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Clever and Intelligent Questions to Ask on your Interview


Chapter 5


Questions to ask your new boss

The hiring manager may not be the person for whom you will be working, but he or she probably will be. Even where others have strong input, most companies still allow managers to hire their own staff, within certain parameters. He is probably a supervisor who has chosen (or is required) to shoehorn in-person interviews into his busy workdays. (In smaller companies especially, the president may be the ultimate decision maker, even if you won’t be reporting to her.) A manager who has worked with a number of previous employees who held the same position brings a unique perspective to the proceedings.
What’s different about interviewing with the hiring manager as opposed to the time spent with a recruiter or headhunter or even Human Resources? This is the person you actually have to impress, the only one who can say those magic words, “you’re hired. When can you start?” this is the person you have to be careful with.
The hiring manager’s primary objective is to evaluate your skills and measure your personal chemistry on a firsthand basis. These interviwers want to get to know everything they can about the people with whom they’ll be working closely. (As we’ve seen, the telephone screener, by contrast, may well be an entrepreneur who delegates heavily and interacts only intermittently with new hires. And the human screen usually has nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the company.)
Common reasons for being dropped from a hiring manager’s “hot” list include: lack of personal chemistry or rapport; poor performance during the interview itself; and her assessment that, although you may be qualified and personable, you would simply not fit in well with the team. Many hiring managers have an excellent intuitive sense of who will (and won’t) perform the job well and achieve a good fit with the rest of the work group. On the other hand, it sometimes comes as a surprise to applicants that excellent supervisors can be less than stellar interviewers. But a great many managers lack any formal training in the art of interviewing.
It is this type of interviewer who is most likely to interpret the interview as an opportunity to “get to know” more about you, rather than to require specific answers to questions about your background, experience, outlook on work, and interpersonal skills.


The Hiring Interview

Your first interview with the person who will manage your prospective position is not likely to be a walk in the park. You may be stepping out of the range of the experience and interviewing talent of the Human Resources professional and into unknown territory.
And you could wander there for a while.
Why? Experienced interviewers are trained to stay in charge of the interview, not let it meander down some dead-end, nonproductive track. There is predictability to the way they conduct interviews, even if they utilize different techniques.
On the other hand, the hiring manager is sure to lack some or all of the screening interviewer’s knowledge, experience, and skill-making him an unpredictable animal.
A majority of corporate managers don’t know what it takes to hire the right candidate. Few of them have had formal training in conducting interviews of any kind. To make things worse, most managers feel slightly less comfortable conducting the interview than the nervous candidate sitting across their desks from them!
For example, a manager might decide you are not the right person for the job without ever realizing that the questions he or she asked were so ambiguous, so off the mark, that even the perfect candidate could not have returned the right answers. No one monitors the performance of the interviewer. And the candidate cannot be a mind reader. So more often than is necessary, otherwise perfectly qualified candidates walk out the door for good … simply because the manager failed at the interview!


Foiling The Inept Interviewer

But that doesn’t have to happen to you. You can – and should – be prepared to put your best foot forward, no matter what the experience or expertise of the manager interviewing you.
You’ll be a step ahead of the game (and the other candidates) if you realize at the outset that the interviewer is after more than just facts about your skills and background. He is waiting for something more elusive to hit him, something he may not even be able to articulate: He wants to feel that, somehow, you “fit” the organization or department.
Knowing what you’re up against is half the battle. Rather than sit back passively and hope for the best, you can help the unskilled interviewer focus on how your unique skills can directly benefit – “fit” – the department or organization by citing a number of specific examples. And by asking a number of smart questions.
What other unusual problems could you face during an interview?


