what question do you wish you had asked before taking your current job?

What’s the one question you wish you had asked before accepting your current job?

Bonus points if you can phrase it in a way that would actually be reasonable to ask in an interview. (For example, you probably can’t ask, “Is the CEO an abusive tyrant who can’t keep an assistant longer than three months?” but you can ask, “How long did the last few people in this position stay, and why did they move on?”)

While we’re at it, here are some good questions to ask to help you figure out if a job is going to be the right fit for you:

  • What type of person works really well with you? What type of person doesn’t mesh as well with your management style?
  • Same question as above, but about culture: How would you describe the culture here? What type of people tend to really thrive, and what types don’t do as well?
  • What do you expect to be the toughest part of this position?
  • What does a successful first year / first six months in the role look like? (Or, how will you measure the success of the person in this position in the first year?)
  • Why have the last few people in the job moved on from it?
  • Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?

{ 244 comments… read them below }

  1. Lisa

    Do you plan on selling the company 2 months after I sign on?

    What are your long-term plans for the company? Do you see your self expanding to other markets?

    I never would have taken the job if it was going corporate. I like small businesses, I hate meetings and pointless processes. I would have stayed at my cushy job where I got 10% raises, and had 5 weeks off. Now even stuff I negotiated for like PTO is gone. They can change my job moving forward. So I guess I should find another one.

    1. Kat

      I’m in a somewhat similar situation where the company I joined eliminated a bunch of roles a month after I came on and a huge portion of that work landed on my lap. Without any kind of compensation adjustment. Having serious career regret.

    2. Sidra

      This kinda happened to me. I left a fortune 500 company largely because I hate corporate culture (impossible to get things done… Etc.) and my new company was sold within a year. They did not tell me during the interview process they were looking to sell, and it might have scared me off if they did.

      I still love my new job but I definitely don’t love the company that bought us. I am determined to stay for a long while, but worry that I’ll eventually go nuts from the ineffective bureaucracy. It’s only been a few months though, so the jury is still out on how much fresh hell the new org will bring ;)

    3. Sydney Bristow

      Sadly this is a question that often cannot be answered honestly for legal reasons. It would certainly be useful info though!

      1. Lisa

        I did ask the question though in the second form. It never occurred to me that were looking to sell after only 4 years. It didn’t seem possible. Feeling stifled.

    4. Iro

      I wish I had asked what their approach was to providing corrective feedback. It turns out my supervisor thinks “constructive criticism” = “sugar coating/lying.”

    5. Peter Liepmann

      Shows the value of a contract. (“Now even stuff I negotiated for like PTO is gone.” )

    6. The Starship Maxima

      I’d give my left arm to have heard this advice earlier. Well, actually, I need my left arm; and I had heard this earlier but I ignored it. It cost me dearly.

      Only recently, I went through this; but it wasn’t even another job. It was another department at the non-profit I already worked for. They wanted to hire me to fill a position and actually went to my boss to get permission. I let the ego-trip of having a department hire me away with a pay raise (that didn’t even justify the aggravation) keep me from asking questions.

      For my arrogance, I was fired 8 months into the new position, for reasons that to this day aren’t clear.

      Of course, the current economic climate encourages this sort of thing. When jobs are hard to get, you tend to take what you can get. And sadly, many non-profits are notorious for playing that card for what it’s worth. I learned my lesson, but I wish it hadn’t taken that debacle to get the message.

  2. Woodward

    What is your call volume like? What do really busy days look like?

    I didn’t find out until after starting that “busy days” = 10 customer calls. I came from an office where “busy days” = 140+ customer calls. A completely different level of volume for a receptionist.

    1. Mints

      Oh, good one. At my old job, the managers were always like “It’s soooo busy” “I have soooo many things to do today.” But me, in a support role, got very little to do.

    2. Mimmy

      Oohh I like that one too, especially for one job I had a few years ago as an Information & Referral specialist.

    1. Adam

      For mine: How often does you organization change?

      My department name changed 3 times in three years, with all the restructuring said name implies, and my direct manager once changed 3 times in one week…back to my original manager (thank God).

