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What Questions Should a Prospective Employee Ask? 569

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-is-your-stance-on-monday-and-friday-absenteeism dept.
Mortimer.CA writes "Even though things aren't great in the economy, it's prudent to plan ahead to when things (hopefully) pick up. In light of that, I'd like to update a previously asked question in case things have changed over the last four years: What do you ask every new (prospective) employer? When you're sitting in the interview room after they've finished grilling you, there's usually an opportunity to reciprocate. There will be some niche questions for specializations (sys admin, programming, PM, QA, etc.), but there are some generic ones that come to mind, such as: what is the (official) dress code?" Similarly, what questions should you avoid? Read on for the rest of Mortimer.CA's thoughts.
He continues with these suggestions:
"What about my resume caught your eye? What hardware/software am I expected to use at my desktop (e-mail, OS, editor, source control, etc.)? Are there team lunches or get-togethers? What are your goals for the next six months, one year, three years? What ticket/issue tracking system do you use? Do you have separate build/stage/QA/etc. environments? How do you keep track of documentation? What are your full names (so I can Google them)? What are the typical hours of the team members? Those are some of the ones I've thought of after some digging around. Are there the generic ones that you ask? What are some question for various niches? (e.g., for sysadmins: what config mgmt software do you use?)"
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What Questions Should a Prospective Employee Ask?

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    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by oh_bugger (906574)
      Red M&M.. Blue M&M.. They all end up the same colour in the end.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vbraga (228124)

        Red pigment is made from insects [wikipedia.org]. I never ate another red M&M in my life.

        Actually, sometimes I feel that if I knew from where the other pigments came from, I would never eat again.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jeepien (848819)

          Red pigment is made from insects [wikipedia.org]. I never ate another red M&M in my life.

          Who cares? They're not endangered--eat up!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by INeededALogin (771371)
          I never ate another red M&M in my life.

          ... (Includes Red 40 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Blue 1 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake)

          Red 40 is not derived from bugs: Red 40 [wikipedia.org]
    • Maybe not that, but "What keeps you up at night?" - obviously not asking about scary movies or a noisy neighbor, but about issues within the organization. I have found that this way of asking the question (as opposed to "What are the biggest problems?") seems pretty disarming and I've heard prospective employers divulge more than they probably originally wanted to.
      • by sumdumass (711423) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:41AM (#29002409) Journal

        What if the answer is an overly active sex life and a lack of commitment to one particular women?

      • by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunityNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:29PM (#29004583) Homepage

        Best question I know is: What is your long term strategy for growth?

        You'll get a wide range of responses and it reflects a LOT about how they treat their employees. If they talk much about cost savings, you know from the start your very position will be under periodic scrutiny. If they talk about outsourcing, you know that your job may not be secure, depending on what you do. If they talk about serving the customers and meeting their needs, you know any extra effort you take to serve the customer will be valued.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chapter80 (926879)

        I can't believe I haven't seen this listed in the discussion yet:

        Whether you are interviewing for a sales position or a technical position, you should ask a "sales-closing" question.

        You: "Now that you've had a chance to meet me, and to review my qualifications, are there any issues that concern you, that would prevent you from making me an offer?"

        Here's your chance to allow the interviewer to tell you what's bothering him or her about you. And your chance to address it.

        Interviewer: "Well, I'm really con

  • by netpixie (155816) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:22AM (#29001909) Homepage

    Do you have manditory drug testing?

  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:23AM (#29001917)

    "I've worked in England and the policy on assault is pretty strict there. If you hit somone, immediate dismissal. What's your policy here? [cracks knuckles]"

    Legendary question in by a candidate for a job in Sweden.

  • What's for lunch? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zyxwvutsr (542520) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:25AM (#29001927) Homepage
    Where do we eat?
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:26AM (#29001935)

    If you want to know how much overtime you're going to work, and how family-friendly a workplace is, find out what the demographics of the company are. If you are single, you may find that an overly family-oriented workplace is going to put extra pressure on you to stay late due to parents needing to take time off to be with their family (doctor visits, holidays, etc). On the other hand, if you have a family, a family-friendly workplace may afford you more time to spend with your family.

    Another good question is to ask your interviewer how many times a week he talks to customers. It will give you a good idea of how insulated you will be from customers, and that can give you an idea of whether you want the job or not. A non-customer centric position will probably be slower in promotion, but much lower pressure. A customer centric position will be higher pressure, but the opportunity for professional growth (even if all you want to be is a developer) is enormous.

    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:36AM (#29001989) Homepage

      Virtual "+1, best answer yet" from me.

      In a similar vein, ask about the policy on flexible working (i.e. a compressed or extended working week), and home working. That should give you a good indication of whether you're working for people who want to see results, or just to see you at your desk.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        This would fall into the "things not to ask me about in a first/technical interview" category. If someone is more concerned around work schedule than getting work done before they even start, I'll take a pass. Once we're entering salary discussions, that's a different story.
    • by assertation (1255714) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:25AM (#29002315)

      I work in a family centric place, I am single, and I rarely work late. Everyone is GONE by 5:30pm.

      In regards to your second question I think it would be better to ask how often you would be expected to interface with customers as what the boss does may not have anything to do with you. It could be his job to insulate the rest of the staff from clients.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe if there are lots of family people there it is a workplace that values work-life balance? This doesn't always mean dumping crap on the single people.

