Interview Questions that Matter
I remember when I first was interviewing for jobs after college. You could have told me that I was going to work 80-hour weeks for minimum wage, bending paperclips or something. I wouldn’t have cared. I was so worried about paying my loans and getting a full-time job that I didn’t care about the details. Jump to almost five years later and things are definitely different.
I’ve had a lot of interviews in my day. Usually they go pretty well, and I have gotten several simultaneous offers, which makes me think I’m not too bad at interviewing. As the years have gone on, I realized two things: I’m a lot better at interviewing when I’m not desperate, and I think of more substantial questions to ask when I am seriously evaluating an organization. Before my most recent job change, I ended up having a really great conversation with an Executive Director about how to make her board better. I had asked about board involvement because my experience had showed me how a non-profit board can either be a big help or a mighty hindrance. She keyed in on my genuine interest in the operations and later told me how impressed she was after our interview.
With that in mind, here are some questions to ask when you’re interviewing:
- What is turnover like? An uncomfortable question for an interviewer who knows that turnover has been awful, but a crucial question for an interviewee. If everything is sunshine and coffee breaks upon first glance, learning that most people stay only a few months can be a big red flag.
- How often do people work out of the office? Now, I was told before not to ask this in the first interview because it might make you sound like you need a lot of accommodation, so maybe this is better for a second interview. Realistically, a lot of progressive companies say they’re flexible, but if they just ‘say’ that and put pressure on people to work in the office, then you’re going down the wrong path (unless you like inflexibility).
- What do you do to train new staff? I’m not sure if this is just a non-profit problem or not, but pretty much every job I’ve had came with zero training. For the most part, you get a day or two with the outgoing person (if you’re lucky), or you get a few pages of screen shots for the main software program and then you get an email address and desk and a phone extension. And that’s it. 3, 2, 1, Go! Can you imagine what it would be like to enter a position and to have someone assigned to actually help you, and to go through training material? Just saying “training material” sounds funny to me because I’ve never had that. A training plan seems like a good sign of organization and concern for staff growth (and retention).
- What opportunities are available to get further training or education in this position? Similar to #3, it would be great to know that your company cares about you growing and becoming better at your job. Even if they have good standards for someone entering a position, it’s important to know that stagnation is discouraged, and that they support educational opportunities.
I know that when you’re desperate for a job, the last thing you want to do is say the wrong thing in a question or make yourself sound too picky, but I think that substantial questions show that you’re not desperate for just any old thing. Realistically, if you do come across as desperate, you might make the impression that you’re not that invested in the company, or that you’ll leave soon for something better. Don’t just come up with a cliche question to ask because you’ve been perfunctorily advised to do so. Take a deep look at the company, think about what you wish you would have known from former positions, and be frank. If you’re being interviewed by a good boss, they will get the impression that you’re thoughtful, and that they should be vying for you at their company.