The “It’s All About Me” Interviewer

Bob thinks he’s a pretty good interviewer. He has a list of 15 questions he asks every candidate – same questions, same order, every time. He takes notes on their answers and asks an occasional follow-up question. He gives candidates a chance to ask questions. He’s friendly, humorous, and excited about working at Netcorp.com. As he tells every candidate … in detail … for hours. Then he wonders why only a small fraction of his hires pan out.
I’ve never really understood the interviewer who thinks telling the story of his or her life is appropriate. Why do some interviewers do it? Partly nervousness, partly inexperience, but mostly because they have the mistaken notion they have to sell you on the company, rather than the other way around. There are occasions when this may be necessary – periods of low unemployment, a glut of particular jobs and a dearth of qualified candidates, a candidate who’s so desirable the interviewer feels, perhaps correctly, that he or she has to outsell and outbid the competition.
Under most circumstances, as I instruct novice interviewers in Ask the Right Questions, Hire the Right People (this book from the other side of the desk), you should be expected to carry the conversational load, while the interviewer sits back and decides if he or she is ready to buy what you’re selling.
Is it to your benefit to find yourself seated before Mr. Monologue? You might think so. After all, while he’s waxing poetic about the new cafeteria, you don’t have to worry about inserting your other foot in your mouth. No explaining that last firing or why you’ve had four jobs in three months. Nope, just sit back, relax, and try to stay awake.
But I don’t believe Mr. M. is doing you any favors. Someone who monopolizes the conversation doesn’t give you the opportunity you need to “strut your stuff.” You may want to avoid leaving a bad impression, but I doubt you want to leave no impression at all. As long as you follow the advice in this book and, especially, this chapter, you should welcome the savvy interviewer who asks the open – ended, probing questions he needs to identify the right person for the job-the same questions you need to convince him it’s you.


The “Out Of It” Interviewer

Yes, interviewers have been known to be drunk, stoned, or otherwise incapacitated. Some have spent virtually the entire time allotted to a candidate speaking on the phone or browsing E-mail. Others have gone off on tirades about interoffice disputes or turf wars.
If the interviewer treats you with such apparent indifference before you’re even hired, how do you expect him to act once you are hired? There is a boss out there willing to treat you with the same respect she would expect from you; it’s just not this one. Move on.


Time To Get Up Close And Personal

There are a number of styles and guiding philosophies when it comes to person-to-person interviews. The overall purpose, of course, is to screen you out if you lack the aptitudes (and attitudes) the company is looking for. Although experienced interviewers may use more than one strategy, it’s essential to know which mode you’re in at any given point and what to do about it. Here’s a summary of the methods and objectives of the most common approaches.


The Behavioral Interview

Your conversations with the interviewer will focus almost exclusively on your past experience as he tries to learn more about how you have already behaved in a variety of on-the-job situations. Then he will attempt to use this information to extrapolate your future reactions on the job.
How did you handle yourself in some really tight spots? What kinds of on-the-job disasters have you survived? Did you do the right thing? What were the repercussions of your decisions?
Be careful what you say. Every situation you faced was unique, so be sure to let the interviewer in on specific limitations you had to deal with. Did you lack adequate staff? Support from management? The latest software? If you made the mistake of plunging in too quickly, say so and admit that you’ve learned to think things through. Explain what you’d do differently the next time around.
Remember: Those interviewers using a behavioral interview are trying to ensure you can really walk the walk, not just talk the talk. So leave out the generalizations and philosophizing, and don’t get lost in the details. In other words, just tell them the problems you faced, the actions you took, and the results you achieved, without exaggeration.
Which is why composing three or four “stories” – actual experiences that illustrate your most important skills or qualifications – is important preparation. Just make sure to structure them in “Problem-Solution-Action” format.


