Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Job interviews freak many people out. Many candidates focus almost entirely on what the employer is going to ask them.  And they stress about having the “right” answers.

If you’re going to be successful in a job, however, you also need to know more about the employer and the position itself. You need to interview the potential employer at the same time they are interviewing you.

This levels the playing field a bit, because it’s not a foregone conclusion that you will want the job after the interviews.  You can approach the interview with curiosity instead of fear.  After all, you want your “right fit job.”

“Interviewing the employer” implies that you have some criteria in mind against which you’ll “rate” the employer.  I call it your “must have list” – those conditions you “must have” in order to do your best work and thereby deliver the greatest value to your employer.  Will you get all of them?  Unlikely.  However, there surely are several conditions that rise to the top of your list and become true “musts.”

For example, you may seek a position as a senior leader of an organization, with decision-making power, and leading a team. Your work needs to use your leadership, organization-building, and strategic planning skills.  Your work needs to make a difference to the organization, contributing to its growth.  You need light and a combination of moving about and privacy for your specific environment.  Your commute needs to be no more than an hour each way because you have a family.  You want to work in a place where people are respected for their expertise and allowed to do their jobs, and where people are committed to the goals, as well as have fun.  And you have a compensation range in mind that will take care of your family and make you feel valued.

The job interview is the only place you can discover whether the employer can meet this “must have list.”  Here are 3 questions that will help you find out:

1) How does this position support the organization’s strategic or business plan?

You are assuming there is a strategic or business plan, because most well-run organizations have a plan guiding their employees’ actions.  If there isn’t one, that’s a big red flag — unless they are going to do one and want you to lead it.

This question allows the employer to tell you whether and how the organization wants to grow, what you will be responsible for, how your role and/or department will interact with other parts of the company, and what your general decision-making will be.  It begins the conversation about your role, the organization’s goals and dreams, and who you will be working with.

You also get to demonstrate to the employer that you think strategically, and your ideas about your position and the organization’s future.

2) What’s the culture like here?

Yes, ask it that directly.  The answer will reveal a lot.  Some organizations focus a lot on creating a great culture and others don’t.  “We work hard and we play hard” tells me that your entire world will be centered on the job, and work/life balance isn’t really important.  “We value our employees” tells you nothing. “We’re focused on the mission, and generally people like coming to work here” is more promising.

You can ask “What does that mean? Can you give me some examples? What’s a typical day like here?” after each answer to your main culture question.

Related to this question:  An easy way to find out what the hours are really like is to have an interview at 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon, or 8 or 8:30 in the morning.  How many people are there?  What kind of energy do you feel?

3) At the end of a year, how will I know I’ve been successful?

Asking this indicates that you are focused on results and on being there a while.  It tells the employer that you like to know what you are accountable for and how you are going to be evaluated.  Hopefully, the employer has thought about this.  If not, it may indicate that there is a lack of performance management in the organization.

This could be an opportunity for you, depending on the position you would have.  Or it could be frustrating for you because you’ll never know how you’re going to be evaluated.

I recommend waiting until you get to an in-person interview to ask these 3 questions, because you first have to “hook” the employer on a phone interview with your skills, abilities, and phone manner.

There are many other questions you can ask, but these will start you off to finding out whether this job is the “right fit” for you.