With a lack of jobs in the market, it’s easy to feel like you have to take the first job offered to you. And, if you’re a new graduate, the paycheques and experience can be worth taking that job.
After all, that’s exactly what I did. I lucked out and really enjoyed my first career job and had a lot of support to develop professionally. Regardless, there will come a time when you want a new challenge, a new experience, a new title (and probably more money, let’s be honest).
When you’re making a career move, the most important advice I can give you is this:
You are interviewing organizations just as they are interviewing you.
Why am I qualified to tell you that? Well, in just three weeks, I went to five job interviews, all from cold applications. I declined another interview. I eventually declined three job offers. And then I accepted the offer not with the highest salary or best title, but the one with interviewers who had the most thoughtful, sincere, professional answers to all my questions. And before that? I took a job offer that was so entirely wrong for me, misrepresented, and the best learning opportunity I never wanted.
When you apply to a job, generally you’re doing so with little information: a job posting, a website. If you’re lucky, the website might give you some extra insight into their past work. If you’re extra lucky, they might be featured in some news articles.
Unfortunately, what you’ll never truly have is information about the organization’s internal culture. And that’s arguably the most important information you’ll need.
So when you get called for an interview, you badass boss, that’s your chance. Yes, you want to show off how amazing and skilled you are— but you also want to leave feeling like you’ve gathered the information you need, too.
Here are the questions you NEED to ask at your next job interview:
1. What are the opportunities for professional development?
If they say none, or beat around the bush, tell them you left your curling iron on at home and get outta there. If an organization isn’t willing to invest in you, you are not and never will be valuable to them. Bye.
2. How does this role interact and work with the other team members?
The trick to this question is knowing enough about your own work and communication styles to have a sense of how you work best with others. If you’re a creative and they have a million folders, tabs, and processes, it might not be the best environment for you.
3. Describe a typical day for this role.
This is a great time to see if what they say is aligned with the job description. I’ve been in a position where the role I was hired to do ended up being about 30% of my daily responsibilities. I lasted three months.
4. What is your favorite thing about working here?
And then you count the seconds. There is a certain amount of time it can take to formulate a thoughtful, sincere response. And then there’s having to think up a lie that sounds realistic in front of your boss in the room, and a stranger. Know the difference.
5. What is the biggest challenge about working here?
Again, time is crucial here. If someone answers too quickly, you know they’ve had something on their mind for quite some time. If they say “nothing!” you know they’re a big fat liar.
6. How would you describe the employee culture?
This is a big one. It’s not an easy question to answer in most organizations; there is often a disconnect between staff and management. However, there are some small clues that can help you find the information you need. First, feel out how comfortable or uncomfortable folks in the room feel about the question. Then pay attention to the key words used. Positive words might be “supportive,” and “collaborative.” Not so positive phrases might be “strong leadership” (controlling and micromanaging), or “busy but we always get things done” (overworked and stressed).
7. Do you offer flexible hours? How do you handle sick days, doctor’s appointments and emergencies?
This is a good one to follow the culture question. Personally, I want to work where I know if the subway stops in the middle of the tunnel and I’m 10 minutes late, no one is going to be standing at my desk tapping a watch until I get in.
Don’t forget to consider raises, sick time, vacation time, health benefits, work from home opportunities, and the dress code.
If you’re worried you’ll ask too many questions, consider how miserable you could be if you don’t.