Will Asking Questions During a Job Interview Get You Answers?

Before I start, let me just say that I am a big advocate of the outlook presented at the beginning of the recent Business Insider article, 6 Questions to Ask During Your Interview That Will Make an Employer Want to Hire You

It’s common advice among job seekers: when you’re interviewing, you need to interview the employer right back. After all, you’re the one who is potentially going to fill this position, so you need to know if it’s going to be a good fit, right?

As I said, this is absolutely true. It doesn’t help anyone, least of all yourself, to try and be something you’re not to get a job that you’re probably going to wind up hating in a very short time, so you should absolutely ask questions about the culture, management style, etc. to make sure that this is a place where you actually want to work.

The difficulty comes in knowing whether the person answering your questions is telling the truth.

I’ve seen this in my own experience, and heard this story countless times from others. They went into an interview, they asked all the questions about how they measure success, what the culture is like, what the priorities are, etc. Then they started the job, and it didn’t take long to discover that the person conducting the interview obviously works somewhere else. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily think the interviewer is lying in most of the cases I’ve heard. (Although in some, I do think they were absolutely lying, so it does happen, in my opinion) Rather, it appears that the view from the managers office is quite a bit different from the rest of the company.

How many people do you know who work for companies that do not appear to value new ideas? Do you really think during the interview that they were told “We really like the way we do everything now, and don’t really want our employees questioning that…”. Of course not. Or do you think anyone told them during the interview that they will absolutely be micromanaged, held to conflicting standards, or that doing a good job will result in absolutely no recognition, but will result in the transfer of duties from employees who don’t do a good job but no one wants to deal with? And yet, here we are, where lots of people work under exactly those types of circumstances.

There are times when people are telling me stories of their workplace that I ask them what sort of answers they were given during their interviews, and I harken back to that line from The Princess Bride.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

For example. During the interview you may be told that your boss is not a micro-manager. (Of course not, don’t be silly.) Yet, when you start working, you discover that your team is required to CC the manager on every client or internal email related to any project, to “keep them in the loop”. Of course, with all those emails coming in, the manager doesn’t have time to actually read any of them, so you still need to have status meetings, to repeat the things that were in the email. Or they may talk about creativity and innovation being an important part of their culture, only for you to find out later that new ideas will be frowned upon, or that any attempt to create new processes will be undercut by those with the authority to actually carry them out. Of course, during all of this, you will be held responsible for the lack of process improvement, which is always nice.

So the real question is, what questions can you ask that will demonstrate that the person interviewing you really understands the culture, or is saying what he/she thinks would sound good about the organization? No one wants to admit to being a bad boss, but we all know there are plenty of them out there. What question is going to help you weed them out?

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