What are some key interview questions not a lot of people ask?


Dear Anonymous

I had been a manager for 28 years and I had interviewed a lot of potential new hires on campus and on site.  On those interviews I asked most of the questions.  Toward the end of the interview, the interviewee got to turn the table on me. Would you be surprised that usually the interviewee had no questions?  That had been my experience.  Also when there were questions, they were generally inane generalities.

When an interviewee had no questions, I interpreted that he/she hadn’t done his/her homework and showed a lack of depth.  It seemed impossible to me that a person was angling for a very important professional relationship and yet had no questions about what he/she was getting into.  So if an interviewee posed an intelligent question, I would take notice.

Would you enter a marriage without a thorough understanding of your potential partner?  Back in June 2018, I wrote a Dear AAPAAN blog about how to assess a company’s (or an organization’s) culture.  In it, I laid out what to look for in an interview to get a good picture of that culture to see if you will be a good fit. If you had not read it, I suggest you do so.

There are many questions but if I have to select two, here they are. The key questions which the interviewee should ask but which hardly anyone had asked me.

1)    When you matriculated into UVa, I am sure that one of your key concerns is how you will be graded.  So during an interview, why wouldn’t the candidate ask how he/she will be graded on his/her work performance?  The performance evaluation will generally determine your pay raises and promotion potential.   So an employee will generally behave in a way to get the best grade.  Since the performance evaluation system differs among companies, wouldn’t you want to know what system you may sign up for?  So if I am interviewing for a job, I want to ask “how will my performance be evaluated and how will my compensation and promotability tie-in to that evaluation?”

2)    Another key work culture concern is how work gets done.  How are decisions made?  How much responsibility and accountability is pushed down into the organization?  Would you be happy in a rigid work environment where only top managers make decisions?  Would you be happy in an amorphous structure where you have the latitude to exercise your judgment?   There’s no right or wrong answers here.  What works best for you hinge on your strengths and weaknesses and personality.  Lots of latitude is great, except do the organization tolerate mistakes?  Wouldn’t you want to know before jumping in?  I would ask “who makes the decisions and how does work get done?

I would be most impressed if a candidate asked me these questions.  Of course, having posed these questions you should be prepared (if need be) to have a conversation about them.  Good luck to you.