Three Questions to Ask a Potential Boss

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A LinkedIn post on interviewing got my attention, in part because of its premise. The author suggests that, in addition to standard questions candidates should ask during an interview, additional questions will help you can stand out from your competitors.

I believe in finding the right fit between employer and employee or contractor, so I’m a big fan of asking questions of the hiring manager during an interview. But I’m not convinced that asking your interviewer peculiar questions is your best way of being memorable. Being skilled, seeming at ease, answering honestly, and not making any dreadful mistakes will make you memorable enough. Some of the proposed questions I’ve read are silly. But a few get to the core of how to find out if you and an employer will fit.

How Do You Manage Employees?

Doug Zanger argues that one interesting question to engage your interviewer and discern her leadership strengths is to ask “Why should I run through a brick wall for you?” Sure, it’s cutesy and could get attention.

But I would never hire someone who asked this. Why? Because they’re offering to do something stupid just because I ask.

No matter where on the independent-thinking-to-blind-adherence spectrum a hiring manager wants, nobody wants an employee to do something ridiculous just because they’re asked. This isn’t a fraternity rush; it’s a job interview. Zanger’s question would suggest to me, as a recruiter, that he’s looking for an excuse to show off, not that he wants a strong leader for a boss. Offering to run into a brick wall if I’m a good enough manager tells me that the candidate is a liability to my organization.

Asking your potential manager about their management style, on the other hand, is extremely wise. So drop the cute and get to the point: How would the people you manage describe your management style? How would you characterize your own management strengths and weaknesses?

Who Are Your Heroes?

Asking which leaders your interviewer respects is solid advice. Finding out from whence employers draw inspiration and style is an ideal way to see if you’re a fit for their approach. It can also give you a sense for how adaptable and forward-thinking the organization is.

What If You’re Having a Bad Day?

I’m most impressed with the thinking behind the next questions Zanger proposes: What happens to your management style when you’re exhausted, and how do you make sure the team works at peak levels? He rightly points out that it’s useful to see how a boss handles stress and how the company ensures that its staff recharge.

Keep in mind that you always need to ask questions that will determine whether the project or job are a fit for you. Read this article at Forbes.com about why it’s important to ask questions in your interview.

The Old Standards

Prepare well by researching the company, role, and culture so you don’t ask questions that reveal your lack of preparedness. And when given the chance, ask:
• What are the top priorities for this position over the next three months?
• What are some qualities that make successful collaborators on this team? (Alternately, “What are some qualities that make successful managers in this company?”)
• What would success look like in this position? How would I wow you in this role?
• What are you next steps for filling this role?

Hopefully, the next step will be an offer letter. Good luck!

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