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January 28, 2011
Questions You Absolutely Must Ask Your Interviewer
During my lengthy job search, I’ve discovered two important things. One: I may have a lot of the answers; but two: I don’t have all the questions.
“Two” got me thinking. In the few interviews I’ve had, I’m bombarded with all kinds of HR-spawned psychological and philosophical questions, and often an online application—pre-interview—will have many similar questions. Some have been insulting, benign, or clearly meant to trip up an applicant with conflicting answers. You know the drill. “Explain a situation where you’ve missed a deadline and what you did to correct the situation.” Well, I’ve never missed a deadline! When an interviewer would ask if I had any questions for them, I’d have a few prepared, but they never seemed to be the right ones.
To correct that mistake and, frankly, turn the tables, I assembled a reference list of questions I thought should be addressed from a candidate’s viewpoint. I had been inspired by the story of Peyton Manning’s first meeting with Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. Irsay was impressed that Manning interviewed him as much Irsay interviewed Manning. Imagine Manning asking questions like, “How committed are you to winning?” or “What kinds of coaches am I going to work with?” Questions such as these are relevant for any job candidate.
I’ve based some questions on past experiences and what I should have asked at the interview. Had my last employer answered these questions somewhat honestly, I probably would not have taken the job! Additional questions came from online application experiences and input from colleagues. The result so far totals 52 questions and although they relate to the advertising business, they could be applied to almost any industry. Below are some of the most important on the list.
“How many clients has the company added in the past year?” and “How many clients has it lost?” Agencies like to tout all the new business they’ve procured, but if they can’t hang onto it for long, there’s a serious problem. A follow-up question might be: “What’s the company’s strategy for generating new business?”
“What has the employee turnover rate been over the past 24 months?” Companies are proud if they can point to their employees’ loyalty and longevity. If they hesitate to answer this question, they may have a revolving door. An agency with a high turnover has real management problems and trouble keeping clients. Clients and employees want stability.
“What’s the company’s policy on work/life balance?” Do they live to work or work to live? An honest answer up front will save you from missing your kid’s school play or getting a 3:00 a.m. phone call from your boss. The answer you receive is an indication of how much the company values and respects their employees’ non-workplace lives.
“What kind of tools are provided to help me do my job?” and “How often are they upgraded?” If they’re still using Mac OS9 and Photoshop 6, then you can’t do your job effectively. If the company isn’t willing to make the infrastructure investment, what else aren’t they willing to invest in?
“In the first 60 to 90 days, what’s my first priority?” and “What is the one thing I cannot fail at in the first year?” This question reflects your seriousness about the position and their answer will give you insight into how they will ultimately judge your performance, no matter how successful you are in other areas.
Lastly, “Are employees required to sign a non-compete contract?” A “yes” may signal paranoia on their part. Based on my experience, don’t sign it. If you really want the gig, then spend the money to have a lawyer review it and negotiate better terms.
The full list is much more extensive and I use it merely as a guide. Although I’d like a prospective employer to answer all 52 questions, that expectation isn’t reasonable. Going into an interview with a dynamite resume and portfolio is just part of being fully prepared. If you’d like a PDF of the full list of questions, or if you have questions you’d like to see added, leave them below or contact me at jamesx@indy.rr.com.

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Steve James owned and creative directed an advertising and design studio in Buffalo, NY with the un-snappy name of SteveJamesDesign, Inc. Steve and his family now live in Indianapolis where he worked as a Creative Director and he is currently in transition, flux, metamorphosis, segue, or whatever looking for work is now called.

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