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Never ld Initiate Chapter 3: When to Question Chapter 4: Do Your Homework Chapter 5: Do You Mind If I Take Notes? PART II INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER Chapter 6: Questions for Headhunters, Recruiters, and Staffing Agencies Chapter 7: Questions for Human Resources Chapter 8: Questions for Hiring Managers vii 69 81 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. CONTENTS PART III THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE Chapter 9: Exploring Questions Chapter 10: Defensive Questions Chapter 11: Feedback Questions Chapter 12: Bid-for-Action Questions Chapter 13: Questions for Superstars Chapter 14: You Got an Offer. Congratulations! Chapter 15: You Blew the Interview. Now What? Index of Questions Index 103 109 117 123 127 139 147 153 161 189 viii FOREWORD job, but the path taken--the relationship to work throughout life. And as John demonstrates so compellingly in this book, empowerment begins with the questions applicants ask. So much creativity and insight has gone into the concept of the "informational interview," thanks largely to Richard Bolles and his marvelous classic, What Color Is Your Parachute? For job seekers, the informational interview at once reduces stress, manages expectations, and elicits--what else?--information. For the employer, the informational interview is just as useful. But John has gone the process one better. In showing job seekers how to interview interviewers, he has taken the informational interview to the next level. As this practice takes hold, the benefits to employees and employers alike will be palpable. How do I know this? Because empowerment doesn't happen as some sort of grand revelation; it's in the details, the small etchings on the clean slate, the right questions asked in the right way, at the right time. And because, for me, this process really worked--though I couldn't have described it as such at the time. I was born and went to school in the small community of Tarboro, North Carolina. I recognized in John's book a road map of my own early experiences. As a young girl, I saw how people's lives were shaped by their career opportunities, and I sensed that my own advancement was keyed to the kind of inquisitor I was. As a student in Project Upward Bound, a program for academically achieving, college-bound, disadvantaged students, I left North Carolina to expand my education, eventually working at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Throughout my journey, one common thread emerged: The quality of the answers I received was related directly to the pointed nature of the questions I asked. The more engaged I was, the more those around me responded. This process was nonverbal as well as verbal. Without articulating it even to myself, I was advancing my credentials by being proactive and perhaps, now and again, a bit provocative. Today, having founded a company in the business of helping people transform jobs into meaningful careers (and, yes, become empow- x FOREWORD ered), I can say without reservation that even in an unsettled economy, talent will out. Good people, by definition, take charge. The interview is your fresh start. We can thank John Kador that it will never again be a blank sheet. JANICE BRYANT HOWROYD Founder, CEO, Chairman, ACT-1 Personnel Services Torrance, California xi This page intentionally left blank. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Professionals in the staffing industry may be among the hardest-working people in the world. I am gratified to be able to acknowledge so many excellent people who carved time out of their busy days to help me with this book. To these authorities, staffing professionals all, I express my gratitude: Anna Braasch, Kimberly Bedore, Janice Brookshier, Kate Brothers, Robert Conlin, Bryan Debenport, Mariette Durack Edwards, Sandra Grabczynski, Jeanette Grill, Scott Hagen, Joel Hamroff, Charles Handler, Beau Harris, Bob Johnson, Kathi Jones, Robin M. Johnson, Richard Kathnelson, Wayne Kale, Houston Landry, Grant Lehman, Joeseph LePla, Nancy Levine, Sonja C. Parker, Liz Reiersen, Jve me were great. The book was right there in the Career Section, just where you said it would be. AUTHOR: That's great. Well, I appreciate your interest in my book. Please make yourself comfortable. Can I get you a cup of coffee? READER: Thank you, no. Maybe later. AUTHOR: As you know, we will be talking to you about buying this book. This book gives you a powerful approach to job interviewing by teaching you to ask questions that put the candidate in the best light possible. By asking the right questions you can quickly demonstrate the unique value proposition you alone offer and highlight why you can immediately ease the business pain of the company you are interviewing with. READER: A problem-solution approach. Sounds promising. Do you mind if I take notes? AUTHOR: Not at all. Now, we hope to use this exchange to get to know each other better. Maybe you can start by telling me about how you expect this book to advance your career objectives. READER: In my job interviews, I want to be ready to ask questions of such intelligence and elegance that they knock the interviewer's socks off and immediately set me apart as a force to be reckoned with. AUTHOR: I like the way you put that. xviii INTRODUCTION READER: I want my questions to reinforce the reality that I am conspicuously the best person for the job and then to ask for the job in a way that the interviewer will want to endorse my application and recommend making me the strongest offer possible. AUTHOR: This book will certainly help you do that. At this point, allow me to describe the book to you in terms of its content and how I structured it to help you make an immediately favorable impression at job interviews. In this way, you will have the information you need to make a determination about whether purchasing this book will advance your career objectives. Our book-buying philosophy here at McGraw-Hill is that either a book-buying decision is a good two-way fit, or it's not a fit at all. How does that sound? READER: It sounds great. May I ask a question? AUTHOR: Yes, of course. READER: You asked me about my requirements. What are your requirements? AUTHOR: My requirements are simple. Do you have $12.95? READER: Yes. AUTHOR: You've satisfied my requirements. READER: $12.95? Is that all? I would have thought a book of this earthshaking value would cost a lot more. AUTHOR: I appreciate the flattery, but this book is not about sucking up. Sweet talk is not going to advance your career. Questions framed with intelligence and presented strategically will. So let me give you a quick description of what the book offers. The book has three sections. Part I discusses the rules for asking the best questions. Chapter 1, "Why You Have to Question," reviews why it is imperative to have questions and offers some guidelines for asking questions in the strongest way possible. Chapter 2, "Questions You Should Never Initiate," tells you what subject areas to avoid. Chapxix INTRODUCTION ters 3, "When to Question," 4, "Do Your Homework," and 5, "Do You Mind If I Take Notes?" deal with the issues of timing, research, and note taking, respectively. Part II lists most of the 201 best questions promised in the title. These are the questions you will use to form the basis of the questions you ask in your next job interview. Some questions are most appropriate for different types of interview situations. Chapters 6, "Questions for Headhunters, Recruiters, and Staffing Agencies," 7, "Questions for Human Resources," and 8, "Questions for Hiring Managers," list the questions that each of these groups will find particularly meaningful. I hope you find Part III especially useful. It deals with the most common job interview scenarios and recommends killer questions for each. For example, Chapter 9, "Exploring Questions," looks at questions that demonstrate your interest in the job and the company. Chapter 10, "Defensive Questions," helps protect you from taking the wrong job. Chapter 11, "Feedback Questions," focuses on questions that allow the interviewer to identify objections souestions emphasize that you are taking an active role in the job selection process, not leaving the interviewer to do all the work. Active is good. Great questions demonstrate that, far from being a passive participant, you are action-oriented and engaged, reinforcing your interest in the job. Asking questions is an excellent way to demonstrate your sophistication and qualifications. The questions you choose indicate your depth of knowledge of your field as well as your general level of intelligence. Asking questions also enables you to break down the formal interviewer-candidate relationship, establish an easy flow of conversation, and build trust and rapport. The matter of rapport is critical. Remember, most finalists for a job are more or less evenly matched in terms of qualifications. What gives the winning candidate the nod is rapport. 7 THE RULES OF THE GAME Your questions steer the interview the way you want it to go. Questions are a form of control. You can also use questions to divert an interviewer's line of questioning. If you sense the interviewer is leading up to a subject that you'd rather avoid--your job hopping, for example-- ask a question about another topic. After a lengthy exchange, the interviewer might not return to her original line of questioning. The more senior the position you are seeking, the more important it is to ask sophisticated and tough questions. Such questions demonstrate your understanding of the subtext and context of the position, as well as your confidence in challenging the interviewer. Hiring managers will judge you as much on the inquiries you make as on the responses you provide. If you don't ask sufficiently detailed questions, it will demonstrate lack of initiative and leadership qualities that a senior-level position demands. CAN'T I JUST WING IT? Imagine that tomorrow you are giving the senior decision makers in your organization the most important presentation of your career. Your future at the company literally depends on the outcome. Would you wing it? Well, the situation I've just described is your next job interview. It's a presentation. The agenda: your future at the company. In the audience: the senior decision makers required to authorize offering you a position. Everyone is looking at you to shine. Now, given the stakes, are you willing to wing it? If you're comfortable with working like that, there's little need to read further. Some applicants believe that spontaneity can make up for lack of strategic planning. But spontaneity, in cases such as this, can be indistinguishable from laziness and lack of preparation. Interviewers, professionals themselves, really want you to prepare for the interview as they did. Preparation is professionalism in action. It's common sense. It's courtesy. It works. WRITE YOUR QUESTIONS DOWN You've secured a job interview. Great. The first thing you do is homework (see Chapter 4 for a discussion on researching the company). The second thing you do is write down the questions you will ask. 8 WHY YOU HAVE TO QUESTION Some job seekers are uncertain about whether they should write down their questions. If they do, should they bring them to the interview? The answer to both questions is yes. Doesn't that look, well, premeditated? Of course it does. That's the effect you want. See Chapter 5 for a fuller discussion of the issues around taking notes. "I've always found that the most important thing at a job interview is to have a list of questions prepared before going in," says Kate Brothers, director of grants administration at Keuka College in Keuka Park, New York. "It accomplishes two things: It makes you look like you've done your homework, and it fills the awkward silences when the interviewer runs out of things to ask you. Also, it puts at least a portion of the interview in your control." Writing down your questions accomplishes a number of useful objectives. It helps articulate your thoughts. Your questions should be as crisp as your shirt or blouse. Write them down, practice reading them aloud, and edit untiled, we will have to differentiate the product, right? What specifically is the company doing to preserve the market share it has gained over the years? 13 THE RULES OF THE GAME As the interviewer answers the question, note the subtle messages the candidate is sending. The candidate ends each question with "right?" which invites the interviewer to answer with "yes." Of course, the candidate must be on sure ground. The candidate certainly wants to avoid any possibility that the interview will answer, "No, that's not quite right." Good research makes such questioning possible. 5. Use Inclusive Language Look at the last dialogue again. Did you notice that the candidate subtly shifted from "you" to "we"? Words such as "we" and "our" subtly give the impression that the candidate is already a member of the team. The more comfortable the interviewer is with the concept of the candidate already being on the team, the better the candidate's chances. It's so much easier extending a job offer to someone whom the interviewer on some level already perceives as part of "us" instead of "them." The risk, of course, is to come off as presumptuous. So a delicate touch with this technique is warranted. Generally, it works best later in the interview and after the interviewer has demonstrated a substantial level of interest in you. For example, if the company wants you to come back for a second (or third) interview. Of course, if the interviewer starts using inclusive language, you know that you are on safe ground and that an offer is in the cards. 6. Ask Questions the Interviewer Can Answer Want to make interviewers defensive and uncomfortable? Ask them questions they don't know the answer to or can't answer because of confidentiality. "Remember that although I do expect you to ask me some relevant questions, this isn't a game show," says Sonja Parker, VP of Integrated Design, Inc., in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "There isn't a prize for stumping me or asking the cleverest question. Just show me that you've given this opportunity some thought." So as you formulate a question, think carefully about the content you are looking for as well as the person to whom you are addressing the question. In any case, avoid questions that reasonably intelligent people may not 14 WHY YOU HAVE TO QUESTION be expected to know. If the interviewer is asking you questions that you don't know the answer to, it may be tempting to try to stump the interviewer. Bad move. You may win the battle, but you will assuredly lose the war. Questions like this can't be expected to endear you to the interviewer: C ANDIDATE : Congress is considering an increase in the minimum wage. If it passes, do you believe that the microeconomic impacts of the minimum wage will be offset by the macroeconomic effects driven by the last round of cuts to the Federal Reserve discount rate? I NTERVIEWER : Huh? Far from making you look smart, a question like this sets you up as an oddball. Even if you got a well-reasoned response to this question, of what possible use could it be to you as you evaluate the position? Let go of any competitiveness or urgency to show off. At all times, know to whom you are talking. Asking a hiring manager detailed questions about medical insurance options is not useful. Nor is asking the human resources interviewer questions about the fine points of the company's virtual private network. Finally, be careful to avoid trespassing on confidential information, especially if you are currently employed by a competitor. As long as you are at it, stay away from cage-rattling questions. These are questions that some interviewers may throw at you, but they cannot win you points if you throw them back at the interviewer. I provided a list of some of these shake-'em-up questions in The Manager's Book of Questions: 751 Great Questions for Hiring the Best Person. In this category fall hypothetical questions (any questions that begin with the word "if ") and probing questions of all sorts. Examples of questions that you should leave at home: If you could forge an alliance with any organization in the world, which one would it be? What unwritten rules at work make it difficult to get things done quickly, efficiently, or profitably? You're the corporate weatherperson; what's your forecast for the organization using meteorological terms? 15 THE RULES OF THE GAME Don't get me wrong. These can be great questions. And if you could get an honest answer out of them, I might say toss one or two out there and see what happens. But if you ask questions such as these before you get an offer, it has the effect of raising the ante too high. No one wants to work that hard. The interviewer will simply fold and hope the next candidate is less challenging. 7. Avoid Questions That Are Obvious or Easy to Determine Asking questions such as these will make you look uninformed or lazy: What does IBM stand for? Who is the company's chief executive officer? Where is the company located? Does the company have a Web site? Why? Because the answers are as close as the company's Web site or annual report. Don't ask the interviewer to state the obvious or do your job for you. At best it will raise questions about your ability to engage, and at worst it will cost you the job offer. 8. Avoid "Why" Questions "Why" questions--queries that start with "why"--often come off as confrontational. Interviewers can get away with asking you "why" questions. After all, they are interested in your thought processes and the quality of your decisions. But when the situation is reversed, "why" questions from the job seeker sometimes make the interviewer defensive. Not good: Why did you consolidate the Seattle and Dallas manufacturing facilities? It comes off as a challenge. Better: I am interested in the company's recent decision to consolidate the Seattle and Dallas manufacturing facilities. In a Wall Street Journal article, your CEO stated the wisdom of keeping manufacturing facilities close to customers whenever possible.Yet this move creates distance be- 16 WHY YOU HAVE TO QUESTION tween the company and some of its customers. Can we talk about this decision for a moment? 9. Avoid Asking Questions That Call for a Superlative Questions that call for a superlative ("What is the best book of all time?") make people hesitate and also put them on the defensive. When faced with a superlative, the interviewer's mind gets vapor-locked and he or she hesitates. Poor: What is the biggest challenge for the company/team? Better: What do you see as three important challenges for the company/team? Poor: What is the absolute best thing about this company? Better: What are a couple of things you really like about the company? Avoiding superlatives gives the interviewer wiggle room to answer questions more personally. 