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December 24, 2007

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Is the animal question for real?

I feel like the first question could be important, but shouldn't be framed like that, i.e. don't ask outright for the number of hours. You could ask the interviewer, for example, to describe a typical day on the job, or to talk about the most hectic time of year.

To me, the first part of the interview is about selling yourself to the company. By the time the interviewer asks if you have any questions, you should have a good sense of whether you're likely to be called back for a second interview (or given the job), or if this is the end of the road. If you did well, then this last part of the interview is for you to find out whether this company or job is a good fit for you, and for the interviewer to sell you on it.

While "fit" should mostly be a question of whether you will enjoy working with your coworkers (whether you like the "culture" of the firm, so to speak), it is also about whether you will enjoy the job: its day-to-day pace, its hours, etc. You may enjoy the tasks of a job, but not after doing it for 70 hours a week for a couple of months. That's why the first question is relevant, even if it should be phrased more diplomatically, so you don't come off as a slacker.

Don't ask about money... I am part of the interview team and I hate it when people ask me (I am not the hiring manager or the HR representative) about bonuses and about money. When we have the post-interview wrap up (we all sit around and discuss the interviewee and questions) and you hear from everyone that that was question number 1 we get the suspicion that, however qualified, this candidate is looking to hop for money and for money only. They normally don't get hired.

It's amazing how much people will give up to themselves so publicly. It's interesting hearing the ins and outs of people's bowel habits and medical problems while sitting at a baseball game, walking through a grocery store, or sitting in a library. Now I'm a firm believer in honesty and integrity and people should never stretch truths, but you can have a degree of control over what to ask what not to ask in situations like that. It's common sense, but as an employer, it makes narrowing the field that much easier so I suppose there's always the other side of the coin.

I don't view an interview as a sales pitch, but rather as two professionals sitting down to determine if what each has to offer the other might make for a good match.

I'm inclined to ask interviewers as many or more questions as they ask me. I never walk into someone's office hat-in-hand, eager for a job. Just as I must prove that I would be the best choice for the position, they have to prove to me that their organization is one that I'd like to be a part of.

I agree with Eric's approach. The main reason is the obvious one: it is important to get as much information as you can, especially if you are already employed. You want to make sure the new job is going to be better than the old one before you make a move that would be next to impossible to reverse.

But also consider how you look to the hiring manager when you make the interview more symmetrical. First, there's usually nothing wrong with seeming curious and thorough. Next, asking a lot of questions demonstrates experience. The more experience people have, the more they've been burned in the past by not asking the right thing. Finally, by coming off as less intimidated, you seem like more of a winner, more in demand.

I agree the first question is relevant if re-phrased, and having been burned by NOT asking question 3, I think it's necessary to get a realistic view of what the position is expected to accomplish. This is more true for a NEW position, than one already established, but still applies to either.
I also agree with the comments on asking questions as it relates to experience and if you are already employed. When I was a bit greener in the ways of business, I left a job for one newly created and in my degree field, without really knowing what the manager wanted for the first six months.

Turns out I was way over-qualified. What the manager estimated would take months to finish took me hours. I was let go after a week and the position was "down-sized". I had already trained my replacement at my old job and had to start my job hunt all over, but unemployed.

Had I asked question 3, I would have realized there wasn't enough work for the position to be viable long-term. In other words, there was no "fit" for me.

I took a job as a Managing Director for a site overseas and later heard from my hiring manager that asking the first question made him feel concerned about my work ethic. However it was an appropriate question provided the interviewer is aware of the reason behind the question such as trying to understand the local culture (do people leave sharp and come in early or do people usually stay late or both?)

Actually you could pull off question 2 if you are in a Commercial or Marketing job provided you don't ask it flippantly. For example you could give a few examples such as Starbucks being like a giraffe, a specialized eater that has no major competitors by finding a niche eating soft acacia shoots high in the tree (just as Starbucks created a market for the $5+ cup of coffee with no competitors in the space). It all depends on how you explain yourself.

-Big Cheese

Those first two would thoroughly irritate me if they were fired at me as a candidate, so I'm certainly not going to put them to the interviewer either. The third does have its uses, on a basic level, it gives you a better idea of whether or not the job is right for you and it shows the interviewer that you're taking things seriously.

Of course, it could also make them think that you were baulking at the responsibility but to be honest, you've only got so much control over how the interviewer's going to react. Although I've got a fairly good idea of how they'd react if you asked what animal the company would be or, even worse, what animal they'd be.

Although the animal/mineral/random object question is a lot better than asking what character from Star Wars/Star Trek/Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings you'd be. During her graduate jobs hunt, my sister got asked which character from Friends she'd be. She'd never watched it, told the interviewer so and then asked how the question pertained to the role.

She didn't get that job, was employed a few months later and still hasn't watched Friends. Perhaps the question was designed to find out about her personality but there's better ways to do that than making assumptions about the candidate. Otherwise, it's likely that all you'll find out is that the candidate dislikes having assumptions made about them.

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