When the interview comes to the “do you have any questions for me?” part, your best use of time is to try to uncover things that would cause you to absolutely say no (or yes) to the job.
“What gets you most excited about the company’s future?” is… nice; but no matter what answer they give, it’s not likely to change your mind about whether to accept the job or not.
What you really want are questions that speak to the day to day experience you’re going to have. You also want questions that are more difficult for the other person to “storytell” their way out of. Questions like “What’s different about working here than anywhere else you’ve worked?” are so subjective, and so broad, that the other person could spin a complete fairy tale.
A few weeks back Arpad Szakal posted a series of some pretty kick-ass examples over on LinkedIn. Because the internet is a funny place, I’ll include his original post down at the bottom, but I wanted to offer some reflections and additions of my own here.
What I LIKE about Arpad’s questions is that they not only cut to the heart of the issues they address, they also speak to some pretty solid deal-breaker aspects. It’s not even so much WHAT the person answers, but HOW they answer (and how consistent the answers are when asked across the interview process).
That said, the answers Arpad shared are very manager specific. And I’ll go on record to say I disagree that you’re selecting a manager. In my last job, I changed managers 4 times in the span of 2 months (and my job and team didn’t change). While that’s an extreme example, it underscores the nature of IT work.
You are NOT, in fact, selecting a manager. You are selecting a company first and foremost, and a team second. Even the team can change but if you have a sense of the landscape beyond your desk, you can at least gain some awareness of wheather the role you’re interviewing for is in an island of calm on an otherwise stormy sea; or a waterlogged rowboat in the middle of an otherwise serene pond; or… at best, the team you’re joining reflects the same stability, values, culture, and tempo as the rest of the organization.
But even with the manager-specific nature of Arpad’s questions, it’s fairly easy to broaden them to encompass a team, department, or company:
- Can you share a time when someone gave feedback on something that could be improved or changed in the team?
- How does this company handle mistakes or failures within a department?
I wanted to add a few more questions, which I think have the same flavor but are possibly more helpful for folks pursuing a career in tech:
- What’s on your “negative roadmap” – the list of things this role (team, department, company) will never do because it’s outside the scope of our goals?
Teams (feel free to substitute “departments”, “companies”) spend a lot of time focused their responsibilities – whether it’s described as a roadmap, service level agreements, etc. And rightly so. But sometimes it’s important to be clear about what is NOT being offered. What are some things that are explicitly excluded from this role (or this team, or this department)? How is that list created, negotiated, and agreed on?
- How do you recognize and reward people who “do it right the first time”, who pay down technical debt, and generally keep problems from happening rather than waiting for the emergency and then swooping in?
It pretty common to reward people when they save the day. Heroic effort is incredibly noticeable. But everyone understands it’s far better to work in a way that the problem doesn’t happen in the first place. But that’s so much harder to recognize, let alone reward.
- Thinking about the first 3-6 months of this job, what does “success” look like?
The framing I love to use for this question is: “Imagine it’s 6 months from now. You’ve hired me, and we’re having a beer, and you are so incredibly happy with the work I’ve done that you would be ashamed NOT to give me a raise. Can you picture that? Great. Now… tell me what it is that I did to make you feel that way.”
- How do we track when the goals or priorities change mid-way through a cycle?
Typically goals are set at specific times (both for individuals and for teams, departments, etc), and are framed as things that will be measured at the end of that period. But emergencies, course corrections, and even the whims of leadership often (sometimes “usually”) intervene. So people end up hitting their review period with a list of goals that are no longer valid; and which haven’t been done in any case. How does the manager (and company) manage that reality?
Meanwhile, here are two more questions if you’ll be stepping into a job someone else recently filled:
- What is something the previous person did as they performed this job that folks loved and appreciated?
- What is something the previous person did as they performed this job that you’d have preferred they stopped doing?
And finally, if you feel like you have a decent rapport with the other person, here are some that MIGHT yeild unexpected insights:
- What is one thing people never ask you about this role (or this team, or department, or company) that you wish they would?
- What am I not asking that you think I should?
That’s my extension of Arpad’s original list. I’d love to hear what you think of them; and even moreso how they worked for you if you tried them during an interview.
Meanwhile, here’s the original post, transcribed below:
OK, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
It is NOT easy at all to spot a good (or bad) boss during the hiring process.
But worry not. Here are 5 questions to help you spot a good one (or a bad one!) in your next interview in 2024:
- “Of all the people who worked for you, how many have been promoted and how did you help them get there?”
This can reveal a lot about how they develop and support their people. The best managers out there will have specific examples of how they did this.
- “Can you share a time when an employee gave feedback on something that can be improved or changed?”
This can reveal how they accept and implement feedback (or not). The best manager make people feel:
- understood and
when accepting feedback.
- “How do you maintain the balance between achieving results and caring for the well-being of your team?”
This will give you an understanding of their approach to managing stress and pressure within the team.
- “How do you handle mistakes or failures within your team?”
This can shed some light on their attitude towards failure and whether they use it as a learning opportunity or a reason to reprimand. The best managers understand that mistakes are inevitable and use them as coaching moments.
- What kind of leadership development opportunities exist here?”
This one is not just for you. The answer to the above can reveal how the company invests in its leaders.
You are NOT choosing a job.
You are also choosing a boss.
And with that dear high flyers, I wish you all a Happy, Healthy & Successful 2024!
#aviation #leadership #newyear2024