10. Avoid Leading or Loaded Questions Leading questions signal the interviewer that you are looking for a specific answer. They also signal that you are, at best, an awkward communicator and, at worst, manipulative. In any case, skewing questions is not in your interest. Be on guard that your questions are phrased to be impartial. For example, this is a leading question: Isn't it true that your company is regarded as paying slightly better than average? This attempt to box in the interviewer is so transparent it will backfire. Keep the question straight: How do your company's compensation schedules compare with the industry average? The wording of this next question is arrogant and makes you look foolish. 17 THE RULES OF THE GAME I'm sure you agree with the policy that the customer is always right. How are employees rewarded for going out of their way to put the customer first? What gives you the right to assume what the interviewer agrees with? Ask it straight. There's no harm in reporting a part of a company's positive reputation, if it's true. The company has a reputation for excellent customer service. How do you motivate and empower employees to make exceptional customer service a priority? Loaded questions also make you look bad. Loaded questions reveal your prejudices and biases. Besides being out of place in a job interview, such questions convey a sense of arrogance or even contempt. They make you look like a bully. They always backfire on you, no matter how much you think your interviewer shares your biases. Typical loaded questions might be: How can the company justify locating manufacturing plants in the People's Republic of China with its miserable record of human rights violations? With all the set-aside programs for minorities and people who weren't even born in this country, what progress can a white American man hope to have in your company? Questions like these reveal your biases, often unintentionally, and cannot advance your candidacy. 11. Avoid Veiled Threats Interviewers hate to be bullied, and they will send you packing at the first hint of a threat. That means if you have another job offer from company A, keep it to yourself until after company B has expressed an interest in making you an offer as well. Unfortunately, candidates have abused the tactic of pitting employers against each other by brandishing genuine or, as is more likely the case, fictitious job offers. A few years ago, this tactic created an unreasonable and unsustainable climate for hiring. Don't test it with today's crop of interviewers; they 18 WHY YOU HAVE TO QUESTION will wish you luck with the other company and never look back. For example: I'm considering a number of other offers, including a very attractive one from your main competitor, and need to make a decision by Friday. Can I have your best offer by then? This question smacks of bullying and desperation. It's hard to come up with alternative wording, but this is more effective: Everything I know about your company and the opportunity you described leads me to believe that I can immediately start adding value. I would very much welcome receiving an offer. Another company has made me an attractive offer to join them, and I said I would give them my decision by Friday. If my application is receiving serious consideration here, I would very much like to consider it before then. Is that possible? 12. Avoid Questions That Hint of Desperation There is a line from the movie Broadcast News that applies to job seekers: "Wouldn't this be a great world if terror and desperation were attractive qualities?" Unfortunately, job interviewers, like partners in romance, recoil at displays of desperation. Employers don't want to know about your financial plight, any more than they want to hear about your failing romances. You must avoid any hint of discouragement when a job offer is not immediately forthcoming. By all means avoid: I simply must have this job. My rent is late, and my wife and I are going to be out on the street if you don't make me an offer. Even a hiring manager sympathetic to your plight cannot afford to continue the interview. This next question is also too desperate: I had hoped that my interview would be so good that you'd offer me a job. What did I do wrong? The only attitude of a candidate that really makes sense is relaxed confidence. 19 THE RULES OF THE GAME 13. Asking Questions That Focus on What the Company Can Do for You The hiring manager is less interested in how much you want to better yourself than what you can do to ease his or her problem. "What about me?" questions like this are a turnoff: I'm very committed to developing my intellectual property by learning new technologies. What kinds of tuition benefits and other educational support can I expect? It's nice that you want to improve yourself, but the hiring manager is not interested in your commitment to education on his time. He has a problem to solve and wants to know if you can help solve it. If you can, maybe then the company can invest in your skills so you can solve even more of its problems. Compare the above question to: I want to put all my experience and everything I know in the service of solving the challenges you have outlined. At the same time, I hope to increase my value to the company by learning new skills and technologies. Does the company have any programs that help me add value by learning new skills? 14. If You Want the Job, Ask for It We explore the issue of asking for the job in Chapter 12, but it is so important that I include a preview here. As a candidate, you should use your opportunity to ask questions as a platform to ask for the job. These are called bid-for-action questions because, like every marketer (in this case, you), you should conclude every contact with the prospect (the hiring manager) with an invitation to take an action (make me an offer). Many employers feel that a desire for the position is just as important as the ability to do the job. A very effective interviewing technique is simply to ask for the job. One way to do this is to ask the employer: Do you think I can do the job? Generally, the interviewer will hedge. But if the answer is yes, smile and say: 20 WHY YOU HAVE TO QUESTION Great! When do you want me to start? More likely, the interviewer will say something like: I am very impressed with your credentials, but we have a number of other steps to go though before I can give you an answer to that question. That's fine. It's also possible the interviewer will state some objections. Believe it or not, that's even better. An unstated objection will kill your chances every time. With stated objections, at least, you have the possibility of reversing the concern. Of course, there are some objections that you really can't do much about: The job listing clearly noted that the position requires a minimum of six years of object-oriented coding experience.You don't have any. Some objections are softer: I'm concerned that you are not as seasoned in leading large multidisciplinary teams as this position requires. Here you have some recourse: I can see how you might get that impression. But if I can take you back to my work for XYZ Company, I showed you how I led four separate teams.What I might not have emphasized is that I coordinated the teams. At the height of the project, there were 65 developers across the four teams all reporting to me in a matrix structure. In the end, under my supervision, the teams succeeded in launching a strategic product on time and on budget. Does that speak to your concern? Note how the candidate checks out if the response moderated the objection. If not, try again. Even if your experience is light in some area, it may not be fatal. Try to find out what percentage of the job that requirement represents. Then attack the gap head-on with something like: I am willing to put in extra time to come up to speed in this area. Would that help? If so, ask for the job: 21 THE RULES OF THE GAME I understand the challenges of the job, and I believe I have the experience to take them on. I would very much like to start doing this important work. Before leaving the interview, thank the employer for taking the time to talk to you about the position. Follow up with a personal thank you note to the employer, stating once again why you'd be an asset to the company and expressing your interest in the position. 15. Don't Ask Questions That Are Irrelevant to the Job or Organization Another awkward moment comes when the interviewer challenges your question with something like, "Now, why on earth would you want to know that?" In the same way that you can respond to interviewer's illegal questions with, "I fail to see what that question has to do with my ability to do the job," don't give the interviewer an excuse to apply a similar phrase to your question. To be safe, make sure that every question can pass this test: Does the answer the question elicits shed light on the job, the company, and its desirability as a workplace? If not, the question is irrelevant. Also, stay away from marginal queries about competitors, other positions that don't relate to the position you're interviewing for, or current trends that have no bearing on the organization. While asking about the interviewer's individual experience at the company is okay (see Chapter 2), try not to interrogate the interviewer about his or her carerelationship with someone who may become your immediate supervisor and mentor. There is one exception when issues of pay should come first, not last. That exception refers to salespeople who are paid by commission, not salary. With salespeople, the acknowledged desire to earn a high income is considered an unalloyed virtue. Companies actually like to see a reasonable level of greediness in their salespeople. The system is set up so that salespeople make money only if they earn the company a lot more money. Thus if you are interviewing for a sales job, it can be appropriate for you to raise the issue of commissions, royalties, quotas, and other compensation issues early on in the interview. SELF-LIMITING QUESTIONS These are questions that appear to put your needs before those of the employer. You may have legitimate issues around matters of hours, transportation, medical requirements, education, and accommodations of all sorts. But it is rarely to your advantage to initiate these issues be26 QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD NEVER INITIATE fore the employer has expressed an interest in you. Rather, wait until you have indications of real interest from the employer. The interviewer will eventually ask you a question such as, "Are there any other issues we should know about before taking the next step?" It's at that point you can more safely bring up the issues you have in mind. In other words, be sure that the question you ask doesn't raise barriers or objections. For example: Is relocation a necessary part of the job? The very question raises doubts about your willingness to relocate. Even if the person selected for the position is not tracked for relocation, the negativity of the question makes the hiring manager wonder whether you are resistant in other areas as well. If the issue of relocation is important to you, by all means ask, but go with a phrasing that reinforces your flexibility, not challenges it: I'm aware that relocation is often required in a career and I am prepared to relocate for the good of the company as necessary. Could you tell me how often I might be asked to relocate in a five- or ten-year period? Here are a few more examples of self-limiting questions and the comments of recruiters who fielded them: Is job-sharing a possibility? Possibly, but does this mean you can't give us a commitment for fulltime work? Can you tell me whether you have considered the incredible benefits of telecommuting for this position? Why do you want to get out of the office before you have even seen it? I understand that employee paychecks are electronically deposited. Can I get my paycheck in the old-fashioned way? You are already asking for exceptions. What's next? And are you afraid of technology? I won't have to work for someone with less education than I have, will I? 27 THE RULES OF THE GAME You clearly have a chip on your shoulder. Why should we take a chance that you don't have other interpersonal issues? The job description mentions weekend work. Are you serious? We're serious about the job description. We're suddenly less serious about you. You get the picture. Don't raise red flags. Once the interviewer has decided that you are the right person for the job, you will find the employer to be much more accommodating about issues like these. Wait until after you have the offer in hand before you raise these questions. WHAT ABOUT HUMOR? Charles Handler, today the head of Rocket-hire.com, recounts this object lesson. Interviewing for a recruiting job with the company's CEO, Handler was trying to make a point about the most reliable methods of selecting employees. In an attempt to be lighthearted, Handler said that he supported every way of selecting employees except graphology. Graphology is the study of handwriting as a means of analyzing character. You can guess what happened next. The CEO looked up with a tight smile and slowly informed Handler that graphology was his hobby and that he thought the practice had substantial merit. The good news is at the end of the day, the wisecrack didn't hurt Handler. Heo ask candidates to tell him a joke as a test of how nimble the candidate's mind is. Every once in a while--perhaps if the interview is at a more informal setting such as a restaurant--it may make sense to offer a joke. The quasi-social nature of the event might allow for more flexibility. But even here I urge caution. Some interviewers will tell you a joke, either to break the ice or to illustrate a point. Occasionally, unprepared or unprofessional interviewers tell jokes because they are uncomfortable or don't know what else to do. In either case, resist the temptation to create a false rapport by exchanging jokes. It doesn't advance the interview, and little good can come of it. Do listen to the subtext of the joke and come back with a question that indicates the joke gave you a serious insight into the situation: I appreciate the way you said that. It's true, isn't it, that communication breakdowns come in the most unexpected ways.And while it can sometimes be funny, communication breakdowns impose real costs on the organization. Companywide intranets offer real benefits to crossdepartmental communications. At my last job, I led the team that developed . . . If you must tell a joke, make sure it is short and pokes fun at yourself or some general issue of work. If it's about the job interviewing process, so much the better. Never tell more than one joke, no matter 30 QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD NEVER INITIATE how much you are coaxed. This joke, for example, has made the rounds of the HR chat boards. Reaching the end of a job interview, the human resources person asked a young engineer fresh out of MIT what kind of a salary he was looking for. "In the neighborhood of $140,000 a year, depending on the benefits package." "Well, what would you say to a package of five weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company-matching retirement fund to 50 percent of salary, and a company car leased every 2 years . . . say, a red Corvette?" "Wow! You're kidding!" the young engineer said. "Yeah, but you started it." Five Rules for Using Humor 1. Poke fun at yourself only, nothing else. 2. Follow the interviewer's lead. 3. Don't force it. 4. No sarcasm at any time. 5. If in doubt, don't. QUESTIONS ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER Because individuals relate to individuals, it's natural that applicants want to know about the interviewer. The interviewer also happens to be the most immediate representative of the company they hope to join. Is it appropriate to ask questions about the interviewer's history, opinions, and experience? Absolutely. People like to talk to people. Most applicants want to know about the interviewer. One big question is how personal can you get without crossing the line? "Asking questions about the interviewer is fine if you keep the questions relevant and focused on the job," says Bob 31 THE RULES OF THE GAME Conlin, VP of marketing at Incentive Systems in Bedford, Massachusetts. Conlin says he is often asked questions such as: What convinced you to come to Incentive Systems? What are some of the best attributes of Incentive Systems? Behavioral questions very similar to the type candidates are asked are also fair game to ask the interviewer, says Melanie Mays, president of Empyrean Consulting, a recruiting consulting firm in Dallas, Texas. These questions are best asked after a mutual interest has been established. They should go only to the individual with whom you might be working: Can you tell me about a project that was successful and how you accomplished it as a team? Can you tell me about a time when you encountered constraints and how you resolved them? How do you think your employees would describe your management style? Some hiring managers are perfectly comfortable with such questions, but others might get defensive, Mays warns. If that's the case, back off, although the defensiveness itself will give you a clue about the situation. Other personal questions to consider asking the interviewer: Tell me about your career choice. How did you get into recruiting? What attracted you sed recruiting contractor and president of Seattlejobs.org, has an informal interviewing style. In her dialogue with the candidate, she makes it quite clear that the candidate is free to ask questions at any point in the conversation. Brookshier notes, "Candidates are always free to ask a question, whether solicited or not." If Brookshier doesn't get intelligent questions during the first part of the interview, she starts to wonder. But her worst suspicions are confirmed if the candidate doesn't have any questions even after she invites some. "I see it as a test," she says. "If you have no questions for me, it tells me that you are either way too passive or just not very serious. Either way, I lose interest real quickly." What impresses Brookshier the most are questions that transform a question that she had asked the candidate earlier in the interview. For example, if she had asked the candidate: 35 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE RULES OF THE GAME What accomplishments in your career are you most proud of? or Can you tell me about your greatest weakness? Brookshier would be impressed by a candidate who countered with: What accomplishments in its history is the company most proud of? or Can you tell me about the company's greatest weakness? THE PREEMPTIVE QUESTION If you really want to assert yourself and take complete control of the interview, there is a compelling question that will transform the interview. This question is best used if your interviewer is the actual hiring manager, or the person with hiring authority. It is less useful with screeners. The question is: By what criteria will you select the person for this job? This marvelous question, recommended by Irv Zuckerman in his book Hire Power, lets the candidate effectively seize control of the interview in a way that many interviewers find reassuring. Here's a typical exchange (with comments) between an interviewer and a candidate: I NTERVIEWER : Thank you for coming. Can I get you a cup of coffee? C ANDIDATE : No, thank you. Perhaps later. (Leaving the door open softens the refusal to accept the interviewer's hospitality. Avoid anything that might spill. Also you will need your hands free for taking notes on the important information you are about to receive.) I NTERVIEWER : Well, then, make yourself comfortable. Can you tell me about yourself? C ANDIDATE : I'll be glad to. But first, may I ask a question? (Always ask permission.) I NTERVIEWER : Of course. (You will never be refused. The interviewer is now curious about what you are going to ask.) 36 WHEN TO QUESTION C ANDIDATE : My question is this: By what criteria will you select the person for this job? I NTERVIEWER : That's a good question. C ANDIDATE : Is it all right if I take notes? (Always ask permission.) I NTERVIEWER : Of course. Now, let me see. I think the first criterion is . . . Now listen. When the interviewer is done reviewing the first criterion, ask about the second. Then the third. Pretty soon you will have a list of the interviewer's hot buttons, a recipe for the ideal candidate for the job. Your challenge is to underscore how your credentials and experience just happen to fall in perfect alignment with those very criteria. Let's back up a minute. Notice what else you have accomplished by asking this marvelous question. You have seized control of the interview. Suddenly the interviewer is working according to your agenda. The question--by what criteria will you select the person for this job--is designed to put you in the driver's seat. Play with the wording at your own risk. Look at how the question parses: By what criteria. This part of the question focuses the discussion where it belongs--on the job and its requirements, rather than your education, experience, age, gender, etc. What the hiring manager really wants is someone who can do the job and will fit in. Are you that someone? Can you prove it? That's your goal in the next phases of the interview. will you select. This acknowledges the authority of the decision maker. It is critical for you to know if, by chance, you are talking to someone who is not the decision maker, but merely a gatekeeper. In either case, you need to focus on the action verb in the clause and what you must provide in order to be selected. the person. Only one person will be selected for this particular job. You want that person to be you. One of your jobs in the interview is to remind the hiring manager that you are a wellrounded, likable person who will fit in with the other people in the organization. 