In my essay Ask, I proposed some “penetrating questions” to ask interviewers, in particular the hiring manager. Many of these questions had hidden layers of insight that could come out during the answer, whether by the words or by the physical reaction / body language of the person when hit with the question.
I’ve come up with some more.
What three people you admire most; and why are these persons the ones?
Companies these days are desperate to add dimensions to the evaluation process, in order to build a more three-dimensional picture of candidates. They are trolling through social contacts to see who you know; it’s a fair application of the adage Birds of a feather, flock together. (The one caveat that I’d add is that this should not consider people, e.g., twitter followers, over whom I don’t think you have any control – can you actually force someone to unfollow you?) And this is a legitimate, albeit somewhat “stalker-like”, tactic. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and I’ll add another layer: Tell me who you admire and why, and I understand who you are.
What are the challenges the company will face in the next few years?
I have seen this in other venues, so it’s not truly original, but the hidden benefits come from asking people in different levels in the hierarchy. This gives you insights into the degree of perspective people at different levels have. It also hints at the communication between levels, how important news is disseminated downward, and how the “lower ranks” understand the strategic direction.
How would you move Mount Fuji?
This is, of course, a commonly-discussed question – from google IIRC. Turn it around. Ask them, with a great big smile on your face. Incidentally, I do have an answer which I used the one time I was asked; I’ve never seen my answer listed as one of the answers reportedly given. (And no, I’m not telling.)
What’s the last disagreement you had with the boss? What was it about, and how was it resolved?
This is best asked of a potential co-worker. It can indicate all sorts of insight about how the boss handles disagreements, the dynamics of the group, etc. And how did he handle a subordinate contradicting him, especially if the subordinate was right?
Aside from the mercenary aspect of a paycheck, what gets you up in the morning to come here?
What motivates people here? Is there a gestalt mission that’s understood? Or is this a collection of people there for the paycheck – of course, nobody’s going to admit that, but by asking several people this same question you can get a statistical sampling of the evasions and diversions given to reverse engineer what attitudes really are.
When was the last layoff? Did the RIF make sense to you?
This gives some indications of the stability / security of the company. But who got let go, if they are known to the respondent – ask a potential colleague, nobody higher – can indicate how much merit there was to layoffs vs. how political the targeting was. Ask this towards the end of the time period after, hopefully, you’ve established a rapport… which can lead to their being comfortable venting a little.
Why should I want to work here?
This is a turn-the-tables question based on “Why do you want to work here?” It has two results. The first is, obviously, they get put outside their comfort zones, which can open them up to revealing more about themselves and the organization than they intend. But the second is that it makes them have to justify why they’re good enough for you. An interview should be a two-way street, not endless groveling by supplicants pleading for mercy from those who have power. Make them work for the product of your mind.
How long have you worked here? How has the company changed over that time?
The first is a not-uncommon question to ask. It’s nice to know that people stay. But if you get someone who has been there over ten years, ask the second. A lot can come out unintentionally, especially if they don’t like the changes.
© 2013, David Hunt, PE