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essieness's avatar

What are some good questions to ask of my interviewer?

Asked by essieness (7641 points ) June 21st, 2009

I have a phone interview tomorrow morning at 10:30 am (I live 3 1/2 hours from where the job is). I’ve gathered a good list of questions my interviewer might ask of me and am preparing for those, but what are some good questions to ask of her?

The job is for an enrollment counselor for a university. From what I gather, it’s a salary based recruiting type position. Not sales/commission based, but in the same ballpark.

The only thing I can think to ask is “What is the working environment like?”

I’ve already received information explaining benefits and the like.

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28 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Research their website regarding company info.

Ask something particular about the school’s history. That shows that you’ve done some homework and are interested or more than a surface level.

cyndyh's avatar

I’d ask what you’re expected to do, how I’m expected to divide my time between different portions of the job.

I’d also ask why they’re looking for someone to fill the position. Is it a new position or has someone left or been promoted?

I’d ask about advancement opportunities. That sort of thing they should be able to answer for you and be ready to address.

kenmc's avatar

You could ask her to go through a daily work-day routine.

Jayne's avatar

I can’t say I’m a very good source for this, being 18 and all, but it seems that if you can study the information they gave you about benefits etc. and base your questions off of that, then you can demonstrate that you care enough to actually invest time learning about the job, that you are capable of analyzing details and formulating intelligent questions from them, that you are conscientious, etc. Obviously, don’t ask trivial or nitpicky questions, or questions about things that could not reasonably affect your decision to work there (because, I believe, there is at least supposed to be the pretense that this is a two-way discussion, with employee choosing employer as well as vice-versa) but this might be a good place to start, and see what you can find. Good luck!

eponymoushipster's avatar

What results are expected of me? Will i be expected to train other people eventually? Will I have the opportunity to speak with my predecessor?, if there is one (as @cyndyh said).

filmfann's avatar

How many people work at the company, and how many have left in the last year?
This will indicate how satisfied the workers are, and be a good indication for you of whether this job is a keeper.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Ask how difficult it will be to do your job without having attended the institution and if your training would cover handling that situation. If you did go there, as how they handle questions along the line of “but you’ve never been anywhere else, how do you know this is the best?”

Also ask about travel time—a friend of mine with that job had to travel a LOT for work. Ask if you’ll be expected to read applications and what the process for that is like. Ask about working from home while reading.

hug_of_war's avatar

Adding to @The_Compassionate_Heretic, don’t ask a question whose answer can be found on their website. Show that you have knowledge of the type of students who enroll there. Ask about how much collaboration you’ll do with colleagues. Show that you researched this job and these questions just aren’t to sell yourself to them.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Discuss the demographics of the students that apply at the university—age, percentage of students on scholarship, socioeconomic demographics, ratio of applicants to matriculated students, what other schools applicants also apply to. Ask how college fairs are conducted, is there any travel involved, that sort of thing.

Good luck, essie!!!!

Jeruba's avatar

Interviews go both ways. What do you need to know in order to judge whether to accept or decline if the job is offered to you? Don’t focus on the kinds of questions you can ask after you get hired or anything that you can reasonably expect would be covered by a competent manager or trainer. Focus on those that will enhance your candidacy for the position and, even more important, on those that will be discriminators for you as a candidate considering an offer. This is your first chance to show them how you go about gathering and weighing information and exercising your judgment.

Sorry, @EmpressPixie, but I can’t agree that it would make a very favorable impression on a prospective employer if you asked about working from home at the interview. That would be a red flag in every interview team I’ve ever been on. You have to prove yourself a little before you start asking for privileges.

DarkScribe's avatar

Ask her how she finds working for the organisation.

TylerM's avatar

Ask questions about topics you care about. There aren’t any really “right” questions. If you care about health care costs, ask about that. If you care about vacation and sick time ask about that. You have to ask what you think is important.

wildflower's avatar

Ask them about the role as it is and as they’d like to see it, i.e. what’s working well for this function today and what – if anything – would they like to see done differently?

janbb's avatar

I would be wondering how much traveling is invovled – will you be going out to high schools to talk about the university?

cwilbur's avatar

@Jeruba: working from home is an excellent thing to ask about, as long as you don’t imply that you expect to work from home on your first day. An organization’s collective attitude towards management and responsiblity can be mirrored in its telecommuting policy.

For instance, some workplaces forbid telecommuting because they only measure butt-in-chair time. This is very bad—it means that the person who shows up at 7:30 AM, plays on the Internet all day, “works” through lunch, and leaves at 6:30 PM will look better than the person who shows up somewhere between 9:07 and 9:18 AM, sometimes takes an extra-long lunch, and leaves by 5:30 PM every night, but stays completely on task and gets a lot of work done.

Other workplaces forbid telecommuting because they cannot competently manage rivalries in the workplace. They don’t tell Ann she can’t telecommute because they don’t trust her; they tell her she can’t telecommute because Bob only gets any work done when the boss checks in on him every hour, and if they tell Ann she can telecommute, they will have to explain to Bob that he can’t. This is a sign of a very unhealthy workplace as well.

One of the objectives of an interview is determining whether it’s a place you want to work for. To be sure, we’re currently in an employer’s market, so it doesn’t help to be too picky, but it’s still important to get an accurate picture of the place you’re hoping to work. That way, you’ll know, if you accept the job, if you’re hoping to be there for years or if you’re planning to stay a year or two while you build your network and look for a better fit.

