If you’ve been looking for a job for a while, and struggling to get interviews, or struggling to make it to the second round of interviews, it’s easy to feel a bit desperate. Once an interview comes through, your top priority could be to get them to like you. That’s it. You want to make sure they see everything that’s great about you. But that can mean you don’t do much investigating to determine what’s great about them. Interviewing while unemployed can be a bit like grocery shopping when you’re hungry: you’ll take anything and everything without much discretion. It’s only later when you feel a bit sick and sad that you wonder about what you’ve done.
While you want to come off as agreeable and easygoing in a job interview, you should also know the difference between questions that are unreasonable and ones that are actually very fair. In fact, it makes you look good in the eyes of the interviewer when you do your due diligence. They assume you have that attention to detail in all things you do – including the work you may do for them. It also shows that you believe your work is worth something, so you’re selective about where you do it. An interview may be primarily about asking you questions, but you can and should ask questions, too. Here are some you should never feel afraid to raise.
Why did the last person leave?
If it is such a great job, it’s normal to wonder why the last person left. They may have simply realized that this industry wasn’t where their passions were. They may have decided to have a family or focus on the one they already have and stop working. They may have found a higher position at another company. These are all perfectly understandable reasons. But maybe the interviewer can’t or doesn’t want to disclose why the last person left. That’s not a good sign. Maybe she does disclose that the person didn’t feel comfortable with the workplace culture. That’s worth looking into. Perhaps she wasn’t happy with the pay – should you be?
Is there room for upward movement?
Some companies are great at promoting from within and doing regular checkups with employees to see if they have their eye on higher positions and what their hopes are for their path there. Feeling that there is something more to strive for can be good for work ethic and mental health. Some companies, however, haven’t made moves in years. Everyone who sits in current seats have been there for a very long time. It’s extremely uncommon for anyone to move up. People either stay put or if they want to move up, move to another company. It’s important to know how things go here.
What are the goals of the company?
Not every company you interview for has their act together. Don’t let the button-down look of the interviewer fool you. There are a lot of companies that look like they’re the perfect place for you on the surface, but they’re a mess behind closed doors. They might be run by people who don’t know what they’re doing. It could just be an ego project of a trust-fund baby with no business experience. You can learn a lot by asking what a company’s goals are. A company with real direction, run by people who know what they’re doing, will have answers — clear answers, and reasonable answers.
Can you speak to current employees?
If the answer is anything beyond a resounding yes, you may want to be very cautious. Or, if they seem very particular about who you can and cannot speak to, look alive. If they say yes, but want a supervisor present to witness the interaction, that’s cause for concern. Any company that believes its employees are treated fairly and that believes its workplace culture is healthy should have no problem with you speaking extensively, and in private, with current employees. Nervousness or defensiveness around this question should alert your spider senses – as should nearby employees giving you “Run while you still can” looks.
How would they describe the culture?
Speaking of the workplace culture, hopefully, your interviewer can give you a good look at what that is at their company. Does the company have fun? Does it have a kickball team? Monthly happy hours and mixers? Does it have programs designed to check in on and improve the mental health of its employees? Is there an air of fun, creativity, and collaboration or do people pretty much stick to themselves, do their job, clock out, and go home? Would the interviewer say that many employees are friends or are they just coworkers? None of these environments are right or wrong, but it’s about what’s right for you.
Are there any inclusivity initiatives?
It may be important to you to work at a company that takes inclusivity seriously. Maybe you want to work for a company that has mentorship programs for women and POC. Maybe you want to work for a company that makes a point of getting its job listings in underserved communities to guarantee they get a good array of types of applicants. Maybe you’d like to learn your company funds certain career-advancing educational programs for certain groups. If it’s important to you to work for a company that thinks about and acts on these things, then ask. Maybe your question will even inspire them.
What are the benefits?
Don’t fear that this makes you sound greedy. It’s the most normal thing to ask. You are a person with needs. Maybe those needs are good health care coverage for your growing family. Maybe those needs include enough vacation days to travel to another country for an extended period. Maybe they require stipends for childcare if you’re a single parent, or are in a marriage where both parents work. It’s totally normal to talk pay, right? And benefits are a part of your pay. In fact, if the pay isn’t amazing, benefits might be a big part of the pay and make the opportunity more worthwhile.
What are the demographics here?
How diverse is the staff? Do people have families? Are people mostly recent college graduates? Are they individuals who are a bit older? This can be a further predictor of the workplace culture. If you find that many of the employees have families, that can speak to the company’s ability to offer work-life balance. Busy parents who want to have dinner with their kids don’t typically flock to companies that keep everyone working long hours. If everyone is a recent college graduate, and you are too, you may like feeling that you’re working with a group with a similar worldview, and who you may know for your entire working career after meeting at a young age. Want to work amongst a diverse group of people? Don’t be afraid to ask the questions you need to.
What have been the company’s biggest accomplishments?
This is an investigative question disguised as an opportunity for bragging. It sounds like you just want to give the interviewer the chance to brag about all of the milestones the company has reached and the amazing reputation it has built. And if you hear that, you’re probably at a good place. However, if the interviewer cannot answer this question, that can raise more questions. If it’s a new company, it’s understandable if they haven’t reached many milestones yet. But if it’s been around for a long time and has nothing worth bragging about, that’s not great.
What does “success” look like in this role?
It shows that you care when you ask what their idea of success looks like for this role. And you’ll often find that that idea is far beyond what was written in the job description. This will give you some sense of how much is actually expected of you, and whether or not you want to or can meet those demands. In some cases, like at new or underfunded companies, you may find you interviewed for a specific role but hear they expect you to do a number of other jobs there – because they can’t afford to hire enough employees. If you’re not ready to sign up for such a load, it’s good to know in advance what will be demanded of you.