      There are plenty of bosses who will regard exploiting their single employees' weekends and evenings as an excellent alternative to hiring enough staff to get the job done in normal hours. This is regardless of the number of parents employed, because even if they have to pay overtime it will still be cheaper than hiring and training new staff (plus it is e

  • Like bandwidth caps 'n stuff?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      What are your internet usage rules here?... Like bandwidth caps 'n stuff?

      Might as well walk in and say, "I plan to surf the web all day and work in my spare time!" ;)

  • Asking about hours (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:32AM (#29001955)

    There are only two occasions when asking about average employee working hours is appropriate:

    1) When you will be contracting with the company and will be charging them an hourly rate with the possibility of overtime
    2) You don't really care about getting the job

    If you ask in the first situation, you are simply being professional. You want to be able to accurately estimate the amount you will be charging them. It just makes sense, especially since it will end up costing them more to keep you later.

    If you ask in the second situation, you are simply lazy and unwilling to be a "team player".

    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:41AM (#29002031) Homepage

      And a virtual "-1, bullshit" to counter my virtual +1 above.

      I always ask about the "real working hours" for salaried jobs. Always, barring my very first job (games development, ho ho), which is why I do it now. It doesn't have to come across as lazy - you can spin it as wanting to make an informed decision about whether you're happy committing to the working culture.

      If you don't get a job simply because you asked that question, then they were probably planning to work you like a galley slave anyway. Unless that was your goal - and it may be, I was that dumb going into my first job - then you just dodged the bullet.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:02AM (#29002163)

      If you ask in the second situation, you are simply lazy and unwilling to be a "team player".

      That seems very strange to me. I have asked about the length of the typical work week at every interview I have ever had. And my lifetime average is about .50 (I get a job offer from about half of my interviews). And I am not a contractor...I have interviewed for salaried positions only.

      It is all in the presentation; and how you present yourself will be a function of how you view yourself, the employer, and your potential relationship. If you expect that every employer wants to exploit you and that by asking this you will automatically be sending him a red flag that you cannot be exploited, and therefore that you will not get the job.....or if you see yourself as being basically powerless and the interview is your chance to beg for a job from someone who doesn't really need you but could be convinced to hire you anyway (but only if you are willing to work all the time).....then you have screwed yourself from the get-go.

      Remember, employers need employees too, and the successful ones are (quite often) the ones who have managed to retain and motivate talent. Such employers understand the need for work/life balance, and don't want to drive their talent to burn-out (having that happen a few times gets expensive, fast). You are not a selfish bastard for wanting a salary that fits the position's value in the market, your talent level, and the workload. Nor are you a lazy bastard for wanting to have a life outside of work. If you think that asking about salary/workload makes you appear as such, then you need to adjust your self-image. If you think all employers see you this way, then you need to adjust your world-view.

      There are some asshole employers, of course. They will try to convince you that there are no jobs available in which you can get away with working less than 60 hours a week, and it goes up from there at crunch time. Also, "salaried" means "you work two jobs, both for me, and only get paid for one, and you like it that way." If the questions you ask reveal that the potential employer is one of these, move on.

      The simple fact is....it makes no sense to enter into a relationship if you don't know what the expectations are. Asking what the workload is, and how much it pays, is a simply getting the basic facts. The only concern is timing...if you ask these questions right away it makes you look like a job-hopper, which makes you a risky investment. If you wait till the second interview to ask, it makes it look like you decided that you like the company itself, and are serious about wanting to work there, and are getting the necessary facts. Just do it with the proper professional attitude and any employer worth working for will respond in kind.

      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:06PM (#29002941)

        Exactly. Employment is a two-way relationship. You wouldn't expect an employer to go out of their way to hire you (and only you) without even reading your CV. Why would any rational employer expect a skilled worker to seek them out and want to work for them (and only them) without knowing anything about what they were getting in return?

        Another good one is when a potential employer is really keen to know your previous salary. How could that possibly be relevant to your new job, if you're being judged on merit and they're willing to make an honest offer based on what they think having you in that role will be worth to them? If they ask about what kind of money/package you're looking for, that's fair enough, but it's a different question. Otherwise, they're just trying to force you to give a number first (which is how you lose any negotiation) and pin you with lying at interview otherwise.

        Sometimes, saying something to the effect that your current employer asks everyone to keep those details confidential but it's around the market rate will get you off the hook, and if they challenge it, you can ask if they'd really want to recruit someone who would later betray their own confidential information. If they still won't take the hint at that point, personally, I'm thinking about ending the interview. Of course, if you're not willing to walk away from a bad deal, you're going to lose any negotiation anyway, so you might as well just tell them what they want to know.

        Employers whose job offers you shouldn't be sad to lose:

