Ever start a job and realize it’s not for you? You thought you were hired as a copywriter, but the only writing you’ve done so far is taking notes at meetings. Your coworker turns into a gremlin after lunch and throws peanuts at your head. Your manager, who vehemently denied being a micromanager during your interview, stares over your shoulder while you work and expects hourly check-ins. Oh, and that great office they told you about is actually a cubicle that smells like sweaty feet.
Okay, hopefully your experience wasn’t that bad. Still, you can’t help but feel deceived and resentful when this happens. It seems like they flat out lied to you about this job. In some cases, this might even be true. But maybe you didn’t ask the right questions.
With each interview, I understand more about what I want, what to look out for, and–most importantly–what to ask.
While I’m not an HR professional, I’ve been a job hunter more than a few times in the last decade, due to layoffs, the Great Recession, or just not being satisfied in my current role. A study done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that younger baby boomers had an average of 11.7 jobs by the time they turned 48. I suspect that number may be even higher for us Gen X’ers and millennials. In fact, according to LinkedIn, job-hopping has nearly doubled over the last twenty years.
…according to LinkedIn, job-hopping has nearly doubled over the last twenty years.
Given those stats, we should all be interview experts, right? I know I’ve had dozens of interviews this year alone—and I won’t even try to count how many I’ve had over the last decade. Every interview matters, though. With each interview, I understand more about what I want, what to look out for, and–most importantly–what to ask.
Here are 10 questions I ask in interviews to help me determine if an opportunity is right for me.
What might a typical day look like for me?
This innocuous question can give you a lot of valuable information. In my experience, job descriptions can be difficult to interpret. For example, they list graphic design as one of your main duties and you think—sweet, I get to design ads, brochures, and websites half the day. But their definition of graphic design is asking you to “pretty up” a Word document once a week.
Asking the hiring manager to describe your day will usually encourage them to go into more detail about your actual duties and the working environment. They may say, well, you come in at 8am and you answer emails, at 9am we have our daily catch up meeting, and at 10am you’ll be working on such and such. In which case, you have to ask yourself if such a structured environment will work for you. Or they may say—well, I don’t know. What do you think your day should look like? Then you have to decide if you’re comfortable with minimal or no direction. Either way, you should get a much better picture of what the job actually is and isn’t. If they are being vague or you still find yourself unsure – don’t be afraid to ask for further clarification.
What personality type and/or management style would work well for this role and your team?
I’m a huge fan of this question, because it helps me find out whether or not I’d be a good cultural fit. If they say they want the “life of the party”, for example, I know I probably won’t be a good fit. Feeling a connection with your potential manager and coworkers is a good sign, but it doesn’t mean that your working styles mesh. Make sure you’re considering all factors.
What is your management style and how do you prefer to communicate?
Your relationship with your manager can have a direct impact on your job satisfaction. A Gallup report in 2015 found that half the people they surveyed left their jobs due to their manager. So, it makes sense to find out if your communication styles mesh early on—preferably during the interview. Are you a self-starter who prefers autonomy? Then a manager who says they want daily status reports or involvement in every decision may not be the best fit for you. Likewise, if you love email and hate the phone and your manager hates email and loves the phone, you may be in for a challenge.
What is the culture like?
It’s always good to straight up ask about the culture, especially if you’re interviewing with more than one person. The answer isn’t just in what they say, it’s how they say it. If they say it’s the best culture ever, does their facial expression or tone match that sentiment? Are they avoiding eye contact or looking at each other knowingly? Is there a pattern to the answers? Are people struggling to come up with a description or something positive to say (not a good sign)? Keep your eyes open and trust your gut.
What does success in this role look like after three months? How about after a year?
Afraid they’ll have unrealistic expectations or you won’t be given clear goals? Then these are great questions to ask. When employers decide to hire for a role, they should have a clear need for that role—problems to solve and goals to achieve. Job security, people.
Are they expecting you to still be learning after three months or are they wanting the answer to the meaning of life? Can they articulate where they’d like the company to be after a year and where you’d fit into that? We all have different comfort levels and expectations, but your employer’s goals should mesh with your own career goals, and you should know from the very start what it is you are working to achieve.
What do you really love about working here and what would you like to improve?
This is one of my favorite questions to ask, because I find—more often than not—it catches my interviewers off guard and gets them off-script. You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people. This question takes the focus off you for a moment and allows your interviewers to show who they are and what they see as perks and challenges in their environment. Can you help them improve what isn’t working so well? Do you want to? Do their “loves” match what you love in an environment (you know what they say about great minds)?
This is also a great way to discover any hidden deal breakers. For example, maybe you’ve found you can’t concentrate in loud, hectic environments and you’re looking for a quieter, more low key environment. If one of your interviewers says there are more distractions than they’d like, you may want to ask them to elaborate.
What equipment is provided?
As someone who works in the creative field, a lack of resources has been a common theme. The computers, software, and equipment needed to produce quality videos, for example, doesn’t come cheap. Sometimes you have to work with the bare minimum and be creative and resourceful. Resourcefulness is actually a great skill to learn—it can help you as much as your employer.
But you also want to know if their expectations are realistic. Can you actually do your job with what they can provide and—if not—are they willing to give you what you need? If you’ve only used OSX and they’re a Windows-only office, are they willing to provide you with a Mac? If they’re not willing to work with you, chances are the role isn’t a good fit.
Can I see where I’d be working?
This is actually a really important question—one I didn’t think to ask for a long time. And there have definitely been a couple times where I wish I had! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a diva. But I also know I don’t work well in small rooms, sitting nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with my coworkers. The constant noises and ongoing conversations distract me, and I start to feel rather claustrophobic. On the other hand, some people thrive in close-knit environments like that. Given you’ll be spending 8-10 hours of your day in this space, it’s important that the space works for you and allows you to be productive. If they aren’t willing to show you where you’d be working, that’s a huge red flag!
Is overtime expected? If so, how much and how often?
Are you looking for more work life balance? Then this is a very important question to ask. Sometimes the topic of overtime never comes up unless I ask about it. If they give a vague answer like “sometimes” or “once in awhile”, ask them what that means. For me, “once in awhile” means a few times a year. To them, it might mean once a week. Try and get an estimate of how many hours they expect per week. Is this a 40 hour per week job, in general, or is the expectation more like 50 hours a week?
Do you see room for growth in this position?
Unless this is your dream role, and you’re looking to do it for the rest of your career or you’re a newbie looking to gain some experience, you probably want the answer to be some form of “yes”. If their eyes seem to be searching the ceiling for an answer or they say something non-committal, like “it’s a possibility”, consider whether or not this is the best move for your career right now and how likely it is you’ll get bored after a year or two. The ideal answer here is one that includes specifics, like we’re planning on this Marketing Specialist role growing into a Marketing Director role within the next year. While nothing is ever set in stone, at least you know they’ve given your role some thought and have a plan for the future.