Questions to ask when looking for a job

This was article was posted on LinkedIn as well at this address

Yup, you read it right.

Let’s say you are looking for a job and have an interview. How would you expect it to work? You would sit down and wait for them to ask questions to which you reply trying to impress? Does it sound familiar?

If you interview like this, you’ve wasted a huge opportunity. These days people don’t stay in a job too long unless it’s good for them. What does it mean? You’ve got to learn, you’ve got to develop your skills and you’ve got to advance on your chosen career path. If these things don’t happen, why would anyone stay in a job?

So, can you assess that these important things are actually going to happen? Up to a point, of course. You can’t be 100% sure, but you can ask the right questions to find out if things work like that in the place that interviews you.

So, first things first, they don’t interview you, you interview them. That’s how it should work. You need to find out about certain things which are important to you. Don’t wait for them to ask you if you have any questions, that may never happen. No, turn the table around as quickly as you can and fire the questions. Try to get as much detail as you can as well.

Before the interview think what is important to you. Write those things down on paper, don’t write questions, write targets. Write what you want to find out. Then your questions will have a purpose and help you get the answers you need.

Obviously these things vary per person. If it was me interviewing, I’d like to find out if I am expected to do overtime without extra pay or without time off in lieu. So I would ask my questions like this :

How many hours a week do your developers work? Do they need to do overtime on a regular basis? Do you offer something in return for the overtime worked?

I’ve had various answers to these questions : our developers work extra time every day. It is expected and it’s part of the job. That’s a big no no for me so at this point I already know there’s no point to continue the interview. Nothing else matters if this basic thing is expected.

Another question that many forget to ask is actually very simple : what are the working hours? I’ve had surprises when I didn’t ask the question and I found out they were longer than expected. Longer hours means you need to ask for a higher salary compared to what you had in mind already. In UK, a normal schedule would be 9 – 17:30 with 1 hour lunch. That’s 7.5 hours / day so 37.5 hours per week. Any more than that and you need to ask for more, any less and it’s a benefit.

Ask how the company is structured so you get an idea of what you can realistically achieve.

Ask about your future colleagues, how long they’ve been there, if you are replacing someone who left and if yes, why did they leave?

Ask if they are flexible. No flexibility is also a big no no. Things happen and any decent employer will understand that. If they don’t, move on, it’s not worth spending your time there.

Ask about training, personal development. You need to know if you can expand your skills while working there. If there’s no chance of that, then why are you still sitting down in that interview?

I am a software developer so a number of other things matter to me. What do they build, how, what technologies do they use, are they open to the idea of researching new things to find out how they fit the company or products.

So basically drill down into whatever is important to you and do not take no for an answer. If they don’t like the fact that you ask questions or seem to think you care too much about yourself then do yourself a favor and move on. You do not want to work in a place where questioning things has a negative effect on you.

Of course there is another aspect to it. It matters a lot where you are in your career. If you  are a seasoned professional then these sort of questions will work. If you are just starting out and trying to build a career then someone needs to give you a chance. To that end you need to have the right attitude and the right attitude is to be open to the idea of learning and developing your skills. If this means unpaid overtime then so be it, as long as it helps you grow your career, but that cannot happen for ever. You need to balance your work and your personal life so for that to happen, first you need to have a personal life!

So be smart, if you are a recent graduate or don’t have experience yet, then you need to show enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Then your interviews change a little bit, now you need to find out how you can get better in your chosen career, so have your questions follow this direction. Interestingly for a long while I was just thinking to write “how you can grow your flame”. That’s the expression of one of my favorite influencers Liz Ryan who I follow and respect for how she does things and how she sees things in the HR world!

Anyway, back on track. An interview is like a game of chess. Don’t let your opponent drag you into asking a stupid list of questions, instead ask what you care about. You’re not a sheep, you’re not brainless, you are someone who values their time and do not want to waste it with companies who are not worth it. Start with this idea and don’t be afraid to leave if you don’t like what you hear. Once you made up your mind that you’re not a fit for that company, feel free to thank them for their time and leave. Don’t waste your time.

I tend to interview quite a lot and I got to the point where I can smell trouble very quickly. I took jobs before where my spider senses told me something is not quite right. For example I had a company bang on a lot about how important their culture is. How they are not flexible because it works for them. I let them drill me with questions like a good little sheep. Had I asked my own questions I would have known that the previous guy lasted a week and left because he didn’t like the contract he was offered. The job turned up to be horrendous and I could have avoided wasting my time by not going there at all. The morale of the story is this: ask the questions and listen to your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, do not risk it and move on. I don’t know why but the gut always knows so listen to it!

We mentioned the contract. This is another important topic. You don’t need to see one during your interview, you can accept a job offer without seeing one, but do not hand in your notice before you see it. The contract may have things in it that you cannot realistically say yes to. If that happens you need to negotiate those things out of it. If that can’t be done then move on.

A lot of companies here in UK stipulate in their contracts that you cannot work for anyone else and everything you do create as a software developer belongs to them even if it is on your own time and computer. That’s fine for a number of people, but not for me. I am a person who works outside of my normal full time job and my view is that what I do with my own time is no one’s business. What I create is my own property as long as it’s done on my time and on my own computer. What I do while at work belongs to my employer. As long as that is clear and understood, I am happy and we can proceed.

I had explanations that we don’t want you to be tired, but that doesn’t really stand. I could be climbing mountains, or playing football and go back to work tired because of those activities. Bottom line, no employer can dictate what you do with your own time so be mindful of those that try.

The conclusion, you need to know what you want in order to find the right company for you. Don’t be afraid to let them see the real you, don’t try to hide who you are just to please someone so they offer you a job. You don;t want any job, you want the right job. If they don’t like who you really are, do you really think you will have a good time while at work?

I’ve seen so much bad advice for job seekers. Try to impress, don’t show who you are, don’t ask too much questions, don’t ask these questions, don’t do this don’t do that. Be a little sheep so you get the job.

My advice is to never do that. You and your employer must really understand each other from the beginning. If you’re not a match that’s fine. If you accept a bad job all that means is that you’re giving up on your chance to find the right employer because you just took the job with the bad one and you stop looking. Don’t waste your time.


About eidand

Senior Dot Net developer specialised in C# / Sql Server / Mvc / Wcf
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