        • Those who won't tell you straight up about working conditions, contractual details, typical hours, and the like.
        • Those who will tell you, but when you first heard it you thought they were joking. Real replies from interviewers: "If you want a 9-5 job, don't come here, go work for the civil service; most people here are in by 8 and stay until at least 6-6:30" and "We have a reactive working policy" (which turned out to mean that their planning was almost non-existent, they worked in a perpetual panic, and senior staff were expected to stay arbitrarily late without warning or additional compensation to fix whatever came in that day.)
        • Those whose employment contracts/practices claim access to your life outside work: restricting you from taking on any other work out-of-hours without their consent, claiming copyright over everything you do on your own time, requiring you to keep pager/phone/etc. accessible 24/7/365 where this is not an inherent part of the job and compensated accordingly, prohibiting travel to certain countries even during your holiday without their consent, etc. Even if some or all of these things are legally unenforceable in your jurisdiction, the fact that they're claimed at all says a lot.
        • Those who only want to hire someone who really wants to work for them (with the implication that you shouldn't be seriously considering anyone else).
        • Those whose technical interviewers (or whose code samples you see during interview) don't show good technique themselves.
        • Those who want to know about details of your past employment that aren't relevant (such as salary/hours or commercially sensitive information).
  • Real working hours (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Noam.of.Doom (934040) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:32AM (#29001959)
    I often ask what are the actual (real) work hours. In my experience, a contract with an IT company at a programming job, states a basic outline of the work hours that are demanded of you (09:00-18:00, for example). Most of the time these work hours are just formal and not actual, since these types of jobs are very demanding (the needs of meeting goals and dead-lines). The kinds of hours that you'll be working may differ from the ones stated in contract. This information is quite important if you have some kind of routine - if you study part time, for example.
  • Details on benefits (Score:5, Informative)

    by bwindle2 (519558) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:35AM (#29001975)
    I got a new job about 10 months ago.. during the interview, I asked about their benefits, and was told they were "pretty standard". Now, I learn how dishonest they were... health insurance is $850/month for family plan, and we only get 4 vacation days off a year (and only 5 paid holidays). No certification reimbursement, and they want to be able to call me on my personal cell phone after-hours. Lesson learned: get DETAILS.
    • by codeguy007 (179016) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:53AM (#29002113)

      Where do you live? Most places by law they have to give you minimum of 2 weeks and Stat Holidays (or atleast same number of days). I would check your rights.

      • World of difference (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dbcad7 (771464)
        Ahhh,, the European vs US standards.. unfortunately there is no law on vacation days here in the US.. Legal holidays yes,.. We are a strange people, we work more hours, and get less benefits that we now have to pay extra for.. When a union tries to fight to keep their better medical coverage, that their workers are lucky enough not to have to contribute to (Like the way it used to be) The average person looks at it backwards and thinks "bad union worker, why should they not have to pay".. instead of "my emp
    • by Chapter80 (926879) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:13PM (#29002999)

      DO NOT ask about benefits in the interview, ESPECIALLY in the first interview.

      Your mission in the "interview" process is to sell yourself, NOT to negotiate (or even understand) the terms of an offer. Separate the interview process from the negotiation process.

      Asking about benefits is comparable to a car sales person asking the prospective buyer about his capability to afford the car. (In other words, you would only do it as a "qualifying question", if you seriously doubted the company's capability to meet your requirements.) Good car sales people get you wanting the car, and sell features of the car before talking details of the offer. Once you want the car, as a potential buyer, you have overcome a major hurdle - it's *this* car over any other, provided we can come to terms. Then they start working the terms.

      No, don't talk benefits or pay. Instead, sell yourself, and then once you have them wanting you (instead of hundreds of your competitors), find out the details of the offer. Then feel free to negotiate better terms.

      The only 2 exceptions I can think of are if you want to qualify the company, or if you have VERY unusual requirements for benefits. For instance, if you have a dying out-of-town parent, you may want to touch on the vacation issue. This is something that most everyone can be empathetic to, and if you approach it in a way that is honest and human, and shows that you are willing to *give* in order to *get* what you want (like "I have a personal situation with a dying parent and so I'd like to work 50 hour weeks, so that I can take a few extra days off in the first two months. What's the company's flexibility to such short-term arrangements?" ...even that should be a "late in the interviewing process"-type question.

  • Management (Score:5, Funny)

    by jo42 (227475) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:35AM (#29001979) Homepage

    Just how [in]competent is the management here?

  • by kenh (9056) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:35AM (#29001981) Homepage Journal
    Asking follow-up questions tied to the things the interviewer just spoke on (job responsibilities, organizational policies, challenges, etc.) will win you huge points because it shows you were listening, and you are interested in their organization. Asking questions about benefits, promotions, dress code, and other ephemera will signal to the interviewer that you may only be interested in drawing a paycheck, not being part of a group solving problems and working together. If you want generic questions to ask all employers, consider questions like "Who are your competitors?" or "What specifically in my CV/resume interested you?" The goal of the interview is to get the offer, and the best way to get the offer is to demonstrate an interest in the organization you are interviewing with, an understanding of the industry they are in, and at some level the challenges they face in the current market. As for the dress code question, you dress for your first day just like you dressed for your interview, unless told otherwise, and on the first day your new boss/HR/co-worker will tell you how to dress for the second day. Asking about dress code during the interview will send up a red flag that you may be someone that will challenge the dress code at some point down the line, that would be a strike against you.
    • by turbidostato (878842) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:45AM (#29002047)

      "The goal of the interview is to get the offer"

      It is not, unless you really want *any* job they could offer (flipping burgers included). If that's not the case, the goal of the interview is not to get the offer but to get the offer *if* it fits both parties. If you can naturally get the questions you are interested in rised during the interview, good, if not, directly question them shows professionality and that you are really interested on the job, not only the paycheck.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MBGMorden (803437)

        Generally though if you're being strategic then you're only applying to offers that are an improvement over your current position and salary. I'm not going to be applying for burger flipping or any other jobs.

        Unless of course I'm unemployed, and then quite honestly I would do anything up to and including burger flipping to get some level of income until I find something better.