The Team Interview

Today’s organizational hierarchies are becoming flatter. That means that people at every level of a company are more likely to become involved in a variety of projects and tasks, including interviewing you.
The team interview can range from a pleasant conversation to a torturous interrogation. Typically, you will meet with a group, or “team,” of interviewers around a table in a conference room. They may be members of your prospective department or a cross section of employees from throughout the company. (A slightly less stressful variation is the tag – team approach, in which a single questioner exits and is followed by a different questioner a few beforehand to expect a team interview.
The hiring manager or someone from Human Resources may chair an orderly session of question-and-answer, or he may turn the group loose to shoot questions at you like a firing squad. When it’s all over, you’ll have to survive the assessment of every member of the group.
Some hiring managers consult with the group after the interview for an evaluation of your performance. Others determine their decision using group consensus. The good news is that you don’t have to worry that the subjective opinion of just one person will determine your shot at the job. If one member of the group thinks you lacked confidence or came across as arrogant, others in the group may disagree. The interviewer who leveled the criticism will have to defend her opinion to the satisfaction of the group – or be shot down herself.
A group of people is also more likely (but not guaranteed) to ask you a broader range of questions that may uncover and underline your skills and expertise. Just take your time, and treat every member of the team with the same respect and deference you would the hiring manager.
If you face a series of separate interrogations with a variety of interviewers and are hit with many of the same questions, be sure to vary your answers. Cite different projects, experiences, successes, and even failures. Otherwise, when they meet to compare notes, you’ll come off as a “Johnny One Note.”


The Stress Interview

Formal qualifications are important, but in some jobs, the emotional demands, sudden emergencies, and breakneck pace of work can be downright intimidating – not once in a while, but every day. Even a candidate who knows all the technical moves may wilt under the glare of an etiquette – challenged boss or crumble when inheriting a surrealistically compressed deadline.
When you’re interviewing for such a position, whether you’re seeking a job as a stockbroker, an air traffic controller, or a prison guard, an interviewer may feel it’s almost meaningless to determine if you are capable of performing the job under the best conditions. He may well try to assess how you will do under the very worst conditions. And that’s where the stress interview comes in.
Anyone who’s been through one of these never forgets it. A common enough question in this setting could sound gruff or rude, which is exactly how it’s supposed to sound. Rather than a pleasant, “So, tell me about yourself,” a stress interviewer may snarl (literally), “So, why the hell should I hire you for anything?”
How do you know you’re facing a stress interview? Here are some techniques an interviewer may use:

  • He ridicules everything you say and questions why you’re even interviewing at his company.
  • He says nothing when you walk into the room … and for five minutes afterwards … then just stares at you after you answer his first question.
  • She keeps you waiting past the scheduled time, then keeps looking at her watch as you answer questions.
  • She stares out the window and seems to be completely uninterested in everything you have to say.
  • He challenges every answer, disagrees with every opinion, and interrupts you at every turn.
  • He doesn’t introduce himself when you walk in, just hits you with a tough question.
  • She takes phone calls, works on her computer, and/or eats lunch as you interview.
  • You may be seated in a broken chair, directly in front of a high-speed fan, or next to an open window … in the dead of winter.
If you are subjected to a stress interview, you may well question seeking a job with a company that utilizes such techniques. If they think insulting and belittling you during the interview are effective technique, what’s their management philosophy-gruel at nine, thumbscrews at two?
Don’t confuse a stress interview with a negative interview. In the latter, the interviewer merely stresses the negative aspects of the job at every opportunity. He may even make some up: “Would you have any problem cleaning the toilets every Saturday morning?” or “Is three hours of daily overtime a problem for you?”


The Case Interview

“You’re dealing with a publishing client. His printer just called and said the biggest book of the year had a typo on the spine. A bad typo. More than 100,000 books have already been printed. What should he do?”
There’s nothing quite like the terror of the hypothetical question. Especially when it is a product of the interviewer’s rich imagination. It’s your signal that you are about to undergo an increasingly popular type of interview – the case (or situational) interview. If you are seeking a job at a consulting firm, law firm, or counseling or organization, you should expect to confront this type of interview.
The premise is sound: Present the candidate with situations that might, hypothetically, occur on the job, in order to gauge the degree to which he or she demonstrates the traits that will lead to success. It’s hard, if not possible, for you to prepare for these kinds of questions beforehand, which means you have to analyze an unfamiliar problem and develop a strategy to solve it, right then and there.
What most interviewers want to see is a combination of real-world experience, inspired creativity, and the willingness to acknowledge when more information or assistance is in order.
(Many interviewers will pose hypothetical questions designed to smoke out people who find it difficult to reach out to other team members for help.) They want to understand how you approach a problem, the framework within which you seek a solution, and the thought process you utilize. You will have to devote a great deal of thought to each of these questions. Here are some tips for confronting a case interview:

