what to ask someone who has the job you just got promoted to

This was originally published on January 12, 2010. And while the question is about what to ask someone who has the job you just got promoted to, these would also be good questions to ask someone who has the type of job you’d like to hold eventually.

A reader writes:

Do you have any ideas for questions to ask someone who already has the role that you just got promoted to?

Great question! Here are some that come to mind, and I hope others will join in with their own suggestions:

* What surprised you about the role that you didn’t know when you first started in it? What was different from what you had expected?

* What are the biggest challenges you face and why?

* How can you tell when you’re being successful? How do others measure your success?

* Is there any recent history in the department or job I should be aware of?

* What advice do you wish someone gave you when you first started?

* What advice do you have about working with other departments/people that this job interacts with a lot? What things should I be sensitive to?

* What are the most common requests that come your way?

* What are the most common problems you encounter, and how do you handle them?

* What were the big things you are trying to achieve this year?

* What things are worrying you?

* What’s the best approach to working with our manager? What does she like and dislike? What’s hardest about working with her? What’s the best thing about working with her? What surprised you about her?

What suggestions do other people have?

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. Allison (not AAM!)*

    I think you’ve covered all I’d be able to think of…the only thing left would be to be sure to keep the dialog open to getting additional answers as you move forward; there’s bound to be something they forgot to tell you.

  2. Persephone Mulberry*

    I am working on setting up some informational interviews and I am hijacking nearly all of these.

    I especially LOVE “what surprised you about this role that you didn’t know when you first started it?”

  3. BritCred*

    What Skill or Training would you have liked to help you start this role out on a better footing?
    (Minorly different to the ones above I know but there could be an adjacent training – say QS systems that isn’t technically part of the role but assists the person to know.)

    IT Question: What access rights (aka programs/directories) did you have to implement down the line which you would have benefitted from immediately?
    (Why do I say this? Getting a few months into a role and having to wait a week for a particular portal access to be assigned to me was a little annoying. The task rarely arose so wasn’t discovered straight away).

    Finance Question: What regular documents do you wish you’d known to keep together regularly in preparation for audits?
    (Again: Maintaining a regular system to have the audit file to hand rather than it being work on the side to go hunt those documents that no one thought to mention cuts down on time wasted.)

    A very personal one: How you do find it best to organise your emails and files to be on the ball at all times?
    (For my Credit Control job it was by client. However there were certain groups of clients that were linked so keeping those as one helped. And this could avoid a few days/weeks of getting your head round it . I know some people don’t organise their emails which might also help the new person have warning of the current system and get permission, if needed, and then take the time to reorganise to make it work for them before they are swamped.).

    Office organisation : When is it best to try to arrange meetings with X department/person/whoever.
    (Could result in a “well X only works mornings, Y will only ever not be in a tizzy after 3pm and Z is completely unable to do any kind of meetings mon – wed!. Or even “X department are always rushed off their feet the last/first week of the month. Give them their space.” Means that others don’t get annoyed with you constantly requesting “wrong” times and feeling like they are suffering because someone new has the role. Quite a few feathers get ruffled by the newbie not being up to speed and can make people feel a new person will struggle to do the job).

  4. Eva*

    While I love the questions, am I the only one who would be wary of asking them unless I knew the coworker to be truly excelling in the role and generally recognized for doing so? I’m thinking that a lot of people might get defensive if they have insecurities or doubts about their own performance, particularly if they don’t know how to answer some of the questions. For instance: “How can you tell when you’re being successful? How do others measure your success?” This is easy to ask of someone who’s known for meeting a high bar, but what if the person is just getting by, or is struggling with getting their boss or coworkers to understand the value of their contribution? Might these questions not inadvertently poke a stick in a sensitive area and start your relationship with this person off on the wrong foot?

  5. FX-ensis*

    Ask the person to give you a grounding in the role, its expectations, etc.

    I’d agree with Alison’s points, they seem well-structured (as always lol..)

  6. Maureen Coffey*

    “What’s the best approach to working with our manager?” – That actually may be one of the most important of all the above questions. There was a piece in Harvard Business review “decades ago” in “how to manage your boss” and one thing was to find out how he/she “ticks”. Beware though of one pitfall: Ask this question not immediately but after you have taken in your own first impressions. You run the risk of believing in quirks “the boss has” that actually are idiosyncratic to that other person’s behavior and he/she might react totally different to you.

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