Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Do You Know Critical Questions To Ask On An Interview?

So often, I see people who are miserable in their jobs.  One of the reasons they are unhappy is that they did not determine the full scope of their job before they accepted it.  There are questions which can be asked which will help to determine if a job is really what you are looking for.   These questions are actually rarely asked. But if you do ask them, they may help to make a good and informed decision to accept or reject an opportunity.

Several years ago, I posted on how to be sure the candidate a company hires is the person they interviewed.  This post is the exact opposite and might be called, "How to be sure the job you get is the job you interviewed for."

1)         May I speak to the person who previously had this job?
This is something to request after an offer is made or, at the least, just before you get an offer. It is an obvious question, but I would guess that 90% of people interviewing fail to ask.  Seeing the person who either left the company (If they have left, find out where they went and get their contact information) or was rotated off can answer a wealth of very critical and important questions.  And, of course, if the person you request this of ducks an answer, that should tell you a lot.

2)         How long was the person who had this job before been in the job? Followed by Why they Left?
This is different than asking why a job is open, which should also be asked.  It will illicit very good information. If the previous person was a long time in the job, it would be helpful to talk to them.  Some jobs are actually non-promotable; there are many cases of the person you would be reporting to simply staying in place, leaving little possibility of upward movement.  Other jobs are frequently stepping stones  to better positions within the company.  You need to know this going in.
3)         If the client is difficult, what has the agency done to alleviate the issue?
You want to understand the relationships between the agency and the client. If the agency doesn’t see them often and they are nearby, it should tell you a lot about whether the situation can be alleviated.  It may also present you with opportunities for moving forward – even if you are a relatively junior executive.
4)         How often do you see the client
This is a follow up to the previous question.  Agencies should see the client frequently.  Skype and emails do not make a relationship.  It should also lead to a discussion of the relationship with the client, which is important to know prior to accepting a job.

5)         What is my likely career path and where will I be in three years? 
This question should foster a significant conversation. It should tell you how long the person you will be reporting to has been in place and whether there is room for you to advance.  It should also tell you whether the company has actually thought about the career of the person they hire or if they are merely trying to get a body in place.

6)         What is the structure of the business and what will be my place within it?
I remember once interviewing someone who was an account director on one of the largest fast food accounts.  It turned out that he was precluded from attending most client meetings because the president of the agency was directly involved and wanted to keep meetings small. His comment was that he was looking for a job because he felt like an assistant account executive.  This is information you need before accepting a job.

7)         What kind of training will I receive?
 Few people are too senior for this question.  While most agencies have curtailed or dropped training programs for junior executives, it is important to determine if they have anything appropriate at your level.  At senior levels, many companies have management training. You need to find out if this exists and how you might qualify.

8)         What do titles at this company mean?
Some people get hung up on titles.  You need to understand the company’s structure and your likely place within it.  You also need to know what perks come with certain titles; don’t take for granted that some benefit you have now will come in a new job. Does being a "partner" mean anything?  What is the difference between a partner and a senior partner? A SVP at one company may be a better title than an EVP at another.  This includes vacation time, bonus structure and other types of compensation.  Make an informed decision based on what you have now and what you are likely to get.  Questions about titles and benefits are best asked of HR prior to getting an offer.  The reason I say prior to is because it is best to figure out what you want before an offer is extended made so that you can let them know your expectations in advance.  However, never negotiated until an offer is made. 

All these are questions you should ask, but remember not to negotiate until you have an offer. I have written about this before and you need to understand that the leverage to negotiate is in an offer, not before.

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