Asking the Tough Questions During an Interview

August 21, 2016
Paul LaRue

There are a number of great articles written about how to prepare for job interviews.

Best practices in interview preparation range from doing research on the company ahead of time to focusing on your interpersonal skills to making a connection with the key decision maker during the process.

What an interview process is, really, is selling and getting to the truth of the matter.

If you really ponder it, you and the organization are both trying to put your best foot forward. Both parties are trying to show themselves in the best light. Sometimes the focus is on you, the interviewee, answering the tough questions that are given to you with clarity and honesty.

This process, however, is not a one-way street. As the candidate, you also have an obligation to ask the tough questions of the company. Many times candidates are so focused on themselves that when they land the position, they realize the organization they just worked hard to get into is not quite what they expected, even when doing some careful research.

So here are some pointed questions that you can ask to help you better understand the company you're applying for.

What evidence do you have that you actually support your stated core values? Many companies have a mission statement or core values but do little to personify that in their daily business dealings. This will help you understand if they live their values, or if those values were just a seminar exercise.

What guidelines are in place to hold senior leadership accountable? Basically, how are the top leadership folks being held to the same standard as everyone else in the company? If there isn’t a mechanism for mutual accountability throughout the organization, including the executive team, you can be assured of duplicity and hidden agendas down the road.

Does your strategic plan coincide with your culture and values? Why or why not? A company that doesn’t align their strategy with their cultural beliefs may wind up compromising those beliefs. Sometimes it can indicate a market position that they’re not equipped to be in and can pose some challenges ahead. This question is a great opportunity for you to insert some strategic points of your own to gain congruency for the company. If they are willing to listen, then you have some confidence in them being a good fit for you.

What is the financial status of this company? What is your debt and debt structure? Who holds the purse strings – venture capitalists, holding companies, or private funding? In the modern economy we operate in today, heavily debt-laden companies provide another layer of instability. A company doesn’t have to be debt-free or a lower debt-to-equity ratio; what you're looking for is how they manage debt, but mostly who controls the organization from a fiscal standpoint. If the organization is subject to government intervention, private equity holders, or other entities that don’t have the values and mission of the company foremost in their mind, you may want to qualify them further and proceed with caution.

What are some of the ugly spots of this company that you haven’t already mentioned? This question gets the company thinking about the not-so-pretty points of their organization. It may be management crises, financial impropriety, poor leadership that is now gone, or any myriad of other issues. If the company is both willing to disclose and give you a verified plan for what they are doing to correct, then you have an assurance they are not ignorant or covering up things that will haunt them and you down the road.

How can I be assured that your organization reflects what we’ve discussed today? Another question that puts the interviewer(s) in a position to reveal challenges in the organization. It brings forth the level of corporate culture, mutual accountability, and team environment that’s already in place. If these components are missing it can reveal major internal challenges for their future growth and sustainability.

The overarching point here is to find out as much as you can about the company you may potentially be working with. Bringing up these questions can greatly assist you as the responses, both verbal and non-verbal, can more accurately indicate if the employer is a good fit for you.

In any interview, always present yourself as respectful and professional. These tough questions aren’t made to be adversarial, but rather to delve deeper into the DNA of the prospective organization and help you make a qualified decision on the type of company you want to align yourself with.

More From Paul LaRue

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6 Ways to Build an Enthusiastic Team

Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.

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