        The reality is any job that you've applied for you should already have done enough filtering to have decided that you DO want the j

    • by jparker (105202) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:31AM (#29002355) Homepage

      I've conducted dozens of programmer interviews, and I totally disagree. The point of the interview is not to get a job, it's to allow both parties a chance to see if this pairing will work. If I can tell that a prospective employee is just concerned with getting hired, that's a huge red flag. I want to hire someone passionate about the same things that my team is passionate about, someone who will have a good sense of humor when we're both still there at 2 AM, and, of course, someone who has the skills required.

      The vast majority of candidates, when they get to the "Do you have any questions for us?" bit, just clam up. "Uh, no, not really." Oh? You're about to commit 40+ hours a week to working for me, and you can't think of anything you'd like to get reassurance on before that happens? I think of this part of the interview as a critical thinking test. You're about to be thrown into a new project; what are the important questions to ask?

      Sticking to the job is fine; there are a lot of questions that are good to ask there, but I view going outside the job, to questions about fit, demographics, team structure and interaction, etc as a sign of experience. You've got a lot less to worry about from the guy who asks if his cynical style will be a problem than from the guy who doesn't. Questions about fit show me that you know what it takes to make you happy, which is great. We can check to see if our culture matches, if not, no hard feelings. I work in video games, so the attitude might be a bit different; every company says you should be excited about your work, but most people here actually are, and if you're not it's often a problem. The more people like that we can weed out, the better.

      As an interviewer, I love the questions the interviewee asks. As parent poster implies, they tell you a lot about what the candidate thinks is important. Questions that focus solely on job function, ignoring job environment, show someone inexperienced or uninterested. If the questions show that the candidate is trying to find a good fit, a place where he can be himself and excel, that's the guy that gets the thumbs up.

  • by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:37AM (#29001995) Homepage

    The best questions are almost certainly those that are specific to the employer and the job which they might hire you for. These are excellent because they show that you've taken an actual interest in what they are doing and may have something to contribute to the overall team in the first 6 months or so. Which isn't to say that the other questions (e.g., generic "what are employment conditions like on the ground" checks) aren't good, but if the boss-to-be thinks you care, it's a big way to stand out for the better.

    Or at least that technique has consistently worked for me so far, and people who ask such things do stand out when you're on the interview panel. Too many people just do generic applications for jobs and don't seem to care what they actually end up doing...

  • by Mishotaki (957104) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:38AM (#29002007)
    So that i don't dirty my lips when i kiss them!
  • Unfortunately (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:38AM (#29002009)

    I now have to ask, "Does the company have sufficient funds to meet payroll for the next year?"

    • Re:Unfortunately (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @01:28PM (#29003471)

      Maybe a better way to phrase it would be "Through the current financial crisis, what has been the biggest struggle for your company-- bringing in new work, project cycle delays, accounts receivable, cash flow, or credit concerns?" You can follow that up with "How do you see that changing over the next year?"

  • or did they come with the frame?
  • Documentation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by notamedic (1236734) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:40AM (#29002027)

    'Can I see an example of your code or documentation?'

    If they don't keep documentation or their code tends to be messy and undocumented then you're going to spend half your time trying to figure stuff out rather than doing productive (and thus interesting) work. If a company's business is in a complex field (finance for instance) and the code/system has built up over many years there is a fair chance that both will be pretty incomprehensible to start with and if they haven't got reasonably documentation the your job is going to be harder and there is a chance that you'll never feel you full have a grasp on *everything* that is going on.

    Apart from that, it will show that you give a damn about documentation and are organised.

  • A typical day (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RabidMonkey (30447) <canadaboy&gmail,com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:42AM (#29002035) Homepage

    One that I've always fallen back on when "do you have any questions for us?" time comes up is something along the lines of "Can you describe a typical day in the life of someone doing my job?". If they're honest, it generally gives me a feel for a typical day, how much time is spent in meetings, doing documentation, when people come in/leave, etc. I then lead them through things like "how much time do I spend doing change tickets/incident tickets? How much time is spent dealing with email/phone calls/walkups? How much time is spent on call?"

    While these questions won't generally alter opinion of the job, it does tell me much more about the "how" as opposed to the general interview "what" and "why". Ultimately the quality of life part of the job is more important than the work, at least, as I grow older and move to more senior (ie: non-helpdesk/NOC) positions. Not hating being at work, being fufilled, challenged and treated with respect is more important at this point than simply advancing or resume building. To find out about the "quality of life" is generally the bent of my questions.

    Good searching!

  • Serious Questions (Score:3, Informative)

    by gander666 (723553) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:42AM (#29002037) Homepage
    Assuming I get through the first round or two, my questions are like these:

    What is your culture like?

    What do you like about working for (insert company name)?

    (If it is a division of a large company) How heavy is the hand of Corporate on your day to day?

    What keeps you up at night?

    Usually by this point I am as much looking to be sold by the company. I am a product manager and usually seek similar roles. Things like culture, openness, empowerment, etc are usually covered in earlier interviews.

    I should also add that I usually spend a fair amount of time researching a company before I even interview. Research their annual reports, investor page, read the SEC filings, look for analyst comments (on public companies), understand their market space, competition, etc. So usually much of this has come across already.

    Oh yeah, one more: Do you use SAP? (god, how I have that frickin' program)

    Geoff
  • by pdh11 (227974) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:47AM (#29002067) Homepage

    What hardware/software am I expected to use at my desktop (e-mail, OS, editor, source control, etc.)?

    This (certainly the email and source-control bits) is an excellent question to ask -- not so much because of what the answer as such, but because of your interviewers' reaction to giving the answer. If the interviewers frown or are apologetic about the answers, then that's a big clue that the IT department is run for its own convenience rather than the users' convenience.

