The best questions to ask in your job interview

Lynne Tye on January 08, 2018

The one question every interviewer asks is, "Do you have any questions for me?" Most of us forget to prepare questions, so we make up generic on... [Read Full]
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πŸ‘Ž Don't ask: β€œIs there work/life balance here?”
πŸ‘ Do ask: β€œHow responsive are people to emails/Slack over the weekends and after 6pm?”

In my experience, the latter is the exact opposite question to the former. That said when there indeed is a work/life balance, people are indeed responsive to slack/emails over the weekends/after 6pm.

That happens because everybody has a work/life balance and if I got an email on Sun at 1AM it means something really weird happened.

When people are receiving emails/slacks on regular basis, they simply tend to switch their accounts off for non-working hours and hence be ...uhhhm... less responsive :)

 

Discussions around work/life balance are really interesting because people tend to enter the conversation with strong ideas of what it means to them, and rarely consider how others might define it! Ultimately, everything you just said should be discussed openly (rather than two people assuming they're on the same page).

Work/life balance to me means freedom to work when and where I want to. Personally, I'd much rather work 60-hour weeks if I could choose when and where I did those hours, vs. having a strict 9-5. To me, it means blurring the line between professional and personal too. I like when my teammates know about me as a person and not only ask me questions about what I did on the weekend, but support my other interests/passions. It's not for everyone, but I love being friends w/ my coworkers!

Asking the second question here could lead to details like, "We have a few Slack channels that aren't related to work, and people are pretty active on those after 6pm and on weekends. For example, people go climbing together, and go on hikes together on the weekends. They're always organized by different people, family friendly, and open to anyone at the company."

Point is, the goal is to get as much of the "boring" details out in the open, because that's usually where the good stuff is. 😜

 

It is very nice you remind people of the importance of questions again and again, Lynne. And I am watching with delight how you promote your company here and on indiehackers. Best of luck!

 

Thanks Elena! Don't you find the two communities so different and interesting?! Re: promotion, it's kind of easy. Every time someone tells me that they joined a company only to discover a few weeks in that it wasn't the best choice, I'm reminded to share the resources that I have. It makes sense too, since job searching and interviewing happens in ~2-year cycles.

 

Absolutely makes sense. There is always someone already searching or planning to soon, and it's good if they remember about your website, right? Better know about it before the search.

 

Here are my notes and my questions I am asking on every interview I have. Hope you will find them useful.

kostasbariotis.com/interviewer-vs-...

 

Nice list, one I always ask,

  • Can I participate on/run side projects?

Also I like to clarify posibilities to bring in hobby projects if the company can benefit from it, and how the reward will be.
In one case they said that what I do in my spare time on computers, are theirs, and no reward on the other end - which I think they would have a legal problem with since it is my time off, not theirs. Needless to say, I turned down the offer :)

You should be a bit careful with that question though, if the potential future employer thinks that you are doing competing activities, there can be big problems down the road.

 
 

I used some of these in my latest interview. Thanks. And the tips of Lynne were great too. Apparently, as the interview went well.

 
 

Besides the obvious questions on payment, expected working hours, etc.
the questions I try to ask are the following:

My manager:

  • How often are talks about my personal development and my future planed with my direct manager?
  • How often do these talks actually happen?
  • What is the content?
  • How many people is a technical lead person responsible for?
  • How many people report to a manager on average? How many people do report to my manager?

Work environment:

  • How many hours do the employees work on average per day?
  • How are the offices structured? (this is typically something you see if you are shown around. Pay attention to details: do the people look stressed? How much room do they have? Do they have personal decoration on their desks? If not, ask why!)
  • How high is the fluctuation of people (people starting/leaving per month)? (HR knows that number, if they say they have no clue, ask again. Be stubborn here. A low number is an indicator of a good working environment)
  • If the number is high: how long are people staying on average?
  • How many people do have to get sick before you cannot work any more? (this is a question that is difficult to ask, but gives you an idea how the responsibilities are distributed)

Planing and working:

  • Size of the project teams?
  • How do you distribute knowledge amongst peers?
  • How do you plan your projects? How do you evaluate whether your planing was good? How often do you plan?
 

These are great! πŸ‘ Thank you for sharing!

 

Nice app. Your email response did get caught by my Outlook.com spam filter though.