      1. Kali

        Do you work for my former company? We had four directors in four years with three different names.

      2. Mabel

        After the first year at my company, I realized that things (like policies, the work we did, who our clients were, etc.) were going to be ever-changing. So when I became the manager of the department, I made sure to mention this whenever I hired anyone because I figured it might be a deal-breaker for some people.

      3. Rat Racer

        Or mine. It reminds me of what they say about the weather in Northern California. If you don’t like it, just wait. (Or if you do like it, don’t get attached. The unfortunate corollary)

      4. oliviacw

        When I started at my current company (3.5 years ago), my manager spent some time with me detailing out the organizational structure for our division (and product responsibility, and so forth). At the end, she said “and if you don’t like it, it will eventually change.” True enough, about a year later there was a significant reorganization. And then a more minor one in our division a year and a half after that. And then a smaller one in my group just recently. It’s probably about time for another major one in another year.

    2. EvaR

      Would this work if what I’m worried about is organizations that don’t change processes or software or whatever when it’s not working, and just keep adding in more and more complex workarounds to prop up the process or software or policy that can’t do the thing they needed to do?

  3. GigglyPuff

    Will I be working on the entire project, or just that one area and nothing else?

    (basically negating the entire two reasons I took this job, possible supervisory experience with students and working on a different type of material than I previously had.)

  4. Anonaboss

    “How would you describe the office culture?”
    To cover up the real concern “so are the staff members as unprofessional as I’ve been told?” (Yes, yes they are.)

  5. the_scientist

    I wish I’d asked “what proportion of this individual’s time will be spent on each of the main duties?” because I took a job with “some admin work as required” and it turned into “90% admin work because there is nobody else here to fill that gap”.

  6. Kelly O

    Cynically, I want to now ask “how certain are you that this title and job description match what you are going to ask me to do once I start?” or “please show me your manual for company-specific software programs you use, and how much actual training will I receive?”

    Because in hindsight, a developing situation and asking about how quickly I can catch on to new software programs should have been a HUGE red flag…

    1. Nerd Girl

      “please show me your manual for company-specific software programs you use, and how much actual training will I receive?”

      This was going to be my question too!!!

    2. Oryx

      I’d ask the same but for an opposite reason (and also cynically). I am *way* over qualified for the work this position actually requires on a day to day basis.

  7. Annie O. Mouse

    “Can I see the rates for the health insurance?”
    Because it’s more than what I pay in rent, and though I work full time, I’m using Obamacare.
    Also, “How do you handle shifts when there’s a holiday?”
    Because I end up using my vacation days to “make up for” days when I have to work 6 days in a row because of a holiday.

    1. Heather

      Yeah, every new job I get has increasingly expensive health insurance. It’s a great question!

        1. BeenThere

          I think we need a whole series on how to evaluate benefits. My first dental insurance one the US only covered amalgam fillings… in 2012! Geez those two composite filling were mighty expensive with zero coverage.

    1. Sydney Bristow

      If the response is “there’s no such thing as a typical day here,” I’ve heard a helpful version of the question is to ask what the person in the position did yesterday or last week.

      1. De Minimis

        Good one, wish I’d heard of that sooner…I think every time I’ve asked that question I’ve gotten the “there is no typical day” response.

        1. Marcy

          But a lot of times that is true. There is no such thing as routine in my job and I tell candidates that because if that is what they are looking for, they won’t be happy. In my job, you come in to work in the morning thinking you are going to spend the day working on X, Y and Z and end up working on A, D and J. There are fires to put out almost everyday that take priority. Some people can’t handle shifting gears that way so I let them know, there is no typical day.

          1. EvaR

            Every time I’ve gotten that response, it’s been a vast overstatement. A lot of people seem to think that either this is an insult, or that saying “Well you will need to get (A, B, and C,) handled by the end of the each day, but first priority will be getting (X and Y) handled as soon as possible as they arise throughout the day, and when we run out of those, we tend to work on (K, L, and P) as they need to be done weekly/monthly.” is somehow too complicated.

