The quality of your questions is more important than your answers.
As the economy heats up, more professionals are interviewing for new jobs. Although a recruiting manager usually initiates the questioning, the smart candidate guides the interview with questions. The fact of the matter is that recruiters are suckers for good questions. And it’s not merely that you’re in the know about an organization or that you want better information to make your decision, but quality questions impress more than quality information. That fact will put the interview into a different category and give your candidacy a leg up on the job.
Obviously, you want to be prepared for the interview by knowing as much as possible about the firm, its managers and the position for which you’re interviewing. Early in the interview, however, most recruiting managers will lob softballs like, “How would you describe your management style?” and, “What was your biggest work challenge, and how did you handle it?” But if you pay close attention to these early questions and answer them quickly, AND if you’ve devoted time to developing the conversational tools, you can pivot to your own questions and orchestrate the interview graciously and warmly.
Why do questions by the candidate work so well? It’s because recruiters and managers love to be asked to display their knowledge base. But the psychological underpinnings of these situations grant the questioner a great deal of subtle, usually hidden power.
So where do you start the interview process and what are the more useful questions?
Keep values up front: You’ll want to work for a firm that will provide new learning, values critical thinking, emphasizes transparency, expects adaptability, and uses smart technology. And if you’re not astute about those values, in a few years you’ll be on the streets.
Voracious listening: Stay alert to what their questions and their answers say about the organizational culture, its values, priorities and ways of working. What’s their rhetoric--what kind of language do they use? Techie? Strategic? Relational? Customer-centric? Results oriented? All of the above? How extensive is the vocabulary? (My rule: the quality of the vocabulary and sentence nuance tell you how effective the firm and its managers are at problem solving. If they’re using 8 word sentences and averaging 7 letter words, there may not be much to learn from the organization.)
Examples: Whatever the answer to your questions, always ask for examples. Recruiting managers can bullshit with abstract ideas until the cows come home unless you ask for concrete examples.
Decision-making: How effective is the organization at analytical problem solving and decision making? How do decisions get made and by whom? How willing is the organization to manage differences and conflicts? How do they manage people and projects? What prospects for growth do you see in their answers to these questions?
How good is the firm at . . . Seeing around the corners, identifying competitive advantages that other similar firms miss, building and maintaining competitive advantages, managing crises, managing results, managing growth? And how good is their follow-through? If they lack good answers to these questions, the organization is not long for this world.
Company expertise: What are their core technologies? Sales? IT? Logistics? Marketing? Finance? Research and development? Manufacturing? Don’t believe that they can offer more than two core technologies. If the recruiter tells you they have more than that they’re bullshitting. Best example: 3M Corporation has only one core technology: adhesives. They know more about adhesives (R&D) than any ten other firms. They’re poor at marketing, so-so at sales, adequate at manufacturing, ordinary at finance, and the leader of the followers in technology. But boy, do they know adhesives and they make $$Billions on adhesive products. Strategy? “Make a little, sell a little.” Or, Ralston Purina: Marketing is really their only core technology. And they own the dry pet food business all over the world. (There’s a lesson in all that!) It can be argued that the reason General Motors got lost in the last thirty years is that they had no highly valued core technology, while other auto firms had focused on developing a technology or two.
Recruiters’ commitment: Why do the interviewers like working at the firm? Why is this important to them? What two things does the company need to do better for its employees? This should give you further insights into whether or not you want to work for the firm.
The job position: Parameters, responsibilities, reporting relationships, freedom to define issues, objectives, etc. Opportunities for advancement? Career ladders are largely non-existent today. But your ability to see opportunity is your real career future.
Compensation: Don’t be in a hurry to talk about salary. The more you understand the job, are able to segment it and talk about it from several perspectives, emphasizing its complexity, the better salary you’ll be able to obtain. In addition, what benefits and, especially, what training will the company provide or fund? Last, what are the things of importance that you want in a position?
A dangerous question: I’d be cautious about the use of this question, but it’s one of my favorites: “How would I get in trouble in this firm?” If you get an honest answer, you’re liable to find it quite valuable. Ignore the obvious responses like theft, “politics,” or “game playing.” If the answer is trite, sit there and wait through the silent nerves until you get an intelligent answer. If nothing comes, that’s important information too. One thing it means is that you need to interview with someone else at the firm.
Certainly, there are more than an hour’s questions here. So, depending on the situation and your interests, pick and choose. However, when you listen voraciously and you hear the recruiting manager come up with some unique, outlying information, then you can use those well-developed conversational skills to find out a lot more useful data. And it’s liable to be very, very good stuff.
Photo by flickr.com: angusmci