One question I've been trying to figure out how to ask concerns age, specifically my age (late 50's), and how a company/team feels about that. I suppose that might be under bigger heading of 'Actively Practices Inclusion' but I've found some of the areas you listed under 'Daily Routines' to be more active indicators of potential ageism and other types of subtle discrimination (aka lack of 'cultural fit').

 

Ah! Good to know that. I think other email clients have been alright so far, so thanks for letting me know.

I tried to design questions that would get honest (unscripted) answers from an interviewer. There aren't always "right" answers, but they can at least poke holes into the fluff and get to the real details we want. Ageism (and so many other -isms in tech) can be tricky, mainly because people don't always feel comfortable asking direct questions. I think some of the questions under "Team is Diverse" and "Ideal for Parents" might touch on age. Sometimes, we just want to ask if there are "others like me" on the team, and whether we can chat w/ them even though they weren't originally included in the interview schedule.

I will think more about this though. Thanks for taking the time to reply, Frank!

 

It's weird because I'd say the people I'm working for right now have excellent work/life balance, but we also frequently communicate on the weekends. We do that because we acknowledge that in order to take time off in the middle of the week, you have to do some work on the weekend to round things out.

The beauty of it is that you get to take the time off when it matters most to you. I really believe most people don't have a problem with working long hours. They have a problem with missing out on important events/activities that matter to them.

Whether it's family, snowboarding, or whatever thing you do to decompress, it's important to give people the freedom to take that time whenever they need it. Imposing a 9-5 schedule on everyone is a sure fire way to destroy diversity. You'll just get a bunch of people who are happiest working from 9-5. Not everybody (myself included) fits that mold.

I'm not sure what questions I'd ask, but it would depend on how happy I am where I'm at. If I just don't have time to go through the interview process, I'd probably just cut to the chase and ask them if they're going to let me go snowboarding on a Thursday. It saves time and stops a bad fit from happening way in advance.

But most of the good ones I've worked with tend to advertise this kind of thing upfront, so we pretty much never need to discuss it when the interview happens.

 

If you were interviewing and told me this, I'd find it incredibly useful. This information is the type of information we (candidates) need in order to make our decision. Not all companies have flexible work arrangements. Also, I know several developers who prefer to work a structured 9-5. The point is, there's no right or wrong answer, and I can't tell you how many conversations I've had around work/life balance since I started working on Key Values (hundreds!). Ultimately, it's like dating. The best scenario is for both parties to be upfront about who they are, what they're looking for, and openly work out whether there is compatibility!

 

It totally is dating. If I have any piece of advice, it's to just fill out tons of applications, generate leads, and go through as many as you can in the shortest period of time. Speed dating (more or less) will get you the job you want

Interesting, I'd suggest the exact opposite.

I think it's less about a numbers game. If I was being courted (as an employee, employer, or potential love interest), you wouldn't win me over by making me feel like I was just an option out of a pool of hundreds. I'd feel more connected to someone who spent time learning about me and expressed genuine interest because they saw me standing out from the rest.

It's the same reason why we, as developers, dislike generic recruiting emails. Because we know the recruiter sent the same email to a thousand other people.

I totally get that! And if you're lucky enough to have some personal information to work from (most jobs posted just take you to some generic website), then of course you're going to stand out by showing a genuine care for the people you're speaking with.

But, like dating, you often don't have much information at the outset. You don't even know if they're all that into you. So if you invest too much time in the starting stages or give away too much potentially disqualifying information about yourself, your overall cost per acquisition gets too high.

Why invest an hour of your time researching a company that might not be all that interested in you? Or, for that matter, might not be a fit for other reasons?

I usually don't start the interview process knowing that I want to work for a company. The interview process is what gives me enough information to figure out if I want to work for that company. So I'm usually trying to give them just enough information to get to the next step (if I even want to invest time into that next step).

You apply to get a phone call. You get a phone call to get some basic info and see if there's a personality fit. You go through other stages of the interview to tie up all of the other loose ends. Then you compare offers and decide which one best fits your current goals and working style.

If all goes well, you find a role that makes you happy. If it goes supremely well, you stay for a long time.

 

I love this post! In my experience, I have found this to be one of the most important parts of the interview when I was interviewing for a position or while I was interviewing other candidates for a position at my company. If you struggle with this part of the interview, I would suggest taking everyone's beautiful examples from their lists on this thread and use them as a reference while you're coming up with your own questions.

