon Acuff’s Blog