In today’s tight employment market, it’s easy to get so focused on securing the next job that you lose sight of the big picture. But an employee/employer relationship is a two-way street. The employer does not want to have to go through an expensive and time consuming hiring process because good workers are disappointed, any more than you want to have to resign from a job that doesn’t meet your expectations. In the long run, a successful employer/employee relationship is a collaboration.
Furthermore, smart employers appreciate a job candidate with a long-term view and one who asks intelligent questions. Deftly and tactfully interviewing the interviewer can help separate you from the pack of applicants, and perhaps give you the leg up you need to get the offer. The bottom line:
1. Do your homework. Yes, everyone says do your homework. But few sites actually get into doing a proper job of due diligence. Do a bit of research on the principals of the company. Sometimes you will find one or more of the principals of a company, or even your direct supervisor, has a criminal record, such as a conviction or accusation of fraud or embezzlement. You should know this going in.
2. Delve into the financials. If the company is publicly traded, it may help to understand whether and how the company makes money. If the company is bleeding red ink, ask your prospective employer about his assessment of a path to profitability. In the long run, only a profitable company is going to be able to pay you very well. Money losing companies tend to drag employees down with them.
3. Look prepared. Have some specific questions you want to ask that are written down. That makes it look like you are thorough and you took the time to learn about the company. Your questions should be more than Wikipedia deep. It’s ok to put a little spin on the ball, but don’t put the manager on the spot.
4. Don’t just talk a job. Talk a career path. Ask about typical avenues for advancement in the company. Or ask where the supervisor sees the department going at the end of the quarter, year, or five years. If you can steer the conversation into how you can help them get there, you win.
5. Evaluation. Ask about how your performance will be evaluated, and by whom. This isn’t an idle chit-chat question – the intent is to deliberately guide the interview into concrete topics that help the interviewer imagine you already filling the position! Sometimes, talk about evaluation criteria can lead directly to discussion of compensation. This is always tricky, but if you can get to the compensation point without committing to a figure before the company does, you are in good shape. Use caution, though: If you commit to a figure too soon, the company could use that information against you. Don’t bring up salary before they do, and don’t get involved in a discussion of compensation before you have been able to build a perception of value in what you have to offer. The bottom line: Make them want you. THEN talk comp.
Remember, based on the information you gather, you may not even want the job. If the company is going down the tubes, of if the management has a less than stellar track record, and you can’t clear the air at the first interview, you may want to pass on the opportunity. This is valuable information right there.
If, after having performed the due diligence, you do want the job, then your object is to move the conversation towards the offer. If your conversation is very specific about career opportunities, the company’s plans for the department in the coming months, your job performance criteria and your supervisor, you are quickly getting details out of the way, so that the only thing left is to accept or decline an offer. The trick is to get there quickly, but not so quickly that you haven’t had a chance to build a perception of value in yourself.
In the end, job interviewing is exactly like sales: Identify what they want, confirm that you can deliver what they want, and make it easy for them to visualize you in that role. Understand that they must do the same thing, selling themselves and their opportunity to you.