  • Take notes on the problem that’s presented. Ask questions about the details. Be aware that not all information is pertinent to the solution. (That wily interview!)
  • Avoid generalizations. The interviewer will want to hear concrete steps that will lead to a solution, not your philosophy of how to approach the problem.
  • Don’t get lost in the details. The interviewer wants to see how you approach the broad problem, so set your sights on the most important factors.
  • Ask questions.
  • Share your thoughts – out loud. That’s really what the interviewer wants to hear.
  • Resist the urge for speed; take your time. The more complicated the problem, the more time you’re expected to take.
  • There’s nothing wrong with a creative approach, but it should always be in a logical framework.
  • Ask questions!
While case interviews are geared to upper-echelon candidates, candidates for many different kinds of jobs may be given the opportunity to “walk the walk” (show what they can actually do on the job): Clerks may be given typing or filing tests; copy editors given minutes to edit a magazine article or book chapter; a salesperson may be asked to telephone and sell a prospect; and a computer programmer may be required to create some code. The more technical the job, the more likely an interviewer will not simply take you at your word that you are capable of doing it.


The Brainteaser Interview

As Microsoft interviewers have famously been known to ask, “How would you move Mt. Fuji?” The list of questions designed to assess how creatively you approach a problem, as opposed to the logical approach case interviews are designed to highlight, are virtually unlimited:

  • How many oil wells are there in Texas?
  • How many dentists are there in Poland?
  • How would you build a better mousetrap?
Most of the same tips I gave you when approaching a case interviewer are still appropriate – take your time, ask pertinent questions, then talk through the approach you would take to answer the question.


What The Interviewer Wants To See And Hear

What will the hiring manager be looking and listening for, right from the moment she meets you? Here’s the advice I gave her in my book, Ask the Right Questions, Hire the Best People:


What To Look For: The Initial Greeting

When you first encourage the candidate, silently ask yourself questions like the ones listed below. The more often you can answer “yes,” the more likely it is that you’ve hooked up with a poised, confident candidate. Of course, no one is suggesting that confidence and social grace can compensate for a lack of ability in the workplace. But, in a perfect world, wouldn’t you prefer to work with someone who meets all the formal qualifications … and has enough self-confidence to interact effectively with others?

  • Did the candidate grip your hand firmly, avoiding both the “bone-crusher” and the “wet fish” approach?
  • Did the candidate shake your hand with a sense of purpose?
  • Did the candidate use one hand? (A two handed shake is usually regarded as a sign of over-familiarity at the outset of the first meeting, though there are some regional/cultural exceptions to this rule.)
  • Did the candidate look you in the eye?
  • Did the candidate smile?
  • Did the candidate use your name when greeting you?


What To Look For: Body Language

Once the candidate takes a seat, you’ll be doing the lion’s share of the talking to begin the meeting. After you have put the person at ease by asking a few rapport-building questions, begin to monitor his or her gaze, physical posture, and general bearing. Use the questions below as a rough guide-line, and make discreet notes as the interview moves forward. The more “yes” answers you record, the more comfortable (and, presumably, forthcoming) the person is likely to feel interacting with you.

