Monday 15 June 2015

The Young Professional- Questions To Ask During An Interview

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a great weekend. I had the opportunity to celebrate with one of my oldest friends (I've known her for over 20 years!!) as she married her best friend. It was a lovely and fun event. So happy for her!!

Monday means another Young Professional post! Last week, we talked about how to prepare for an interview, including coming up with questions to ask during an interview. This week, I thought I would share some questions to consider asking during the interview. 

Most interviews end with the interviewer(s) asking "Do you have any questions for me/us?" You should always answer this with yes. Not only is this a chance for you to learn more about the job and the company, but by asking questions, you are showing that you are engaged, and interested, in learning more.

You do not want to ask too many questions during this part of the interview (you should be asking questions throughout the interview process) and a good rule is to ask 2-3 questions. I like to prepare 4-5 questions, so that if my questions gets answered during the interview, I still have more questions to ask.

Here is my 'go to' list of questions that I have asked during an interview:

  • How was this position created? In the first 3 months of 2015, I interviewed for 8 different positions and 5 of them were brand new positions. Some of the reasons for how the position was created were great ("We want to be more proactive in our community involvement"), some more standard ("We finally got funding to create this position") and some were red flags ("We had a similar position, but the person is going on maternity leave. Instead of filling her position, we decided to create a new position." What this actually meant was, "You'll be doing the same amount of work as her, but you'll be in a junior position so we don't have to pay you as much.")
  • How long has the position been vacant? Generally, the longer a position has been vacant, the harder it will be to transition into; there will likely be a back log of work and usually a number of 'messy' situations. I had once interviewed for a position that had been vacant for almost 2 years; they were struggling to find someone with the right skill set, which told me they were looking for someone very specific.
  • Why did the person in this position leave? This can be asked in conjunction with the above question or as a stand alone question. Finding out why a person left can be good ("They moved up in the company") or bad ("The last 3 people in the position didn't make it through probation." I've actually had this said to me and it was a red flag...why weren't they making it through? Were the targets that unrealistic? Are you that difficult to work for?)
  • What are the short and long term goals of the team/company/department? Again, this just provides insight into the job and can help you determine if it's the right fit for you. This questions also shows that you are interested in the work they are doing.
  • How can I help achieve the goals? This is a follow up question to the one above. This shows you are interested in how you personally- not the position- can contribute to the success of the organization.
  • How does this position work with others within the organization? Another insight question. A lot of times during interviews, you learn a lot about the position on a stand alone basis but not how the role plays into a bigger picture. I once interviewed for a coordinator position but when I asked this question, it came out that on top of coordinating my own events, I would essentially be an administrative assistant to other departments.
  • Who will I be reporting to? On more than one occasion, I did not met the person I would report to during the interview process. I also had a position where the person I would be reporting to was not in the office a lot and had no interest in me.//not a good situation. Plus, it's important to meet the person you report to prior to accepting a position; it needs to be someone you can see yourself working with.
  • Who else will I be working with? Another insight question. In my current job, the interviewer disclosed who my immediate supervisor would be and the four other senior positions-and their teams- I would be working closely with.
  • Do you have any concerns that I might not be the right fit for this position? It gives you an opportunity to address something that might not have come across during the interview and to provide clarity on why you are a good fit for the position. Or it can confirm to you that you are actually not a good fit. I once applied for a marketing position and when I asked this question, they were concerned I wouldn't be able to close a sale, which not only lead to me asking about sales quotas (which I felt was too high), but made me realize that "marketing" was code for "sales", which I didn't want to do. Another time, it came up that they were concerned I was too nice and that sales people (who are known to be push) would walk all over me. I was able to talk about how I used to be an insurance broker and can handle my own (I did get offered the job, FYI).
  • Would you like me to expand on or provide clarity around any of the questions that I answered? This is a good question to ask, because it allows you the chance to make sure you answered their questions and that they got the information they needed.
  • What is the main quality you are looking for in an ideal candidate? A lot of these qualities are listed in the job posting. This is a good question to ask, just to confirm that what is listed in the posting is actually what they are looking for and you can make sure you are qualified.
  • What does a typical year look like for this position? A lot of people ask about 'typical day' but asking about what year looks like puts a twist on this predictable (and not a good) question. It also makes it seem like this is an original question and not something you found by googling "what to ask during a job interview. On top of that, a lot of jobs don't have a "typical day" or the answer doesn't provide a lot of insight ("Typical day consists of replying to emails, meeting with clients and completing contracts"). Getting a yearly view provides not only a better picture of what types of tasks the job entails, but also things like high and low times, major events ("We have booths at 4 trade shows a year") and aspects of your job that you might only do once a year (April is spent preparing files for our annual audit, it's all hands on deck so we have a 'black out' policy for employees taking time off during this month and you can expect to work longer days").
  • What does success in the first 90 days of this position look like? This is my favourite question to ask and I always ask it. It's not a standard ask, which takes interviewers by surprise. The answer to this question can tell you what will be expected during your probation period and you can judge if it's realistic for you. It also makes them think and it provides great insight into the role (and sometimes company) which can help you decide if you're really interested. I was once interviewed by 4 different people at the same time and they actually had an argument in front of me about the answer; they were all on different pages and one even felt that anothers expectation was not realistic for a 90 day time frame. This not only provided insight into the position and expectations, but I had the opportunity to observe them and how they handled conflict.
There is no such thing as a bad question, but it's a good thing to always ask questions. When I am the interviewer, if I don't have candidates asking me questions, it shows me that they are not fully interested in the position or organization and that they couldn't be bothered to prepare a question or two to ask me, which makes me wonder how serious or committed they are to working with me. 

Next week, will be another post about interviewing, specifically what to bring with you. 

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