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What Questions Should a Prospective Employee Ask?

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the what-is-your-stance-on-monday-and-friday-absenteeism dept.

Businesses 569

Mortimer.CA writes "Even though things aren't great in the economy, it's prudent to plan ahead to when things (hopefully) pick up. In light of that, I'd like to update a previously asked question in case things have changed over the last four years: What do you ask every new (prospective) employer? When you're sitting in the interview room after they've finished grilling you, there's usually an opportunity to reciprocate. There will be some niche questions for specializations (sys admin, programming, PM, QA, etc.), but there are some generic ones that come to mind, such as: what is the (official) dress code?" Similarly, what questions should you avoid? Read on for the rest of Mortimer.CA's thoughts.He continues with these suggestions:
"What about my resume caught your eye? What hardware/software am I expected to use at my desktop (e-mail, OS, editor, source control, etc.)? Are there team lunches or get-togethers? What are your goals for the next six months, one year, three years? What ticket/issue tracking system do you use? Do you have separate build/stage/QA/etc. environments? How do you keep track of documentation? What are your full names (so I can Google them)? What are the typical hours of the team members? Those are some of the ones I've thought of after some digging around. Are there the generic ones that you ask? What are some question for various niches? (e.g., for sysadmins: what config mgmt software do you use?)"

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"What color m&ms do you prefer?" (2, Funny)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001891)


Re:"What color m&ms do you prefer?" (3, Funny)

oh_bugger (906574) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002169)

Red M&M.. Blue M&M.. They all end up the same colour in the end.

Oblig quote (0, Troll)

Hojima (1228978) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002297)

Am I... am I supposed to type with my penis?

Re:"What color m&ms do you prefer?" (5, Interesting)

Mick Ohrberg (744441) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002237)

Maybe not that, but "What keeps you up at night?" - obviously not asking about scary movies or a noisy neighbor, but about issues within the organization. I have found that this way of asking the question (as opposed to "What are the biggest problems?") seems pretty disarming and I've heard prospective employers divulge more than they probably originally wanted to.

Re:"What color m&ms do you prefer?" (5, Funny)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002409)

What if the answer is an overly active sex life and a lack of commitment to one particular women?

How often do people get promoted (1)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001905)

Unless you like doing TPS reports for the next 40 years.

Re:How often do people get promoted (5, Insightful)

kenh (9056) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002013)

No, that makes it sound like you already don't like the job you haven't even been offered yet. Instead, ask about career paths, ask where your co-workers came from (internal new-hires, transfers/promotions, etc.), and where former group members are now. Asking how often people get promoted makes you sound like a civil servant "wannabe", probably not your best interview tactic.

Re:How often do people get promoted (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002357)

No, that makes it sound like you already don't like the job you haven't even been offered yet. Instead, ask about career paths, ask where your co-workers came from (internal new-hires, transfers/promotions, etc.), and where former group members are now. Asking how often people get promoted makes you sound like a civil servant "wannabe", probably not your best interview tactic.

So I guess asking: "If I start working for you now, how much time will I have until your next round of mass layoffs is planned to unfold?" is out of the question too?

Re:How often do people get promoted (4, Insightful)

dk90406 (797452) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002053)

At least a semi-valid question.

If asked like: "What is your education and training policy for employees?" and "Will additional education be reflected in job position, if my job performance is satisfying, or is promotion generally based on seniority?"

or something like that. And a critical one for me: "What is you policy on flexible hours" (or whatever you call in in the US - is it OK I get to work later (or earlier) and then leave later (or earlier)).

Euphemisms (4, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002223)

Yeah euphemistic questions FTW.

I like: "What's the staff turnover rate like? How about in the dept I'd be joining?"

If the staff turnover is high, it's often not a good sign. Poor management or hiring practices, and often you'd be picking up the pieces. This doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't join them, but if the turnover is high, the package better be better - haggle if necessary - esp if they know that now you know their environment "isn't better than industry average" based on the employee turnover rate.

In fact, the Bank Regulator in my country considers high staff turnover a significant negative when doing audits of banks.

Bye, bye job (5, Funny)

netpixie (155816) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001909)

Do you have manditory drug testing?

Re:Bye, bye job (4, Funny)

kenh (9056) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001991)

And if so, how long after you offer the job will I have to take the test? (how long do I have to detox before the test?)

Re:Bye, bye job (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002193)

And will I be given sufficient time to study for this test?

Re:Bye, bye job (4, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002305)

Is that a picture of your daughter there on your desk?

Re:Bye, bye job (1)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002323)

...or spelling tests?

the obvious question is (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29001913)

Are you a slashdotter?

My favourite (5, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001917)

"I've worked in England and the policy on assault is pretty strict there. If you hit somone, immediate dismissal. What's your policy here? [cracks knuckles]"

Legendary question in by a candidate for a job in Sweden.

Re:My favourite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002055)

The "cool" answer to this would be "you're not allowed to hit anyone except stupid customers and sales reps". :P

What's for lunch? (5, Insightful)

zyxwvutsr (542520) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001927)

Where do we eat?

Are there a lot of people with kids here? (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001935)

If you want to know how much overtime you're going to work, and how family-friendly a workplace is, find out what the demographics of the company are. If you are single, you may find that an overly family-oriented workplace is going to put extra pressure on you to stay late due to parents needing to take time off to be with their family (doctor visits, holidays, etc). On the other hand, if you have a family, a family-friendly workplace may afford you more time to spend with your family.