    For instance, if the email system in use is Outlook, ask if they have IMAP or SIMAP turned on, to enable non-Exchange clients. If the answer is no, then you know that uniformity gets enforced over convenience. You also know that nobody in the company uses any external mailing lists (such as the GCC or Linux kernel lists), as there's no way of posting to those from Exchange without looking like a fool.

    If your interviewers sound cross or apologetic when describing the source-control system -- in other words, if the source-control system was dictated by IT without engineering buy-in -- then decline the job. Even if it were theoretically possible to do work in such a company, the excess overhead due to dealing with bureaucracy would make it an inefficient use of your time.

    The absolute best answer you could get here is the one a VP of engineering whom I once worked for gave to a compiler vendor whose products we didn't want. "Can't you enforce tooling?", they asked him. "No," he said, "we don't tell Babe Ruth how to hold his bat."

    Peter

    • LOL (Score:5, Insightful)

      by coryking (104614) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:54AM (#29002495) Homepage Journal

      Pull a stunt like that and you'd strike out if I was interviewing you. To each their own, but fer christ sakes it is an email client not your main development tool!

      Once you start asking religious questions like the ones in your post, you start to look like a person who will be very difficult to work with. After all, if you have major demands for extremely minor things like your email client, what kinds of demands are you going to asking for when it comes to actually doing your job?

  • by compro01 (777531) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:50AM (#29002083)

    1. Health plan - even here in Canada, I consider this important. Even routine dental and prescriptions (not to mentioned uncovered specialists like chiropractors and podiatrists) can cost a fantastic amount of money. Everywhere I've worked for recently had copies of the policy documentation available for interviewees.

    2. Overtime policy - This generally doesn't vary much due to have a legislated minimum here (1.5x pay past 8 hours a day (or 12 if that's your schedule) or 40 hours per week), but it's always good to know.

  • Ask about them... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gr8fulnded (254977) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:52AM (#29002107)

    Ask your interviewers how long they've been with the company, and why do they stay? The second one is more important if you're in a current "hot" field where people jump ship quite a bit. It tends to give a little more insight into the corporate culture and those you'll be working with, in my experiences.

  • by VampireByte (447578) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:56AM (#29002137) Homepage

    ... then ask them to call it, heads or tails?

  • Basic rule (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:59AM (#29002151) Homepage

    You want your question to demonstrate your ability to do the job as well as allow you to assess your future bosses and coworkers. So technical questions like "What version control system do you use?" or "What kind of backup system would I be expected to maintain?" are good for talking to technically-oriented managers. For non-technical managers, some good questions might be "How does my work get tested before getting sent out to the users?" and "How are project schedules determined, and what approaches are typically used to keep projects on schedule?".

  • by sukotto (122876) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:06AM (#29002185)

    I'd like to show you how I would handle/think about the kinds of problems your team has to solve. Would you tell an issue you faced recently that would have been *my* problem if I'd already been working here? I'll talk out the way I'd try and fix it.

    If you're smart, you will have done some research into the company before going to the interview so that you already know what kinds of things they do and the problems they face.

    • by sukotto (122876)

      Also, "This sounds like a really interesting position. Can I meet some of the other people on your team to get a feel for what working here will be like?"

  • I try to research the place so that all my questions are specific or at lest relevant rather than general. General questions from HR types are substitutes for real questions, and general questions from anyone can be taken as such.

    If, after I've asked my specific questions, they still (and usually do) hit me with "Do you have any questions?" I hit back with "I've tried to research [you] the best I could so I could ask specific questions. In case there are things I've missed, and at the risk of answering a qu

  • by Geam (30459) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:09AM (#29002219) Journal
    I recently returned to school to complete my degree and was able to hear a very intresting presentation from one of the instructors last year. Being that I have applied for many jobs in the past year (and currently working full-time while going to school in the evening), a lot of these made sense. Here are some of the points I found most interesting to take into account during an interview.

    - There are only two things that the employer wants to know during the interview: "Can you do the job?" and "Are you going to cause trouble?". The information on your resume will answer the first. Your answers and attitude during the interview will answer the second.

    - During the interview, focus on proving you are able to do the job and that you will not cause trouble. Trouble would be absenteeism, incompatibility with co-workers, etc. Keep your personal life personal and your special interests and hobbies to yourself unless they directly pertain to the job. If you interests require you to take time off from work, that should come up during the negotiation period and not during the interview. Also, do not bring up money, pay, vacation, training, "team lunches or get-togethers", hours, or other trivial items. This should all be addressed after the job offer has been extended, while you negotiate, and before you start.

    - Once the employer has gone through the process of interviewing all of the candidates and decided that you are the best candidate, you should have already prepared a list of priorities for what you want. If you need six weeks of paid vacation per year, if you need to make a certain salary, or if you need to work a certain schedule, that is all negotiable at this point before the job is accepted. For all of the effort they have put into posting a job opening, sorting through all of the applications, spending all that time interviewing, and somehow still decided that you are the best candidate, it is not in the employer's best interest to start the whole process over because you want six weeks of vacation time instead of the normal four. Everything is negotiable.

    - If you are asked during the interview how much you are expecting to make at the new position, a correct answer is "I earn $XXXX at my current job and I am certain you will be fair, but I would like to lean more about the company". It does not ignore the question, but it does not put either party in a tight spot or make either party feel guilty. Again, pay is part of negotiation and not part of the interview.