  • Does the candidate make appropriate intermittent eye contact with you – neither staring you down nor avoiding your gaze?
  • Is eye contact broken only at natural points in the discussion, rather than suddenly, such as in the middle of an exchange?
  • Is the candidate’s mouth relaxed? (A tightly clenched jaw, pursed lips, or a forced, unnatural smile may indicate problems handling stress.)
  • Are the candidate’s forehead and eyebrows relaxed? (Ditto.)
  • Does the candidate occasionally smile naturally?
  • Does the person avoid nodding very rapidly for long periods of time while you’re speaking? (This is shorthand for “Be quiet and let me say something now,” and it is inappropriate in an interview setting.)
  • Does the candidate move his or her hands so much or in such a weird manner that you actually notice? (Constant twitching, may mean you’re dealing with a person who simply can’t calm down. Yes, an interview is an unsettling experience, but so are some of the tasks this person will have to perform on the job!)
  • On a similar note, does the candidate avoid shuffling and tapping his or her feet?
  • Is the candidate’s posture good? (Chair-slumbers send an unfortunate silent message: “I’m not even trying to make a good impression.” If you hire them, you may encounter that message on a daily basis.)
  • Are the candidate’s eyes usually gazing forward rather than darting all over the room?
  • Is the candidate’s head upright?
  • Does the candidate tend to sit with crossed arms? (This may signal either a confrontational attitude or a sense of deep insecurity, neither of which is a great sign.)
  • Does the person appear to be breathing regularly and deeply?
  • Is the person’s personal hygiene and grooming acceptable? (In other words, would you want to sit next to this person during a long meeting? Ask yourself: if the candidate won’t make an effort to clean up his or her act for a job interview, what will the average workday be like?)


What To Listen For

What the candidate says is certainly important, but so is how he or she says it. Make circumspect written notes if you cannot answer “yes” to all of the following questions during the interview. Three or more such notes during the course of a half-hour interview could indicate a problem with social skills.

  • Does the candidate respond in a clear, comprehensible, and confident tone of voice?
  • Does the candidate avoid prolonged pauses in the middle of sentences?
  • Is the candidate’s speaking rhythm consistent and appropriate?
  • Does the candidate avoid rambling answers?
  • Does each of the candidate’s answers have a clear concluding point, or do they all seem to just trail off into nothingness?
  • Does the candidate avoid interrupting you? (Breaking in while a representative of a prospective future employer is speaking shows poor judgment and underdeveloped people skills.)
  • Does the candidate take time to consider difficult questions before plunging in to answer them?
  • Does the candidate ask for additional information or clarification when dealing with complex or incomplete questions?
  • Does the candidate offer answers that are consistent with one another?
As you monitor nonverbal signals during the interview, bear in mind that physical actions and vocal delivery should support the answers the interviewee passes along. A candidate who assures you that he has what it takes to ride the ups and downs of a career in sales but looks pale and shell-shocked when you mention that you’re interviewing other candidates, is sending two very different messages. The lyrics may be saying “I can handle rejection,” but the music doesn’t quite support that contention!