The key to mastering this skill is to show that you are genuinely interested in who you are talking to. This shouldn't be difficult because if you're interviewing for a new position, then this is your time to determine if this is a place where you'd fit in. You can show your genuine interest by asking specific questions which show that you are engaged.

To illustrate, if I was interviewing the author of this post, Ms. Lynne Tye, I would take a little time to look at Key Values and Ms. Tye's achievements while building this incredible company from scratch. By being aware of the questions that naturally cross my mind while listening to Ms. Tye speak or through researching her, I need only to write them down. For example, consider that I'm interviewing with Ms. Tye for a software engineer position at her company, the following could be a question I may ask:

"I checked out the website you created for Key Values and I have to tell you, it looks incredible. I love the beautiful and simplistic design, as well as how intuitive it is to use. I saw that you created Key Values because you felt like there was something missing when evaluating how you felt about joining a new engineering team. I can't tell you how many times I've had the same frustration. You said that you were relatively new to programming when you began Key Values, so I'm really interested in how you decided on each level of your technology stack for the site, given the overwhelming abundance of options out there?"

If you noticed, I asked Ms. Tye about a specific time when she had a big decision to make. In my mind, I put myself in her shoes and thought about how I would make that decision. How would I go about it? This immediately sets me apart from many other candidates because I'm revealing to Ms.Tye, that in this moment, she is the center of my focus. I'm not reading off a canned list of generic questions. I created this question specifically for Ms. Tye. Her response is going to give me a glimpse into what it's like to work with her, such as the reasoning that she uses when making decisions.

Thank you for writing this incredibly valuable post and allowing me to use you in my illustration, Ms. Tye!

 

I'm blown away by this comment!!!

First, thank you for providing a great example. It's true, people shouldn't stop here. They should be incredibly thoughtful when not only asking questions during their interview, but also in their initial emails/cover letters. In the same way we don't love getting recruiter emails that look like:

Hi Lynne,
Would you like to discuss an exciting Frontend Engineer opportunity with a World Class company in San Francisco, CA? If so, please let me know so I can send you the name of the company as well as the job description to see if it would be a good fit for you.
Cheers,
Lloyd

(^ this is an email I actually got btw, copy pasted)

It's a two-way street, the whole way through. Personalized emails, personalized questions, everything should be personalized and demonstrate that you've both taken the time to do your research and be thoughtful.

Second, thanks for your incredibly kind words John! I'm honored. β€οΈπŸ™Œ

 

I could not have said it better. You're so right, impersonalized recruiter emails are a perfect parallel. My favorite is when they forget to take out their boilerplate in the response. This is an actual one I received recently as well:

Dear,
This is Sharmilee from , we are looking to hire entry level software developer, if you’re interested please get back to me with your contact number and mailid.
Thank You.

You're very welcome, Ms. Tye. Thank you for taking the time in writing such a thoughtful and valuable post!

Nooooo πŸ™ˆ Why though??

At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel valued, heard, and appreciated. It doesn't matter what it is or who it's with, we all want to feel valued by our romantic partners, friends, family members, interviewers, coworkers, managers, and shoot –– even our pets! Employers and hiring managers are no different!

Anyway, thank you again, John. And know that I appreciate you!! πŸ˜πŸ™Œ

Just found out this incredibly useful post along with Keyvalues, Thank you Lynne :-)

I agree with the impersonalized recruiter emails point John mentioned and believe with the advent of LinkedIn for information and HRM software for recruiters nowadays, researching a candidate to send a fairly customized email should be less exhaustive.

If a person realizes that they've been approached like the only one for a particular role (momentarily ignoring the fact there actually are multiple candidates), it will result in a higher response rate for the recruiters.

Thanks Vinay! And you're very right –– we all just want to feel special!

 

The last 4 places I have worked at have all said that they use Scrum. (None of them are what I'd categorize as by the book Scrum.)

Regardless if you like or dislike Scrum as a management process, I have found it interesting to ask the details of how they do Scrum.

 

πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ It's all in the details!!!

 

One of my favorite questions to ask prospective employers is "How do you gauge the success of your staff?". This tends to expose their value systems. If they gauge their employees on lines of code of some arbitrary metric then that is a red flag. Code quality, test coverage, and peer reviews are all examples of things I think are much more indicative of successfully developers and are the types of things I look for when I ask these questions.

 

Is "no communication after 6pm and on weekends" really a good work/life balance? Or maybe it is more like the minimum for a regular job as a developer?