Another good question is to ask your interviewer how many times a week he talks to customers. It will give you a good idea of how insulated you will be from customers, and that can give you an idea of whether you want the job or not. A non-customer centric position will probably be slower in promotion, but much lower pressure. A customer centric position will be higher pressure, but the opportunity for professional growth (even if all you want to be is a developer) is enormous.

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (1)

TheGreenNuke (1612943) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001967)

The overtime issue is a good one to ask. Different places also pay out for overtime differently, if at all. I've heard of no OT pay, your hourly pay(or equivalent if salary) + $10 an hour, to time and a half, and will likely vary as you rise up the ranks. 401(k) and if you're lucky pension plans are important too. Some places will match a fairly decent amount.

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (3, Insightful)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002079)

Common wisdom holds that questions around pay, overtime pay policy, 401k, vacation, sick time, etc -- basically "HR stuff" -- should be avoided in first round technical interviews.

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (2, Insightful)

cob666 (656740) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002329)

Common wisdom holds that questions around pay, overtime pay policy, 401k, vacation, sick time, etc -- basically "HR stuff" -- should be avoided in first round technical interviews.

Compensation is usually THE DECIDED factor when most people are looking for a job. When I'm interviewing for a position I always ask about compensation, work hours and company policy on PTO and flex time. I've also been in the position where I have interviewed candidates for positions and have always had at the very least 'ballpark' compensation numbers as well as PTO policies.

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (2, Insightful)

TheGreenNuke (1612943) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002333)

First round interview was not specified, so the point remains valid. Also the "HR stuff" is very relevant information when deciding if you want the position or not, in my experience, no time was ever a bad time to ask it.

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002353)

It might be common, but why is it wisdom?

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (5, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001989)

Virtual "+1, best answer yet" from me.

In a similar vein, ask about the policy on flexible working (i.e. a compressed or extended working week), and home working. That should give you a good indication of whether you're working for people who want to see results, or just to see you at your desk.

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (2, Insightful)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002091)

This would fall into the "things not to ask me about in a first/technical interview" category. If someone is more concerned around work schedule than getting work done before they even start, I'll take a pass. Once we're entering salary discussions, that's a different story.

Re:Are there a lot of people with kids here? (3, Interesting)

assertation (1255714) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002315)

I work in a family centric place, I am single, and I rarely work late. Everyone is GONE by 5:30pm.

In regards to your second question I think it would be better to ask how often you would be expected to interface with customers as what the boss does may not have anything to do with you. It could be his job to insulate the rest of the staff from clients.

What are your internet usage rules here? (2, Funny)

cavehobbit (652751) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001945)

Like bandwidth caps 'n stuff?

Re:What are your internet usage rules here? (1, Insightful)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002099)

What are your internet usage rules here?... Like bandwidth caps 'n stuff?

Might as well walk in and say, "I plan to surf the web all day and work in my spare time!" ;)

this could backfire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29001953)

spit or swallow?

Asking about hours (3, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001955)

There are only two occasions when asking about average employee working hours is appropriate:

1) When you will be contracting with the company and will be charging them an hourly rate with the possibility of overtime
2) You don't really care about getting the job

If you ask in the first situation, you are simply being professional. You want to be able to accurately estimate the amount you will be charging them. It just makes sense, especially since it will end up costing them more to keep you later.

If you ask in the second situation, you are simply lazy and unwilling to be a "team player".

Re:Asking about hours (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29001993)

If you ask in the second situation, you are simply lazy and unwilling to be a "team player".

Maybe in crazy world. We all have to negotiate a salary, which is worth nothing if you don't know if you have to work five or fifty hours for it per month.

Re:Asking about hours (4, Insightful)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002125)

If you ask in the second situation, you are simply lazy and unwilling to be a "team player".

Maybe in crazy world. We all have to negotiate a salary, which is worth nothing if you don't know if you have to work five or fifty hours for it per month.

Absolutely true - this is a valid question to ask, after you have entered the salary negotiations phase and not before.

Re:Asking about hours (4, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002031)

And a virtual "-1, bullshit" to counter my virtual +1 above.

I always ask about the "real working hours" for salaried jobs. Always, barring my very first job (games development, ho ho), which is why I do it now. It doesn't have to come across as lazy - you can spin it as wanting to make an informed decision about whether you're happy committing to the working culture.

If you don't get a job simply because you asked that question, then they were probably planning to work you like a galley slave anyway. Unless that was your goal - and it may be, I was that dumb going into my first job - then you just dodged the bullet.

Re:Asking about hours (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002163)

If you ask in the second situation, you are simply lazy and unwilling to be a "team player".

That seems very strange to me. I have asked about the length of the typical work week at every interview I have ever had. And my lifetime average is about .50 (I get a job offer from about half of my interviews). And I am not a contractor...I have interviewed for salaried positions only.

It is all in the presentation; and how you present yourself will be a function of how you view yourself, the employer, and your potential relationship. If you expect that every employer wants to exploit you and that by asking this you will automatically be sending him a red flag that you cannot be exploited, and therefore that you will not get the job.....or if you see yourself as being basically powerless and the interview is your chance to beg for a job from someone who doesn't really need you but could be convinced to hire you anyway (but only if you are willing to work all the time).....then you have screwed yourself from the get-go.

Remember, employers need employees too, and the successful ones are (quite often) the ones who have managed to retain and motivate talent. Such employers understand the need for work/life balance, and don't want to drive their talent to burn-out (having that happen a few times gets expensive, fast). You are not a selfish bastard for wanting a salary that fits the position's value in the market, your talent level, and the workload. Nor are you a lazy bastard for wanting to have a life outside of work. If you think that asking about salary/workload makes you appear as such, then you need to adjust your self-image. If you think all employers see you this way, then you need to adjust your world-view.

