Last week we had you make a scorecard to help you figure out what you want from your job (at least for right now). As promised, this week we’re going to dig into “Interviewing Back” — those 10-minutes at the end of the interview where you try to learn as much as possible if this new opportunity is right for you.
Andy: Emma, do you like being interviewed?
Emma: Hmm. I’d say I tolerate it, but but I’m also thinking back to one of the very first interviews I had after college, where a woman held a blue pen in front of my face and said, “This is a red pen,” and then sat there silently, holding the pen and staring at me. It’s such a bizarre and perfect example of how unfair interviews can be. That woman was on a quest for some piece of information about me, and I was supposed to perform my answer, no questions asked.
Andy: I love this story. Do you know the answer to that question?
Emma: Sure don’t! And I didn’t then, either. I like to think if that happened to me today, I wouldn’t even try to answer, but that’s because I’ve developed a totally different perspective on interviewing. It’s not about me being smart and pleasant and quick enough on my feet that they decide to hire me. Interviewing is a two-way conversation, where both the interviewer and interviewee are trying to determine is this going to work?
Andy: That was a huge mindset flip for me, too. You’ve got me remembering one very long job application process that included a multi-day in-person interview, a working session in which I wrote a live sample and pitched it to the CEO, and so much more. The whole thing ended with a request for yet another writing sample. No further guidance, no explanation of what more they needed to see.
Emma: So, like a secret test!
Andy: I was so tired. I sent a writing sample of a short story. They asked me on the phone, right before telling me I didn’t get the job, “Why did you send us this writing sample?” I had a similar question bonking in my heart: “Why didn’t you ask for what you really wanted?”
Back then, I didn’t know how to do anything but perform and, when I’d inevitably exhausted myself, to stop performing altogether. I didn’t realize I could simply ask, “Can you help me understand what you need to see to feel confident moving forward with an offer?” It’s the question I actually needed answered for me to keep going, and I didn’t ask it.
Emma: Interviews are always going to be part performance. At the most basic level, it’s a couple of strangers selling something to each other.
Andy: And both have jobs on the line!
Emma: That’s why it’s so hard to switch gears from Performing How Awesome I Am to gathering useful intel that will help me determine if this is a good opportunity. I always feel the pull to ask questions about things that make me seem like the type of candidate I think they want. This strategy has led me to all sorts of back-and-forths that had absolutely no bearing on whether or not I would be interested in the job: What is the five-year trajectory of this department? What do you like most about your role? These are not things that ladder back to my scorecard!
Andy: Oh, I’ve asked many a random and useless question! Once during a grad school interview, I asked about the parking situation on campus. Was that actually what I was going to base my decision on?
Emma: I don’t know. “Ease of commute” certainly has a spot on my job scorecard.
Andy: Lol fair. The embarrassment that hit me after the interview was over revealed it wasn’t on mine. But of course, I hadn’t done the prework. The key is to use your scorecard to get strategic. Those are the things that matter most to you, and they are valid and real and important.
Emma: Even though going hard on some of your scorecard dealbreakers can feel like a real risk. If I ask questions that even hint that I might not be absolutely 100% committed to the job, or that I might be *difficult* to manage, or that I might prioritize a perk over the reward of doing the work itself — doesn’t that make me a less desirable candidate?
Andy: Personally, I think a person can be very interested in the work and also in the vacation policy… but that’s really where the scorecard comes into play. If you’ve gotten honest with what matters to you, whatever answer they give is useful information. Oh, they only want employees who will live-play-eat-breathe the mission of the company? And you want to go home to your family at night? Well, it wouldn’t be a match even if you pretended it was during the interview.
Emma: Once you’ve written your scorecard, the next step is to map out who is qualified to speak to which parts, at what point in the interview process you can get that information, and which questions you’ll ask to get that conversation started.
Andy: Totally. Your manager’s feedback style is probably best described by someone who gets feedback from that manager; getting a sense of how the company or team culture values work/life balance will mostly likely be informed by the boss or their boss. If it’s the salary or benefits that matter, you might be able to screen the recruiter in the very first call, or you might need to wait for the detailed information in the offer letter.
Emma: We’ve made a list of questions below to get you started. Remember, you’re here to find out if the job works for you, too. Ask what you need to ask.
You Can Interview Back!
Your interview prepwork should include the very same exercises the hiring team will be doing: figuring out red light and green light answers to your questions.
With your scorecard in hand, pick your questions. (We’ve listed a bunch below, by category, to get you started.)
Next, brainstorm the green light answers you’ll be listening for. These are the answers you need to hear to be able to say, “Yes, this helps me get closer to 30% sure that this job is right for me.” What do they sound like? What details do you need? Then, list the red light answers, which are exactly the opposite: details, language, examples of behavior that detract from that 30%. Check out our interview prep worksheet — it’s built for this step.
For example, if a caring mentor/manager is important, we might start off with a question like, “Can you tell me about the different ways [Manager name] delivers feedback to you, and what that feedback tends to focus on?” and then keep digging, listening for green lights like a collaborative approach, a time when someone really had a breakthrough, about their gratitude. Red lights? Anything about fear, respect, a Devil Wears Prada style, or an assurance that “I’ll get used to their management style over time.”
Some Excellent Interview Questions
Tailor these starter q’s to the person you’re asking — for example, you don’t have to ask your future manager all the questions about their management style. In fact, you might get more insightful answers if you ask one of their direct reports.
The Work, Capacity
Can you show me some examples of the type of project I’ll be working on?
What’s the 30- 60- 90-day plan for this role?
How much budget would I have to work with?
What tools does the team use?
How are deadlines determined?
What does success look like in this role? If I were crushing it, how would I know?
What’s your relationship with your direct reports — how do you collaborate? How, and how often, do you interact?
Can you tell me about a time a project went off the rails?
Who’s a report you’ve had that you’re super proud of and why?
Can you tell me about the different ways you deliver feedback to your reports and what that feedback tends to focus on?
The People, Culture
Can you tell me about my direct reports — what are their strengths and biggest challenges? How long have they been with the company / on this team?
Who will I be working closest with? What is their working style like?
Can you tell me about the last all-team event you had?
What do you normally do for lunch?
What are the key traits of the most successful people in the company? What’s it take?
How’s the team culture different from the company culture?
Schedule, Workload, Stress
Can you walk me through your calendar and the standing meetings?
What’s the standing meeting structure like?
What’s the most stressful thing that’s come up this week?
What time do you usually get in each day and head home?
How “on” is the team after hours?
How long have you been with the company, and how has your role changed?
What are you most excited about this quarter? This year?
What’s the last person who had this job moving on to?
What’s the hiring plan for this department for the next 6 months to a year?
How do you ensure that the salaries of long-term employees stay competitive with the market?
How often has the team or company pivoted directions in the last year? What are some of those pivots and how did the team realize they needed to be made, then go about making them?
How would you describe the decision-making process of the CEO / the COs / the board / management?
Can you tell me about a time when there was disagreement or dissent about something — maybe between departments, or about the direction of the company — and how it was handled?
What’s the funding runway?
Do you have any plans to sell the business? What could change your mind about that?
How many people have had this job in the last 2 years?
Has anyone failed in this position? Why?
What’s the company’s turnover? This department?
Good *Interviewee* Achievement Stickers: Last 10 Minutes Edition