    - One item that should be addressed during the interview is asking about company culture: military (directives from management), team (groups work together to solve problems), competitive (individuals work "against" each other), artistic (try to create the best product), etc.

    - Another item that should be asked is what the interviewer sees in the job. Each interview may give a different answer from HR, the department head, the department manager, and the team leader. Taking each of those into account will give a better impression of what is expected.

    - I suspect that developers and other specialized positions would want to know what type of systems would be used and the development tools required. This, however, should already be answered to the employer by what is listed on the resume. If the tools required are not listed there and the candidate was still being considered, the tools must not matter very much to the employer and they may be willing to offer training on that system. I am not sure asking about what type of hardware, email, ticket tracking, system environment (Dev/QA/UAT/Prod), or documentation system would be used, since those are basically universal and two companies with the same system may use them in different ways and a new hire will need to become oriented with how the company wants to handle details. Also, if questions about dress code, hours worked, overtime availability, weekend catch-up time, or anything else not normally covered in an interview are important to you, s
  • The interview is for them to interview you. There may be an opportunity to reciprocate, but don't - the interviewer just wants to finish the interview at that point. If you ask a bunch of questions you may turn them off or change their minds. If they ask, you can just say "not at this time, thank you."

    Learn as much as you can about the company before going on the interview, and then be observant when you go to the interview - pay attention to people in the parking lot, smoking at the doors, how the recep
    • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:51AM (#29002839)
      This is the worst advice I've seen on Slashdot. I'm a hiring manager. I conduct several interviews per week. It is a terrible red flag if someone does not have any questions. It demonstrates a lack of curiosity and empowerment. I need to hire curious people who will find and solve interesting problems for the business. The questions the candidate asks are a means to deciding if the he or she has what it takes.
      • by King_TJ (85913) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @02:42PM (#29003905) Journal

        I made another comment on here already, along these lines.... but I'll re-iterate anyway.

        I've definitely had interviews where, by the end, I really had no useful questions that came to mind -- simply because after an hour of so of "back and forth" about the company and the job requirements, plus a tour that let me see things ranging from the dress code to the environment employees were working in, there wasn't much left to ask.

        To me, saying "I think you've answered all of my questions right now, but I'll definitely follow up with you if I think of anything else." is a perfectly honest and legitimate answer. Certainly looks better than trying to make up some silly question you really wouldn't have asked otherwise, but are trying to throw out there just so the employer can check-off his list that "Yep, they asked me something."

        Rather than "red flagging" a person for not having a question at the end of the interview, I think you'd be wise to ask them questions DURING said interview to determine their problem-solving capabilities. (EG. Ask them to tell you about 1 or 2 situations in previous jobs where they encountered a puzzling problem, and how they went about solving it.)

  • 1. What's the dress code? (Usually you can just infer this by looking at the employees who interview you.)

    2. How many hours do people usually work in a normal week? (This can be dangerous in that it can communicate to an employer that you're "worried" about having to work "too much", but I always feel like I have to ask it anyway.)

    3. Same question as above, but for "crunch time" situations (e.g. just before a release, etc.)?

    4. How do you assess employee performance? (I don't always ask this since it's ty

  • Try the Joel Test (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kevin_conaway (585204) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:31AM (#29002349) Homepage
    For a software position, try to see how well the company scores on the Joel Test [joelonsoftware.com]:
    1. Do you use source control?
    2. Can you make a build in one step?
    3. Do you make daily builds?
    4. Do you have a bug database?
    5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
    6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
    7. Do you have a spec?
    8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
    9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?
    10. Do you have testers?
    11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?
    12. Do you do hallway usability testing?
    • by StormReaver (59959) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:49PM (#29005975)

      1. Do you use source control?

      No, we expect the source to exercise self-control. It's a grown-up like the rest of us.

      2. Can you make a build in one step?

      That depends on what we're building. We've built some monumental cluster-fucks with one step. I mean, if you don't want the self-destruct button pressed, then don't make it a big red button that just screams out to be pushed.

      3. Do you make daily builds?

      On some days.

      4. Do you have a bug database?

      The biggest on the planet, if not the galaxy!

      5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?

      Sometimes, but we usually fix bugs after writing new code.

      6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?

      Yes, and it says I'm due at the gym now, so make this snappy.

      7. Do you have a spec?

      A spec of what?

      8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?

      I'm told that some do, somewhere.

      9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?

      Yes, we use the best commercial tools we can find on Usenet.

      10. Do you have testers?

      Yes, I never eat a meal without having someone else try it first. If I had a dollar for every time I dodged a cyanide bullet...

      11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?

      Yes, "SOS" is a code, isn't it?

      12. Do you do hallway usability testing?

      We used to, but we found our hallways to be quite usable. So we stopped.

  • by otter42 (190544) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:46AM (#29002439) Homepage Journal

    The only question I can think of is,

    "Are you hiring?"

  • Career Builder (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yerktoader (413167) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:53AM (#29002487) Homepage
    I looked up this kind of stuff in Google, and the first link was to Career Builder. I copied down some of the catchall questions for an interview later that day. Granted the job turned out to be kind of tailored to my previous experience, but that experience is more jack of all trades than emphasized which they were okay with. I think it had to do in large part to the fact that I knocked that interview out of the park, and I think that is in part due to the questions I copied down.