Smart Interview Questions For Your New Boss
Basic Questions

Revisit those basic questions you tried to answer through your research and those you asked the agency, recruiter, headhunter, or Human Resources department. If you’ve gotten satisfactory answers to them, you don’t need to ask them again. Whatever questions remain from this first list, ask them.
Then add a few more:
Please explain the (department, division) company’s organizational chart.
Can you give me a more detailed understanding of what my days might be like?
Are there specific challenges you are facing right now? Will I be in a position to help you overcome them?
What are the department’s specific objectives for the next three months?
After you hear them, of course, you will do two things: wrack your brain for specific examples from your experience or education that will convince him you can help him reach those goals. And ask more follow-up questions about how your job responsibilities will impact them.
Why three months? That’s the length of your probable probation period.
You and (one of his important competitors) have many similar products (or offer similar services). What sets you apart from them? What’s different about the way you do things? What’s different about their corporate structure, mission, or philosophy?
How fast is the company growing? Is management happy with that rate, or do you have expansion plans in mind?
Growth can be a double-edged sword: Faster top-line growth (i.e., greater sales) could mean an opportunity to climb the career ladder faster than usual.
It could also characterize a company that spends itself into oblivion trying to buy sales. (See “do-com.”)
What is the company’s ranking within the industry? Does this position represent a change from where it was a few years ago?
You should already have some indication of the answer to this question from your initial research, particularly if the company is publicly owned, if your question: “I’ve read that the company has risen from fifth to second in market share in just the past three years. What are the key reasons for this dramatic success?”
How do you see me working with each of the department heads?
How would my performance be measured in this position? How is the department’s performance measured?
Probing questions
The previous basic questions, and many of those you asked during your research or while interviewing with an agency, recruiter, headhunter, or screening interviewer, are almost solely to fill in your overall portrait of the company as a whole. Once you have established in your own mind that you are truly interested in the company, you will want to ask detailed questions designed to elicit specific information about the department, the job, and the people: What are the things you would most like to see changed in this (section, department, group, division, company)?
Are there plans for new products or services I need to know about?
When may I meet some of my potential colleagues (or subordinates). Are they part of the interviewing process here?
Including lower-level employees in the process proves that the company values its employee’s opinion and realizes that just adding some stranger to the team by executive fiat isn’t an effective way to show your employees how important they are to you. Nor does it do much for “team building” or any of those other corporate mantras that get thrown around.
How will you weight your subordinates’ input with your own assessment of my candidacy?
Or (to the subordinates).
What kind of feedback does your boss expect you to give him? How much weight has he given it in the past?
You can never be sure how much influence anyone has with the ultimate decision maker. I once interviewed at a company where a prospective new salesperson had to meet briefly with each of the seven sales managers, although the Vice President of Sales was the ultimate decision maker. Well, one of the two female managers (not the best or the brightest, I might add) was sleeping with the boss. I’m not sure how I would have ever found that out (it took me a few months at the company before the gossip reached my virginal ears), but it tends to emphasize the importance of treating everyone you meet with courtesy, respect, and professionalism. And that you can’t easily discern who is going to be a key factor in your hiring … or your being passed over.
Even if the above lady wasn’t sleeping with the boss, I guarantee if three or maybe even two of the sales managers had decided I “wouldn’t fit in,” that particular VP would have never hired me. Some bosses are more influenced than others, which leads to a good question if you’re put in a similar situation: Are there a lot of after-hours business events I will be expected to attend?
How much travel should I expect to do in a typical month? Are there distinct periods of heavier travel?
Do you have a lot of employees working flextime or telecommuting?
Make sure you’re careful not to imply this is one of your requirements, especially if the answer is a frosty, “No. everybody works nine to six, and I value punctuality.”
What has the turnover been in this department in the last couple of years?
Are you about to join a department that goes through salespeople like water through a hose? Who cares about the size of your raise and bonus if you won’t be there in 60 days?
How many hours a week do you expect your star employees to put in? How much overtime does this position typically involve? How many weekends a year would I be expected to work?
