You REALLY want your future boss (or girlfriend, business partner, mentor, even friend) to like you, but you can't forget the basic premise - you're either getting value for your precious time and energy investment or you're wasting time. Never presume that a good company means a good manager or team - for you. Each situation's different and must be seen as such.
Your preparation's everything. Do your homework! Ask the hard questions now. If things don't work, it can be painful parting and restarting elsewhere.
Not only do good questions show your thoughtfulness and curiosity, but also a commitment to high standards. To demonstrate these shows your interviewer that you care and won't say yes to anything. That is a signal that you're capable, prepared and have a clue about the way things work - you're mindful.
Over the years, I've interviewed at countless companies - both large and small and in between - in law and finance, healthcare and consulting, startups, banks and hedge funds, young and agile teams and older, more established ones, people of every generation, age and gender.
Both from mistakes and positive experiences, I've learned to look for what's important in the process of the interviews, as well as research - both the before and after. One must be very careful what to ask - as well as what to hold back to yourself and find the answers on your own.
Here are the things I've learned that are the most important for a person interviewing to know about his or her role, team and company before he or she signs on the dotted line to start:
1) How does your manager-to-be resolve conflicts? What is his or her personal style - conciliatory? Domineering? His/her way or the highway? Ask him or her!
2) What Professional Development opportunities exist for employees on the team and company as a whole? In other words, how much opportunity will you have to grow in your role? How much do they care about keeping their employees' perspectives fresh and relevant?
3) How solvent is the company financially? It may be the greatest company, team and boss in history and you as a worker may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if the company's finances are poorly managed or in danger of poor cash flow and/or revenue management, you'll be in deep trouble and soon if you start there. Check very carefully how the finances look, because if they're bad, your head could be on the chopping block in the next cycle of layoffs.
4) Do your manager- and team-to-be pass the beer test? You'll be spending a hell of a lot of time with these people (more than with your family, likely). You better make sure you can not just stand them, but will actually enjoy their company, work ethic, humor (or lack thereof, more likely) and blather. Do team members talk about others behind their backs? You'll be the "others" soon enough, then. Are they dull, humorless cubicle dwellers or bro-me-all-day-bro frat boys fresh out of college? Know exactly what you're getting into if joining and that you won't be the odd man/woman out
5) How easily does management take suggestions for improving the company's bottom line, strategy and/or execution? If nobody cares or bothers to listen to people in the company, then you'll be in an echo chamber while working there. If this is important for you, think twice before joining a company where internal feedback is not treated as a strategic asset.
6) What are your maybe-future-boss's biggest pain points? What can you do to make his or her life easier with your skills and experience solving similar problems? If the two don't align well, it's not a good fit. Also, what are the biggest challenges this role would face?
7) What do you need to do to hit the ground running and hit it out of the ballpark (to use two annoying sports expressions you'll hear often on the job) in the first 100 days? Can you do this and will the process make you happy and fulfilled?
8) What will this role look like 3, 6, 12, 24 months down the line? How will it evolve, if at all? Also, how has this role changed in the past? What does a successful candidate look like for this position right now? These are all critical things to know in order to nail your first 100 days and beyond.
9) What keeps the manager and other interviewers at the company? Why did they come here, in the first place, when they had other choices? Get the interviewer to tell you his or her story. Carefully note the tone and level of sincerity when these questions are answered. If the answers are clearly scattered BS - or otherwise Kool-Aid of the worst sort, then it may be a sign of lack of communicated vision/mission by leadership - or otherwise of working in a cult. Been there, done both. No, thanks.
10) What is the performance review process like here? Is it formal? Informal? Quarterly? Annual? Is there continuous feedback? What metrics will I be measured by? If the level / frequency of feedback and performance review are inadequate for you, don't join.
11) What are the company's strategic goals and how does management plan to reach them? What sorts of new product or product lines are being launched to gain or maintain market position? What's in the pipeline that I should be excited about? Lack of ideas may be a sign that things are headed in the wrong direction.
12) What is the team that I'll be working with like? What are their personalities and backgrounds? What other departments will I be interacting with? What should I know about the team? How about career progression for people on this team? Are you hiring or downsizing on the team? Who will be my direct reports?
13) What is the work environment like? Is it an open floor plan or cubicles / offices? Is there a pantry? What kind of office and / or team activities do they do? Is there a formal vision or mission statement that they have? Do people collaborate a lot of contribute independently? What's different here from any other place you've worked?
Pro tip: When you get into the office for the interview, ask for water and walk around, if possible, to see how people interact (and if they're friendly), how they look (formal or casual, stressed or chilled out, hipsters or suits, young or old or a mix, etc.), what the lobby and pantry look like, where the management sits (in the same place as everyone else or in their offices).
14) Is there anything about your experience or skills that concerns the interviewer (especially manager)? Address this right away with examples of how you would ramp up quickly by picking up a certain skill or level of experience you're missing. Worst case, address this in your thank-you note. What are the next steps in the process? What is their timeline for hiring someone? Any other questions they haven't asked of you yet?
And while this list is not exhaustive, it's a very good start. There are always industry- and company-specific questions you should ask if they are particularly important for you to be answered. The main thing is, don't be afraid to ask.
What NOT to ask: salary (negotiate later, when you know they want you), work hours, vacation policy, perks and benefits, etc. These are not relevant until you get an offer.
Now go out there and interview with confidence! I'll be rooting for you. And as always, let me know if YOU have any (interview-related or any other) questions.
Are there other important interview questions you've asked before choosing where to work next? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
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Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.
*The views expressed herein are his own*