In my opinion, a good work/life balance includes not requiring attendence every day, that the individual can decide to use his time of highest motivation, that he/she can take a day off if it is good for the family - and work on weekends if she/he decides to.

Asking for work/life balance makes you look unwilling to work? You are right, maybe for some, but definitely not for all the companies.
Instead: Asking for a default work/life balance and getting it will make you a default developer, not a hard working one because you will not love your job because you can not use the peaks of motivation ( hint: they are not scheduled regularly from 9am to 5pm ;-) )

I asked about work/life balance in my letter of application and in the job interviews. It sorted out a lot of companies fast, still leaving enough open positions. This allowed me to find a company which I like to work hard for now, because I have good work/life balance.

There are not as many developers as there are jobs.
The demand of companies is higher than the supply.
But there is not only demand at the companies, there is also a demand at the developers, a demand for a healthier, more productive, higher motivated and more fulfilling permanent position.

 

"Is "no communication after 6pm and on weekends" really a good work/life balance? Or maybe it is more like the minimum for a regular job as a developer?"

No, I do not think so. We work 8 hours a day, that is a third of the day. About 1/4 of the life is spent at work. Some of the best friends are found at work, so I think the workplace should do their part for people to have a social life both at the workplace and after hours. Of course it does not fit everybody, so also that most social events are optional, is important, I think.

 

Lynne - I like the idea of framing the question in the right way. I think I saw similar idea in a guide for entry level job seekers to asking questions in an interview here: questionsforinterviewer.com/questi... (this guide is more general - not specifically targeting developers).

 

Unfortunately, there is very little information about most companies online. This is especially true for smaller companies/startups who are busy building their product and supporting their users/customers, and don't have a lot of time to develop content for their business. Then, the bigger the company/corporation, we tend to get a lot of marketing fluff. If you look at 50 career pages or 50 job descriptions, you'll notice they all look shockingly similar.

A company's core values don't tell us anything about what the day-to-day is actually like. The life of a salesperson and the life of an infrastructure engineer are really different, and "Grit" as a company core value probably has a different translation to each department and team.

Imagine getting married to someone w/o actually asking him/her questions. You can't just read about them on the internet! (I mean... I guess you can. 😜) In my opinion, it's much much better to interact w/ them 1-on-1 and gauge for yourself whether you're compatible.

 

While I don't tend to ask about things like "work/life balance" in those sort of formal words, I often ask the people interviewing me what their favourite part of the job is and if they have an example of a problem they found difficult to solve during day-to-day work. They usually aren't expecting to answer those sort of questions and if they struggle to come up with anything then it's a small red flag.

 

I always ask the interviewers are you pround and love what you are doing right now? Yes, it's a yes/no question, yet, it's quite hard to lie and you can easily see through their response. If even a HR person in the company can confidently answer this with enthusiasm, then you can almost be sure about their company culture.

 

This is an insightful article. I'm in the job hunting process as a junior dev and I think this will help me in deciding when the offers do come.

I really like what I have seen at keyvalues.com. I think its a refreshing way to search for jobs-- searching for companies that fit one's values.

Great work!

 

Hahahahahahahahahhahahahahahaah R u serious?Who the hell responds to email after 6?!?!

 

πŸ˜‚ Tons of people at tons of companies. If you feel this way, you should probably ask this question to make sure they're on the same page as you hahaha. Never assume that other people and other companies operate the same way you do! Because... not all surprises are good ones!

 

Lynne It's not about the company, it's about people.Everyone has a life, nobody wants a call at 6 to go to work at fix some bug,I would never hire sb who would do such thing,not because it's bad,but how r u gonna convince me that my company is more precious than you life? It's called being Hypocrite

 

And here is my list of questions - people seem to find it useful as well:

dev.to/ice_lenor/do-i-want-to-work...

 

Hi Lynne! The link to Culture queries seems to be broken

 

Hn. Works for me. πŸ€” Can you be more specific about the error you're getting? What browser are you using? On what device? (All the questions so I can look into this please!)

 

On a mac, latest chrome:


This site can’t provide a secure connection
www.keyvalues.com sent an invalid response.
ERR_SSL_PROTOCOL_ERROR

EDIT:

So looks like my company firewall categorized your website as "Alcohol & Tobacco" and blocked it :(

 

Just saw this and took a peek at Culture Queries. It looks very interesting. I was happy to see it had the manager perspective. I need to carve out some time to dig in!

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