There are some asshole employers, of course. They will try to convince you that there are no jobs available in which you can get away with working less than 60 hours a week, and it goes up from there at crunch time. Also, "salaried" means "you work two jobs, both for me, and only get paid for one, and you like it that way." If the questions you ask reveal that the potential employer is one of these, move on.

The simple fact makes no sense to enter into a relationship if you don't know what the expectations are. Asking what the workload is, and how much it pays, is a simply getting the basic facts. The only concern is timing...if you ask these questions right away it makes you look like a job-hopper, which makes you a risky investment. If you wait till the second interview to ask, it makes it look like you decided that you like the company itself, and are serious about wanting to work there, and are getting the necessary facts. Just do it with the proper professional attitude and any employer worth working for will respond in kind.

Can you show me your expense management app? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29001957)

One nightmare I have to deal with is expense management: I spend something on the work Amex card, I then have to bring up a copy of windows to run IE and hence access a worst-in-class expense management web application. I wont identify the company, other than to say everyone who worked on it should be shot, or at least banned from doing any kind of software job ever again.

Real working hours (4, Interesting)

Noam.of.Doom (934040) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001959)

I often ask what are the actual (real) work hours. In my experience, a contract with an IT company at a programming job, states a basic outline of the work hours that are demanded of you (09:00-18:00, for example). Most of the time these work hours are just formal and not actual, since these types of jobs are very demanding (the needs of meeting goals and dead-lines). The kinds of hours that you'll be working may differ from the ones stated in contract. This information is quite important if you have some kind of routine - if you study part time, for example.

Details on benefits (5, Informative)

bwindle2 (519558) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001975)

I got a new job about 10 months ago.. during the interview, I asked about their benefits, and was told they were "pretty standard". Now, I learn how dishonest they were... health insurance is $850/month for family plan, and we only get 4 vacation days off a year (and only 5 paid holidays). No certification reimbursement, and they want to be able to call me on my personal cell phone after-hours. Lesson learned: get DETAILS.

Re:Details on benefits (3, Informative)

codeguy007 (179016) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002113)

Where do you live? Most places by law they have to give you minimum of 2 weeks and Stat Holidays (or atleast same number of days). I would check your rights.

Re:Details on benefits (1)

tanmanX (1275146) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002345)

2 weeks? Wow! I wish I lived in your country. Here in Ohio, US, I had to work 2 years to get 2 weeks. my third week comes in 10 years. Course my company probably underpays everyone but the division manager.

Re:Details on benefits (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002401)

I'd guess he lives somewhere in the US.... and that you live in Europe.

I don't know of any state in the US where there's a minimum of two weeks vacation time. Not saying there aren't any, but I would be very, very surprised.

Employee handbook, first-day documents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002279)

Before you accept an offer, ask to see a copy of the employee handbook and copies of any documents (additional NDAs, patent agreements, etc.) that you will be expected to sign on your first day of work. Your ability to negotiate about these will be drastically reduced if you have already accepted an offer, and turned down any other opportunities, and shown up at work expecting that the paychecks will start arriving in 2 weeks.

Management (5, Funny)

jo42 (227475) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001979)

Just how [in]competent is the management here?

COnsider how it comes across (4, Informative)

kenh (9056) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001981)

Asking follow-up questions tied to the things the interviewer just spoke on (job responsibilities, organizational policies, challenges, etc.) will win you huge points because it shows you were listening, and you are interested in their organization. Asking questions about benefits, promotions, dress code, and other ephemera will signal to the interviewer that you may only be interested in drawing a paycheck, not being part of a group solving problems and working together. If you want generic questions to ask all employers, consider questions like "Who are your competitors?" or "What specifically in my CV/resume interested you?" The goal of the interview is to get the offer, and the best way to get the offer is to demonstrate an interest in the organization you are interviewing with, an understanding of the industry they are in, and at some level the challenges they face in the current market. As for the dress code question, you dress for your first day just like you dressed for your interview, unless told otherwise, and on the first day your new boss/HR/co-worker will tell you how to dress for the second day. Asking about dress code during the interview will send up a red flag that you may be someone that will challenge the dress code at some point down the line, that would be a strike against you.

Re:COnsider how it comes across (5, Insightful)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002047)

"The goal of the interview is to get the offer"

It is not, unless you really want *any* job they could offer (flipping burgers included). If that's not the case, the goal of the interview is not to get the offer but to get the offer *if* it fits both parties. If you can naturally get the questions you are interested in rised during the interview, good, if not, directly question them shows professionality and that you are really interested on the job, not only the paycheck.

Re:COnsider how it comes across (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002273)

in this economy, the goal is to get any offer that pays the bills.

Re:COnsider how it comes across (1)

dcam (615646) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002351)

Something that a lot of people don't seem to realise: interviews are two way communication. Being interviewed for a job is as much finding out about a place as it is conveying information about yourself.

Re:COnsider how it comes across (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002143)

Competition: I wouldn't think about asking about the competition. First it's good to be "into" the particular industry, so you know that anyhow. If not, this is one of the things that's going to create an odd moment when you're being asked if you interviewed with one of them...

Dress code: Unless you've been referred by friend or family (that's for sure a talking point before the interview), in my view it's perfectly fine to ask about dress code. This makes for some light conversation.

Internet: Bad question. That's one of the possibly sensitive issues if there's been a problem recently and there's always those weird anecdotes from a couple of years back that are semi-appropriate. The bottom line there is that you'll be getting what you need for the position (in theory, at least), so there's really nothing to talk about here anyways.

And yeah, better know what's ahead or just be flat ready for a drug test cold.

