Don’t Forget to Interview the Interviewers

Interviews: don’t forget that you are interviewing them, too!

Looking back on all the job interviews I’ve had that didn’t go well, I can see that while it’s true I didn’t pass the real-world tests required to get a job offer, in almost every case the employer wasn’t a good match for me either.

Of course, I can only see this in hindsight and from the warm fuzzy comfort of being settled into the career that has worked out for me.

Going into an interview, we are usually nervous, really want the job, and are prepared to answer lots of questions—thinking of it as a one-way grilling. But it is equally important to ask lots of questions (both so you get info you need and so that you seem like an engaged person).

As you are nervously preparing to “pass the test” that is the interview, here are 5 things you should be interviewing them about:

1 Be sure to ask questions

The interviewee has to be ready to ask and answer questions. This means doing your homework before the interview to achieve success in asking questions. Asking obvious questions about the job or the company just makes you look like and under-prepared candidate ill-suited to the job. But asking for detailed descriptions of how certain processes you have researched play out make you look smart, especially if you can start by using an example you know (from previous experience) and asking them to compare and contrast with their approach.

EXAMPLE “At my internship with Company X the sales process typically took about two weeks from the initial call and included a visit, a follow up call and a final email. How is the sales process here at Company Y similar or different from that?”

NOTE: be sure to pass no judgment at all about your experience at Company X. You just want to show that you understood the process used; not judge whether it was good or bad.

The dailymuse recently posted this list of questions to ask and to avoid asking.

2 Answer some questions with questions

This is a great way to find out more about the job your are interviewing for. And then you can use the information you get to provide a richer answer to the original question that was asked of you.

You have to tread carefully for this to work, but interviewers are usually happy to explain something about the job, company, or their work. Remember: people always want to talk about themselves so if you can plug into an interviewer’s own professional passions, you can get a lot of information while being an engaging candidate.

These question can be “what methodology / approach would you use in a given situation?” Ideally, you would first say something like “I know that A, B, and C are the most common approaches used,” then you can ask “does the department / company have a policy or preferred approach?” That might get the interviewer talking and you can listen carefully for hints to how you should answer or you can be checking your mental files for examples from your own experience that comply with the preferred approach that is being described.

Then after the interviewer provides you with some details, you can still answer the question by providing specific context to show how you would uniquely address the situation they posed to you in the original question.

3 Ask about the unique features of the workplace culture at the company

Most companies are known for some aspect of their workplace culture: family-friendly, lots of working from home, teams versus independent work.

Show that you have done your homework and know about the external reputation of the workplace culture, then ask a specific question about it. “I know company X is famous for its balance of collaboration and working from home. What technologies do you use to strike that balance?” In the ensuing conversation, you might be able to show of your experience with some of the technologies they use or other ones that they haven’t used yet, but that you could bring to bear if they hired you.

This might be a good opportunity to get an interviewer to talk about her professional experiences. “What is your preferred technology for collaborating over distance?” “How have you had to troubleshoot those technologies?” “Are there any that really save you time? Others that cost you time?”

4 Determine if there is divisiveness among the people interviewing you

Notice if during the interview process various members of the committee are snapping at each other or using body language that shows they do not get along. Also be aware of any divisive comments one person makes about the workplace or colleagues when you are one-on-one with them.

Don’t ask specific questions about this, but be sure you are taking in this information as part of you interviewing them to see if it’s a good fit.

5 Find out if there is disagreement about you as a candidate

Sometimes it will seem that one interviewer is really on your side: tossing you softballs, helping you answer your questions and otherwise doing everything possible to make you look like the winning candidate. And another interviewer seems to have no interest in you at all—the questions from this person seem to do nothing but point out your weaknesses either by stumping you or by literally pointing out qualifications that you lack.

I’ve had the experience of one person clearly being annoyed that she had to even bother with the interview. It was clearly cutting into precious time she wanted to spend doing something else (probably hiring the perfect candidate who they’d already interviewed!) In hindsight it is as clear to me as it was to her that I was not the right person for that job.

On the other hand, disagreement about you as the candidate can be a productive part of the process and the “good cop, bad cop” routine might just be a way for colleagues who otherwise get along to see how you react to different approaches. But look for signs of deeper strife in the workplace (#4)

Again, don’t ask specific questions about this, but be sure you are taking in this information as part of you interviewing them to see if it’s a good fit for you.

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