37 THE RULES OF THE GAME for this job. This phrase underscores the idea that the subject of this conversation is a job that the interviewer needs to fill because a vital organizational function is not being done. Furthermore, the ideal remedy for the problem is available and ready to start. BEFORE THE BEGINNING A job interview can be over before you think it's even started. In other words, a job interview can be a conversation that starts long before the first word comes out of your mouth. This scenario demonstrates what a mistake it is to assume that you can time the start of a job interview. Susan arrived early at her job interview. At the appointed hour, Susan's interviewer greeted her and asked her to follow him to his office. Susan immediately noticed that the interviewer seemed a bit befuddled, as if he forgot where the office was. As they started walking through a maze of cubicles, he seemed to hesitate, looking first left and then right. Ignoring Susan, he paused at every intersection, like he was a pioneer exploring a territory for the first time. With Susan in tow, he even retraced his steps a couple of times. Susan felt very uncomfortable, but she didn't know what to do. Should she say anything? Would a comment offend him? Maybe the interviewer had a disability of some sort. So she hung back and waited for the interviewer to act. Eventually, they found their way to the interview room where the interviewer asked Susan a few perfunctory questions before thanking her for coming. Susan did not get an offer. What went on here? If you were Susan, how would you have handled the situation? Before reading further, take a minute to consider the challenge, because that's exactly what it was. Susan didn't realize it, but the maze-running was part of the job interview. By the time the interviewer got to the talking part, the interview was over and the candidate had been eliminated. Yes, it might seem sleazy, but the interviewer played incompetent to test Susan's leadership qualities. Would she offer to help? Would she take an active role in some 38 WHEN TO QUESTION way, offering whatever skills she could muster for the occasion? Or would she remain passive? The interviewer was hoping that Susan would ask a question. The most important part of the interview took place before the candidate thought anything important happened. What could Susan have done? The first thing is, she should have recognized that she was being tested. In fact, all candidates do well to assume that as soon as they leave their house, they are being evaluated. What are some things Susan could have done or said? A job coach in Dallas whose clients have encountered this technique suggests one approach. Well, there's no right or wrong here. But I'd have coached Susan to do something to acknowledge what is, after all, an uncomfortable situation. If I'm recruiting for a team leader or manager, I look for candidates who are authentic, who offer to help in some way, or at least use humor to diffuse the tension. One candidate made me laugh when she joked, "Maybe we should leave a trail of bread crumbs so we can find our way back!" Mostly I want to see evidence that the candidate is thinking. What makes me hesitate is when candidates don't have a clue about what to do or are too timid to do it. Thankfully, techniques like these are falling out of favor, so you probably won't encounter too many role-playing techniques. But the point remains: The interview starts sooner than you think. Keep thinking and don't hesitate to ask questions. Here's another scenario you might encounter. Charles was interviewing for a senior sales position, and everything was going perfectly. His experience was exactly right, and Charles and the hiring manager, the VP of sales, seemed to be getting along great. So imagine the candidate's surprise when the interviewer suddenly stood up and said, "I'm sorry, Charles. I just don't think it's going to work out after all. Thank you for meeting with me and good luck to you." The rejection came so unexpectedly Charles that could only mumble something as he walked out. What's going on here? Again, take a minute to put yourself in Charles's shoes. How would you have handled the situation? 39 THE RULES OF THE GAME Charles didn't realize it, but the resistance from the recruiter signaled the start of the job interview, not the end. Remember, Charles was being sized up for a senior sales position. A critical skill for such a position is grace in handling a prospect's objections or rejection. So the interviewer threw a big objection at the candidate to see how he would react. What could Charles have done? One Fortune 500 recruiter suggests Charles could have responded: Excuse me, can I just have another minute? I'm confused. I thought the interview was going pretty well and that my experience fit the position you described very closely. Apparently, I missed something important. I would very much like to understand where you saw a disconnect between my skills and the job so that I might have the opportunity to demonstrate that I really am the best candidate for the job. "This kind of response would tell me that Charles can handle objections, accepts responsibility for not making his case, and asks for information so that he may continue selling, which is why I'm hiring him," the recruiter adds. In short, Charles needed a bid-for-action question, as described in Chapter 12. AT THE END This is the typical point at which you'll be invited to ask any questions you may have. The interviewer will lean back and turn the interview over to you. It may seem like the interview is coming to an end. It's not. Interviewers are unanimous on this: They really expect you to ask intelligent questions. Don't assume you know when the interview is over. The safest bet is to apply this rule: The interview is not over until you no longer have an interest in the job. Until then, the clock is ticking. 40 CHAPTER 4 DO YOUR HOMEWORK KNOW BEFORE YOU ASK When Sonja Parker interviews a candidate, she expects that the job seeker will have done a reasonable amount of research into the company. Before you interview with Parker, VP of Integrated Design in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you will receive a folder with general information on the company, a detailed job overview, and an application. During the preliminary telephone interview, Parker always asks: What do you know about us? Have you reviewed the packet I sent, or have you poked around on our Web site? If the candidate hedges, Parker questions whether she should invite the candidate in for a job interview. If the candidate answers yes, Parker asks: What is your impression of what we do? "I want to see if the candidate can articulate the information about our company and the job," she says. Her reasons for asking are twofold. First, she wants some feedback on how effectively the company's recruiting materials are working. But even more importantly, she believes that a candidate who has taken the time to thoroughly study the recruiting materials demonstrates real interest in the job, while one who has not is a poor risk. "If you want to work at Integrated Design, I insist that you demonstrate at least a basic understanding of what the company does," she 41 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE RULES OF THE GAME says. The best way to demonstrate that is to ask Parker informed questions, such as: I've scanned your Web site and the materials you sent me. I understand that Integrated Design specializes in employee data integration. As a service the logic behind not having exposure on the Web? Every company's Web site is different, but they are all organized in standard ways. The first thing is to look for a tab or button that says "About." 43 THE RULES OF THE GAME Most companies put basic background information about themselves in this area. Another area to look for is the "pressroom" or "newsroom." Many companies collect news releases and articles about themselves under this designation. Some corporate Web sites are pretty complicated affairs, with literally tens of thousands of places to hide information. So if you are lost, most Web sites have a feature called "Site Map." This feature gives Web site visitors a high-level look at where information may be found on the site. It's like the store directory you find in a shopping mall. Finally, most Web sites have a search function. Click on the search function and type in a term such as "about" or "news releases" and let the search engine take you where you need to go. For public companies, the annual report is almost always available at the Web site. This document is an invaluable source of information about the company and its challenges. Pay careful attention to the letter from the management. In that letter, the organization's CEO lays out the company's accomplishments and challenges. It will give you important clues for questions you can ask. In some cases, there is a Q&A format, so many of the questions you might want to ask in your interview are already there. "The best questions to ask interviewers are those that demonstrate a knowledge of the company and its market," says Incentive Systems' Bob Conlin. "I'm always impressed by good questions about specific competitors, where the market is going in terms of trends, and how the company is adapting to those trends." OTHER WEB RESOURCES While a company's Web site is chock-full of information, it is not comprehensive. Few company Web sites include information that is truly critical of the company. For more objective information about the company, there are hundreds of free resources you can consult. It is beyond the scope of this book to discuss online corporate research strategies, but the following resources are what I use when I want to research a company: CEO EXPRESS www.ceoexpress.com A great portal site to start your search, with links to dozens of publications 44 DO YOUR HOMEWORK HOOVER'S, INC. www.hoovers.com Business information you can use on virtually every company in the United States COMPANY SLEUTH www.companysleuth.com Business intelligence for investors BUSINESS WIRE www.businesswire.com News releases as they are issued SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION www.sec.gov For public companies, all the financial information you need FUCKED COMPANY www.fuckedcompany.com If you want rumors, bad news, and trash about a company BUSINESS PERIODICALS Look at what the leading business magazines have to say about the company. A good place to start is the Web site portal CEO Express (www.ceoexpress.com). From this site, you can launch to dozens of specific publications and information resources, or you can do a search across all the sites it aggregates. Other good resources include: BUSINESS WEEK www.businessweek.com FORTUNE www.fortune.com FORBES www.forbes.com 45 THE RULES OF THE GAME INC. www.inc.com Most business journals periodically make lists of the best employers. Fortune magazine has its "Most Admired Corporations" issue and lists the best places to work, generally in its January and February issues. Working Woman publishes a list of the companies most sensitive to women professionals. Business Week lists the best-performing companies in America (usually in the last issue in March). Technical publications such as ComputerWorld (www.computerworld.com) and InfoWorld (www.infoworld.com) publish similar evaluations of the best high-technology companies to work for. LOCAL NEWSPAPERS AND OTHER NEWSPAPERS If the newspaper in the company's hometown has a business section, you will usually find good coverage of the company. Fortunately, most newspapers these days are online. So find the newspaper's Web site and search for the company you want to research. While you are at it, check out what the New York Times (www.newyorktimes.com), Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com), and Chicago Tribune (www.chicagotribune.com) have to say about the company. For high-tech companies, I also check the San Jose Mercury News (www.mercurycenter.com/). LOCAL BUSINESS JOURNALS Most large metropolitan areas also have business periodicals focused on local business companies and activities. CEO Express has a link to some of the major business journal publishers including Crain's New York (www.crainsny.com) and Crain's Chicago (www.crainschicagobusiness.com). For more information, search for business journals in the community of the company you want to research. TRADE PUBLICATIONS There is no industry so obscure that it does not have at least one trade publication reporting on the products, people, and other developments within the industry. These publications offer the deepest information 46 DO YOUR HOMEWORK about the company and the industry in which it operates. These publications provide much more focus and detail than general business publications. In the past, trade publications were often difficult to obtain. But now many of them are online, making it much easier than ever to retrieve very focused articles on the company you are interested in. TRADE ASSOCIATIONS America is a nation of joiners. It seems that every activity has formed an association to promote its interests. These associations exist in large part to educate the public about the good works of the members of the association. You are member of the public, so don't be shy about asking for help. Many associations now have Web sites, and the depth of their resources can be stunning. A powerful reference, found in most libraries, is the Encyclopedia of Associations, a directory of associations with contact information. Some associations require membership to access specific resources, but even then a nice letter to the executive director can often get you privileges to surf the site without cost. WHAT INFORMATION SHOULD I COLLECT? Before going into a job interview, a well-prepared candidate will have the following information about the organization: Full name of company Contact Information Mailing address Telephone numbers, central, and general fax number Web site General email address Brief description of business (25 words or so) Public or private Year established Revenues or sales Rank on Fortune 1000 (if applicable) Number of employees 47 THE RULES OF THE GAME Recent stock price (if public) Stock price, 52 week high Stock price, 52 week low Name of chief executive officer Chief products or services Chief competitor Company advantages Company challenges 48 CHAPTER 5 DO YOU MIND IF I TAKE NOTES? WHY TAKING NOTES IS CRITICAL Should I take notes during my job interviews? This controversial question is far from settled, but the majority of career coaches and recruiters I talked to give you a green light to take notes during job interviews. Yes, some interviewers get nervous when a job candidate whips out a notebook and starts taking notes. But others are impressed by the professionalism and interest demonstrated by a candidate taking notes. So what should you do? Let's look at both sides of this important question and then consider the arguments of a cross section of human resources professionals. Let's start with the naysayers. THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST TAKING NOTES Some job coaches believe that in American society, it is not considered appropriate to take notes during an employment interview. There are three facets to this argument. First, when you are in conversation with someone, it is polite to pay attention to that person. Taking notes, to these coaches, is impolite. 