Re:COnsider how it comes across (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002227)

The goal of the interview is to get the offer, and the best way to get the offer is to demonstrate an interest in the organization you are interviewing with, an understanding of the industry they are in, and at some level the challenges they face in the current market.

An offer is only useful if you'll enjoy working there (unless you're simply desperate, which can be understandable as well). If you're not desperate, then you want to know you're jumping ship to a place that you'll want to stick around.

Asking about dress code during the interview will send up a red flag that you may be someone that will challenge the dress code at some point down the line, that would be a strike against you.

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes ....
        -- Henry David Thoreau, _Walden_

If the corporate culture is suits and ties, and all you have it jeans and t-shirts, that's a red flag to you. It's not that you will hate working there, but now you have to shell out cash to get a new wardrobe. For some people this is important, for others it's not.

Presumably if you're looking around for a new place to work you're not happy with where you are. Why would you go to another place where you'll be unhappy? If you're desperate--bills piling up--then sure, be a bit more careful on these questions. But if you have some time to pick and choose, it's better to be honest about things so there are fewer surprises later on.

Re:COnsider how it comes across (4, Insightful)

jparker (105202) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002355)

I've conducted dozens of programmer interviews, and I totally disagree. The point of the interview is not to get a job, it's to allow both parties a chance to see if this pairing will work. If I can tell that a prospective employee is just concerned with getting hired, that's a huge red flag. I want to hire someone passionate about the same things that my team is passionate about, someone who will have a good sense of humor when we're both still there at 2 AM, and, of course, someone who has the skills required.

The vast majority of candidates, when they get to the "Do you have any questions for us?" bit, just clam up. "Uh, no, not really." Oh? You're about to commit 40+ hours a week to working for me, and you can't think of anything you'd like to get reassurance on before that happens? I think of this part of the interview as a critical thinking test. You're about to be thrown into a new project; what are the important questions to ask?

Sticking to the job is fine; there are a lot of questions that are good to ask there, but I view going outside the job, to questions about fit, demographics, team structure and interaction, etc as a sign of experience. You've got a lot less to worry about from the guy who asks if his cynical style will be a problem than from the guy who doesn't. Questions about fit show me that you know what it takes to make you happy, which is great. We can check to see if our culture matches, if not, no hard feelings. I work in video games, so the attitude might be a bit different; every company says you should be excited about your work, but most people here actually are, and if you're not it's often a problem. The more people like that we can weed out, the better.

As an interviewer, I love the questions the interviewee asks. As parent poster implies, they tell you a lot about what the candidate thinks is important. Questions that focus solely on job function, ignoring job environment, show someone inexperienced or uninterested. If the questions show that the candidate is trying to find a good fit, a place where he can be himself and excel, that's the guy that gets the thumbs up.

Tailor the Questions... (4, Interesting)

dkf (304284) | more than 5 years ago | (#29001995)

The best questions are almost certainly those that are specific to the employer and the job which they might hire you for. These are excellent because they show that you've taken an actual interest in what they are doing and may have something to contribute to the overall team in the first 6 months or so. Which isn't to say that the other questions (e.g., generic "what are employment conditions like on the ground" checks) aren't good, but if the boss-to-be thinks you care, it's a big way to stand out for the better.

Or at least that technique has consistently worked for me so far, and people who ask such things do stand out when you're on the interview panel. Too many people just do generic applications for jobs and don't seem to care what they actually end up doing...

Do you keep your buttocks clean? (3, Funny)

Mishotaki (957104) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002007)

So that i don't dirty my lips when i kiss them!

Unfortunately (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002009)

I now have to ask, "Does the company have sufficient funds to meet payroll for the next year?"

Are those your kids in the photos... (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002025)

or did they come with the frame?

Documentation (5, Interesting)

notamedic (1236734) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002027)

'Can I see an example of your code or documentation?'

If they don't keep documentation or their code tends to be messy and undocumented then you're going to spend half your time trying to figure stuff out rather than doing productive (and thus interesting) work. If a company's business is in a complex field (finance for instance) and the code/system has built up over many years there is a fair chance that both will be pretty incomprehensible to start with and if they haven't got reasonably documentation the your job is going to be harder and there is a chance that you'll never feel you full have a grasp on *everything* that is going on.

Apart from that, it will show that you give a damn about documentation and are organised.

Re:Documentation (2, Interesting)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002075)

A red-flag is probably if they tell you all of their code is a "trade secret".

A typical day (2, Insightful)

RabidMonkey (30447) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002035)

One that I've always fallen back on when "do you have any questions for us?" time comes up is something along the lines of "Can you describe a typical day in the life of someone doing my job?". If they're honest, it generally gives me a feel for a typical day, how much time is spent in meetings, doing documentation, when people come in/leave, etc. I then lead them through things like "how much time do I spend doing change tickets/incident tickets? How much time is spent dealing with email/phone calls/walkups? How much time is spent on call?"

While these questions won't generally alter opinion of the job, it does tell me much more about the "how" as opposed to the general interview "what" and "why". Ultimately the quality of life part of the job is more important than the work, at least, as I grow older and move to more senior (ie: non-helpdesk/NOC) positions. Not hating being at work, being fufilled, challenged and treated with respect is more important at this point than simply advancing or resume building. To find out about the "quality of life" is generally the bent of my questions.

Good searching!

Serious Questions (3, Informative)

gander666 (723553) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002037)

Assuming I get through the first round or two, my questions are like these:

What is your culture like?

What do you like about working for (insert company name)?

(If it is a division of a large company) How heavy is the hand of Corporate on your day to day?

What keeps you up at night?