        2. jesicka309

          See, there is no typical day would make me clap my hands with glee. Doing the same thing day in and day out would make me miserable.

          A better question might be “what kinds of work would a person in this role do in a typical week?” Then you might get more of the variety (some days are meeting days, other days you’ll be helping with project A, etc.)

      2. Mouse of Evil

        I just get more specific with that one. I’ve asked “What is a typical support request?” because there usually are a few things that get asked repeatedly in a tech-support environment, and it can be a good way to find out if you’re going to be following a script or actually doing some troubleshooting.

        “What’s the most unusual support request you’ve gotten?” is a good one too, and sometimes gives me a chance to talk about the time I got a support request to live-stream a video feed from a telescope, which was AWESOME. Although that has only actually happened with an interviewer who was particularly engaged, because we had a great rapport. Unfortunately, my rapport with four of the other SEVEN interviewers was not as great. :-(

  8. Stephanie

    My last job involved doing one overall task and being really good at it. There definitely weren’t lots of growth opportunities (the company structure was such that there would be a manager or two with a lot of specialists).

    I suppose I would have either asked “Why did people move on from this position?” (Less tactfully: “Do people get bored with this role?”) or “Can you explicitly describe the day-to-day duties of the role?”

  9. Kat

    Definitely “What are your future plans for the company and how will this role fit into them?” Nothing like joining a company and being somewhat blindsided by a structure change. Also “What is the scope of this role?” or some other iteration that would have given me a clue about the crazy workload I have suddenly found myself with.

  10. BRR

    Do you actually give raises?

    I was told when I started they reviewed everybody’s compensation annually. Well it really meant no raises ever. They at least gave you the option of one week’s salary or one week vacation as a bonus but I’d prefer the raise.

    1. KerryOwl

      Yes, agreed! What is a tactful way to ask this question? “Do you guys ever give raises? What about spot bonuses? What about holiday bonuses?” Because these are things I want to know about.

      1. Sheila

        I’d ask something like, “What’s the compensation strategy here? Is there a set schedule for salary increases (like cost of living increases, etc)?”

    2. Rebecca

      I plan to ask this. I received regular merit increases and cost of living increases where I worked, until the company was purchased by another company. Now, crickets are chirping. I wish I could tip off anyone who might interview for a position to ask this question, and tell them there are no raises, no matter what the PHB says.

  11. some1

    “How are large changes (such as acquiring thousands of accounts or mergers) to the org and the adjusted responsibilities/expectations communicated to employees?”

  12. Emily

    I would ask my future manager/supervisor “What kinds of tasks/projects do people in this department do on a daily basis? Weekly basis? Monthly basis?” That would give me a good idea of how involved and knowledgeable the manager is about his or her staff and their work. (I come from a technical field, where an answer to this question would likely be a list of protocols/techniques/other approaches to complex problem-solving, so I’m not sure how applicable this is to other fields of work.)

  13. Hedgehog

    What does your training process look like for new hires? (Or: what will happen after the person who’s supposed to be my manager and is responsible for all my training resigns the day that I start?)

    Does the staff reflect the population you serve? (Answer: Absolutely not).
    What is being done to address this? (Answer: Not much).

    1. Futz

      Oh, that second one. The past couple of jobs I’ve applied to have asked me what my experience is with diversity and diverse customers – next time I’m going to use something like that to turn it around on them. I feel like the places I’ve been have used that question as code for “We’re a bunch of white people “helping” all these minorities! Aren’t we so progressive? But secretly we actually hate them all and make fun of their accents and ignorance of US cultural norms behind their back.”

      So, yeah. Either “Does the staff reflect the population you serve?” or “I’ve told you about my experience with diversity – now tell me about YOURS.”

      1. CTO

        I think that it’s a common struggle for organizations (particularly social-service providers) to have staff who reflect their client base in terms of race, socioeconomic background, etc. But the best organizations are at least aware of this and willing to be candid about their challenges and efforts on this front.