49 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE RULES OF THE GAME Second, some job coaches trot out the argument that taking notes makes interviewers defensive, as if you are collecting evidence for a potential lawsuit. The last thing a job candidate wants to do is make the interviewer nervous. Third, these critics suggest that if a candidate whips out a set of notes during an interview, the recruiter might conclude that the candidate has a problem with short-term memory or with thinking on his or her feet. "I coach my candidates not to take notes during the interview because if you are taking notes you can't listen with complete attention," says Robin Upton, a career coach with Bernard Haldane Associates in Dallas, Texas. One downside, she adds, is that note taking exacerbates the natural human condition of self-deception. "We often hear a question the way we want to hear it instead of the way the interviewer actually asked it," Upton says. Candidates risk appearing evasive if they don't respond to the question that's on the table. When he is considering applicants for senior management positions, Tom Thrower, general manager of Management Recruiters, a recruiting firm in Oakland, California, prefers candidates who display total professional selfassurance. To Thrower, note taking detracts from an expression of overwhelming organizational confidence. "I'm interested in people with good memories," he says. "I find it distracting watching applicants take notes." The situation, Thrower concedes, is different for people applying for technical positions, such as systems analysts, or financial types such as controllers or budget officers. He expects people applying for these positions to be very detail-oriented--thus it is appropriate and encouraging to see technicians taking notes during the job interview. THE ARGUMENTS FOR TAKING NOTES Most job coaches and recruiters favor note taking. They believe the very real upsides outweigh the potential downsides. The fact is, most interviewers take notes themselves. "I'm hugely okay with note takers as long as it doesn't delay our process," says Seattlejobs.org's president Janice Brookshier. "After all, I'm going to be taking notes." A job interview is not a social occasion. It 50 DO YOU MIND IF I TAKE NOTES? is a business meeting. And in American business culture, taking notes in support of a business meeting is considered not only appropriate, but often a sign of professionalism. Far from a sign of disorganization or weakness, taking notes is a mark of a well-organized professional. The cultures of companies such as IBM, Cisco Systems, and Computer Associates International actually encourage note taking at all meetings. Employees are issued notebooks, and they are expected to use them as part of a culture that insists that people stay accountable for the goals and objectives they take on. Melanie Mays, a recruiter with Empyrean Consulting, Inc., in Dallas, Texas, supports note taking because it encourages candidates to listen rather than talk. "I coach candidates to apply the 80-20 rule in job interviews: You should be listening 80 percent of the time and talking only 20 percent of the time. If taking notes helps, I'm all for it." These recruiters believe that taking notes actually keeps the attention on the speaker by minimizing interruptions as the applicant makes a list of insights and responses that can be referred to when it's the listener's turn to speak. Note taking does not have to be distracting. The point of notes is not to take down a conversation verbatim, which would be intrusive. The purpose is to remind yourself of important points that are being made and questions or comments you don't want to forget when it's your turn to talk. The most important thing is to ask permission. "I never have a problem with people who ask permission to take notes during an interview," says Sandra Grabczynski, director of employer development at CareerSite.com, an online recruiting service in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "It generally impresses me that the applicant is taking the opportunity seriously." Whipping out a notebook without asking permission may strike some interviewers as presumptuous. Candidates are not the only ones taking notes. Rich Franklin, HR director at KnowledgePoint, a software maker in Petaluma, California, prefaces most interviews by saying that he will be making a few notes during the course of the interview. "At that point, I invite them to take notes as well, if they want," Franklin says, adding that he's gratified when they do. "Benefits and insurance plans can be pretty complicated, so I appreciate candidates taking notes. It shows me they are serious." 51 THE RULES OF THE GAME THE RULES OF THE GAME Ask Permission Asking permission is a simple thing, but it makes a big difference. First, it's respectful. Second, it draws attention to the behavior, so that the interviewer is not surprised. Surprises are rarely in the candidate's favor. Here are some suggested wordings for getting permission: Do you mind if I take notes? I want to keep the details of this discussion very clear in my mind because the more I learn about this opportunity, the more confident I am that I can make an important contribution. Notice how the applicant embeds a selling message in her request. Also ask permission before you look at your notes when you ask your questions: While we were talking, I jotted down a few points I wanted to ask about. May I have a minute to consult my notes? Or: Thanks for the detailed description of the opportunity and the company. I know you answered most of my questions in the course of our conversation. Before I came here, I jotted down a few questions I didn't want to forget. May I consult my notes? USE A NOTEBOOK In Chapter 1, I suggested ordering questions by writing them on index cards. That's a useful practice as you determine which questions to ask and in which order to ask them. But after you have established the questions and their order, transfer the list to a handsome leather-bound notebook. Whipping out a set of index cards sends the wrong message. Plus there's always the risk of the index cards slipping out of your hand and flying all over the place. One of the reasons for having a notebook in the interview is that you will think of questions to ask the interviewer. Perhaps the interviewer is talking about a new product that the company is about to launch. You 52 DO YOU MIND IF I TAKE NOTES remember in your previous job how one of the product launches hit an unexpected snag and how you helped unravel the problem. You don't want to interrupt the interviewer, so you make a quick note to talk about the incident later in the interview. "Remember, first impressions are critical," says CareerSite.com's Grabczynski. "If you're going to take notes, don't use a pencil or loose scraps of paper or the back of your parking ticket. Use a fine pen and a clean, professional notebook, preferably bound in leather." The pen you select makes a statement about you. Make sure it reflects the professional you. A fountain pen is good if you know how you use it. A little silver one might be fine, but not gold. And for pity's sake, make sure it works. Nothing will defeat your purpose more than you fumbling with a pen that runs out of ink. Asking the job interviewer for a pen is something you definitely want to avoid. And as long as we're on writing utensils, now's not the time to pull a chewed pencil out from behind your ear. If you're applying to be an art director, you can maybe get away with using a colored marker, but otherwise the interviewer will wonder if you can be trusted with sharp objects. BODY LANGUAGE Make sure your body language remains open. That means keeping the pad on the table instead of on your lap. Learn how to take notes while still maintaining occasional eye contact. "Don't let your note taking close you off from the interviewer," Mays says. "If you can't take notes without interfering with open body language, don't take notes." At the same time, keep your note taking discreet. You don't want to give the impression that you're a detective and your note taking might be used against the interviewer. You know you have crossed the line when the interviey are hired? Melanie Mays Empyrean Consulting Dallas, TX 7-16 I know that for the position for which I am interviewing, the company has decided to recruit from outside the organization. How do you decide between recruiting from within and going outside? This question lets the interviewer talk about the relative merits of promoting from within and bringing in new ideas and talent (hopefully yours!) to meet the needs of the company. A good answer is that the company is growing too fast for internal promotions to support its challenges. 7-17 How does this position relate to the bottom line? This is an inquiry into the significance of the job or department. If the job has only an indirect impact on the bottom line, when times get tough it can be considered an expense center rather than a profit center. 7-18 What advice would you give to someone in my position? Don't lay it on too thick, but this kind of question can make an HR person's day. 7-19 How did you get into your profession? Remember, "profession," not "job." 76 QUESTIONS FOR HUMAN RESOURCES 7-20 What major problems are we facing right now in this department or position? Note the use of the inclusive "we." 7-21 Can you give me a formal, written description of the position? I'm interested in reviewing in detail the major activities involved and what results are expected. This is a good question to pose to the screen interviewer. It will help you prepare to face the hiring manager. 7-22 Does this job usually lead to other positions in the company? Which ones? You don't want to find yourself in a dead-end job. But also be sure you don't give the impression that you want to get out of the job before you are in it. Remember, the HR manager wants to see stability tempered by "long-termism." 7-23 Can you please tell me a little bit about the people with whom I'll be working most closely? What a powerful question for finding out about your team! ? Memorably Bad Question # 10 What's the story with the receptionist? The candidate was referring to a very attractive receptionist at the company. Who wants the risk of a harassment case? Next! Bob Conlin VP of Marketing Incentive Systems Bedford, MA 77 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER ? Memorably Bad Question # 11 What is the policy on long-term disability? This is a self-limiting question at any point in the interview except when a written offer is in hand. The interviewer cannot inquire why you asked this question, and so will assume a scenario contrary to the candidate's interests. Bryan Debenport Corporate Recruiter Alcon Laboratories Fort Worth, TX 7-24 As I understand the position, the title is ____, the duties are ______, and the department is called ________. I would report directly to _________. Is that right? This is an exercise in getting to "yes" plus demonstrating that you have command of the facts. 7-25 Can you talk about the company's commitment to equal opportunity and diversity? Possible follow-up questions include, What's the percentage of women or minorities in the executive ranks? Does the company have a diversity officer? 7-26 Who are the company's stars, and how was their status determined? This indicates you want to be a star, as well. 7-27 How are executives addressed by their subordinates? You are asking about the formality of the organization. 78 QUESTIONS FOR HUMAN RESOURCES 7-28 What can you tell me about the prevailing management style? This is an inquiry into the management style favored by the senior executives. 7-29 If you hired me, what would be my first assignment? Message: Setting priorities and goals is key to you. 7-30 Does the company have a mission statement? May I see it? Mission statements are an important reflection of an organization's culture. To be fair, they are generally meaningless, but the fact that the company went to the trouble to formulate one is a positive sign, and asking for it makes you look thoughtful and introspective. Be careful, though. Don't ask for a mission statement if it is posted on the company's Web site. That would make you look lazy. 79 This page intentionally left blank. CHAPTER 8 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS THE ONLY PARTY THAT CAN GIVE YOU WHAT YOU WANT Every interview is a conversation. It starts with small talk and then progresses from the general to the specific, from the abstract to the concrete. In general, the further into the interview you are, the easier it is to ask questions and the more probing your questions may appropriately become. If you want a job, the important thing is to have a conversation with someone who has the authority to give you one. THE HIRING MANAGER NEEDS YOU You are aware of the pressure you are under to get a job. But the hiring manager is probably under greater pressure to hire someone than you're aware of. In fact, the only reason hiring managers take time out of their impossibly busy schedules is because important tasks are going unattended. They have work that must be done and no one with the required experience to do it. Until they hire the right person, the optimum performance of their teams is being compromised. Their bonuses, indeed their very jobs, may well be on the line. Don't forget, hiring managers have to answer to their managers, and their ability to keep their department staffed at full level is a big piece of their 81 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER compensation. A good perspective to take is that you are essential for their success. Remember, most hiring managers aren't skilled interviewers. They have little or no training in this area, and that lack of training will frequently show. If they seem nervous, ask you inappropriate questions, or are rude, try not to take it personally. Most hiring managers don't like interviewing. They regard it as an intrusion on their precious time that prevents them from attending to their primary responsibilities. In addition, they don't like to say no. As a result, they generally don't prepare very well and are often nervous. The more you can set hiring managers at ease and persuade them that you can start making their lives easier, the better your chances. 35 BEST QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-1 What specific skills from the person you hire would make your life easier? This question focuses the conversation squarely on the proposition that the employer has a problem. As the potential new hire, you want the employer to tell you that you can make his or her life easier because your skills are just the ticket. ? Memorably Good Question #6 What are the most critical factors for success in your segment of the business? Notice if the interviewer mentions people. Kim Rutherford Regional Vice President Drake Beam Morin New York, NY 82 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-2 What are some of the problems that keep you up at night? This is another way to uncover the employer's hot buttons, subtly suggesting that hiring you will bring immediate relief to the interviewer's insomnia. 8-3 What would be a surprising but positive thing the new person could do in the first 90 days? The wording here is designed to reveal the interviewer's "wish list" for what the new hire can offer. 8-4 How does upper management perceive this part of the organization? The response to this question will give the job seeker a feel for how valuable the department is to upper management, because if and when the organization goes through a financial crisis, you want to know that your department will not be the first department cut. 8-5 What do you see as the most important opportunities for improvement in the area I hope to join? This is another way to get some clues about what specific improvements the hiring manager desires. 8-6 What are the organization's three most important goals? This answer will provide an important clue for you if you take the job, because you'll be evaluated on your contribution to those three goals. 8-7 How do you see this position impacting on the achievement of those goals? This answer will give an important clue about whether the job is important. If the answer is essentially "not much," you are being considered for a nonessential position. 8-8 What attracted you to working for this organization? Get the hiring manager to tell you a story. Listen carefully for clues about what makes for success. 83 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER 8-9 What have you liked most about working here? Shared stories are what create community. Here's another way to bond with the interviewer around a story. 8-10 In what ways has the experience surprised or disappointed you? Follow-up is good. If the interviewer feels safe, he or she may actually share a disappointment. 8-11 What are the day-to-day responsibilities I'll be assigned? No better way to know what you'll be doing. Notice how the question gently assumes you are already on the team. 8-12 Could you explain the company's organizational structure? Ask this question if there is something you don't understand about the organization. 8-13 What is the organization's plan for the next five years, and how does this department or division fit in? Any question that implies you have the long term in mind is great. The hiring manager is thinking, "This guy aims to stick around for the long term." 8-14 Will we be expanding or bringing on new products or new services that I should be aware of? Notice the use of the word "we." This is another question that allows the hiring manager to discuss future plans and prospects. 8-15 What are some of the skills and abilities you see as necessary for someone to succeed in this job? This is another way to uncover possible objections or conflicts. Again, you can't address an objection unless it's articulated. 84 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS ? Memorably Good Question #7 What can I bring Company XYZ to round out the team? The question suggests the reality that the team is missing some key resource. It asks the interviewer to consider how the candidate's skill set may be just what the team is missing. Beau Harris Recruiter Handspring, Inc. Mountain View, CA 8-16 What challenges might I encounter if I take on this position? Listen carefully. The hiring manager is telling you where you are expected to fail. Is this a challenge you can take on and at which you can reasonably hope to succeed? If Superman couldn't hack it, watch out! You're being set up for failure. 8-17 What are your major concerns that need to be immediately addressed in this job? Note the emphasis on the word "your." This is less about the organization's agenda than the hiring manager's concerns. They may or may not be different. It won't serve you well to meet the organization's goals but not your manager's. 8-18 What are the attributes of the job that you'd like to see improved? This is another way of asking the hiring manager for the conditions of success. 8-19 What is your company's policy on attending seminars, workshops, and other training opportunities? You want to be seen as interested in learning and gaining new skill sets. You want your organization to support those goals. 85 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER 8-20 What is the budget this department operates with? You may or may not get a straight answer to this straight question, but asking shows you understand the power of budgets to control outcomes. 8-21 What committees and task forces will I be expected to participate in? Whether you like committee work or not, you should get this information to make an informed decision. 8-22 How will my leadership responsibilities and performance be measured? By whom? Here's another general question that goes to how your efforts will be evaluated. It's likely you will start a conversation about metrics such as management by objective. 8-23 Are there any weaknesses in the department that you are particularly looking to improve? This will provide an indication of what your first assignment will be. 8-24 What are the department's goals, and how do they with align the company's mission? This is another way to get a picture of how the department fits into the enterprise. 8-25 What are the company's strengths and weaknesses compared with the competition (name one or two companies)? This question shows that you have done your research and that you are rightfully aware that success means outperforming the competition. 