Usually by this point I am as much looking to be sold by the company. I am a product manager and usually seek similar roles. Things like culture, openness, empowerment, etc are usually covered in earlier interviews.

I should also add that I usually spend a fair amount of time researching a company before I even interview. Research their annual reports, investor page, read the SEC filings, look for analyst comments (on public companies), understand their market space, competition, etc. So usually much of this has come across already.

Oh yeah, one more: Do you use SAP? (god, how I have that frickin' program)


Be honest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002063)

Just be honest with them. If you are interested in working with them, then surely there will be things you would like to know more about. The job description you found online hardly will be everything you wanted to know (and they won't say too much in the interview preceding your questions).

"Can't you enforce tooling?" (3, Interesting)

pdh11 (227974) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002067)

What hardware/software am I expected to use at my desktop (e-mail, OS, editor, source control, etc.)?

This (certainly the email and source-control bits) is an excellent question to ask -- not so much because of what the answer as such, but because of your interviewers' reaction to giving the answer. If the interviewers frown or are apologetic about the answers, then that's a big clue that the IT department is run for its own convenience rather than the users' convenience.

For instance, if the email system in use is Outlook, ask if they have IMAP or SIMAP turned on, to enable non-Exchange clients. If the answer is no, then you know that uniformity gets enforced over convenience. You also know that nobody in the company uses any external mailing lists (such as the GCC or Linux kernel lists), as there's no way of posting to those from Exchange without looking like a fool.

If your interviewers sound cross or apologetic when describing the source-control system -- in other words, if the source-control system was dictated by IT without engineering buy-in -- then decline the job. Even if it were theoretically possible to do work in such a company, the excess overhead due to dealing with bureaucracy would make it an inefficient use of your time.

The absolute best answer you could get here is the one a VP of engineering whom I once worked for gave to a compiler vendor whose products we didn't want. "Can't you enforce tooling?", they asked him. "No," he said, "we don't tell Babe Ruth how to hold his bat."


Re:"Can't you enforce tooling?" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002205)

Yeah. great question - waahh wahhh wahhh can i use a mail program that will only be 80% compatible with 100% of the rest of the company waah waaah because i think its more convenient to see outlook meeting requests as attachments and for everyone who sends me a meeting request only get a "tentative" reply, regardless of what response i give. and i'd like to use OpenOffice so i can give people documents that lose formatting when opened in Word etc and vice versa and waahhh waaaahh i'd like to spend 5 hours per week dist-upgrading and compiling new kernels to steamline my system whenever a new local privelege elevation exploit comes out even though there's only 2 users on my machine - root and myself and waahh wahh fucking waaahhhh.

Re:"Can't you enforce tooling?" (1)

mdda (462765) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002343)

Many of the Microsoft-supporting trolls I've seen recently have this 'weekly upgrading due to exploits' meme.

What are patch-Tuesdays, but the Microsoft version of the same thing?

Two I consider important (3, Insightful)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002083)

1. Health plan - even here in Canada, I consider this important. Even routine dental and prescriptions (not to mentioned uncovered specialists like chiropractors and podiatrists) can cost a fantastic amount of money. Everywhere I've worked for recently had copies of the policy documentation available for interviewees.

2. Overtime policy - This generally doesn't vary much due to have a legislated minimum here (1.5x pay past 8 hours a day (or 12 if that's your schedule) or 40 hours per week), but it's always good to know.

your application shows your single (0)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002095)

will you marry my daughter and give my lots of grand children?

Ask about them... (3, Interesting)

gr8fulnded (254977) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002107)

Ask your interviewers how long they've been with the company, and why do they stay? The second one is more important if you're in a current "hot" field where people jump ship quite a bit. It tends to give a little more insight into the corporate culture and those you'll be working with, in my experiences.

Re:Ask about them... (1)

chiefthe (672735) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002231)

I always ask:

- What is the best part about working here?

- How is this job different from other jobs you've had in the past?

- What's your background / how did you get here?

You get a good sense of the type of people you'd be working with and what they really like about the job.

Re:Ask about them... (1)

exolon42 (1140715) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002319)

I once interviewed for a job at a smaller company, and at the end of the interview the interviewer leaned forward and asked me with desperation in his voice "why do you want to start here", with the implication "are you mad??" hanging in the air.. Needless to say, I declined the job and that was probably wise.. Moral here is that some things you might not get a perfectly clean answer to, you might need to read between the lines when you visit the company, walk around, shake hands.. Listen to what the interviewers casually talk about during lunch etc..

Some practical advice (0)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002129)

I just finished reading about the Great Panic of 1907 subsequent depression, the creation of the Fed and the Pujo hearings.
The economy today mirrors 1907 in many ways and the lessons of job seekers then apply today too. So here it goes:
1) Remember: your interviewer is the company. In 99% of situations, he is going to be your boss and the only one who decides whether you get the job or not.
2) Do NOT ask super-intelligent questions. This is a buyers' market. So stuff your 190+ IQ in your shirt. Gauage the IQ of the interviewer and be one step BELOW it. Ya, the old timer stuff about an interviewer hiring you because he wants to work for you? does not work. His job is in as much danger as yours. So if u appear smarter, cheerful, intelligent than him, then he won't select you. Appear knowledgeable, but dumber than him.
3) Ask about health benefits. Obama may get medicaid for all, but until then u and i have to live on Aetna's suffering. So get the details of it and coverage.
4) Ask him in what way can u assist him in getting an award. Some fools may call it suckin' up, but its not. Crony capitalism is what's practised for a long time, otherwise we all would be flying in cars now and i would be driving an EV1.
5) Provide him with a few excellent references from your past. He would definitely check up on you and volunteering shows you are extra better.
6) If you have a clean record (no tickets, etc) then tell him.
7) For fcuk's sake, wear a suit, a tie and a nice pair of polished black leather shoes. Jim Clark and Steve Jobs may escape with Jeans, but you are NOT them, else u wouldn;t be asking for advice here. Suits convey professionalism. It is better to be overdressed than look like a fool.
8) Do NOT ask him about working from home. This economy is not a sellers' market. Ask him what are the working hours and ask him if u could pick up an extra shift or two weekly. Yeah, your wife/GF may hate you for ditching her on Friday nights, but tell her she could not get the money for the next manicure if u didn't work.
9) Education subsidy: ask him whether the company would subsidise education or whether it has tie ups with some university. Tell him u like to do a course on the technology u are working to benefit the company more.

