Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Kristen Fife's Blog

What Kinds of Questions Should I Ask During Interviews/Phone Screens?

2013-04-10 16:56:52
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This is a very common question from job seekers, either fairly new to the job market or that have been in the same company a very long time. It is important to realize that interviewers (be they live or phone calls) are gauging several items during their conversations with you. Let’s start with the phone call, usually with either HR or a hiring team member:

• Your general communication style- will you be able to handle the organization’s full-on interview process?
• Overall functional fit; do your skills and background generally map to what the company needs?
• Cultural fit – how you communicate and what you say can be a reflection of how you will fit in with other members of the team based on the existing dynamics.
• Interest and understanding of the role – on both sides. Do you understand the role (this is a vital point for you, the job seeker, if the job description was vague or very broad), are you truly interested?
• Mutually agreeable employment expectations: items such as salary, commutability, (if needed) visa sponsorship options, core business hours/location.

I had a phone screen today with a candidate for a mid-level technical role that he had applied for. I had to reschedule the phone call once due to illness last week, so the candidate had plenty of time to look up our company, our products and industry views on the company. When I asked him if he had any questions for me, the first thing he asked is: “What does your company do?” The second question was “Where are you located?” I work for a publicly traded company that has been in Seattle for almost 20 years; we are in the tech industry and have a robust website. He has lived in the area longer than the company has been around and *he* applied directly to our position. Needless to say that his lack of preparation was an indication that he wasn’t a cultural fit. (Take these as examples of what NOT to ask.)

An initial phone call is a time to ask general questions about the role, expectations, the team, specific questions about the company such as product placement, leadership, market penetration, the recruiting process, expectations for the person hired into the position, where they are in the process, and how you compare to other candidates. These should be questions you have formulated based on your own research (press releases, financial reports, consumer reports, industry reviews, comments on Glass Door or Vault.) If you are speaking to someone in HR/Recruiting, it is also appropriate to talk money in general terms (as in a range, or what you are making now and hope to make going forward.) It is inappropriate to ask about promotional opportunities, vacation time, and benefits.

If an initial phone screen goes well, you will likely be invited to the organization’s offices to interview. If you are a local candidate, this should be pretty simple. Ask what to expect from the interviews: how long will you be on site, are the interviews one on one or panel, dress code suggestions, specific ways to prepare for your meetings? If you are a fly-in candidate, there are a few questions you might want to ask the recruiter/coordinator that is working on your travel arrangements. The most important question should be whether you will need to pay for any expenses yourself and get reimbursed, and what is not reimbursable. This can be a huge question for candidates that are tight on money. Keep in mind that most organizations will be willing to pay for one night (possibly two) at a hotel, but if you want to stay longer you will need to pay for those extra nights. Flights usually aren’t that much of an issue, since it doesn’t matter when you travel. Also ask if there is a per diem for reimbursable food/beverage expenses. If you live within driving distance and prefer to drive, it is perfectly reasonable to ask how much you would be reimbursed for mileage for the trip. If you are close enough, you can also ask for a rail ticket instead of an airline if you prefer to go that route.

On-Site Interviews
Once you are invited on-site for an interview, questions become tougher and more on-point. I’ve covered interviews before, so I am going to stick to questions that you as the candidate should think about asking. In my mind, there are a few types of questions you should be asking any given interviewer. The first is clarification and further understanding about the role you are interviewing for; what are the responsibilities or expectations for this position, how will success be measured, how does it fit within the immediate team and the business unit of the organization overall, why is the position open (growth or backfill, and if it is a backfill what was the prior holder of the role like, is this role different/expanded from what s/he did?), what tools or processes are in use or on the horizon? The second type is about the interviewer personally – how (and if) will they be interfacing with the role you are discussing, why are they on the interview loop, what is their background, how do they feel about the team, the company, the industry, and what they are looking specifically for in a candidate for this role. When you are asking questions specifically about the role, the team, and the company make sure you don’t repeat the same question to every interviewer. Show that you have gotten and synthesized the information you have already gleaned from other discussions.

One type of interview confuses a lot of candidates, and that is the “lunch interview”. This time can be scheduled a number of different ways. You can be put in a more casual situation where you meet with one or more members of the team; you might have a more intense one on one with the hiring manager, or you may meet with someone completely outside the organization (such as someone from HR.) If you are meeting casually with the team, or with someone not from the organization relax a little, try and eat some food, and answer questions as they come up. If you are meeting with the hiring manager, this is an opportunity to ask more in depth questions or clarify anything that might be on your mind.
Remember, interviews are as much a chance for you to learn as the potential employer. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as you can to make an informed decision, regardless of the outcome.

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