    I don't really think much of that kind of stuff, but if it works, it works.
  • fit in (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DaveGod (703167) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:01AM (#29002531)

    Every person I know who does job interviews says that the main thing they are looking for is whether you will fit in to the workplace. That's being a little simplistic maybe, but consider that the interviewer(s) are people too (and they're probably quite nervous as well). It's actually quite common to have an interview panel comprised of a higher level boss, the immediate manager of the position and a colleague (though maybe a senior or supervisor), and in these cases you need unanimous approval.

    Some of the points I take from this are -
    - whether they think you will get on with colleagues (so ask open-ended questions about potential co-workers that might leave you an opening to divulge some shared interests);
    - whether they think they will be able to work with you (honesty, integrity, respect, professionalism, personable),
    - what your personality can offer,
    - long-term promise (ask about Continued Professional Development or whatever),
    - the approach you take to your work - are you naturally someone who tries to provide value to the client? Do you "hug"? Or do you focus on being efficient? Consider say a bank - some banks the customer wants to get in and out as quickly, easily and cheaply as possible while other banks have customers that want to come in and be offered a cup of coffee before they have a lengthy discussion with their account manager that might include both their new loan, the way forward for their business and golf. The interviewer is not looking for someone who would be great at the other bank.

    The trick is doing this in a way that is appropriate to the company and the profession. Be sure to read the website, their literature and figure out their market and their position in it. That not only provides you with ammo for discussion but indicates your interest in the company, that you think you're right for the company (and the company right for you!) and that you were smart enough to have thought of it.

    I walked into my first interview for a "proper job" and within 30 seconds was asked what I thought about their new website, I confessed I hadn't had chance to read it and it was blatantly game over from there. The next interview I was asked something which was a clear opener for me to remark about the website, which she then asked me what I thought of and I responded that it was a little short on content, could perhaps do more to sell the company, but generally seemed appropriate and anyway in this field there is a danger of content going out of date. The interviewer actually then ticked something on her pad and scribbled a little comment, looked up and realised I'd caught her testing me and we shared a little smile which I'm pretty sure secured me the job.

  • Interviews (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ledow (319597) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:09AM (#29002589) Homepage

    Okay, I'm actually damn good at interviews. This is blowing my own trumpet, but it's true. I've beaten people vastly more qualified, more experienced and less demanding in salary because I can hold my own in an interview. In fact, I change jobs rather than mess about with the internal politics of pay-rises, even in credit crunches. It makes life more interesting.

    I have *never* asked a question at the end of an interview. I've always said "No, I think you've covered everything I need to know" because, by then, they HAVE, or I've done my research already. Asking a smarty-pants question is likely to lose you respect too.

    "What is the (official) dress code?"

    You're looking at it. You're probably wearing it. You're talking to people who are wearing it. It's pretty irrelevant anyway, because if you're required to wear anything different (e.g. uniform, stricter dress because you're dealing with public etc.) then they will TELL you that or you will already know. And what are you going to do? Say "Oh, no... I couldn't wear that" and forgo the job? And 99.9% of places are the same anyway - smart or smart/casual unless you're public-facing.

    "What about my resume caught your eye?"

    A good question. For your first month of working. In the interview, it's just too long-winded to explain and they might well be reluctant to discuss details of their hiring process.

    "What hardware/software am I expected to use at my desktop (e-mail, OS, editor, source control, etc.)?"

    You'll have been told by the job description. You should also have been shown round the place by then, even if it's just "and this is our coding floor". Personally, I usually insist on pre-interview tours if it's at all possible but most places have done this for me automatically - why would you ever want to take a job at somewhere you've never even SEEN the inside of? I gain the most information by seeing where I'm supposed to work and walking through the building to get to it - H&S violations (Cramped working conditions, no fire extinguishers, etc.)? Spotted them. Employees slacking off/arguing? Spotted them. People wasting time in boring meetings? Spotted them. The person I'm replacing? Probably sitting at the same desk or be the one showing me around.

    Plus, the people in interview might not want to get into those sort of details because it will take too long. They just want to get on through their candidates and start deciding. Also, by asking, it's like you're questioning their choice. You're being paid to do the job, you have to damn well learn whatever software they want anyway. All this question does is provoke a feeling that you won't be happy/productive if it's not your "favourite".

    "Are there team lunches or get-togethers?"

    AKA "I want to socialise, waste time, claim that I'm team-building". If you want a team lunch, you'll have one. If you don't then you won't. This is nothing to do with the job unless it's pushed "from above" but you can't tell people how to eat their lunch and you wouldn't want to work anywhere that did. It's probably the "best" of your questions, though.

    "What are your goals for the next six months, one year, three years?"

    Brilliant question. For THEM to ask YOU. You're basically questioning their dedication / long-term plans in a roundabout way. They will raise eyebrows at this question.

    "What ticket/issue tracking system do you use?"

    See above about software/hardware.

    "Do you have separate build/stage/QA/etc. environments?"

    You will know this by the end of the interview/tour or you haven't done your research properly. It probably tells you in the job description. If they say no, you're implying that you know or work better. If they say yes, you're making yourself look an idiot by not knowing that.

    "How do you keep track of documentation?"

    See hardware/software question and the above. If they say "we don't", you should already know that and will come across as superior. If they say, we use

  • by clintp (5169) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:24AM (#29002677)

    This is good to ask during a 1-on-1 interview, or when the interviewers are nearly peers. (i.e. bad to ask when the CEO and some flunky are in the room)

    "What do you like least about working here?"