Re:Some practical advice (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002217)

10) Don't learn how to appear professional from someone who spells 'you' as 'u'.

Re:Some practical advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002271)

11) or someone that spells "yeah" as "ya." 12) or someone who uses (spells wrong!) "fuck" in their diatribe. 13) or someone who makes a numbered list because they don't know how to write proper paragraphs.

Re:Some practical advice (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002313)

Right... i guess wearing bullet-shot jeans and a T-Shirt with Che's portrait is the "right" dress for you when u go for an interview at Exxon.

Re:Some practical advice (1)

Kratisto (1080113) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002405)

Exxon, eh? You'll be needing a pair of horns and a trident. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if you had your resume printed on human skin.

Re:Some practical advice (1)

buddyglass (925859) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002269)

Disagree on #7, depending on the job you're interviewing for. Wear something appropriate for the position you're seeking. I don't expect people coming to interview for a software developer position to wear a suit and tie. I do expect them not to wear shorts or a t-shirt. Khakis and a polo is fine with me.

Call them "friendo" and flip a coin... (2, Funny)

VampireByte (447578) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002137)

... then ask them to call it, heads or tails?

Niggers and Jews need not apply. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002145)

Ask the following questions:

1. Have you ever stoled bike?
If yes, candidate is a nigger.
2. Did you do 9/11?
If yes, candidate is a jew.

Niggers and Jews are widely known for their incompetence, laziness, and greed. They are not to be trusted.

Basic rule (5, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002151)

You want your question to demonstrate your ability to do the job as well as allow you to assess your future bosses and coworkers. So technical questions like "What version control system do you use?" or "What kind of backup system would I be expected to maintain?" are good for talking to technically-oriented managers. For non-technical managers, some good questions might be "How does my work get tested before getting sent out to the users?" and "How are project schedules determined, and what approaches are typically used to keep projects on schedule?".

What is your BPO strategy? Can they speak english. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002165)

Just recently left a heavily outsourced organization, with half of the big BPO's - InfoSys, Genpac, Oracle. I found that they can not communicate in English as a spoken language.
WTF is "do the needful"? KMA.

They all point fingers at each other, the projects take longer to complete by a factor of 10.
The CTO/CIO looks good to the CFO, but shite never gets done. By the time anyone realizes the C-levels are off to the next f*up.

Maybe the question should be, "do you offer hindi or urdu classes?"
Or WTF does it mean when they shake their heads like bobbles?

Ask for what you want right ahead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002181)

If there's something you need/want in your job, you've got to ask for it right away. Even if it's a small thing, don't think you'll get a better chance to get it later. And if you ask for small accomodations in the right way (it's for your productivity, right?), they can't say no, and once they've said yes, they owe it to you. Whereas if you ask for it later, they will tell you shit like "oh but we can't make exceptions, we'd have to give it to everyone."

In my case (Linux sysadmin job), it was 1. I don't use Windows. 2. at least the same workstation than I have at home -- which means 24" monitor minimum (had noticed everyone had crappy 19") and 4G (fucktarded IT dept thinks 2G -- in 2009! -- is enough for everyone and they won't upgrade you). So I'm one of the few not using Windows, and the only one with 2x 24" and 4G ram.

(Yeah I know it's fucking ghetto. It's very sad. And very stupid to see developers struggling to do Java dev in Eclipse with 1G (it takes months to even upgraede to 2G, way too much work for the IT). The company is losing $10k a month in productivity because someone up in management is incompetent on such a trivial matter. Revolting.)

be on the job in the interview (2, Interesting)

sukotto (122876) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002185)

I'd like to show you how I would handle/think about the kinds of problems your team has to solve. Would you tell an issue you faced recently that would have been *my* problem if I'd already been working here? I'll talk out the way I'd try and fix it.

If you're smart, you will have done some research into the company before going to the interview so that you already know what kinds of things they do and the problems they face.

Re:be on the job in the interview (1)

sukotto (122876) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002209)

Also, "This sounds like a really interesting position. Can I meet some of the other people on your team to get a feel for what working here will be like?"

CMM (1, Insightful)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002187)

What level of the Capability Maturity Model would your organisation reach?

Some probable answers:

  1. Say what?, never heard of it, etc. - Probably a cowboy coding shop. Nice and exciting for starters, but will suck the life out of you sooner or later.
  2. Level X - generally good, since someone realizes that programming is not only about churning out code, and has already done something about it. Follow-up questions: for how long have they been at that level? What actions are in place for increasing it?
  3. Probably level x, but we don't care enough to care / too much paperwork / etc. - Be careful. Slightly more informed than the 1., but not enough and thus all the more dangerous for it.
  4. Probably level X, but we have this system in place that we feel works better for us - Good, because someone is using his brains. Could also be a pitfall because of reinventing-of-wheels-syndrome.

Personally I would prefer 2., but YMMV.