8-26 How does the reporting structure work here? What are the preferred means of communication? This set of questions goes to the heart of the corporate culture. Are reporting structures formal or informal? You will not be happy if you pre86 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS ? Memorably Good Question #8 In what area could your team use a little polishing? This question creates a super opportunity for the candidate to talk about experience that complements the area identified by the interviewer. Susan Trainer Senior Information Systems Recruiter RJS Associates Hartford, CT fer an informal, open-door company environment and this company prefers a more rigid structure. 8-27 What goals or objectives need to be achieved in the next six months? Here is another question to let the hiring manager know that you want to do one thing at a time starting with the most important thing. 8-28 Can you give me an idea of the typical day and workload and the special demands the job has? This is a good question to get a sense of the job on a day-to-day basis. 8-29 This is a new position. What are the forces that suggested the need for this position? As the holder of a brand-new position, you will have a lot of freedom to shape the job. But the first thing to understand is why it was created and what problem it is designed to solve. 8-30 What areas of the job would you like to see improvement in with regard to the person who was most recently performing these duties? This should give you a clue about why the incumbent failed. Yes it's true that people can learn only from mistakes, but that doesn't mean it has 87 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER ? Memorably Good Question #9 Do team members typically eat lunch together, or do they typically eat at their workstations? This question is a great indicator of how cohesive the team is. If the candidate wants to contribute in a highly collaborative atmosphere, he will likely feel isolated in a company where people eat lunch by themselves. Melanie Mays Empyrean Consulting Dallas, TX to be their own mistakes. The downside is that if the incumbent left on bad terms, you risk associating yourself with some negative vibes. 8-31 From all I can see, I'd really like to work here, and I believe I can add considerable value to the company. What's the next step in the selection process? Express continued interest, ask for the job, and establish a time frame for the next step. 8-32 How does this position contribute to the company's goals, productivity, or profits? This question demonstrates your acknowledgment that every position must make a direct contribution to the company's bottom line. Follow up with a commitment to doing just that. 8-33 What is currently the most pressing business issue or problem for the company or department? This is an opportunity to get into a very useful conversation about the challenges you will be expected to face. 88 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-34 Would you describe for me the actions of a person who previously achieved success in this position? This question gives the hiring manager an opportunity to reflect on his or her criteria for success. 8-35 Would you describe for me the action of a person who previously performed poorly in this position? This question gives the hiring manager an opportunity to reflect on his or her criteria for failure. 5 BEST QUESTIONS ABOUT THE HIRING MANAGER'S MANAGEMENT STYLE 8-36 How would you describe your own management style? This is the most direct statement of the question. 8-37 What are the most important traits you look for in a subordinate? The hiring manager has a lot of latitude with this question. Listen for terms such as "loyalty." 8-38 How do you like your subordinates to communicate with you? You'll get a sense of how formal or informal your prospective manager prefers to be. 8-39 What personal qualities or characteristics do you most value? This question will solicit important information about the personal qualities that the hiring manager will reward. 8-40 Could you describe to me your typical management style and the type of employee who works well with you? You're going to be working closely with this hiring manager. It's important to know his or her management style. If there's going to be a conflict between your styles, it's better that you know that now. 89 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER ? Memorably Good Question # 10 What's the most important thing I can do to help within the first 90 days of my employment? This question is particularly smart because by answering it, the interviewer has to assume the candidate is already on board. Kimberly Bedore Director, Strategic HR Solutions Peopleclick Dallas, TX 10 BEST QUESTIONS ABOUT CORPORATE CULTURE 8-41 Corporate culture is very important, but it's usually hard to define until one violates it. What is one thing an employee might do here that would be perceived as a violation of the company's culture? This question reveals a sophisticated understanding of corporate culture as a force most easily observed in its violation. Typical responses are lying and other ethical breaches, but listen for other clues. 8-42 How would you characterize the organization?What are its principal values? What are its greatest challenges? This profound question demonstrates your deep interest in the organization's makeup. 8-43 How would you describe the experience of working here? Here's a question that goes to the interviewer's experience of corporate culture. 90 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-44 If I were to be employed here, what one piece of wisdom would you want me to incorporate into my work life? This is a strong question that not only asks the hiring manager what he or she considers most important but also assumes that you are already on board. 8-45 What are a couple of misconceptions people have about the company? Every manager is frustrated by the way he or she thinks the world sees the company. Here is your chance get two pieces of critical information: how the hiring manager thinks the world perceives the company and what he or she believes to be the truth. 8-46 Work-life balance is an issue of retention as well as productivity. Can you talk about your own view of how to navigate the tensions between getting the work done and encouraging healthy lives outside the office? On one level, you want to find out how workaholic your prospective manager and the company are. On another, you want a clue about how the company handles the important issue of work-life balance. 8-47 How does the company support and promote personal and professional growth? This is another way to ask how the company culture promotes a healthy work-life balance. 8-48 What types of people seem to excel here? This will engender more conversation about personality styles and attitudes that mesh well with the culture and those that don't. You bluff your way through this question at your own risk. Why would you want to go to work where you would be at war with the prevailing culture? 8-49 Every company contends with office politics. It's a fact of life because politics is about people working together. Can you give me some examples of how politics plays out in this company? 91 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER It's a slightly risky question because "politics" has such a negative connotation. But the reality is that every organization is a political organization. The politics at family-owned companies is much different than the politics of large multinational companies. The issue is, with which are you more comfortable? 8-50 What have I yet to learn about this company and opportunity that I still need to know? A great open-ended question for the interviewer to elaborate on an important point you might not have considered. 25 BEST QUESTIONS ABOUT GENERAL BUSINESS OBJECTIVES 8-51 I'm delighted to know that teamwork is highly regarded. But evaluating the performance of teams can be difficult. How does the company evaluate team performance? For example, does it employ 360-degree feedback programs? While many companies talk about the importance of teamwork, they reward individual performance. It's unlikely that teamwork can really be transformational unless teams are evaluated and rewarded. ? Memorably Bad Question #12 What's your policy on dating coworkers? What's with this guy? What is his motivation for working here? There were many questions that went through my head, none of which I could ask. The question left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the interview. He was not offered a job. Bryan Debenport Corporate Recruiter Alcon Laboratories Fort Worth, TX 92 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-52 What are the organization's primary financial objectives and performance measures? The question combines an understanding that objectives are meaningless without measures. 8-53 What operating guidelines or metrics are used to monitor the planning process and the results? This follow-up question probes for specifics on how the organization determines success. 8-54 To what extent are those objectives uniform across all product lines? Here is a follow-up question that probes for discontinuities in the organization, not an uncommon situation in a corporation formed as the product of multiple mergers and acquisitions. 8-55 How does the company balance short-term performance versus longterm success? This is a tough question for every executive. 8-56 What kinds of formal strategic planning systems, if any, are in place? The Internet revolution relegated formal strategic planning systems such as management by objective to the sidelines, but with the dot-com meltdown, they are starting to come back. 8-57 Can you describe the nature of the planning process and how decisions concerning the budgeting process are made? This question is a little more granular, with an emphasis on the budget. 8-58 Can you identify the key corporate participants in the planning process? This is a variation of the planning question, this time in human terms. 93 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER 8-59 How often and in what form does the company report its results internally to its employees? Look for an answer that involves the word "intranet." 8-60 In the recent past, how has the company acknowledged and rewarded outstanding performance? This question can put the interviewer in a tough spot. If the company has enjoyed good results, you are asking for specific ways the company has shared the wealth with employees. If results have not been good, you are asking for an acknowledgment that there was nothing to share. 8-61 What are the repercussions of having a significant variance to the operating plan? You are asking how the company deals with failure. 8-62 Are budgeting decisions typically made at corporate headquarters, or are the decisions made in a more decentralized fashion? The answer to this question reveals how "top down" decision making is at the company. 8-63 I'm glad to hear that I will be part of a team. Let me ask about reward structures for teams. Does the company have a formal team-based compensation process? A big issue for companies is that they pay lip service to the team effort but reward people as individuals. Here's an exception to the rule about not asking compensation questions before the interviewer brings up the subject. 8-64 Is the company more of an early adapter of technology, a first mover, or is it content to first let other companies work the bugs out and then implement a more mature version of the technology? This question tells the hiring manager not only that you are thinking about technology, but that you get a clue about whether the company is a leader or prefers to follow. 94 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-65 How does the company contribute to thought leadership in its market? This is an elegant way of inquiring about the company's commitment to a leadership position in articulating the issues of the industry. How important is it for you to be part of such an intellectual environment? Can you contribute? 8-66 A company's most critical asset is its knowledge base. How advanced is the company's commitment to knowledge management? This question demonstrates a high level of thinking about an emerging competency: the management of actionable knowledge so that it can be used across the company. 8-67 I was pleased to hear you describe the company's branding strategy. How does branding fit into the overall marketing mix? Branding is, like "quality" or "customer service," a value that everyone in the company should be building. Be sure you have something to say about branding before you bring up a question like this. 8-68 How does this position contribute to the company's goals, productivity, or profits? This is a variation on a very strong question that links the position and the company's hot buttons in a way that lets you speak to your strengths. 8-69 According to (name source), your principal competitor, Brand X, is the best-selling product in the space. What does Brand X do better than your product? A provocative question, it is true, but it's no news to the interviewer. The question shows that you have done your research and suggests that you understand the company can't improve unless it understands what the competition does better. The hope is that you have some salient experience you can offer in this regard. 95 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER 8-70 Business Week magazine ranks the company second (or whatever) in its industry. Does this position represent a change from where it was a few years ago? You probably should know the answer to this question, but the point is to start a conversation about the momentum of the company. Is its rank going up or down, and how does the interviewer deal with it? 8-71 How accessible is the CEO (name him or her) to people at my level of the organization? At some firms, CEOs meet with new employees as well as established employees. Some CEOs have an open-door policy and some are remote figures. How does it work here? 8-72 Does the CEO (name him or her) publish his or her email address? If you want to work for a nonhierarchical company with an open-door policy, look for a CEO who welcomes email. A CEO who does not welcome email, or, worse, does not have email, indicates a more structured organization. ? Memorably Bad Question #13 Have you been playing pocket pool? The candidate shook hands with the hiring manager, conspicuously wiped his hands on his trousers, and delivered the above question with a smirk. He was escorted out shortly thereafter. HR manager for a Fortune 500 telecommunications company Requested anonymity 96 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-73 I understand that the CEO is really approachable.Are there ground rules for approaching him or her? Even the most accessible CEO needs staff to be thoughtful. 8-74 Staff development is mentioned in your annual report as a measure on which executives are evaluated. What kinds of training experiences might I expect? The question indicates deep interest in the company, an understanding of the link between staff development and success, and a focus on staff development in the service of the company's long-term objectives as much as on the individual's development. 8-75 Is the department a profit center? Departments or work units organized as profit centers generate their own revenue, making them much less at risk for layoffs. 5 BEST QUESTIONS ABOUT COWORKERS 8-76 Can you please tell me about the people who will look to me for supervision. A teamwork question. It's very important to know whom you will be supervising. As well, this question also exposes the people who may not report directly to you but will nevertheless see you as a leader. 8-77 Would I encounter any coworker or staff person who's proved to be a problem in the past? Oh boy, now you're getting into dicey territory. Still, it's worth asking. Shows you understand that every organization struggles with interpersonal issues. If the hiring manager looks around and gives you an honest answer to this question, you are looking very good. If you have your notebook out, put it away. 97 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER 8-78 What happened to the person who previously held this job? This question launches a very important conversation. You'll learn either that this is a new position, that the incumbent resigned or was dismissed, or that the incumbent was promoted. You can then offer any of these follow-ups. 8-79 The incumbent was dismissed? What did you learn from the incident? How could the problems have been avoided? You want to be seen as interested in the incident as a learning opportunity, not as a rubbernecker at a highway car crash. The issue is what the hiring manager learned and what you can take away from the incident. 8-80 The incumbent was promoted? I'm delighted to hear it. Would it be possible for me to talk to him or her? This is excellent news. Not only might the incumbent be made available to you, but the position seems to be a launching pad for career success. Getting the opportunity to talk to the person who held the job you want is gold. Redouble your request. 6 BEST QUESTIONS ABOUT CUSTOMER SERVICE 8-81 What is the company's customer service philosophy? Customer service is the mantra of most companies, and this high-level question can open a conversation about customer service. If you ask this question, make sure you have something valuable to say about what you can deliver in this area. 8-82 Could you tell me about a time when the team/company went out of its way to provide knock-your-socks-off service? People love showing off if they are coaxed. Listen carefully to the story, and be prepared to offer a similar story where you were the hero. 98 QUESTIONS FOR HIRING MANAGERS 8-83 The best companies rely on rich customer data to fuel personalized content and services. How is the company doing in personalizing its offerings? The question demonstrates your understanding of how the Internet has changed marketing and customer service. Be prepared to demonstrate how you can advance the company in its personalization objectives. 8-84 Customers are expecting companies to protect their data. Does the company have a privacy policy for its Web initiatives, and how does the company balance the momentum for ever-increasing personalization with rising concerns for privacy? If you ask this question, be sure you have some concrete experience in this area. 8-85 How empowered are employees? How much of the company's money can your people (including the ones with single-digit pay grades) spend on their own recognizance to satisfy a customer or address a workprocess issue? You are asking for evidence that the organization pays more than lip service to employee empowerment. 8-86 How often would I come into direct contact with real, living, breathing, paying customers? This question goes to how much the organization trusts its employees. Exposing customers to employees can be risky, but without significant customer contact, no employee can appreciate what it really means to be successful. 6 BEST QUESTIONS FOR COMPANY FOUNDERS AND OWNERS If your interview is with the founder or owner of the company, especially if your position proposes to take on activities currently handled by the founder or owner, you have a special challenge. 