Interviewing the Interviewer

It’s that time of year again, when employers and students engage in the frantic, arcane ritual that we call “recruiting”. Resumes are exchanged, applications are reviewed, and, if all goes well, a series of interviews will help employers (and potential employees) sort out where people will be working after graduation.

Thanks to echoes of the Great Recession, students often fail to realize that the current labor market is very tight, with many companies desperate to find qualified people for open positions. Even if you’re applying to a very well-known company with lots of applicants, you have the luxury of making sure that this job is the right opportunity for you.

I want to remind everyone, students and employers alike, that an interview is a two-way street: an employer is looking to see if you’d be a good fit for their company, and you are looking to see if the company would be a good fit for your personal goals. The closer your interviewer is to the opportunity you’re looking for at the company, the better the opportunity is for you to learn more about what life would be like in that position.

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When “interviewing the interviewer”, here are a few things I like to ask and look for:

  • Can you walk me through a project you’ve recently worked on?
    This is the easiest way to learn more about the actual responsibilities of a person working for the company you’re interviewing with. If the interviewer shares his or her triumphs and failures on this project, and doesn’t sugarcoat the downsides of the job, I generally see this as a good sign. Everyone has their own preferences, but I personally am more careful with companies where employees come off as a little too culty, or when they noticeably sidestep parts of the narrative to create a very idealistic picture of their work.
  • What do you do on the weekends?
    Work is an aspect of our lives, but it’s also one that we run the risk of growing too defined by. Here, I first look for simple answers: run errands, sleep, play with their sons/daughters. This question lets you learn more about the personal life of your interviewer, and decide if their story aligns with the work/life balance you’re looking for. On occasion, you get to learn something really interesting about your interviewer, like how they go salsa dancing on Saturdays, enjoy mountain biking with fellow colleagues (even if it means a broken bone every so often), or playing through string quartets with a few friends in the area.
  • What is the culture at your company like?
    In my experience, the overarching company culture is not only incredibly important to employees’ well-being, but also is incredibly resistant to change; certain quirks are embedded early on and passed down by older generations over time. I personally like a company culture where you can sit down and chat with coworkers from across the company, where managers take time to help you with your personal development goals, and where a wide variety of perspectives is not only good in theory, but sought out in practice.

These aren’t the only questions you can ask people who interview you, nor should they be. I highly encourage you to take the time to think about what you personally want to know before you accept a job offer, and develop your own questions to find out the information you desire.

With that, I wish potential employers and potential employees all the best in your respective searches!


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