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What questions do you have for me?

2011 April 1
by Shannon Lowder

This might be my last interview question I cover for a while.  It’s been a great run, but there are so many more topics in career development I want to cover.  If you have any tough interview questions you’d like me to cover, please send them in, and I’ll discuss them here.

For now, let’s jump into one of the most open ended questions I get asked.  “What questions do you have for me?”

This is your chance to show how engaged you are in the interview process.  It’s also your chance to find out the key things you need to know in how to plan your next steps.  Here are some key questions that I usually ask when they open the floor to my questions.

1. Why is this position open?

Why do I want to know?  Well, I’d like to know if they are churning through people quickly in this position.  If they are, then I can do some digging online to find out why they are churning through people so quickly.  I need to find out if the turnover is due to the previous employees or if the employer has unrealistic expectations for those they’ve placed in this role before.  It’s good to know this in order to be prepared for what they’ll throw at you!

2. How would you describe the culture here?

What am I looking for?  Do they have a good work-home balance?  Are they going to expect me to work 24-7?  Are my would-be team-mates easy going?  Am I going to have to wear a pressed suit every day, or will I see people roaming the halls in shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt?  Do they value continuing education?  Are they open to creative out-of-the-box ideas, or are they procedural and by-the-books?  Again, I want to know how they operate, and how will I fit in.

3. When do you expect to make a hiring decision?

I never ask this first, I want to engage them a bit more before I ask this question.  I want to show them I have questions for them, just as they had questions for me.  I want them to see how I’m judging them and how they fit me, as well as they’re judging me as a fit for the role.  Once that is established I ask this.  I want to know their time-line.  If I get a vague answer, I will probe gently for a specific, but if they keep it vague, I take that as my answer and move on. 

Generally a vague response here is a bad sign.  It indicates lack of planning on their part.

4. How would you describe your management style?

If you’re interviewing with your would-be manager, ask this question.  I like to get in the head of my managers.  I want to see how they deal with their responsibilities.  I also want to see how they will respond to me.  The more open and honest you can get your manager about how they work, and how they manage, the more comfortable I am with them as a person… and if things go well, as a manager.

5. Can you describe a typical day or week in the position?

If you haven’t covered this already, ask.  I like to see what their expectations are going to be on a day-by-day basis.  As a Database Engineer I can be a little of everything, a programmer, an administrator, a consultant, a business analyst.  I need to know how they see me fitting in.  I also need to know they have some idea of what they need me to do.  I’ll be honest, I’ve started a few jobs where they weren’t exactly sure what to do with me once they got me.

I’m not a fan of those situations.  If they don’t know what they want you to do… how are you supposed to know?  It can make for some tough times until you work that out.  It’s best to get a good idea of what’s expected before day one!

6. What are the biggest challenges or obstacles the person in this position will face?

I like to have an idea of what they think the challenges will be.  Do they mention technical problems, or personnel problems first?  This answer can be very  enlightening on what you’re going to see when you start.  If they mention technical challenges first, are the challenges they’ve listed your strengths?  If not, you’ve got some studying to do! 

7. What would a successful first year in the position look like?

I like to ask this one because it shows them you’re a planner.  You like to take the long view.  Honestly, that’s just who I am.  I have a short term plan (up to about 3 months), a medium term plan (up to about 2 years), and a long term plan (up through retirement).  I like to have a road map to follow.  I like to know what the would-be manager sees when he or she looks at that map.  I want to know if it’s compatible with my road map.

Are we headed in the same direction? 

8. How will the success of the person in this position be measured?

A great follow-up to the last question is how does the manager measure success?  What metrics will you be able to use to measure yourself and how you perform on this job.  If you don’t have metrics how will you know you’re doing a good job, and just as important, how will your manager know?  If you can’t establish these metrics before you start… will you be able to after you start?

9. Thinking back to the person whom you’ve seen do this job best, what made their performance so outstanding?

I like to ask this question because I’m competitive.  I want to know what is consider good, and what do they consider outstanding?  Because my goal will be nothing short of shattering those records set before me.  I want to be will be the the best person in this role they’ve ever had.

I want them to know that’s my plan before I start.

10. Are there reservations you have about my fit for the position?

If you get any vibes from the interviewer that they haven’t already decided to invite you to join them, this is where you can make up some ground.  You can ask them what they feel your weaknesses are, and speak directly to those perceptions.  Even if you don’t convince them, you need to know what they perceive your weaknesses as, so that in your next interview, you can keep from getting that same result.

If you know what they think is your weakness is, you have to ask yourself “is this my weakness?” 

If it isn’t, discuss some times you’ve successfully dealt with those topics in previous jobs.  Tell them stories, describe how you were able to handle those problems before.  If you’re passionate enough, you can beat negative perceptions.  It’s all about how you deal with them!

What questions have you asked when the floor was given to you?  Would you suggest others ask those questions?  If so, please share them below, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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