As much as I hate to say it, many companies claim to be a great place to work and then - well - aren't. I recently had coffee with a friend who recounted a past job experience where what she was sold in the interview and what she experienced in the office were two completely different worlds. She then watched this same thing pitched to new hire after new hire, only to then watch them unravel the truth on their first few weeks on the job.
She's not the only person whose shared this experience with me and I'm guessing plenty of you could offer up your own stories, as well.
So, why does this happen? Well, a lot of reasons. But mostly, because we're human.
To put it in terms that most all of us can relate to, interviews are really akin to first dates. Both of you show up on your best behavior and talk about your best qualities. You don't lead by sharing your more grating qualities or that you're just looking for someone to cuddle with during cuffing season before diving back into single life when summer hits.
The same thing happens during job interviews. You talk about your accomplishments and the interviewer shares all the exciting projects they've been working on lately. Conveniently, you leave out your ongoing struggle with prioritization and they "forget" to mention how stressed the team is, given an exceptionally large workload.
Whether it's a date or an interview, humans love to put their best foot forward. Sometimes that even means stretching the truth a little. Right or wrong, it's reality.
Luckily, you can come prepared to sleuth!
Just like we get better at reading between the lines on first dates, you can learn to read between the lines during interviews by asking some strategic questions.
Remember, interviews aren't just an opportunity for them to assess you - they're also your chance to learn more about the company's culture and the specific role, so you can decide if they're a correct fit for you, as well. The point in the interview when they ask if you have any questions is possibly the most important thing of the whole shebang!
That said, before I dive into these 12 magical questions, I wanted to give some ground rules that I live by when coaching others pre-interview.
1. Make sure to ask each of these questions from a place of honest curiosity, not judgement! You want them to open up and confide in you, not put themselves on guard. That will only happen if they sense you're trustworthy and genuine.
2. You likely won't get the chance to ask all of the questions below, so pick the ones that seem most pertinent and run with those. That said, don't be afraid to ask for a follow-up interview if you really didn't get the time to ask what you wanted. Taking a new job is a big commitment - one that deserves an extra half hour of conversation if you need it.
3. Don't widely share what you learned during the interview - whether or not you take the job. Anyone who opens up to you during a job interview is doing so in confidence. It's not your place to start sharing this information in the community, with your new team members, or on Glassdoor. Respect the safe space and keep your learnings to yourself.
OK, now that we've got some key ground rules out of the way, here's a list of questions that will help you dig a little deeper during your next interview.
1. What does a typical day in the office look like? This is always a great place to start, as it gets them talking about the day to day at the company. When do people typically get in each morning? How many meetings happen on a typical day? Do people eat at their desk or take a break? Is the office bustling or exceptionally quiet? When you know how you work best, this can be incredibly helpful information.
2. What are the biggest challenges that someone in this position would face? I love this question because it gets beyond the skills needed to do your job and dives into what the potential roadblocks could be, including challenging personalities on the team, a particularly difficult client, or an especially heavy workload that calls for top-notch prioritization skills. Knowing these things can be incredibly helpful when making your decision!
3. Is this a new role that has been created? If not, where is the last person who held this job moving on to and how long were they in the role? This one is bold, but important. It can unearth traits about the previous candidate that either made them a good or bad fit for the role - which is golden information for you! It can also show a dedication to internal growth (if the person was promoted) or raise a red flag (if the person was only in the role for a few months before leaving). Note: You should definitely do your research on LinkedIn before asking this question. You may get your answer without having to ask and/or can tailor the question appropriately.
4. Are there opportunities for advancement or professional development? If I had to boil the job happiness of most millennials into three key points, it would come down to autonomy, appreciation, and growth. While it's common to focus on salary expectations, 401k matching, and time off when you're considering an offer, knowing what professional development and growth opportunities are available within the organization could make a huge difference in your happiness a few years down the line.
5. What are the most important things you’d like to see someone accomplish in the first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job? At one year? For a variety of reasons (that we can save for another day) most people are really bad at writing job descriptions. Asking this question will get them really thinking about what success would look like at different intervals throughout your first year on the job. You may be surprised by their expectations, some of which they may not have even mentioned yet.
6. What are the goals that the company is currently focused on and how does this team work to support meeting them? Companies with clear strategic objectives and a plan tend to be WAY better places to work at than those who jump from goal to goal at the drop of a hat. This question will help you gage how clear the company vision is and how the team you'll be working on directly supports it.
7. Can you tell me about the team and who I'll be working with most closely? This is great way to learn more about the personalities of your soon-to-be coworkers, especially those you'll be spending a lot of time with during the day. Who we work most closely with at the office is often one of the biggest indicators of our experience at work. Anyone whose had a difficult manager can definitely attest to this fact. And speaking of difficult managers...
8. Can you tell me about your particular management style? Now, I don't expect anyone to come out and say, "Well, I'm particularly critical, tend to take credit for your work, and expect you to be on-call 24/7." That would be too easy. What can be helpful though is hearing how they view their leadership style and seeing how closely it aligns with your preferences. You can also ask this question of others on the manager's team and see if what they say mirrors what you've already been told.
9. Why did you choose to take a job at this particular company? Hearing why your interviewer chose to work at the company can shed light both on aspects of the company you may not know about and what that particular person values about a job.
10. What’s your favorite part about working here? This question can help shed both negative and positive light on the company's culture. If they struggle to think of something they enjoy, that could be a red flag that things currently aren't great. If they are quick to answer with something that seems genuine (like a truly flexible schedule or a fantastic boss), you can bet that what they're sharing is likely consistent with what's actually happening in the organization.
11. What's different about working here than anywhere else you've worked? This is another way to get a real look at the current culture. Because different can be attributed to both positive and negative realities, it's a chance for the interviewer to get real. Whatever they share, it will be a great peek at one aspect of the company that is solid enough to elicit a comparison.
12. How has the company changed since you joined? I always think this one has to be taken with a grain of salt, but it is still important to ask. It can be really easy for people to struggle with company growth and sometimes their answer may be negative, but not really reflect the actual temperature of the company. "Things just aren't the way they used to be," may be a red flag, but can also be a sign that that particular employee just really enjoys working with a smaller team.
So there you have it. A rundown of questions that will help you dig deeper into the company's culture when interviewing for a new job.
While these questions can't guarantee you'll avoid a toxic work environment, they are a great way to get below the shiny surface that's presented in most job interviews. I promise they're trying to get the same information out of you to assess if it's really a great match. Being honest about your needs (and flaws) while also learning about theirs will ultimately help you both make the best decision at the end of the day.
Do you have specific interview questions you love to ask potential employers? If so, please share them in the comments below. I would love to hear them!
To happier employees,
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