99 INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER All the other questions in this book are fair game, and will give you good information. But the main challenge of working with a company founder or owner is not in getting the job offer, but in succeeding at the job. If it doesn't work out, often it won't be because of performance but because of the inability of the company founder or owner to let go of the reins. Thus, the questions you ask in this circumstance need to give you sharp information about fit. Business history shows that few company founders have the skills to manage the company when it gets past a certain size. Few such managers, however, acknowledge this reality. One of your main goals in the interview, then, is to try to determine how you will be able to work with this individual and, by extension, his l me about the company's roots? As former president Ronald Reagan would say, "Trust, but verify." Asking these questions is just the first step. Confirming the accuracy of the answers is the second. 102 PA RT I I I THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE You have two critical purposes in asking questions. At first, you want every question to sell yourself. At some point, you also want to ask questions to help you decide if you really want the position. After all, as the interview progresses, you are becoming an investor in the company, investing with the most valuable assets you have: your time, talent, and allegiance. FOUR GROUPS OF QUESTIONS There are four groups of questions you can pick from when it's your turn to ask questions, and each is the subject of one of the next four chapters. Exploring questions do double duty: They demonstrate your interest in the job and the company, and they help you learn more about the opportunity. Defensive questions let you know what you're getting into and protect you from making a mistake. Feedback questions are really sales techniques to identify objections and solidify your position. Bid-for-action questions are designed to clinch the offer. I am indebted to Gary Ames, vice president of consulting at Merrill-Adams in Princeton, New Jersey, and Dr. Wendell Williams, managing director of ScientificSelection.com in Atlanta, Georgia, for the organization of these questions. 103 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE Part III concludes with questions you can ask after you have received an offer--and in the event you didn't receive an offer-- what you can do to leverage rejections. IF THE CULTURE FITS Most organizations hire on ability and fire on fit. By the same token, most employees choose companies on the basis of salary and benefits and quit on the basis of culture and interpersonal relationships. Thus one of your main goals in questioning, besides making yourself look interested and attractive, is to determine if the company offers a culture that you can work with. There is no route more certain to lead to despair and turnover than bluffing your way into a company whose culture is at war with your own. One way to gauge a company's culture is by asking a series of questions and then filling out a company culture survey. This culture survey was developed by Empyrean Consulting, Inc., a staffing firm in Dallas, Texas, to help its candidates determine the culture of the company they are considering. Empyrean understands that without a good cultural fit, the prospects for long-term satisfaction are reduced. At this point, take a few minutes to complete the survey. COMPANY CULTURE SURVEY Instructions: Assuming you are comfortable with the culture of your current or last position, complete the survey based on your current or last position. Then go back and complete the survey on the basis of your understanding of what the culture in the new position is. Alternatively, if you are not currently employed or are unhappy with your position, complete the survey on the basis of your "wish list" for your next company. Then go back and complete the grid based on your estimation of the company culture you are considering joining. 104 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE Work Styles Describe the work style of the company or team. Decisions made independently 1 2 3 4 Decisions made as a team 5 Perform duties outside normal job scope 3 4 5 Tasks limited to job description 1 2 IT-Business Relationship Describe the relationship between the IT department and other parts of the business. Assignments from IT Assignments from business unit 3 4 5 Responsible to business unit 3 4 5 Informal development/ change processes 4 5 Significant contact with business units 3 4 5 1 2 Responsible to IT 1 2 Formal development/change management processes 1 2 3 Little contact with business units 1 2 105 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE Worker Relationships Describe the relationship among the coworkers. Typical coworker education level: High school 1 2 3 4 Typical coworker education level: Graduate school 5 Employees eat lunch at desk 3 4 5 Little or no after-work activities 3 4 5 Independent 2 3 4 5 Employees eat lunch together 1 2 Employees engage in after-work activities (e.g., softball league) 1 Collegial 1 2 Company Relationship Which of the following attitudes best describes the culture? Employees are expected to adhere to a fixed work schedule Employees can set their own schedule as long as the work is done 3 4 5 Employees may take unplanned time off/vacation days 3 4 5 1 2 Employees must schedule and clear all time off 1 2 106 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE The company has implemented formal policies and procedures Policies and procedures are mostly informal, unwritten 3 4 5 1 2 Atmosphere Describe the general working atmosphere of the company. Formal 1 Big business 1 2 3 4 2 3 4 Casual 5 Entrepreneurial 5 Chaotic 3 4 5 Laid back 3 4 5 Highly structured 1 2 High pressure 1 2 Scoring. If there is reasonable agreement between the two sets of marks, you can have confidence that the cultures of the two companies are similar. If you succeeded in one, it is likely you will be successful in the other. But watch out if there is a radical disconnect between the two sets of marks. That means the behaviors that have stood you in good stead in your last company may well create friction for you in the new one. Changing cultures is not necessarily a bad thing, but doing so without awareness is a prescription for disappointment. 107 This page intentionally left blank. CHAPTER 9 EXPLORING QUESTIONS SHOW YOUR INVESTMENT IN THE JOB AND LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD Exploring questions probe for details about the job, company, management, and people you would be working with. Even more, these questions demonstrate that you have invested in researching the company. This levels the power between you and the interviewer, who now is uncertain about how much you already know about the company. As a general rule, approach these questions about products, customers, and processes as would a consultant. You are the expert engaged in an informational interview so that you can render an expert opinion. Of course, no one would ever ask all these questions in one job interview, but you want to get a good understanding of four aspects: the job, the people, the management, and the company. Before your next interview, select four or five of these questions and reword them to meet the unique requirements of the individual interview. 8 BEST QUESTIONS ABOUT THE POSITION 9-1 May I see a job description? What are the most important responsibilities of the job? A good place to start is to ask for a job description. 109 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE ? Memorably Good Question # 11 My research shows that Company XYZ is your most aggressive competitor. Is that your judgment as well, and what steps are you taking to differentiate yourself? This question demonstrates the candidate has done his homework and understands a key business concept. Ideally, the candidate will be able to offer some value around the concept of product differentiation. Notice, also, how the question enlists the opinion of the interviewer. Charles Handler Rocket-hire.com San Francisco, CA 9-2 How much time should be devoted to each area of responsibility? This question asks the interviewer to identify what is most important and then to prioritize. Often interviewers will find this question very difficult because they don't really know. But how can you succeed without agreements on what's most important? 9-3 What initial projects would I be tackling? Like the question above, this is another attempt to prioritize, this time looking at projects. 9-4 What is my spending/budget authority? This question goes to how much responsibility you will have before bumping into someone else's responsibility. 9-5 What are you hoping to accomplish, and what will be my role in those plans? You want to know what the company's strategic goals are and how the company hopes you will contribute. 110 EXPLORING QUESTIONS 9-6 Presuming that I'm successful on this assignment, where else might I be of service to the company? First things first, of course, but the question will tell the interviewer that you have a long-term perspective. 9-7 Can you please describe the management team to me? This is the most general question about the management team you will report to. 9-8 Can you show or sketch me an organizational chart? An organizational chart is a road map to the company's structure and how much authority you will have. 10 BEST QUESTIONS ABOUT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 9-9 Will I receive my assignments from IT or from the business unit? This is a critical question that goes to the very DNA of the information technology resource in the company. Organizations in which the business units have significant input into the technology agenda are generally much more responsive to market conditions than organizations in which IT is more insulated from business realities. On the other hand, the IT function can be a lot more volatile. Which environment do you prefer? 9-10 Do developers have little contact with the business unit or significant contact? This variation of the above question looks at IT contact with business units as a measure of how responsive IT is. 9-11 Does the company have a Net-use policy? May I see it? The answer to this question will give you a good clue about what levels of trust operate in the company. An overly retroactive Net policy may point to a company that is uncomfortable with the uncertainties of the Net. 111 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE ? Memorably Good Question #12 Do you have any questions or concerns about my ability to perform this job? A candidate is always better off bringing objections out in the open. A stated objection may be addressed. Unstated objections will sink you every time. Scott Hagen Senior Internet Recruiter Recruiters-Aid San Marcos, CA 9-12 To whom does the chief information or technology officer report? If the CIO reports directly to the CEO, this indicates a company that places high strategic value in the IT function. 9-13 What are the biggest technical challenges ahead for this department/ company? Get a sense of how the hiring manager defines the technical challenges and be prepared to sell yourself against those outcomes. 9-14 Traditionally, companies have used IT to reduce bottom-line costs. But I am excited about the use of IT to advance top-line opportunities such as creating new products and identifying new markets. Can you talk about how IT is used in this company to create top-line value? Do you want to work in a company where IT continues to be an inwardfacing function? 9-15 What structured strategies for software testing have you found effective here? Note that this is a question that makes sense only with an interviewer who has a passion for software testing. 112 EXPLORING QUESTIONS ? Memorably Good Question #13 When top performers leave the company, why do they leave and where do they usually go? This is tough for the interviewer to answer because she might not want to identify the company that seems to get the top performers. But if she is as confident about her company as she is about you, she will assume you already know about that company and that it is probably also considering you. The implicit question is, Why should I work for your company instead of the other one? John Sullivan Professor, Human Resources Management San Francisco State University San Francisco, CA 9-16 Does the company use an IT steering committee? The question demonstrates understanding of how some companies develop IT funding and strategies. 9-17 Do you have a formal development change management process, or is the process more informal? Many developers hate formal, structured processes or standards; others welcome the structure. Be clear about the environment you are considering joining. 9-18 Aftey hotter if you accept a job you don't fully understand. So ask away. While you never want to ask questions that spoil your rapport with the interviewer, make it clear that you expect candid answers to your queries. Actually, there is an advantage to being real at this point. Most interviewers expect you to look out for your interests. If you can't speak up for your own interests, they will figure, how can you be expected to speak out for the best interests of the organization? Here is where your research protects your interests. You need to know why the company is losing money, why the prior incumbent quit, and what are the relocation plans for the department. It is perfectly appropriate to ask to speak with potential subordinates and colleagues. They are excellent sources of information; they know what is going on 117 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE ? Memorably Good Question #14 What was the last fun thing that you did that wasn't workrelated? I had made it through a series of interviews for a position in New York City that paid about $60,000 per year. After interviewing with the manager and owner of the company, I had a gut feeling that they expected employees to work 14-hour days plus weekends. How could I ask a question about work hours without appearing lazy or like a clock-watcher? So at the end of my third interview, I asked the manager that question. Her face turned a bit sullen as she said, "Well, I had fun at the company business party we had on our business trip to Canada. From " that one question, I learned that if I accepted the position, I'd be signing my life away to this company. Bob Johnson Director of Public Relations St. Bartholomew's Church New York, NY and are most likely going to be straight with you. You may ask these people about the informal power structure, the unwritten priorities, what it really takes to be successful, and what they most want to change. 15 BEST DEFENSIVE QUESTIONS 10-1 If I were a spectacular success in this position after six months, what would I have accomplished? This is a very bold way to understand the "dream list" of accomplishments you will, on some level, be expected to fulfill. 10-2 Do you foresee this job involving significant amounts of overtime or work on weekends? It's a fair question, so ask it straight. 118 DEFENSIVE QUESTIONS 10-3 I understand the company has experienced layoffs within the last two years. Can you review the reasons why they were necessary? It will make the interviewer uncomfortable, but the interviewer expects questions about layoffs. 10-4 How were the layoffs handled in terms of notification, severance, outplacement services, etc.? You want to know how your termination, should you be downsized, will likely be handled. 10-5 Are there formal metrics in place for measuring and rewarding performance over time? The impression you want to leave is that you are good and you want the metrics to recognize it. 10-6 How effectively has the company communicated its top three business goals? If the interviewer cannot articulate them, you have your answer. 10-7 I am a hard worker. I expect to be around other hard-working people.Am I going to be comfortable with the level of effort I find here? ? Memorably Bad Question #15 Before you tell me about your benefits, can I go get my wife? She's in the car and she's the one who wants to know about the benefits. Maybe she should be the one applying for the job. Wayne Kale Ryon Recruiters Hendersonville, NC 119 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE You are asking the interviewer if you will find the kind of hard-working environment in which you thrive at this position. If the interviewer hedges at all, you have your answer. 10-8 Is the company's training strategy linked to the company's core business objectives? The most sophisticated companies do link their training and education investments to core business objectives. 10-9 How does your firm handle recognition for a job well done? The way an organization rewards achievement tells you a lot about its culture. 10-10 When was the last time you rewarded a subordinate for his or her efforts? What token of appreciation did you offer? This question goes from the general to the specific. You are now asking about the manager's practices in rewarding subordinates. 10-11 How does the firm recognize and learn from a brave attempt that didn't turn out quite as expected? Many companies say they have a nonpunitive attitude toward managers who make mistakes, but few live up to the attitude. Ask about a time when the lessons from a mistake were widely disseminated across the organization. 10-12 How much freedom would I have in determining my objectives and deadlines? This question goes to how much authority you will have to do your job in the manner you see fit versus working to someone else's preferences. 10-13 How long has this position existed in the organization? Has its scope changed recently? Information about the history of the position and its recent evolution can influence your decision. 120 DEFENSIVE QUESTIONS ? Memorably Bad Question #16 I have custody of my niece and can get child care only three days a week. Can I bring her to work with me the other days? We want to be sensitive to child-care issues, but we also expect candidates to have these issues under control. Richard Kathnelson VP of Human Resources Syndesis, Inc. Ontario, Canada 10-14 What are the greatest challenges I will face in this position in furthering the agenda of the organization? The question asks the interviewer to identify the obstacles, impediments, and other land mines that people occupying every position in an organization must confront. If the interviewer suggests there are no such obstacles, you know it's a lie. 10-15 Are my tasks limited to my job description, or will l be performing duties outside the described job scope? If there is a job description, it is frequently ignored. If you're going to be doing your job as well as someone else's, you should know now, before you accept the job. 121 This page intentionally left blank. CHAPTER 11 FEEDBACK QUESTIONS QUESTIONS THAT INDICATE AND SOLIDIFY YOUR POSITION Ed Koch, a former New York mayor, made famous this quip: "How'm I doing?" You should pepper your conversation with forms of this question as well. Feedback questions allow you to uncover and disarm an interviewer's concerns. It is often extremely difficult to learn what the interviewer doesn't like about you. In many cases, company policy or fear of litigation prevents interviewers from giving you information that is critical for you to know if you are to improve your interviewing techniques. "Candidates need to understand that providing honest feedback is really tricky for recruiters and sometimes impossible," says Janice Brookshier of Seattlejobs.org. "If you received a bad reference, for example, I can't tell you." However, you must uncover doubts, if they exist. I believe that the facts are friendly. They may not always be convenient. If you have been fired or been in jail or have a big gap in your work history, these facts are not pleasant. But they are friendly because you have control over their disclosure. You are always better off dealing with the facts than hoping they will be ignored. Facts may not be discussed, but they are never ignored. The point is that you can't address an objection you don't know about. These questions require courage. Don't be afraid of letting your weaknesses surface. You want to be in the position of overcoming objections since this is when selling occurs. 