Questions you should ask in a job interview
Are you signing up for a toxic boss or bean bags and pav bhaji parties?
From indoor slides and ping pong tables at the Google HQ, to free Uber rides and laundry for employees at Headout in Bangalore. Organisations and start-ups are constantly trying to out-do each other with unconventional and off-beat perks to create a ‘cool’ work environment. A good place to work is so much more than having beanbags and pav bhaji parties and beers with the boss. It’s easy for eager beavers to be drawn in with hopes of working with the quirky and supportive Amy Poehler from Parks and Recreation. Before you know it, you’ve entered a vortex with Gordon Gekko as your reporting manager with no respite in sight.
Preparing ourselves for a job interview, our focus tends to be on answering their questions correctly – and what not to say or do. One of the worst things you could do for yourself – other than perhaps question what exactly the company does – in the interview is not to take the opportunity to ask your interviewer some pertinent questions.
While it’s too soon to be asking for the annual list of the days off, stalking the company on every social media platform can only give you so much information about their work culture (toxic or not), policies and employee relations. Considering you’re going to be spending half your life in the office, here is a list of questions you should be asking.
What expectations do you have from someone in this role in the first three/6 months?
Of course, you’re going to be given the job description through the course of the conversation. But you can’t jump straight into an interrogation about everything that goes on behind closed doors. So, use this question as an opening to warm up the interviewer to others that will follow. This will give you a basic outline of what’s expected from someone at your designation. The ins and outs of the job, levels of multi-tasking and colleague interaction. Will there be weekly meetings to over everything you guys have done? Will you have to pretend to smoke like Rachel to get some face-time with the boss?
How would you describe the work culture in the company?
It may look glossy and shiny from the outside, like a Red Delicious apple. It’s only when you bite into it you see the rot within. There’s not much you can do it the fruitwale bhaiya dupes you, but when it comes to working, it’s better to know what you’re in for before diving in. It’s not easy. If people are trying to hire you, they won’t always say “oh yeah, we work every weekend”, so maybe find subtle ways to ask that – in fact, this question might be better directed at other employees if you have access to them.
Will you have to give up on happy hours to meet deadlines after hours? How supportive are your colleagues? Working in a large group can be competitive and can easily resort to constant power plays instead of collaboration. Would strict deadlines mean you’d have to continue working from home? How often would you be on-call on the weekend?
Can I shadow an employee or get a mentor?
Nobody wants to play 21 Questions on their first day on the job. It’s awkward, constantly having to disturb the colleague closest to you for help with navigation. Now it may feel like joining a new school and being assigned a ‘best buddy’ for the day, but having someone show you the ropes cuts the chance of you messing up in your first few weeks. It can also be a great opportunity to get to know the people you’re working with.
Beyond the standard onboarding experience, posing such a question can also show your willingness to learn to the interviewer and be actively involved in a smooth integration into their systems.
What are some of the goals of the company in the short and long-term?
If you mapped out career path aligns with that of the company then everyone’s happy. If they’re working towards world domination and yours is to blow it up then there is a clear disconnect somewhere.
How achievable are their goals and are they open to change? Unrealistic timelines mean tight deadlines, little flexibility and high pressure on employees. It also wouldn’t be a sustainable model to keep the business afloat for a long time.
Are there any challenges the department has faced?
Prepare yourself for crises internal and external that are often out of your control. The way management handles it is indicative of how they handle themselves in such situations and if the pressure makes people crack or not. Do people take responsibility for their messes, end up playing the blame-game or does it get projected onto junior employees?
Does the team hold meetings for feedback?
HR would be your go-to place for complaints and feedback. How proactive are they in taking things ahead? Is constructive criticism appreciated or looked down upon? Feedback sessions can help in teambuilding and ends-up being good for the company in the long run. The best ideas come from those doing the groundwork. When it goes unheard, it’s a loss for everyone involved. Getting into a space of cliques and snide comments for being a ‘snitch’ can take a serious toll on your mental health.
What is the management structure?
The most important thing to clarify here is who are you reporting to. A horizontal organisational structure works well for collaborations but when you have 3 different people giving orders and deadlines you could very well end up living out your own version of Bheja Fry. Interaction with the top brass and building a good relationship can help your mobility in the company too. There’s a lot you can decipher from here: the boss is a workaholic and expects the same from workers, they never come in so are out of touch with the daily functioning of the business when making big decisions, they don’t interact much with the group leaving people feeling unappreciated, isolated and like just another brick in the wall.
How does work get assessed?
Is this a company that values quality or quantity? It’s good to know on what basis your work will be judged and by whom. If your chances of getting Student of the Year are real only if you achieve 20 tasks a day and be at the beck and call of the boss, it may not seem like the most productive space for you. Your boss may have high expectations with little wiggle room to not meet them, taking this on, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If you’re someone that can get those 20 down each day, then you’re a champion.
What is the one piece of advice would you give to someone who is about to start in this role?
This is a subtle way of discovering what your predecessors got right — and what they didn’t. Your interviewer will likely cite examples from the past of issues and concerns that cropped up — throwing up red flags of what you definitely shouldn’t do.