Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Interview questions, your turn!

I recently moved jobs and have been chatting to others who are going through the same pains.

There are a ton of things to think about when managing your way through the recruitment minefield. I have conducted a lot of interviews in my last post, and one that I find people rarely prepare well enough for is the last question asked; 'Do you have any questions for us?'.

If you are smart, you will have 2/3 questions you will have prepared. If you are lucky, you will remember 2/3 things you wanted to ask. If you aren't smart or lucky, you will come across to the interviewer as not really caring about the job.

So, to try to help all my budding friends through the minefield in some way, here is the list of interview questions I took into my interviews. Asked properly, you will be able to convince the interviewer(s) that you are fully switched on and very interested in the post.

Sorry for the long post, but I also wanted to have these here for reference when others ask me for suggestions like these.

(In the form Q (question) and R (reason))

Q1. Tell me about the competitive environment in which the company runs?
R. You want to learn if the company actually has a functional structure. Many companies have objectives set by CEO's, then middle management take their lead on the objectives, passing these down until the person who does the grunt work (usually you) doesn't quite have objectives that match the direction of the company. Stafford Beer wrote about something called the viable system model which describes a company like the human body. Information has to flow two ways to make the body work, discrete actions are performed in units of the body, etc. You can imagine. So we are here trying to watch for those companies which don't have this function and will leave you feeling perhaps rudderless. You may also learn how you fit into the organisation.

Q2. Describe the executive management styles?
R. Another way of asking Q1.

Q3. What are the current organisation / team challenges and objectives?
R. Easy to forget to ask, but you are actually interested in what your boss is challenged with. Her / his objectives are yours if Q1 revels a working organisation. You will want to know that the work you are doing can be quantified and measured, otherwise in 3-6 months you will not know if you are improving, nor will your boss!

Q4. How have the company goals changed in the last 3-5 years?
R. We want to find out the direction of the company. This is more of Q1, does management information flow within the organisation? Do people describe the goals in simple terms? Do they understand the direction and how it impacts, therefore can they anticipate direction and plan accordingly?

Q5. What will be my main objectives and responsibilities?
R. You need to remember to ask this, it's easily forgotten or skimmed over. Getting a simply, memorable summary toward the end of the interview is useful. Alternatively, if you think you have this clear in your mind, then take a moment at this point to recap what you think you heard. It will give yourself confidence that you understand the ask of you, and will tell the interviewer that you are listening.

Q6. How do you expect me to meet my objectives? What resources will be available to me?
R. This shows that you are planning to involve others to achieve things. People work best in teams or some form of collaboration. Even the smallest company of 2 people will tell you that you will have only each other and your network of contacts. Asking this question also shows that you are keen and aren't just waiting for the salary announcement.

Q7. What obstacles prevent these objectives being met?
R. This shows you are a tactical thinker and are keen to understand. It will hopefully get the interviewer to explain more detail of the job and perhaps a bit about the political landscape of the organisation. More than that, you may just learn the boundaries of the role if you listen carefully.

Q8. What is the timeframe to meet these objectives?
R. It's a simple thing to ask so you know if they are being realistic. Listen carefully here, if the objectives are unclear but you have a timeframe, stop and think about whether the interviewer understands what is being asked, that you understand what is being asked, and whether you think that this may hint that the company expects more than is possible. Some companies however will be driven by regulatory goals which usually mean aggressive timeframes.

Q9. What types of clients do you have?
R. Tells you more about the sustainability of the organisation and the types of work you will be doing. If a company spreads itself across markets, it should find it easier to rough out market highs and lows. Beware of the niche company.

Q10. How would you describe the culture here?
R. Simple, do you think you will fit? Ask them to describe their workplace and may tell you all about the types of people.

Q11. Who are your main competitors?
R. Tied to Q1. A good employer will understand that their competition will not come from purely the market leaders and upstarts, but from the larger companies who cross marketplaces well. In software, Microsoft is naturally a good example of this.

Q12. How do you encourage / reward staff and conversely how do you handle problem staff?
R. Every organisation will have processes for many things. Understand this one and you will see how the value staff, how they are able to tap into the motivational well of staff and help them achieve great things. You will also learn if they are an understanding organisation able to properly address development needs.

Q13. What is the 3/5 year business plan?
R. Does the organisation function, does it understand it's marketplace, does the plan do more than simply sell more, does the plan include staff in it (in terms of improving work / life, opportunities, etc.), do they in fact have any plan? It will be your choice as to whether you want to follow a company with no long term plan. It's not always a bad thing to have a short term plan, this will really depend on the market they work in or perhaps the division of the company you may work in.

Q14. How do you measure success?
R. Ties with Q12. You will have to decide if your success measurement is the same as theirs, do you share a view of success with the organisation? For me, I look for an organisation that measures success in terms of building relationships (internal and external), building externalised knowledge (that is knowledge that doesn't leave an organisation when a person does, building experience (that is after all what we all pay top dollar for), measures of collaborative success across business functions (Viable System Model again), and how they measure the softer side of things such as happiness of staff.

Q15. What is their own personal most recent success (or one from the organisation if you want) and what was the drive behind it?
R. You know that they would ask this same type of question of you, it is a really valid and strong question to ask your boss. You should hear really sensible, stand up reasons for the drive behind something, listen for the weak answer with little reason for the change and perhaps false / misplaced success. When asking them to quote recent success, watch their eyes... If they look up, they are more likely to be making up an answer, if they look down they will be more likely to be remembering an actual event (doesn't always stand true, but keep an eye out for it).

Q16. Where is the company weakest and strongest?
R. Simple question which should give you good insights. Drill into details here if time permits, or write down items for discussion at a later interview.

Q17. What do you do to attract / retain the right staff?
R. You are really playing a game here. By this stage in the interview, if you are still allowed to ask any questions, the interviewer will be keen to recap on how good they are. This question allows them to do that. It's a good bullshit detector question, getting them to repeat something they likely already mentioned.

That's it folks! Phew....
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