What's your favorite part of working here? (1)

Foehg (48006) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002191)

My last few job interviews have focused on interview segments with colleagues. I enjoyed asking them "What's your favorite part of working here?"

Only One (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002199)

I try to research the place so that all my questions are specific or at lest relevant rather than general. General questions from HR types are substitutes for real questions, and general questions from anyone can be taken as such.

If, after I've asked my specific questions, they still (and usually do) hit me with "Do you have any questions?" I hit back with "I've tried to research [you] the best I could so I could ask specific questions. In case there are things I've missed, and at the risk of answering a question with a question, what other things do you think I should know?" I moderate the language of this to match with the tone of the interview - formal/informal, inclusive/confrontational, etc.

Of course I also gauge whether it's worth asking this, or if I'd get formulaic answers, from how formulaic they were during the interview. If it goes like an HR script full of generalized questions that have nothing to do with me, I hold back and ask informally questions of the non-HR people involved outside the interview. If I'm not given the opportunity to meet with them around the interview, I'll ask if I will later. If they intend to make their decision without allowing me to meet with my potential colleagues, they want a body, not a member of an organization. Fuck them.

I have an offer after a year of consulting (1, Informative)

RPGonAS400 (956583) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002207)

I am in a similar but different situation.

I have been consulting with a company for a year and they have offered me a job with the company now. They like my work and I know what my job responsibilities would be, but it would be a cut in pay and I could no longer deduct my mileage. I wouldn't have to buy my own health insurance anymore. I would also get trained in different technologies. I prefer the consulting, personally, but may be cut off if I don't take the offer.

Purpose of an interview (5, Informative)

Geam (30459) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002219)

I recently returned to school to complete my degree and was able to hear a very intresting presentation from one of the instructors last year. Being that I have applied for many jobs in the past year (and currently working full-time while going to school in the evening), a lot of these made sense. Here are some of the points I found most interesting to take into account during an interview.

- There are only two things that the employer wants to know during the interview: "Can you do the job?" and "Are you going to cause trouble?". The information on your resume will answer the first. Your answers and attitude during the interview will answer the second.

- During the interview, focus on proving you are able to do the job and that you will not cause trouble. Trouble would be absenteeism, incompatibility with co-workers, etc. Keep your personal life personal and your special interests and hobbies to yourself unless they directly pertain to the job. If you interests require you to take time off from work, that should come up during the negotiation period and not during the interview. Also, do not bring up money, pay, vacation, training, "team lunches or get-togethers", hours, or other trivial items. This should all be addressed after the job offer has been extended, while you negotiate, and before you start.

- Once the employer has gone through the process of interviewing all of the candidates and decided that you are the best candidate, you should have already prepared a list of priorities for what you want. If you need six weeks of paid vacation per year, if you need to make a certain salary, or if you need to work a certain schedule, that is all negotiable at this point before the job is accepted. For all of the effort they have put into posting a job opening, sorting through all of the applications, spending all that time interviewing, and somehow still decided that you are the best candidate, it is not in the employer's best interest to start the whole process over because you want six weeks of vacation time instead of the normal four. Everything is negotiable.

- If you are asked during the interview how much you are expecting to make at the new position, a correct answer is "I earn $XXXX at my current job and I am certain you will be fair, but I would like to lean more about the company". It does not ignore the question, but it does not put either party in a tight spot or make either party feel guilty. Again, pay is part of negotiation and not part of the interview.

- One item that should be addressed during the interview is asking about company culture: military (directives from management), team (groups work together to solve problems), competitive (individuals work "against" each other), artistic (try to create the best product), etc.

- Another item that should be asked is what the interviewer sees in the job. Each interview may give a different answer from HR, the department head, the department manager, and the team leader. Taking each of those into account will give a better impression of what is expected.

- I suspect that developers and other specialized positions would want to know what type of systems would be used and the development tools required. This, however, should already be answered to the employer by what is listed on the resume. If the tools required are not listed there and the candidate was still being considered, the tools must not matter very much to the employer and they may be willing to offer training on that system. I am not sure asking about what type of hardware, email, ticket tracking, system environment (Dev/QA/UAT/Prod), or documentation system would be used, since those are basically universal and two companies with the same system may use them in different ways and a new hire will need to become oriented with how the company wants to handle details. Also, if questions about dress code, hours worked, overtime availability, weekend catch-up time, or anything else not normally covered in an interview are important to you, save those for the negotiation period and keep them out of the interview. I cannot figure a reason why a t-shirt, polo, or shirt-and-tie would make a difference in the questions of "Can you do the job?" and "Are you going to cause trouble?"

Not all of these thoughts will apply to every interview or company and not all of them may be applicable to every candidate or position. Take this with a grain of salt and do what you think is best.

Re:Purpose of an interview (1)

burris (122191) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002361)

- If you are asked during the interview how much you are expecting to make at the new position, a correct answer is "I earn $XXXX at my current job and I am certain you will be fair, but I would like to lean more about the company".

How much you're currently making at some other place is really none of their business. Putting out a number early on in the process like that is a terrible way to negotiate. If you're looking to make substantially more money at your next job then you're never going to get it if you reveal your current salary. At best your offer will be slightly above whatever number you put out, especially if they had a higher number in mind from the start. As you attempt to negotiate, your previous salary will become like a rotting albatross around your neck.

You were close though, the right way to do it is to say "I'm more interested in doing XXX at YYY than I a in the size of the initial offer." If they persist you can say "I'll consider any reasonable offer." If they are really persistent you can say "You are in a much better position to know how much I'm worth to you than I am."

