At every interview, there comes a time when the interviewer asks, “So, do you have any questions?” and the candidate either stares back blankly, or asks something that makes himself look bad, like, “What time do people usually knock off here?”
Asking interviewers questions tricky. On the one hand, you want them to disclose information that will help you to evaluate whether this is a company that’s worth your time. On the other, you need to be discrete and tactful so you don’t look too calculating.
Here are three questions you can ask at interviews that can yield useful information about what it’d be like to work there, but won’t get you marked down.
How long was the previous person in the post and why did he/she leave?
In many companies, there are a few roles that seem to be constantly vacant. Each time someone new gets hired to fill the post, they don’t stay long, leaving in a year or perhaps even a number of months.
This is frequently a red flag, and might signal that the role is badly designed, there isn’t enough support or too much work, or the manager overseeing the role is a bad boss. If the previous candidate left in less than two years, you might want to be on your guard.
Also listen carefully when your interviewer tells you why the previous person left.
Sometimes interviewers will divulge the key problems behind the post: I’ve been told at interviews that the previous employee found the work too routine, and they were looking for someone who’d be okay with that. Another interviewer told me the previous employee didn’t like the unglamorous working environment, as the company was located in an industrial estate. Such honest answers will lend some insight into what it would be like for you if you took on the role.
Listen out for the boss’s tone and the way he talks about the previous employee, too. If he complains about the employee or speaks about him in disparaging tones, be warned that you might be working for a bad boss who can’t get along with his staff.
How is the company doing financially, and is it expanding or contracting?
In today’s economic climate, you definitely don’t want to join a company that’s facing financial difficulties. In addition, you should try as much as possible to choose an employer that’s expanding, since that will mean more opportunities for advancement and a lower risk of retrenchment.
It’s thus a good idea to ask how the company is doing financially, and whether it’s expanding and more roles are being generated, or if it’s contracting and roles are being cut.
Note that if you’re interviewing for a job in an MNC, you should also ask about the state of their Singapore office. They might be doing well globally, but if they’re transferring Singapore roles to their offices in India, it could put you at risk of retrenchment.
Who are the people on the team and what are they like?
Some teams are close-knit and have great relationships at work, and possibly even outside of work. In teams like these, you’re more likely to enjoy support and cooperation from your colleagues.
On the other hand, teams that are plagued by politicking or led by a bad boss can become a hindrance. You don’t want to have to go to work every day feeling like you’ve got to watch your back, or worry about going on leave because nobody will help to cover for you.
If the interviewer is someone who’ll be managing you, ask him to tell you a bit about the people you’ll be working with, and see how they describe them. Does he seem to genuinely like his subordinates? Does he know anything about their personal lives, or spend time with them outside of work?
A boss who doesn’t seem to be interested in his subordinates and treats them as just another cog in the wheel could wind up being a manager who isn’t willing to guide his employees and doesn’t care about their career progression.
Have you ever worked at a company plagued by a high turnover rate, financial difficulties or a boss who couldn’t relate to his subordinates? Share your stories in the comments!