123 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE 10 BEST FEEDBACK QUESTIONS 11-1 How do you like me so far? A cheeky question at its best, but if said with a smile and a light tone of voice, it might work. 11-2 Do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job and fit in? This is an important question because it shows humility and gives you the opportunity to both address and eliminate an objection. 11-3 Is there anything standing in the way of us coming to an agreement? Notice the question isn't about the offer, it's about agreement. 11-4 Do you have any concerns about my experience, education, skills? This is a direct question about any objections the interviewer might have. 11-5 How do I compare with the other candidates you have interviewed? Here's another way to look at where you stand, and it's always good to get information on the competition. 11-6 Describe your ideal candidate.What do my qualifications lack compared with those of the theoretical ideal candidate? ? Memorably Bad Question #17 I don't have any experience, so can I get a job in management? That might be hard. You may be overqualified. ACT-1 Recruiter Mountain View, CA 124 FEEDBACK QUESTIONS ? Memorably Bad Question #18 What do you pay me if you fire me? Don't worry. We'll never have to deal with that issue. ACT-1 Recruiter Phoenix, AZ If you get a sense that the interviewer thinks you are underqualified, here's a question that might give you a shot at persuading him or her that you have what it takes. 11-7 Is there anything else I can elaborate on so that you would have a better understanding of my qualifications and suitability for this position? The answer often reveals where the interviewer is less than totally comfortable with your credentials. 11-8 Are there any areas in which you feel I fall short of your requirements? You're making a direct appeal to the interviewer to talk about your shortcomings. Now show the interviewer how you can listen to criticism without getting defensive. 11-9 Can you give me any feedback that would make me more attractive to the company in the future or that I could benefit from next time? If you don't get the job, maybe this question will at least give you some vital feedback you can use for next time. 11-10 Is there anything else you need from me to have a complete picture of my qualifications? This is an alternative and elegant formulation of the central feedback question. 125 This page intentionally left blank. CHAPTER 12 BID-FOR-ACTION QUESTIONS QUESTIONS THAT CLINCH THE OFFER Jobs interviews are sales calls. The product you are selling is yourself. Marketing 101 says that every marketing message needs a bid for action: a clearly worded request for the order. Pick up the phone. Send in the response card. Click on the link. Give me an offer. So it is with each job interview. Each time you meet with a hiring manager, you have an irreplaceable opportunity to ask for the offer. "When I'm interviewing a candidate for a sales position, I want them to close me," says Bob Conlin, VP of Incentive Systems in Bedford, Massachusetts. "If they give me a soft close, or, worse, no close at all, I get concerned." Here's an example of what Conlin considers to be a hard close: Bob, every year I'm going to be your number-one guy. Every year I'm going to beat quota. I'm your candidate.When can I start? "I know I'm being closed here," he says. "The candidate is speaking my language. His confidence is infectious." But Conlin also wants to see evidence that the candidate is mindful of the organization's goals, not just the salesperson's goals. The following question is even more thoughtful because it demonstrates that the candidate is already thinking as a member of a team: 127 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE I know I can drive the revenues and net the customers. What kinds of processes are in place to help me work collaboratively? Besides asking for the job, bid-for-action questions ask for an indication of how favorably the interviewer assesses you. One way to assess a company's interest is to see how hard the interviewer tries to sell you on accepting the job when you ask these questions. Some candidates grow pale at saying something as blatant as: Are you ready to make me an offer now, or do I need to sell myself some more? But what do you have to lose? If the job you are applying for has any marketing or management quality at all, the interviewer will be impressed by your confidence. Every great salesperson knows to "ask for the order." Here's how to ask for the job in the final interview. Begin with a statement of your understanding of the opportunity: As I understand it, the successful candidate will be someone with x education, y qualifications, and z experience. Do I understand the opportunity correctly? Here your purpose is threefold. First, you are testing to see if you indeed understand the situation. If you missed something, or, more likely, the interviewer forgot some important requirement, now is the time to get it right. Second, assuming you summarized the position correctly, the interviewer is impressed by your organizational skills. Third, asking for agreement at this point is a strategy for getting the interviewer into the habit of saying yes. Yes is the answer you want to the next question, and it's good to have the interviewer in a yes mood. The critical next question is: Do I meet the requirements? Now wait. That's the hard part. The interviewer is making up his or her mind. The answer will tell you if it is time to close or if you have more persuading to do. If the interviewer is positive and says that, yes (there's that word again), you have all the qualifications, you can now deliver the strongest closing line there is: 128 BID-FOR-ACTION QUESTIONS I'm glad we agree. I feel that way, too. So I am certainly interested in receiving your strongest offer. But I must issue a fair warning. You are on dangerous ground here. Your decision to ask for the job must be pitch-perfect. Before asking for the job, you must have created a good rapport with your interviewer, established that you are a good fit for the job, and extracted at least some expression of interest from the interviewer. Your timing must be so perfect the interviewer could set her watch by it. In other words, unless you have a high degree of confidence about each of these points, I wouldn't take a chance. It's a risky move for two reasons: First, while asking a prospect to say yes to an order for a gross of pens with the business's logo emblazoned on them might occasionally get the prospect to sign on the bottom line, it's highly unlikely that you will actually get a hiring manager to say, "Sure, you want the job? You got it! When can you start?" Even the hiring manager has a process to go through and must consult with others. Still, asking for the job might move you up in the crowd. And second, it might blow you out of the water. That's because in contemporary American business culture, asking for something as important as a job is loaded with a lot of emotional baggage. It's ? Memorably Good Question #15 What do you see in me? What are my strongest assets and possible weaknesses? Do you have any concerns that I need to clear up in order to be the top candidate? A totally confident question that asks the hiring manager to encapsulate your qualifications. It concludes with a strong bid for action. John Sullivan Professor, Human Resources Management San Francisco State University San Francisco, CA 129 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE ? Memorably Good Question #16 You know, this position sounds like it's something I'd really like to do. Is there a fit here? I like this formulation because it expresses interest, indicates a desire for action, and asks for the job informally. Janice Brookshier President Seattlejobs.org Seattle, WA ? Memorably Good Question #17 I think I'm good for the job. I really want the job. How can we work it out? A nicely parallel, almost poetic, request for a job featuring a very soft close using the key words "we" and "work. " Stephanie Simmons Ray Attorney Lane Powell Spears Lubersky Seattle, WA very much like talking about money. Talking directly about money is taboo. Everyone knows it's the most important part of the conversation in a job interview, yet the pretense we all have about money relegates it to the end, almost as if money were an afterthought. So it is age of the total profit from the company does it generate? Is it increasing or decreasing? It's critical to know the contribution of your division or department to the total profit of the organization. 13-2 What's your company's "killer application"? What percentage of the market share does it have? Will I be working on it? Every company has a core product that often generates the lion's share of the revenues. If that's where you want to be, make sure that's where you will be placed. 13-3 Can you give me some examples of the best and worst aspects of the company's culture? Does the hiring manager have enough insight to know that every corporate culture has both positive and negative qualities? 13-4 What makes this company a great place to work? What outside evidence (rankings or awards) do you have to prove this is a great place to work? What is the company going to do in the next year to make it better? This is a fairly aggressive question, but if it's fair for the company to ask you to prove you are the best, the reverse is also true. 13-5 What would I see if I stood outside the front door at five o'clock? Would everyone be smiling? Staying late or leaving early? Would everyone be taking work home? Why not conduct this experiment before you ask the question? See if the interviewer's answer squares with your observations. 13-6 Lots of your competitors have great products and people programs.What is the deciding factor that makes this opportunity superior? Are you will140 QUESTIONS FOR SUPERSTARS ing to make me some specific "promises" on what you will do to make this a great experience for me if I accept the position? The superstar is asking for the interviewer to "sell" the company. 13-7 Can you show me that the company has a diverse workforce and that it is tolerant of individual differences? Does it have affinity groups or similar programs that I might find beneficial? Is there a dress code? Can you give me an example of any "outrageous conduct" this firm tolerates that the competitors would not? How tolerant is the company for the kind of chaos that many superstars generate in the course of greatness? 13-8 Does your company offer any wow! benefits? Does it pay for advanced degrees? Does it offer paid sabbaticals? On-site child care? Relocation packages? Mentor programs? How are these superior to those of your competitors? What about job sharing? Flex-time arrangements? Telecommuting? Workout facilities? If these practices are important to you, by all means ask. 13-9 When top performers leave the company, why do they leave and where do they usually go? This is tough for the interviewer to answer because he or she doesn't want to give you names of other employers to consider. But if the interviewer is confident in her case, she will. 13-10 When was the last significant layoff? What criteria were used to select those to stay? What packages were offered to those who were let go? Layoffs are a fact of life even in the most stable companies. It's fair game to talk about the company's management of layoffs. 13-11 Does the company have a program to significantly reward individuals who develop patents/ great products? Is there a program to help individuals "start" their own firms or subsidiary? Will I be required to fill out noncompete agreements? 141 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE You plan to generate great intellectual property for the company. It's fair to know how those assets will be managed. THE JOB AND THE DEPARTMENT 13-12 How many approvals would it take (and how long) to get a new $110,000 project idea of mine approved? What percentage of employee-initiated projects in this job were approved last year? Ask for examples. If you want to be part of a nimble organization, this is a great way to ask. 13-13 How many days will it take for you (and the company) to make a hiring decision for this position? The superstar might as well have said "hours." Organizations these days know they have to move quickly to snag the best candidates. 13-14 Who are the "coolest" people on my team? What makes them cool? Can I meet them? Who is the best and worst performer on the team, and what was the difference in their total compensation last year? Sell me on this team and the individuals on it that I get to work with. What makes my closest coworkers fun or great people to work with? A complicated question, but all focused on understanding the makeup of the team you will be joining. These are the people who will determine whether you succeed or fail. 13-15 What is your "learning plan" for me for my first six months? What competencies do you propose I will develop that I don't currently have? Which individual in the department can I learn the most from? What can he or she teach me? Can I meet that person? Does the company have a specific program to advance my career? These questions pin the company down on resources for advancing your portfolio of skills. 142 QUESTIONS FOR SUPERSTARS 13-16 Assuming I'm current with my work, how many days could I not show up at the office each week? Could I miss a day without your advance permission? What percentage of the people in this position telecommute? Has anyone in the group been allowed to take a month off (unpaid) to fulfill a personal interest? If personal autonomy is important to you, get it on the table and determine if there is precedent for what you want. It's much easier to follow precedent than to create it. 13-17 Give me some examples of the decisions I could make in this job without any approvals. Can you show me the degree of autonomy and control I will have in this position? This is another way to ask how the company values personal autonomy. 13-18 How many hours a week do you expect the average person on your team to work? How many hours does the average person in fact work? Are there work-life programs in place to promote a healthy work-life balance? As a superstar, you are prepared to put in the hours--you just want to know what they are. 13-19 How will my performance be evaluated? What are the top criteria you use? What percentage of my compensation is based on my performance? Is there a process where the employees get to assess their supervisor? If I do a great/bad job in the first 90 days, how, specifically, will you let me know? What are the steps you would take to help me improve? How do you discipline team members? The answers to this complicated set of questions should tell you how the company evaluates and motivates performance as well as how it corrects lack of performance. 13-20 What is the first assignment you intend to give me? Where does that assignment rank on the departmental priorities? What makes this assignment a great opportunity? 143 THE QUESTION LIFE CYCLE You want to know if you will be immediately contributing to an important, visible project. 13-21 How many hours of your time can I expect to get each week for the first six months on the job? How often will we have scheduled meetings? You want to know how much face time you will have with your manager. 13-22 If I were frustrated about my job, what specific steps would you take to help me overcome that frustration? How about if you were frustrated with me? Can you show me examples of what you have done for others in your group in the past year to overcome any frustration? This is a supremely confident question that is frank in assuming there will be occasional frustrations. The bigger issue is what services are in place to help resolve frustrations. 13-23 What are the wows! of this job? What are the worst parts? And what will you do to maximize the former and minimize the latter? If I asked the incumbent what stinks about the job, what would he or she say? Can I talk to him or her? This balanced but nevertheless threatening question asks for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Every company is made up of all three qualities. The bigger issue is whether the hiring manager has the spine to be up front about it. 13-24 What will make my physical work environment a fun and stimulating place to spend time? If the physical workspace is important to you, ask. This general question is better than asking about airy have a mission statement? May I see it? CHAPTER 8 8-1 What specific skills from the person you hire would make your life easier? 8-2 What are some of the problems that keep you up at night? 8-3 What would be a surprising but positive thing the new person could do in the first 90 days? 8-4 How does upper management perceive this part of the organization? 8-5 What do you see as the most important opportunities for improvement in the area I hope to join? 8-6 What are the organization's three most important goals? 8-7 How do you see this position impacting on the achievement of those goals? 8-8 What attracted you to working for this organization? 8-9 What have you liked most about working here? 8-10 In what ways has the experience surprised or disappointed you? 8-11 What are the day-to-day responsibilities I'll be assigned? 166 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-12 Could you explain the company's organizational structure? 8-13 What is the organization's plan for the next five years, and how does this department or division fit in? 8-14 Will we be expanding or bringing on new products or new services that I should be aware of? 8-15 What are some of the skills and abilities you see as necessary for someone to succeed in this job? 8-16 What challenges might I encounter if I take on this position? 8-17 What are your major concerns that need to be immediately addressed in this job? 8-18 What are the attributes of the job that you'd like to see improved? 8-19 What is your company's policy on attending seminars, workshops, and other training opportunities? 