One question you should ask in every job interview

There is one question you should ask in every job interview that will help you make better decisions.

When in a job interview, the time will come when you are going to have to ask some questions. This is an important part of the process, and the interviewer will be evaluating you on the type of questions you ask.

Ask not what the employer can do for you…

Your queries should centre around the workplace, the culture, the specifics of the job, and what you can bring to the table. They should not be about how much the position pays or how much vacation time you get. Of course you want to know the answers to those and the interviewer knows they are the questions you really want to ask, but this isn’t the time to ask them. As we’ve said before, the hiring process is a game with set rules by which you are expected to play, no matter how silly it may sometimes seem. You will get those answers when you get an offer. In the meantime, ask the other stuff.

Ask questions like, “Can you tell me about the people who work here and the workplace culture?” and “How is success measured in this role?” and “What would I be expected to accomplish in the first six months to one year?”

These questions can actually be very useful for you as well. Knowing what the workplace culture is like and what is expected of you can help you decide if you want the job and if you would fit in.

Always ask why the position is open

Another question you should absolutely ask: “Why is this position available?”

The answer to this question will tell you several things that you want and need to know.

For example, is it a new position? If so, how is the person in this role expected to bring value and what problem are they supposed to solve? Is it part of a larger growth plan? How will you and the department you’d be working for fit into that plan? Does what they tell you make sense?

Why did the previous person leave?

Or is it an already existing position? If so, what happened to the other person in the role? Did they quit? If so, why? Or did they move up the ladder into a leadership position?

You’re not going to get all the details, of course – and probably won’t be told if someone was fired — don’t be surprised if the hiring manager doesn’t share a lot of information — but you can sometimes read between the lines when someone says something like “they moved on” or “it wasn’t a good fit.”

You should also ask what the average turnover is for the role. If there have been four people in the job over the past year, why is that? And what would make your experience different? Honestly, if I were interviewing in that situation I would pull no punches and ask “Why have you gone through so many people?” The answer might tell me if I was wasting my time.

On the other hand, if someone was promoted out of this particular role, that could be good news for you – as it means the company promotes from within and that there may be opportunities for you to advance.

Be wary if they don’t want to answer you

If the employer is resistant to the question of why the position is available, that should be a warning to you. It could mean any number of things. Maybe the manager you’d be working with (who could, obviously, be the interviewer) is a terrible tyrant and the work environment is toxic. Or maybe the position isn’t actually available and they’re just putting out feelers to see what’s out there – or they’re about to fire someone who hasn’t even been told yet. Be wary if they can’t give you a satisfactory answer.

Finally, be extra sure to ask this question of you’ve found the job opening through a recruiter. Recruiters cost companies money, so they are often only hired to find people for hard to fill positions. If it’s a hard position to fill, you want to know why.

Asking why the position is available will help you evaluate your options and make better decisions.

For more, read our list of 22 questions to ask in a job interview.

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