One of the best pieces of professional advice I’ve received for my career is to remember to interview the company during your job interview. 23 year old Nicole was clueless – why would I interview them? I’m just excited to have an interview. But it is actually really sage advice. An interview should be more than a company’s assessment of you – you want to be sure that company and this job is the right fit for you, too.
Any good interviewer will ask you if you have any questions for him or her at the end of their questioning. Your answer should always be yes. Have a few questions prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of the company. But also have these 5 in your back pocket to help you decide if this is the job you truly want if offered the position.
"Can you tell me about the organizational structure of the department/office/team/company?"
The idea here is to get a sense of where your position falls into the greater scheme of things. While this is especially important for mid level professionals, it still rings true for entry level positions. You want to know how many people and layers are between you and the most senior official. Not only does this give you a sense of room for growth, it gives you insight into the potential bureaucracy of the organization. How accessible is the top dog? Potentially a lot more accessible if there are 3 people in between you and her than 23.
"What are the opportunities for growth"
This is a taboo interview question because some feel like it makes you look too aggressive. I disagree -- you should absolutely know what your career path (or lack there of) could look like at the organization. Frame this question around being interested in finding a work place where you can both stay and grow but don't be bashful about showing ambition. Especially if you're a woman. No one likes a jumpy resume but sometimes we can't help it when we take a job where we only later find out opportunities for promotion are far and few between.
"What are the strengths of the office? And opportunities for improvement?"
The real meat of this question is the second part. Of course, it's helpful to know the strengths of the office but no office is perfect and you want to have a sense of how realistic people are about that. There are always areas for growth so you want to hear that your future employer is aware of these areas, and hopefully has a strategy in place for how to improve them!
"What do you see as priorities for our industry?"
This is a good question to talk shop a bit, and highlight everything you know about the industry. Every industry has trends and priorities -- you want to know that your future employer sees them. His or her answer will also give you a sense of if this organization is a thought leader in the industry because you will grow a lot more professionally if they are.
“Will you tell me about the work life balance here?”
You will probably hear a “we like to work hard, play hard” answer here. Press back a bit. You want to get a sense of their work expectations outside of the office. What time do people normally leave work? Do you have to stay late to accomplish all of your deliverable? Are you expected to answer emails on the weekend. That is what you want to know about work life balance. It is nice to know about the social relationships in the office (who doesn’t love an excuse for happy hour) but their expectations of work outside of work hours, and what even constitutes work hours, should be transparent.
BONUS QUESTION: "I'm looking to make XXX yearly. Is there flexibility in the salary offered?"
If offered the job, critically examine the compensation package…. and then ask for more money, even if you’re comfortable with their initial offer. HR hardly ever offers their ceiling salary on the first offer so chances are, you won’t be putting anybody off. It may be uncomfortable but YOU are your biggest advocate. Its good practice in self advocacy and you may even end up with a little extra moola in your pocket. If you’re not comfortable with asking for more money, ask about what other benefits are included in the compensation package. Perhaps you can negotiate more time off, a personal office, or tuition benefits. Advocacy and negotiation can be challenging skills to master so don’t pass up the opportunity to practice and hone them.