        1. MilitantIntelligent

          You think it’s a common struggle for organisations to have staff who reflect their client base? Based on what, your lack of exposure to diversity? So to me it seems like you are saying there aren’t as many qualified people of colour to hire, to match customer demographics across the board. That is false. And speaking of social services, I believe the recipient demographics are not majority POC, at least in some states.

          1. CTO

            Whoa, you’re reading things into my comment that I absolutely did not say. In absolutely no way, shape, or form was I claiming that there are not qualified people of color. Nor am I making excuses for organizations who don’t have diverse staff. Also, please note that I was discussing diversity on other fronts, such as socioeconomic class, not just race. I’m offended that you chose to completely misinterpret my statements and accuse me of saying things I did not say.

            All I’m saying that that a lot of organizations do not do very well on this front. I made no claims whatsoever that that’s okay. But if an organization doesn’t have a diverse workforce, wouldn’t you rather have them be aware of and candid about diversity in their staff, rather than pretending that it’s not a problem when it is?

            In my many years of working in social services, I found that the staff demographics at many, though certainly not all, agencies did not match the demographics of the clients. That might be in age, religion, economic class, race, culture, immigrant status, sexual orientation, family status, you name it. Sometimes those factors don’t inhibit effective relationships with the community and clients, sometimes they do. And it’s not usually that the organization couldn’t find qualified people from those other communities if they really tried. It’s just that many of them don’t put many resources into building those cross-cultural relationships and intentionally recruiting in a broad array of ways. Instead, with their limited resources, they may only post the job on one niche job board. They might hire folks they already know, lessening the chance that they’ll find someone from a less-similar background. That’s all I’m saying.

            And yes, you’re correct about Caucasian folks being the majority of recipients of many, if not all, forms of assistance. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a racial disparity issue. There is.

    2. JMegan

      “Does your staff reflect the population you serve?”

      That’s such a great way to phrase it. Years ago, I went through the application process for an international NGO based in Europe. They made a huge point of asking me, several times, how I felt about working in a “culturally diverse” office.

      I have lived in Toronto for decades, and not only am I comfortable with diversity, but I assume that it’s going to be part of my life. I would find it rather odd to be working (or shopping, or living, etc) in a place where everyone had the same colour skin, cooked the same food, celebrated the same holidays, and spoke the same language. So I told the interview committee that I am perfectly happy working in a culturally diverse office.

      I should have been more specific. Because when I got there, it turned out that by “diverse,” they meant that they had employees from all over Western Europe, Australia, (English-speaking) North America, and (white, English-speaking) South Africa. I didn’t meet a single person whose first language was anything other than English, French, German, Spanish, or Italian. Everybody I worked with was white, middle class, and from the first world. Which is not to say that it’s wrong, necessarily, just that it wasn’t nearly as diverse as I was expecting from an organization with the word “International” in its name.

  14. Stephanie

    Oh, another one: “What are the real work hours?” Less cynically, er…perhaps “What are the expected hours? Are the hours fairly standard or dynamic based on workload?”

    I did have an interview where I was warned the hours weren’t 9 to 5 (repeatedly) and it was refreshing (in a weird way).

    1. Heather

      I asked “What are the hours people work” in my last interview. Everyone looked at each other and said, “Oooooo that’s a good question.” It was helpful to know their answer too because it set the expectations early on.

    2. CTO

      I always ask that question in some tactful way. At some places, “full time” is 35-40 hours and at some it’s 55-60 hours. I also want to know how often I’ll be working outside of standard 9-5 hours and, if there are really big events or busy periods, when they are. For instance, I was once told, “August is our busy month. No one takes vacation that month and we all work 60-80 hour weeks for part of it.” I really enjoy long summer weekends so that job was not for me.

      1. Carrie

        Yep, this is a great question. I am a teacher, and the worst part of this job is that it constantly comes home with me, and most other teachers I know. I am currently looking for a career change, and this is something I always ask.

      2. EvaR

        I’ve had the opposite problem a lot, where “part time” is 6-12 hours a week and I’m thinking more like 15-25. This is a great tip!