Please tell me a little bit about the people with whom I’ll be working most closely.”
I wish someone had told me about this question before my last job interview! The answer can tell you so many things: How good your potential colleagues really are at their jobs, how much you are likely to learn from them, and, most important, whether the hiring manager seems enthusiastic about his team. A hiring manager usually tries to put on her best face during an interview, just like you. But catching the interviewer off guard with this question may give you a glimpse of the real feelings hiding behind her game face.
If she doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about her current team, it may not be one you’d be particularly thrilled to join. This hiring manager may attribute little success, and perhaps a lot of headaches, to the people who work for her. Is that the kind of boss you want?
What is the department’s budget?
Who is part of the planning process?
How much budgetary responsibility would I have?
I don’t care if you’re interviewing for the lowest position in the organization and the answer is, “Are you kidding? You won’t be able to buy paper clips without submitting a 6-part form and getting 14 signatures!” This question shows that you are willing to take responsibility and understand the importance of doing so in order to move up the career ladder. Ask it.
Can you give me a better idea of the kinds of decisions I could make (or amounts of money I could spend) without oversight?
This is a question for anyone above the lowest level; it will help clarify what level of power you’re really being handed and will give you greater insight into how centralized the company is. If you are at a fairly high level (manager, director, VP) and the answer is “Oh, anything under $100; after that, you have to check with me,” you may have just learned more than you really wanted to know about the limitations of your “power.” In fact, at that supposed level, such an answer should send you running for the hills. I know receptionists who have more discretionary power!
Similarly, if you expect to have people reporting to you, your ability to hire and fire and your involvement in interviewing candidates for your own team should reflect your level of management, but it will also reflect the corporate structure and culture. I once worked for a medium-sized trade magazine publisher (400 people at headquarters, 100 more in regional offices) at which only the two owners had private secretaries. Everyone else, including the vice-president of sales, operations, production, circulation, and editorial, shared secretaries. Even after I reached management level, I was still sharing a secretary with one other manager and three salespeople!
What would you like to be able to say about your new hire one year from now?
What is the one thing I could do during my first three months on the job that would really get your attention?
How has this job been performed in the past?
What do you see as the key goals for the company during the next year? For my department? For this job?
How do you see my role evolving in the first two years? What would be the most logical areas for me to evolve into?
What do you think my biggest challenge will be if I start working for you?
Now, if a manager takes this question personally- interpreting it as “What problems am I going to have with you?” – That would tell me something about the manager. Perhaps he’s a little self-centered? Perhaps he’s prone to define your success by how well you get along with him, as opposed to how good a job you do?
On the other hand, she may blurt out, “Roberta,” or some other name you soon find out is the “problem” member of the team. Your potential team. Or it may just elicit a detailed monologue about competition, products, services, and/or the economy.
Whatever answer you get should give you a much better idea of how this interviewer thinks as a boss and what he sees as the focus of his job.
It’s a matter of style
Even if you are comfortable with the job, the department, and the company – and have has most or all of your questions about them answered – never underestimate the importance of your boss’s style, the corporate culture, and how you will mesh with both. The next two sections offer questions to make sure you achieve a comfy fit.
How would you describe your management style? Would you say that it’s similar to others in the organization, or do you consider yourself a bit of a maverick?
When’s the last time you got really angry at one of your subordinates? What was the cause? What did you do? Has anything similar happened since? Did you react differently?
In your experience, are there particular types of people you seem to work better with than others?
This is a not-so-veiled attempt to define yourself according to the attributes the manager cites, presuming, of course, that the type of person he describes isn’t so remote from your own personality as to be laughed.
What particular traits do you value most in your subordinates?
Again, tell me what you want to hear, Mr. Manager, so I can tell you that I’m all that!
What kinds of people seem to succeed in this company? In this department? Working for you?
How do you define success?
Tell me about the last time one of your subordinates made a major mistake. What did he or she do? What did you do? How did that work out? What’s your philosophy about mistakes?
How do you measure your own success?
What do you think your responsibility is to develop you people? Would you cite some examples of which you’re particularly proud?


