We’ve talked about how to prepare for an interview – hopefully that will make for a relatively easygoing experience that convinces everyone that you’re the best candidate for the organization/role. However, it’s important to remember that the interview is also your opportunity to decide if this is the best organization/role for you.
There are two essential pieces that will help you come to a conclusion: asking questions and looking for red flags. If after the interview you decide that this role and company are the right fit for you, then you can decide what course of action you’d like to take when it comes to follow-up.
In the previous post, we talked about coming prepared with three to five key messages about your work experience. You should also come to the interview with at least three to five questions you could ask. Asking questions is good for a number of reasons. First, it shows that you’re really interested in this job and/or company. Second, and almost more important, it helps you decide if this job and/or company are right for you. Here are a few of my favorites:
- What are the traits of your top employees?
- What are this team’s and the company’s biggest challenges?
- Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?
- What are the skill gaps on this team?
- Who used to hold this position?
- What’s the top priority for the person in this position over the next three to six months?
- What are some of the challenges facing the person in this role?
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- What’s the most frustrating part of working here?
- What are the next steps in this process?
Look for red flags
Hopefully the organization with which you’re applying is an awesome place with awesome employees. But sometimes that’s not the case, and it’s better to be open to that possibility during the interview process than to figure it out after you’ve already started the new job.
If you’re lucky enough to interview with people who’d be your coworkers, this is a great opportunity to watch for red flags. Pay attention to how they refer to the hiring manager. If they are uber-professional or tight-lipped when talking about that person, there’s a chance the manager is, well, unpleasant to work for/with. And especially pay attention to looks that the coworkers give each other (if they’re in the same room during your interview). During an interview for a former employer, I had asked the two people who would be my coworkers how they would describe the leader’s management style. They paused, looked at each other and kind of smirked, then said, “She’s a BIT of a micromanager.” This should have been a huge red flag for me, but at the time, I didn’t realize just how bad a major micromanager could be.
You might also be able to ask these people how many hours a week they’re working, on average. If these people said 60-70 hours, I’d know that I’d probably be doing the same and it would probably be an intense environment. If the people said right around 40, I’d assume things were fairly laid back at that organization, and that work-life balance was a priority.
Some might feel uncomfortable asking about the hours. Instead, try asking about the work-life balance. I know this can make people just as uncomfortable – we worry that we’ll sound like slackers or people who don’t want to work lots of hours.
Seriously, who WANTS to work lots of hours?
I think it’s critical to ask about the hours and/or work-life balance and notice how it’s answered. The problem is that very few organizations will be upfront about having a poor work-life balance.
In a podcast from Derek Halpern called Social Triggers, Halpern was interviewing Dan Heath, one of the authors of Decisive (and a long list of others). In the interview, Heath shared a recommendation for how to dig deeper in an interview. The answer is asking probing questions. To find out about culture, Heath recommends asking questions like: How many people did this department hire in the last year? How many have left the department? The answers to these questions might provide some insight about turnover.
It’s also important to recognize whether you’d be a good fit for the position/organization/team. Sometimes when we’re going through the interview process, our sole mission is to get an offer. But getting an offer for a job that we’d hate or be horrible at doesn’t do us any good. It’s really important to be yourself during the interview process – you want to work for an organization where you’ll be a good fit. If you aren’t being yourself, there’s no way to know if that fit will work out. Make sure you’re being realistic with yourself too. There have been times where I’ve heard a response to one of my questions that scared me, but I would talk myself into becoming that kind of person because I so badly wanted a new job. Don’t do this. If you aren’t someone who typically thinks they’d enjoy working 70 hours a week, then it’s probably good to avoid a job where your coworkers said you’d be working 70 hours a week. The simplest advice is to pay attention and trust your gut.
After the interview
Congrats! You survived the interview. Hopefully you were able to walk out having shared most or all of your key messages while asking just the right questions to impress the interviewer and confirm that this would be a great fit for you. Now what?
If you have a good relationship with the recruiter (and assuming this last interview wasn’t with them), calling the recruiter to let him or her know how the interview went is a great idea. If you thought the interview went well, say that. If you’re concerned about how it went – maybe you fumbled a few of your answers or didn’t have a connection with the interviewer – it’s OK to say that too. Sometimes telling the recruiter the responses you WISH you would have said can be beneficial – he or she might share that information with the hiring manager, so the right answers could still make their way to the right person. If you’re interested in the position, say something like, “This interview makes me even that much more convinced that I’d love this position and would be an excellent fit for this organization.”
If your relationship with your recruiter isn’t quite that tight, still call or email him or her to express that things went well and that you’re really excited about this opportunity. Either way, it leaves a good impression with your recruiter, which means they might be more likely to push for you when discussing all the candidates with the hiring manager.
When it comes to thank you notes, I know that a lot of people recommend sending them. I always intend to send thank you notes, but I somehow forget about it most of the time. I personally don’t really care about the thank you notes candidates have sent me – they are very rarely genuine or natural-sounding. However, they do provide an opportunity to showcase your written communication skills, so if you do write a thank you note, be sure to think carefully about what you say.
Job interviews can super stressful. But if you act and present yourself professionally, do your research, ask questions, look for red flags and follow-up accordingly, you’ll find that you’re not as nervous as you’ve been in the past and that you’ll walk out with no regrets. If you don’t get an offer, then you’ll know it’s because you just weren’t the right fit rather than because there’s something you missed.