8-20 What is the budget this department operates with? 8-21 What committees and task forces will I be expected to participate in? 8-22 How will my leadership responsibilities and performance be measured? By whom? 8-23 Are there any weaknesses in the department that you are particularly looking to improve? 167 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-24 What are the department's goals, and how do they align with the company's mission? 8-25 What are the company's strengths and weaknesses compared with the competition (name one or two companies)? 8-26 How does the reporting structure work here? What are the preferred means of communication? 8-27 What goals or objectives need to be achieved in the next six months? 8-28 Can you give me an ideal of the typical day and workload and the special demands the job has? 8-29 This is a new position. What are the forces that suggested the need for this position? 8-30 What areas of the job would you like to see improvement in with regard to the person who was most recently performing these duties? 8-31 From all I can see, I'd really like to work here, and I believe I can add considerable value to the company. What's the next step in the selection process? 8-32 How does this position contribute to the company's goals, productivity, or profits? 8-33 What is currently the most pressing business issue or problem for the company or department? 168 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-34 Would you describe for me the actions of a person who previously achieved success in this position? 8-35 Would you describe for me the action of a person who previously performed poorly in this position? 8-36 How would you describe your own management style? 8-37 What are the most important traits you look for in a subordinate? 8-38 How do you like your subordinates to communicate with you? 8-39 What personal qualities or characteristics do you most value? 8-40 Could you describe to me your typical management style and the type of employee who works well with you? 8-41 Corporate culture is very important, but it's usually hard to define until one violates it. What is one thing an employee might do here that would be perceived as a violation of the company's culture? 8-42 How would you characterize the organization?What are its principal values? What are its greatest challenges? 8-43 How would you describe the experience of working here? 8-44 If I were to be employed here, what one piece of wisdom would you want me to incorporate into my work life? 8-45 What are a couple of misconceptions people have about the company? 169 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-46 Work-life balance is an issue of retention as well as productivity. Can you talk about your own view of how to navigate the tensions between getting the work done and encouraging healthy lives outside the office? 8-47 How does the company support and promote personal and professional growth? 8-48 What types of people seem to excel here? 8-49 Every company contends with office politics. It's a fact of life because politics is about people working together. Can you give me some examples of how politics plays out in this company? 8-50 What have I yet to learn about this company and opportunity that I still need to know? 8-51 I'm delighted to know that teamwork is highly regarded. But evaluating the performance of teams can be difficult. How does the company evaluate team performance? For example, does it employ 360-degree feedback programs? 8-52 What are the organization's primary financial objectives and performance measures? 8-53 What operating guidelines or metrics are used to monitor the planning process and the results? 8-54 To what extent are those objectives uniform across all product lines? 8-55 How does the company balance short-term performance versus longterm success? 170 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-56 What kinds of formal strategic planning systems, if any, are in place? 8-57 Can you describe the nature of the planning process and how decisions concerning the budgeting process are made? 8-58 Can you identify the key corporate participants in the planning process? 8-59 How often and in what form does the company report its results internally to its employees? 8-60 In the recent past, how has the company acknowledged and rewarded outstanding performance? 8-61 What are the repercussions of having a significant variance to the operating plan? 8-62 Are budgeting decisions typically made at corporate headquarters, or are the decisions made in a more decentralized fashion? 8-63 I'm glad to hear that I will be part of a team. Let me ask about reward structures for teams. Does the company have a formal team-based compensation process? 8-64 Is the company more of an early adapter of technology, a first mover, or is it content to first let other companies work the bugs out and then implement a more mature version of the technology? 8-65 How does the company contribute to thought leadership in its market? 8-66 A company's most critical asset is its knowledge base. How advanced is the company's commitment to knowledge management? 171 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-67 I was pleased to hear you describe the company's branding strategy. How does branding fit into the overall marketing mix? 8-68 How does this position contribute to the company's goals, productivity, or profits? 8-69 According to (name source), your principal competitor, Brand X, is the best-selling product in the space.What does Brand X do better than your product? 8-70 Business Week magazine ranks the company second (or whatever) in its industry. Does this position represent a change from where it was a few years ago? 8-71 How accessible is the CEO (name him or her) to people at my level of the organization? 8-72 Does the CEO (name him or her) publish his or her email address? 8-73 I understand that the CEO is really approachable.Are there ground rules for approaching him or her? 8-74 Staff development is mentioned in your annual report as a measure on which executives are evaluated. What kinds of training experiences might I expect? 8-75 Is the department a profit center? 8-76 Can you please tell me about the people who will look to me for supervision? 172 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-77 Would I encounter any coworker or staff person who's proved to be a problem in the past? 8-78 What happened to the person who previously held this job? 8-79 The incumbent was dismissed? What did you learn from the incident? How could the problems have been avoided? 8-80 The incumbent was promoted? I'm delighted to hear it. Would it be possible for me to talk to him or her? 8-81 What is the company's customer service philosophy? 8-82 Could you tell me about a time when the team/company went out of its way to provide knock-your-socks-off service? 8-83 The best companies rely on rich customer data to fuel personalized content and services. How is the company doing in personalizing its offerings? 8-84 Customers are expecting companies to protect their data. Does the company have a privacy policy for its Web initiatives, and how does the company balance the momentum for ever-increasing personalization with rising concerns for privacy? 8-85 How empowered are employees? How much of the company's money can your people (including the ones with single-digit pay grades) spend on their own recognizance to satisfy a customer or address a workprocess issue? 8-86 How often would I come into direct contact with real, living, breathing, paying customers? 173 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 8-87 What are the success factors that will tell you that the decision to bring me on board was the right one? 8-88 How would you describe the company you'd like to leave your heirs in terms of sales, size, number of employees, and position in the industry? 8-89 Have you considered the degree to which you want your heirs to have strategic or operational influence in the company until one of them is ready to assume the role of COO or CEO? 8-90 If for any reason you were unable to function as CEO, how would you like to see the company managed? Is this known, understood, and agreed to by your heirs? Is it in writing? 8-91 To make our working relationship successful--something we both want--we'll need to be sure we have good chemistry together. How might we determine this, and then what action would you see us engage in to build that relationship? 8-92 If you and I were developing some sort of philosophical difference, how would you want to go about resolving it? CHAPTER 9 9-1 May I see a job description? What are the most important responsibilities of the job? 9-2 How much time should be devoted to each area of responsibility? 9-3 What initial projects would I be tackling? 174 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 9-4 What is my spending/budget authority? 9-5 What are you hoping to accomplish, and what will be my role in those plans? 9-6 Presuming that I'm successful on this assignment, where else might I be of service to the company? 9-7 Could you please describe the management team to me? 9-8 Can you show or sketch me an organizational chart? 9-9 Will I receive my assignments from IT or from the business unit? 9-10 Do developers have little contact with the business unit or significant contact? 9-11 Does the company have a Net-use policy? May I see it? 9-12 To whom does the chief information or technology officer report? 9-13 What are the biggest technical challenges ahead for this department/ company? 9-14 Traditionally, companies have used IT to reduce bottom-line costs. But I am excited about the use of IT to advance top-line opportunities such as creating new products and identifying new markets. Can you talk about how IT is used in this company to create top-line value? 9-15 What structured strategies for software testing have you found effective here? 175 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 9-16 Does the company use an IT steering committee? 9-17 Do you have a formal development change management process, or is the process more informal? 9-18 After months of working long hours, the morale of IT workers can plummet. What rewards have you found effective in recognizing and rewarding exceptional work? 9-19 What is the commission structure, and what is my earning potential in 1, 3, 5, or 10 years? 9-20 If you put all the salespeople in a line from your best to the merely acceptable performer, what are the earnings of the 50th percentile? The 25th? The 75th? 9-21 What percentage of salespeople attain objectives? 9-22 What percentage of the current people are above and below their set goals? 9-23 Can you describe the performance of the sales team? CHAPTER 10 10-1 If I were a spectacular success in this position after six months, what would I have accomplished? 10-2 Do you foresee this job involving significant amounts of overtime or work on weekends? 176 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 10-3 I understand the company has experienced layoffs within the last two years. Can you review the reasons why they were necessary? 10-4 How were the layoffs handled in terms of notification, severance, outplacement services, etc.? 10-5 Are there formal metrics in place for measuring and rewarding performance over time? 10-6 How effectively has the company communicated its top three business goals? 10-7 I am a hard worker. I expect to be around other hard-working people. Am I going to be comfortable with the level of effort I find here? 10-8 Is the company's training strategy linked to the company's core business objectives? 10-9 How does your firm handle recognition for a job well done? 10-10 When was the last time you rewarded a subordinate for his or her efforts? What token of appreciation did you offer? 10-11 How does the firm recognize and learn from a brave attempt that didn't turn out quite as expected? 10-12 How much freedom would I have in determining my objectives and deadlines? 10-13 How long has this position existed in the organization? Has its scope changed recently? 177 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 10-14 What are the greatest challenges I will face in this position in furthering the agenda of the organization? 10-15 Are my tasks limited to my job description, or will l be performing duties outside the described job scope? CHAPTER 11 11-1 How do you like me so far? 11-2 Do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job and fit in? 11-3 Is there anything standing in the way of us coming to an agreement? 11-4 Do you have any concerns about my experience, education, skills? 11-5 How do I compare with the other candidates you have interviewed? 11-6 Describe your ideal candidate.What do my qualifications lack compared with those of the theoretical ideal candidate? 11-7 Is there anything else I can elaborate on so that you would have a better understanding of my qualifications and suitability for this position? 11-8 Are there any areas in which you feel I fall short of your requirements? 11-9 Can you give me any feedback that would make me more attractive to the company in the future or that I could benefit from next time? 11-10 Is there anything else you need from me to have a complete picture of my qualifications? 178 INDEX OF QUESTIONS CHAPTER 12 12-1 Is there anything personally or professionally that you believe would prevent my being a solid contributor in this role? 12-2 Mr. Employer, your search is over. You will not find anyone else more qualified to do this job than I. If I were you, I'd cancel all the other interviews and make me an offer. 12-3 Mr. Employer, I'm not going to keep it a secret. I really want this job, and I know I will be fantastic in it. 12-4 Until I hear from you again, what particular aspects of the job and this interview should I be considering? 12-5 I know I can meet the demands of the position and would make an outstanding contribution. Can I have the offer? 12-6 What will be your recommendation to the hiring committee? 12-7 I'm ready to make a decision based on the information I have. Is there anything else you need to make me an offer? 12-8 I am very interested in this job, and I know your endorsement is key to my receiving an offer. May I have your endorsement? 12-9 It sounds to me as if we have a great fit here.What do you think? 12-10 It has been an interesting and fruitful discussion. I would very much like to take it to the next step. 179 INDEX OF QUESTIONS CHAPTER 13 13-1 What's the gross profit margin of the division I will be working in? What percentage of the total profit from the company does it generate? Is it increasing or decreasing? 13-2 What's your company's "killer application"? What percentage of the market share does it have? Will I be working on it? 13-3 Can you give me some examples of the best and worst aspects of the company's culture? 13-4 What makes this company a great place to work? What outside evidence (rankings or awards) do you have to prove this is a great place to work? What is the company going to do in the next year to make it better? 13-5 What would I see if I stood outside the front door at five o'clock? Would everyone be smiling? Staying late or leaving early? Would everyone be taking work home? 13-6 Lots of your competitors have great products and people programs.What is the deciding factor that makes this opportunity superior? Are you willing to make me some specific "promises" on what you will do to make this a great experience for me if I accept the position? 13-7 Can you show me that the company has a diverse workforce and that it is tolerant of individual differences? Does it have affinity groups or similar programs that I might find beneficial? Is there a dress code? Can you give me an example of any "outrageous conduct" this firm tolerates that the competitors would not? 180 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 13-8 Does your company offer any wow! benefits? Does it pay for advanced degrees? Dos it offer paid sabbaticals? On-site child care? Relocation packages? Mentor programs? How are these superior to those of your competitors? What about job sharing? Flex-time arrangements? Telecommuting? Workout facilities? 13-9 When top performers leave the company, why do they leave and where do they usually go? 13-10 When was the last significant layoff? What criteria were used to select those to stay? What packages were offered to those who were let go? 13-11 Does the company have a program to significantly reward individuals who develop patents /great products? Is there a program to help individuals "start" their own firms or subsidiary? Will I be required to fill out noncompete agreements? 13-12 How many approvals would it take (and how long) to get a new $110,000 project idea of mine approved? What percentage of employee-initiated projects in this job were approved last year? 13-13 How many days will it take for you (and the company) to make a hiring decision for this position? 13-14 Who are the "coolest" people on my team? What makes them cool? Can I meet them? Who is the best and worst performer on the team, and what was the difference in their total compensation last year? Sell me on this team and the individuals on it that I get to work with. What makes my closest coworkers fun great people to work with? 181 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 13-15 What is your "learning plan" for me for my first six months? What competencies do you propose I will develop that I don't currently have? Which individual in the department can I learn the most from? What can he or she teach me? Can I meet that person? Does the company have a specific program to advance my career? 13-16 Assuming I'm current with my work, how many days could I not show up at the office each week? Could I miss a day without your advance permission? What percentage of the people in this position telecommute? Has anyone in the group been allowed to take a month off (unpaid) to fulfill a personal interest? 13-17 Give me some examples of the decisions I could make in this job without any approvals. Can you show me the degree of autonomy and control I will have in this position? 13-18 How many hours a week do you expect the average person on your team to work? How many hours does the average person in fact work? Are there work-life programs in place to promote a healthy work-life balance? 13-19 How will my performance be evaluated? What are the top criteria you use? What percentage of my compensation is based on my performance? Is there a process where the employees get to assess their supervisor? If I do a great/bad job in the first 90 days, how, specifically, will you let me know? What are the steps you would take to help me improve? How do you discipline team members? 13-20 What is the first assignment you intend to give me? Where does that assignment rank on the departmental priorities? What makes this assignment a great opportunity? 182 INDEX OF QUESTIONS 13-21 How many hours of your time can I expect to get each week for the first six months on the job? How often will wWeb site, www.jkador.com. He welcomes questions from readers at jkador@jkador.com. 197 Copyright 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click Here for Terms of Use. ... 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Mcgraw-Hill - 201 Best Questions To Ask On Your Interview

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