Questions About The Culture, Chemistry, Fit

What have you enjoyed most about working here?
What have you liked least?
What do you like best about this company? Why?
If the interviewer hems and haws a lot over this one, it may indicate that she doesn’t really like the company at all.
If she’s instantly enthusiastic, her answer should help sell you on her and the company.
The answer to this question can also give you a good sense of the values of the organization and the hiring manager. If she talks about nothing but products or how well her stock options are doing, it may indicate a lack of enthusiasm for the “people side” of the business.
What is your history with the company?
What’s keeping you here now?
There are a lot of reasons to ask these questions, and to ask them early. You’ll get a better feel for where the interviewer came from – up through the ranks (and the specific rungs along the way) or from outside the company, for example. How long he stayed at each position – is he a mover and shaker or a plodder? Whether he’s been there long enough to give you an accurate feel of the culture.
The second question is an especially important one to ask of the person to whom you’ll be reporting. Again, if the word “people” isn’t part of her answer, what does that tell you about her leadership or management style? If the reasons are all financial, I would question his dedication to the core culture … and even whether I could count on him sticking around if another company dangled a bigger carrot in his face.


Semi-Closing Questions

In the next chapter, we’ll discuss in more detail how to identify hidden objections to your candidacy, how to confront them, and how to ask for the job offer – questions designed to “close the sale.” But there are questions a step below (or before, if you prefer), what I’ve called “semi-closing questions,” that are designed to indicate your strong interest in the position and elicit more of the information you need to weigh a potential offer:
Are there problems that keep you awake?
(Follow up) what could I do to make you sleep better?
(Alternate) How could I make your life easier?
How will we work together to establish objectives and deadlines in the first months of this job?
This is a nice way to find out how much input you will have or whether you’re heading into a fait accompli – “Glad you’re here, Ron. Here’s the plan for the next three months. Do it.”
Do my qualifications (experience, education, demeanor, outlook, spirit) remind you of another employee who succeeded at this job?
What are your own goals for the coming year?
How do you think I could specifically help you achieve them?
If you were me, what are the three specific goals you would set for your first three months on the job?
What are three things that need immediate attention?
What skills are in short supply here?
Are there other things you would like someone to do that are not considered formal parts of the job?
What is the first problem I should tackle?
What’s the one thing I can do right at this job to assure my success? What’s the one thing that would assure failure?
Would it be possible to talk with ------- (the other department heads with whom I’d be working, my team, my boss, some of my potential colleagues/peers)?
Is there anything else you feel it is vital I know about the company (department, job, your expectations, etc.)?
This is the last “non-closing” question to ask. It is designed to give the interviewer every opportunity to tell you anything else he deems important.


A Little Knowledge Is Powerful

The more research you’ve done, the easier it will be to incorporate what you’ve learned into great questions. In the same vein, the way you phrase a question can effectively show the interviewer how well you’ve been listening and absorbing his pearls of wisdom:
The job seems to be in state of flux. What’s your impression?
Although your ad indicated that computer experience was the primary qualification, I got the impression from our talk so far that building a new team is your major concern. Do you agree?
Your company appears to be (team oriented, helter skelter, highly charged, serious, fun, etc.). do you think that’s an accurate assessment? If yes, can you tell me more about how that culture will impact how I work? If no, how would you describe it?


Timing Can Be Everything

If the absolutely perfect candidate walked in the door first thing Monday morning, I don’t know any hiring managers who would simply hire him on the spot and tell everyone else to pound salt. Even if he was everything the manager could ever asked for … and more! Why? Human nature: “I’ve got to see more than one candidate or I won’t have anyone you compare him to. How can I just hire the first person who comes through the door? What would my boss think? That I’m too impulsive? Giving the interviewing process short shrift? A poor interviewer?”
The further along they are in the process, the better it probably is for you. Ever watch an ice skating competition? No one wants to go first, do they? (And the champ never does, does she? Hmmm.) why? Even if the first skater were flawless, crafting a performance that demanded top marks, she’s never get them. If the judges gave her the highest marks, what would they do for one of the skaters who followed with an even better performance?
What if you’re near the end of the process or even, ideally, the very last person interviewed? You are the person right in front of them – living, breathing, laughing, selling, questioning, impressing. Even if there was someone marginally better than you, that was hours, days, even weeks ago! Whatever impression that earlier candidate made, no matter how strong, is already fading. And there you are, saying all the right things, asking all the smart questions.
Remember what I said about how job descriptions are sometimes more fluid and changeable than employers would ever admit? By the time an interviewer gets near the end of the process, the job description has undoubtedly been altered by all those other candidates. Whatever unrealistic expectations he had at the beginning have been thrown out the window, because too many candidates proved to him they were wrong. He’s measuring you by a completely new yardstick, one refined by all those other interviewees.
They’ve raised questions in his mind, too. Things he hadn’t thought about before. So he’s thinking differently not just about the job, but about the candidates.
Could one of those earlier candidates now be better qualified for the resulting job than you? Maybe. But if you make a sterling impression and say all the right things, the interviewer may never sift through that old stack of numbers or revisit his pages of notes. Out of sight, out of mind, when can you start?

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