two women sitting beside table and talking

Interviews Should be Two-Way

I struggle to think of anything more stressful than job interviews. Truly. And not just for the person being interviewed—there’s an enormous amount of stress on the interviewer. After all, they don’t want to screw up and hire the wrong person, and more than you, the interviewee, wants to screw up and not get the job!

We all know that a solid amount of interview prep can make the process less difficult, but I’d argue that a lot of us are so focused on getting the job that we forget a massive, huge, enormous, gigantic element of the interview, and we forget to prep for it:

Interviews should be two-way.

Here’s what’s I mean, and here’s how to prep for a two-way interview:

First, what do you care about in a workplace? Think beyond benefits packages and dig deep. It’s completely okay to be selfish here, although you can—with a little prep—word your questions in a way that make them seem less self-absorbed that they otherwise might. For example:

  • How does the organization feel about diversity in its workforce?
  • You offer unlimited PTO—how do you see most team members using that benefit?
  • Do you offer formal or informal mentoring programs?
  • What do you like best about working here? What’s something you’d change, if you could?
  • I’m always learning—how does the organization support that?
  • Understanding that there’s a job do be done, I sometimes find myself at my best in the late hours. Is flexible work time an option sometimes?

You can see how these questions could, if phrased differently, seem a bit selfish. Which is OK! But you can certainly word them to feel more interview-y. Remember: you’re contemplating committing around half your waking life to this job. You have a right to understand what that will mean. Do you want growth opportunities? An inclusive workplace? Flexible work time? Part- or full-time remote? It’s all on the table: ask your questions.

Second, think about what brings out the best in you. Ask questions to understand if this is going to be the work environment that does so:

  • When something goes wrong, do you have a post-mortem process? What’s that look like? Is the focus on assigning blame or learning from it?
  • How much time is set aside for the team to share lessons-learned?
  • In the role you’re considering me for, what’s the expected balance between meeting time and working time?
  • I’m a hard-charger and I like to get stuff done—how do you think that will fit in with the existing team culture and personalities?

The point here is to ask questions that make it clear your’e (a) interested, (b) not desperate, and (c) putting serious thought into the type of place you want to work. Decide what you want to know about a company, and craft questions that let you see what you’re getting into.

Do your research. Social media is huge, and you can easily rack down some other folks at a prospective employer and ask them if they’d mind offering their own thoughts on your questions. This lets you show up to the interview even more informed. Read reviews on Glassdoor, sure, but take those in context: negative reviews can sometimes be the result of a disgruntled individual, while positive reviews can be ones the company themselves asked satisfied employees to write. So dig a little. Twitter and LinkedIn in particular can be great ways to find people and ask them about their experiences with a company.

Above all, and this applies to the questions you ask as well as the answers you give, be concise. You should always be driving straight to the point. Make sure you understand the question you’re answering before you start answering, and drive directly to the shortest answer possible.

Finally, don’t undersell yourself. I can’t tell you how many interview applicants, in a misguided effort to be As Brutally Honest As Possible About Themselves, undersell their own capabilities. You don’t need to lie, and you don’t need to be arrogant, but for pity’s sake be confident about what you know and can do.

We’re going to talk more about job interviews in future issues, because it’s a big space—one that, especially in the technology arena, I think a lot of people don’t explore as thoroughly as they should. Stay tuned.

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