SirBailey's avatar

Definitely ask about parking provisions.

essieness's avatar

Well everyone, thanks for the sound advice. My interview is in one hour, so I’ll let you all know how it goes!

janbb's avatar

Good luck!

Jeruba's avatar

@cwilbur, certainly candidate can ask about anything they want. They can ask how far their desk would be from the bathroom. As an interviewer I am going to regard every question as a data point about the candidate. Does this question represent something on which he or she is going to base a decision about a career move? Some questions definitely lead to unfavorable conclusions.

I work for a company that encourages telecommuting because it is environmentally beneficial and because the company itself makes networking equipment and likes to model its many applications. Employees who don’t have jobs that require onsite presence typically work at home one or two days a week, and some people are full-time telecommuters whom we may see once a year or so, maybe less. I have served on very many interview teams. If someone asked about our work-at-home policy, I would explain it briefly and say it is up to the manager to approve WAH arrangements. If they asked, “How soon can I work at home?” I would immediately go on alert, not because I know that my company does not hire people on a WAH basis but because I would wonder why the question came up at the interview. Why is the candidate wasting his or her little half hour with me to ask something that does not lead us toward or away from a hire decision? Well, maybe it does.

cwilbur's avatar

@Jeruba: Well, that’s why social skills like tact and diplomacy help.

If the question about possibly allowing telecommuting comes up in the context of work culture, it shouldn’t be a red flag. Interviews aren’t just about the employer evaluating the candidate—they’re also about the candidate evaluating the employer.

Knowing that a company simply does not offer any telecommuting options for jobs where onsite presence isn’t required tells me a great deal about the culture of that company. Asking about telecommuting may not give the employer much info to contribute to the hire decision, but the answer to a question about telecommuting can give the candidate a great deal of information about the decision to take the job.

(I’ve learned this the hard way. I have worked for a manager in the past who refused to allow telecommuting and who measured employee performance by butt-in-chair time above all else. I asked the telecommuting question in the interview, got the answer that it was categorically not permitted, drew the correct inferences from that, and was stupid enough to take the job anyway.)

Jeruba's avatar

I stand by my original comment (which I think agrees substantially with yours):

Interviews go both ways. What do you need to know in order to judge whether to accept or decline if the job is offered to you?

cwilbur's avatar

Right—I just think that we differ on whether asking about telecommuting is in itself a red flag for the employer.

(Although if asking about it is a red flag for the employer, that’s a red flag for the candidate, and so it’s probably a wash.)

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t believe I made a generalization like that. I said it would be a red flag for me and the interview teams I’ve been on. Because telecommuting is a privilege and requires a level of trust, there’s some caution about people who salivate at the thought. If I were hiring a cashier, I might go on alert if someone asked, “How much cash do I get to handle everyday?” Red flag does not mean thumbs down. Red flag means alert, pay attention, watch for any other adverse indicators. I would not be doing my job responsibly if I did not try to protect the interests of my employer.

The greater issue in my mind is not whether the person qualified to WAH and had an interest in it but what the question told me about how in his best judgment he should use the interview time.

(I would not be telling the candidate what my red flags were.)

cwilbur's avatar

Ah, but see, I think that the attitude about telecommuting is an indicator of several important aspects of the corporate culture. I can ask one question about telecommuting and find out a great deal, which makes it an excellent use of interview time for me. Asking about corporate culture directly is likely to take more interview time and give me carefully filtered and prepared answers which often reflect more of what the interviewer wants to project than the truth.

I’ve also found that asking a question that I know isn’t on the interviewer’s list of prepared questions, especially in a team interview, can be very telling. I was interviewing for a job about two years ago, and I was in a room with the team lead for the team I’d be on and two members of the team, and I’d been watching the patterns of interaction. We’d covered most of the objective stuff, and so I asked, “so what kind of coffee do they serve here?” The two team members, both of whom had cups of coffee in front of them and presumably knew the answer, looked at the lead and waited for him to answer. That moment of deference made clear something that had been bothering me throughout the interview: a very authoritarian management style, where the team lead was the authority. Based on your reaction to questions about telecommuting, I imagine that you’d think that was wasting time in the interview—but that question, and the response to it (not the answer) told me more about the team lead’s management style than any direct question on the subject would have.

(For the record: they offered me the job. I declined.)

Jeruba's avatar

Ah , but see, it is only one data point. I am still looking for an overall picture that helps me assess the suitability of the candidate for the company and the position. My questions cover a wide range. Nobody has ever thrown me with an interview question, but I have thrown candidates from time to time. Things come flying off the wall here, and if interviewees go to pieces over an unexpected question, they’re going to have a hard time. I like it if a candidate laughs when I ask a surprise question, but I don’t hold it against him if he doesn’t.

If it is really important to you to ask about telecommuting, by all means do. My point was at the beginning and still is that because both the company and the candidate are being interviewed, it is best if the candidate asks questions that help him or her decide whether to take the job if offered. Questions about how to do the job once he gets it can wait.

Discerning questions that are meant to ferret out untoward signs in the corporate environment are much to be admired. I am partial to those myself. The coffee story is a good one.

essieness's avatar

I got the job!! Looks like I’m moving to Houston! Thanks for all your great advice everyone!

A special thanks to @Jeruba for your wonderful words of support and wisdom. I truly appreciate it!!

janbb's avatar

Great work, essieness! I know you were looking to make a change; I’m very happy for you.

Jeruba's avatar

Huge congratulations. @essieness! You had a lot of great help and a lot of people cheering you on. I love the way people here leap up to support one another. What a treat it is to get such good news back. Looking forward to updates when you start!

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