Ask 3: Still More “Penetrating Questions”

In my columns Ask and Ask 2 I proposed some “penetrating questions” for candidates to ask interviewers.  Here are five more.

Why shouldn’t I work here?

Yes, you read that right.  It’s a twist on “Why should I want to work here?” that I proposed in Ask 2.  I actually read that as a recommended question for candidates – i.e., “Why shouldn’t we hire you?” – intended to put people outside their comfort zones; IMHO, those types of questions are deliberately intended to shake candidates up – because people who are rattled tend to make more mistakes.  This one will definitely put your interviewer outside their comfort zone, opening them up for some follow-on questions.  (Hey, if they can ask questions to rattle you, turnabout is fair play – but I only recommend this if they are already asking “rattle the candidate” questions.)  Among many other possibilities, you might learn that while they’re willing to dish out such questions, they’re not used to “uppity” candidates asking equivalent questions in turn.  (Body language will tell much here.)

How do you determine your salary ranges?

I just read an article, here, with a question “Why are you asking for that salary?”  Too many companies these days are salary-obsessed, not value-obsessed.  In the case of this question, candidates are asked to justify their salary request.  Turn it around – after they bring up salary, of course (e.g., “Well, I’m looking for a salary range from X to Y… if I might ask, how do you determine your salary ranges?”).  And if they talk about doing market surveys, competitive analysis, and so on, ask where they fall in that range.  If the answer is something like “We try to be competitive” what they’re really saying is that they try to be enough above average to brag about… while expecting to hire the cream of the crop.

How do you check people out on social media websites?  What do you consider important things to look for?  And how do you know, absent a picture, whether a “hit” on google is the right person?

This is generally intended for HR, but could be aimed at a hiring manager as well.  Social media checking is the latest thing for vetting candidates – and by asking “how” you subtly convey that you expect them to do it, after all it’s not IF they will look for you, it’s WHERE – and what they do with the information.  By explicitly addressing this question you find out what they do.  And if you’ve found some information related to someone else, or information from a while ago when you were hot-headed and posted something you now regret, this is a chance to head it off proactively.  See here, here, here, here, and here for a lot more of my thoughts – shameless self-promotion here – about this topic.

Where do people typically eat lunch?

This is not an inquiry about the local restaurant scene; it is an inquiry into the culture.  The cultures are very different as indicated by whether people have (or take) the time to go to the cafeteria to eat and socialize, vs. bolting lunch down at their desk trying to get more work done.  As a follow-up question, to the hiring manager, is “What’s your favorite local restaurant?” or, possibly, “When’s the last time you ate out for lunch?”  If you really want to be sneaky, and not sound like you’re food-obsessed, ask the favorite restaurant question only (ideally, as you lean back into a relaxed pose).  If the hiring manager has a dumb look on their face, and can’t answer after a moment’s thought, it means they don’t go out to lunch, ever.  Which means, likely, that nobody else does… and likely everyone eats at their desk to squeeze more work out.

How do plan your peoples’ development?

Lots of companies talk about professional development.  Many tout tuition programs.  But for the most part, companies these days leave a person’s career development up to the person.  This is an error.  Now I’m not saying that a person should be pushed through to career positions that they truly don’t want.  Companies as an organization, however, have a vested interest in identifying “high potential” people internally, and helping them develop – both educationally as well as with assignments that broaden their perspectives and time horizons of their decisions – and I don’t mean individual managers picking their own “Golden Children” to nurture… I mean by a systematic, formal process.  The best companies proactively help people along in their careers without having to have people, themselves, do all the planning work and identification of training / developmental assignments.

© 2014, David Hunt, PE

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