    It's a good judge of character of the person interviewing you. I usually deflect answers that involve "commuting" or something external and re-ask the question. The answers tend to fall into three categories. 1. Bullshit/uninformed ("nothing! I love it here!") 2. What the boss/policy wants them to say ("we care about our customers *too much*!") or 3. Honesty.

    People like talking about themselves, their opinions, and their likes and dislikes and will do it for hours. It's far easier to get them to open up about what's right (or wrong) with the company when you start with their gripes. Make the question about them and make them feel informed and important. At least it gives you some leverage in follow-up questions.

    ---

    And for the record, at my current job I answer this as "That it feels slow to get software to market. Testing and management approval can seemingly take forever, but I realize it's a deliberate effort to maintain quality." It's honest and a personal gripe of mine.

  • by Talinom (243100) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:39AM (#29002777) Homepage Journal
    MSN Careers has an article titled You Said What?! - 43 Things Actually Said in Job Interviews [careerbuilder.com].

    Yeah, everyone can be stupid in an interview. Learn and laugh from their mistakes so you don't make one.
  • I wouldn't ask that (Score:3, Interesting)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:21PM (#29003053) Journal

    A lot of these are questions I would never ask in an interview.

    "What desktop hardware/software will I be using?" could be interpreted as "I'm a hardware bigot and will whine if I don't have a huge display and four white-hot cores." or "I don't touch Winders. I plan to reimage my PC with Mepis and I refuse to use any email client except Mulberry". Unless you want to show proficiency in a particular tool -- "Lotus notes? Yes, I've got several years' experience" -- I'd leave the topic alone. Your desktop is whatever it is. You'll get used to it.

    "Are there team get-togethers?" == "I expect us to spend time screwing off under the guise of 'team building'. How close is the nearest bar?"

    "What are the typical hours?" == "I am concerned about working too hard."

    "What is your goal for the next etc" is a question directed at the interviewee, not the interviewer.

    I would say "I expect to be on-call" as an opening for the interviewer to describe the on-call process.

    I would know ahead of time what the company's stock has been doing, (if publicly traded) and be prepared to ask reasonable questions about the company business. My job doesn't end at my cube doorway -- it's important to understand the big picture.

    I ask about education benefits, because I want to keep on top of my game, and I want prospective employers to know that.

    Questions about the environment -- promotion process, product and documentation lifecycle, -- are fine, but don't get too militant about it if the boss doesn't think these things are important. There will be time for that battle after you're hired.

    Find out if there are any tools or systems with which you are not familiar, and then express eagerness to learn them.

    If there's a part of the process that's in disarray, (documentation, for instance) and you get signals that the boss would like to see improvement in this area, express eagerness to help straighten it out, and come up with a few suggestions.

    I ask if it's ok if I eat at my desk. This isn't as arse-kissing as it sounds. I worked for one place that forbade eating at one's desk due to ant infestation.

    In general, I try to avoid questions that might raise a red flag about how well I might fit in, or which might be considered concern on my part about how much effort I will be making. I am adaptable -- I've had ASCII terminals, X-terms, Windows, Sun and SGI workstations in front of me, and a variety of tools, some really obscure. It matters less what my work environment actually is than that it match the rest of the team.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hibiki_r (649814)

      Many times you need those questions, unless you have good references about the company to begin with. Without them, you might find yourself in an unhealthy environment that might even make it hard to find another job without quitting first. I've seen places that went for 70 hour weeks for well over half of any given year. I've seen programmers stuck on ancient tools that would make the job not just an ugly chore for anyone used to semi-recent technology, but would also mean that any time spent there would n

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @12:49PM (#29003237) Homepage Journal
    But you are interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you. Carry a notebook with you, write down some questions in advance so you don't forget prior to the interview. And note down the answers after you ask. I find that with recent IT jobs I have to ask what I'll actually be doing on the job since every job posting these days is really too vague to have a clear idea. Also ask to see the area you'll be working in and if it's possible to meet the team you'll be working with.

    For IT, keep an eye out for some telltale warning signs. Lots of Dilberts hanging on a cube wall are a telltale clue that people there aren't entirely happy with their jobs, and the cartoons can be an important clue into what exactly is not functioning well within the company. Also ask just before you leave or prior to the start of the interview to use the bathroom. The state of the bathroom is another good sign of how the company treats its employees, and you're going to have to use that thing during the after-lunch rush hour and such. If it's like someone slaughtered a goat in there, you might want to consider giving them a miss.

  • Main question I ask (Score:3, Interesting)

    by br00tus (528477) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @02:36PM (#29003873)
    First of all, this "ask the questions they'll like the best" thing to me is for the birds. I don't ask questions that will make them have second thoughts about me, but I ask questions to know if I'll be happy there. Usually I am interviewed by a number of people, maybe a manager I will ask the kind of things he might want to have asked, but from everyone else I am seeking information. Secondly, some questions how many hours do you work overtime, do you get the support you need and so on are easy to fudge so I ask questions which are not fudgeable.

    My main question is what is the structure of my team. How many people are doing the same job I do in my team. Is there a lead? Is there a manager? Who is the manager managing, just our group or others as well? I have enough experience that I don't want to be in a team which has a lead in it. When I have a manager who is not involved in day to day IT work that is ideal as he wants me to succeed. Leads always want to make sure you are not doing better than them as that is a threat to their position and job. On the other hand, doing a good job is something a manager wants you to do. If they say there is no lead I ask if anyone aside from my manager inside the team will be responsible for assigning me work and that sort of thing - digging out if there is some covert lead. I make sure this is straight with my manager.

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