This all comes from the Noel Smith-Wenkle Salary Negotiation Method []

Which do you prefer, briefs or boxers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002225)

Nothing follows.

Don't ask questions (1)

cecil_turtle (820519) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002235)

The interview is for them to interview you. There may be an opportunity to reciprocate, but don't - the interviewer just wants to finish the interview at that point. If you ask a bunch of questions you may turn them off or change their minds. If they ask, you can just say "not at this time, thank you."

Learn as much as you can about the company before going on the interview, and then be observant when you go to the interview - pay attention to people in the parking lot, smoking at the doors, how the receptionist is, what people are wearing, etc. but don't ask questions during the interview. If they decide they want to offer you a position, that is the time to go back and ask all of your follow up questions.

mine... (1)

buddyglass (925859) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002243)

1. What's the dress code? (Usually you can just infer this by looking at the employees who interview you.)

2. How many hours do people usually work in a normal week? (This can be dangerous in that it can communicate to an employer that you're "worried" about having to work "too much", but I always feel like I have to ask it anyway.)

3. Same question as above, but for "crunch time" situations (e.g. just before a release, etc.)?

4. How do you assess employee performance? (I don't always ask this since it's typically not a deal breaker, but it's still good to know. Some places have review processes that are pretty crappy.)

Don't ask policy questions (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002245)

such as what the dress code is, what the hours are etc. in the actual interview, save it for if/when the offer comes.

Question asked... (1)

Annwvyn (1611587) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002251)

Though this may be off topic, it is along the same lines. Asking questions is important, but what threw me off in my most recent interview was a question that I was asked. After I gave them the everything-I-am speech about dedication and drive... "Why should we hire you?" What makes you better than the entire stack of applicants exactly like you who are going to say a lot of the same stuff you just said? Basically... why should we give a crap about you? If you get asked this question... better have something poignant to say.

What is your favorite search engine? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002281)

If your future boss replies "yahoo," run the other way.

Seriously*, though, here are some tips:

I think it's appropriate to ask what kind of project backlog the group/company has, and whether that is low, average, or high
        This will tell you where they are in their cycle, and if they're trying to shore up from ship-jumpers, replacing normal attrition, or growing - and how likely your job is to be there in a years time.

Dress code - you shouldn't need to ask about this one unless either
        (a) everybody in the office is in a suit and tie, in which case you may ask if that is typical (or more cagily, if Fridays are casual)
        (b) everybody is in shorts and a T-shirt, in which case you should ask if this is "casual day," and what normal work attire is
        otherwise you can expected to wear what everyone else wears

General HR policy questions (leave/overtime/benefits) can wait until the offer - they're not salient tot he interview. Keep all of your questions about the position, the culture, the relationship of management to the team. That said, make sure you get a chance to review the employee handbook before you commit either way, and be certain that you have them fill in any missing information (if OT policy is omitted, for example).

Okay, that one was serious - jut don't ask it directly. If anyone actually uses Yahoo, stay clear. I'm 0 for 2 on employees that use it. One thankfully left of her own accord, the other I had to dismiss. Neither were worth half their salary.

My Top 10 (1)

Brento (26177) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002321)

I blogged about my top 10 questions to ask before taking an IT job [] , and some of 'em included:

8. What is the on-call rotation schedule?
7. In the last year, how many times has the on-call person been called?
4. Can I schedule vacations around the holidays?

For a developer position: (1)

dword (735428) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002337)

How often do you back up everything and where are the backup servers?
What percentage of the time will i be spending on fixing bugs in legacy code?
Will I be consulted before software/hardware architecture changes?

No backups = don't take the job
No legacy code = ask why they aren't considering integration with something that already exists as open-source (if, as often, it's the case)
Definitely be consulted before major decisions = bullshit / bulljob (they're either lying or you'll be doing a lot more than just software development)

Avoiding Programming Jobs Where You Don't Program (1)

assertation (1255714) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002347)

An HR friend of mine told me that coming off as too suspicious about a job can make you look high maintenance and undesirable.

However, I think when I go looking again I will ask many detailed questions.

Too many employers advertise for programmers, but really want general IT janitors and stick you in a job where you are doing everything but coding for long stretches of time. It is my hope that by asking specifics ( when do I start building the code after I am hire? etc ) and watching their responses could help you avoid accepting one of these jobs .

I would be interested in reading other programmers thoughts about how to avoid these situations.

I've also see companies that lie about the technologies they use to sound more interesting as well as modern. I would say ask them some questions about those technologies as well to see if they ever actually used them, took them out of the box etc.

Try the Joel Test (4, Insightful)

kevin_conaway (585204) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002349)

For a software position, try to see how well the company scores on the Joel Test [] :
  1. Do you use source control?
  2. Can you make a build in one step?
  3. Do you make daily builds?
  4. Do you have a bug database?
  5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
  6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
  7. Do you have a spec?
  8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
  9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?
  10. Do you have testers?
  11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?
  12. Do you do hallway usability testing?

Two related questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29002379)

1) What do you like about working here?

2) What *don't* you like about working here?

The second one can get you some interesting answers, and alert you to things that might be potential issues. For example, if you absolutely cannot stand monthly reviews, and your interviewer tells you that they don't like how often the reviews are, then perhaps you wouldn't like this job.

Questions (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002381)

Why is this position open?
If the person who had the position previously left, why?
Has anybody in this position been promoted in the past year or two?
How many people in this position have left in the past year or two?

Interview Bet (1)

Cytlid (95255) | more than 5 years ago | (#29002415)

I once bet a friend (ironically a manager from a previous job) I could use the word "chemical toilet" in an interview. I got the job and won the bet.

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