I have 15 years of experience interviewing thousands of people, expertise in designing interview processes, and I coach individuals as they search and interview for new jobs. I’ve read books, dissected online reviews and articles, consulted hiring managers and leaders in order to build a series of conversations that let teams hone in, assess, and hire the people they need and believe can do the job. I know a lot about interviewing.
And I’m going to tell you a secret. The most important questions asked in an interview process are those the candidate asks the interviewer—not the other way around.
Of course, this isn’t the way we’ve been trained to think about interviewing. When you sit across the table from a hiring manager or prospective team member, you’re focused on sharing your experience and skills in a way that convinces the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job. While hiring teams are making a single decision—whether to move you to the next step—you are making many decisions throughout the process. Decisions that will change your career, and possibly your life. I wrote this book because I believe candidates can get a lot out of the interview process. Whether or not you receive an offer or decide this is the job for you, preparing for and ultimately sitting through the interview is an opportunity to think about yourself, what you can offer, and what you really want.
Throughout my career, I’ve done the job I was hired to do by creating systems, hiring criteria, question guides, and scorecards. Those tools, as well as the training and techniques behind them, were valuable. At the same time, I always felt like the hiring process was missing the mark in a major way. The interviewers, questions, and type of assessments are designed to help the team get a 360° view into a candidate’s capabilities and potential to fulfill the responsibilities of the role. With the emphasis on designing to achieve the company’s objectives, I rarely had the time, the directive, or the incentive to design for the candidate (aka, you, the person reading this book and preparing for upcoming interviews). I didn’t have the chance to ask myself, what would make this process better for you? After all, what was best for you had benefits for the team and company as well. When both the individual and company get what they are looking for out of the process, there is an increased likelihood of success and satisfaction as well as the opportunity to proactively address any gaps before someone starts, setting the stage for a smooth onboarding process.
When I’m conducting the interview, I save time for a candidate to ask me questions. Several years ago, I realized that this portion of the interview felt like déjà vu; a significant portion of candidates, regardless of their discipline, seniority, background, or other factors, were asking me the same questions.
In return, I recited the same answers. My responses were true—I always wanted to give an authentic answer but the words were “canned.” I didn’t have to reflect on my experience or think critically about some aspect of the company to provide a compelling answer that was relevant to that candidate. I would customize or connect dots in some way, but the building blocks sections of my responses rolled off my tongue with ease.
I started to keep a document of the most common questions, particularly the ones I was most tired of answering. Every now and then, I’d open it and add to the list. Over the course of a couple of years, the list grew. Sometimes, I found myself wanting to intervene during those last few minutes of interviews. I would feel the urge to stop the conversation and share a few ideas about what I thought the candidate should ask to get the most out of our time together. After asking them questions for 30 minutes to an hour, I knew about their experience, motivations, strengths, and development opportunities, and had insight into the things that they might want to know, but hadn’t thought to ask.
Most of the questions candidates did ask were so broad and generic that I responded in kind—saying what amounted to a lot of nothing. It bothered me. I was invested in the process. I wanted the team and their new hire to be successful. Yet, the interview process for many candidates barely broke the surface of the discovery and exploration that would have enabled the candidate to really dissect, digest, and determine if this was really the right opportunity for them. For candidates to have those revelations was in our best interest—the more we all knew about what the real working relationship and environment would amount to, the better off we’d all be. As a talent leader, I knew that the gaps in the interview process on either side were often the roots of the problems that would follow later.
As a team member, I also knew the dirt—the pain points and problems they were likely to encounter. I understood the organizational and interpersonal challenges that would emerge when the politeness of the interview and onboarding process faded away. I remembered the responsibilities that didn’t make it into the job description. With my broad view into different departments, I had insight into the hidden aspects of the company and team. I wanted them to ask me about those things! To challenge me in order to uncover the real details of working at the company or for a particular manager. Then, if they had the chance to step into the role they wanted, they would do so with eyes wide open.
When those issues came up, or when someone left because the job or team didn’t meet their expectations, I was often left thinking, “I wished you’d asked me this instead. I would have told you what you wanted to know.”
I want you to get as much value out of the limited time available within the hiring process—to be able to explore the priorities and topics that will make a difference in your decision. And that’s what this book will empower you to do. There are five sections to this book that will help you proactively plan for and adeptly navigate the interview process as you seek out and succeed in getting your next role.
Target Companies and Evaluate Roles. In this section, I’ll help you evaluate open roles and companies, interpret incoming information and available resources and start to prioritize and refine what really matters to you, right now. With this information, you can target your search, effectively prepare for interviews, and stand out relative to other candidates.
Write a Resume That Tells Your Career Story. In this section, you’ll create a stand-out resume that reflects your experience, your priorities, and where you want to go. Activities will help you identify the characters in your career story, map out pivotal moments, connect your story to a company’s needs, write a cover letter, and much more.
People and Power in the Interview Process. In this section, I’ll break down the obvious participants and those who can play critical, if less visible, roles in determining whether or not you get the job. I’ll provide you with insights to navigate these conversations and develop strong relationships. You’ll learn how to target your questions to each specific person to get the information you need, and make the right impression.
Ask Me This Instead. In this section, you’ll find the Ask Me This Instead question database, with over 100 questions that can be filtered by targeted interviewer and topic. I’ll help you reframe typical questions that candidates ask interviewers to go deeper so that you get more honest, authentic, and unplanned answers. The more you can get beyond the canned, sales-pitch responses, the more you’ll gain. Great questions will give you confidence. You’ll learn why you shouldn’t leave the “asking” up to the interviewers and how you can drive the process. In this section, you’ll also complete an activity to help you design your interview game plan and keep track of what you learn.
Warning Signs in Interviews. In this section, I’ll highlight behind-the-scenes scenarios that could impact your hiring process and eventual experience on the job so that you can recognize and proactively address potential issues.
Developmental Career Strategy. In this section, I’ll make the case that the cycle of reflection and interviewing will help ensure you get the job you want now and the career you want in the long-term. I’ll direct you to change the way you approach the job search from a time-bound and outcome-focused task to an ongoing, developmental career strategy. This proactive strategy will ensure you have options whenever you need or want a new job.