    3. Anonsie

      Oh I have a variation of this for when they say the hours are standard all the time: “What is the expectation when an unexpected issue fall outside those standard hours?”

    4. Al Lo

      I recently hired for a position that was very much not 9-5, and we stated as much repeatedly in our interviews. Not that weeks are always 40+ hours, but it might be 10-6 or 12-8 or 11-5 or Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, depending on the week and what’s going on.

      Well, despite being very, very clear about that from the start, our new hire of 6 weeks has just resigned because he can’t handle a non-9-5 (or earlier) schedule. He realized that he’s unhappy, his home life is difficult, his sleep and health patterns are disrupted, and he doesn’t think he can adjust enough to stay with the job. Frustrating!

      1. Liane

        Yes, it’s frustrating when someone leaves after you’ve invested time and money in bringing them on. However, many people think that they can do X schedule or X with a couple days Y &/or Z, then find out it is a problem.

  15. A Non

    Does anyone have advice on evaluating the honesty of the answers you get to these questions? Sorry to be a cynical grump, but I’m a cynical grump (and not a natural lie detector).

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you don’t get real information but just generic corporate-speak, that’s a red flag. If the person doesn’t seem to get why you’d be asking and why it’s an important issue, that can be a red flag.

      But yeah, some interviews will misrepresent things, so you also want to do some due diligence by talking to current and former employees too.

      1. Wren

        How do I arrange to talk to other employees? I’ve seen this advice before, I am not sure how I would go about it.

        1. Addiez

          If you don’t meet any peer level people during the interview process, ask to talk to one when you get an offer. If you do, ask that person if you can talk again after you’ve gotten your offer.

      2. Tarte

        So true.

        At my last job, the person doing the final interview misrepresented several things, either by outright lying (I later learned) or representing things one way and then changing her mind and changing the terms pretty soon after I started work.

        E.g., “Who would this [newly created] position report to?” Answer: Me (reality: every same-level person in the workplace thinks you report to them and will be very aggressively bossing and evaluating you for the duration of your time there); “Is there opportunity for growth/advancement?” Answer: Yes, definitely. You’re the first person hired for this new program, but the goal is to expand, and when we do, you could direct/run the program (reality: this had already been promised to someone who already worked there in a different capacity, and when the program expanded, that is who ran it); “Is there flexibility in terms of working from outside the actual office? (office was 45 minutes from my home and the job involved a lot of car travel) Answer: Yes, definitely. As long as you’re logging 40 hrs/week, you have total flexibility in terms of where and when you work.

        Also, the entire pay structure “changed” after I had been there a year, and all people hired subsequent to me were hired on a “fee for service” (i.e., Wal-Mart/pay only for hours billed/no benefits) basis.

        Total nightmare on all counts.

    2. PEBCAK

      Besides all the standard stuff about people lying (eye contact, detail, etc.), I think a good way is to try to follow up with “Can you give me an example?” in much the same way they’d do that to the interviewee.

      E.g. “We really prioritize work-life balance!” “Can you give me some examples of what that looks like?”

    3. some1

      If you aren’t really getting a clear answer to the question you asked can be a sign. Also pay close attention to the facial expression when you first ask a question, if they look momentarily flustered or worried they probably know the answer to your question isn’t good. A sudden change of tone or speech rhythm or not making eye contact can indicate someone who is not being 100% truthful.

    4. Jennifer

      I can’t come up with any questions I could have asked to have figured out how this job went, because so much of what I don’t like is hidden/below the belt/find out the hard way because it’s not stated openly and is whispered to you. Other than “so you say we don’t have to answer the phones any more?” which was a straight up LIE because the real answer to this is “we have to answer phones every time we are short-staffed, which is OCTOBER THROUGH MOST OF MAY.” Or “only in emergencies,” but there is always an emergency because we are short-staffed.

    5. Tris Prior

      I was going to ask the same thing. I’ve been flat-out lied to several times when asking questions in interviews about culture, schedule expectations, work/life balance things. I even asked to speak with employees who were in the same role as I’d be in – they lied too! They were that desperate to get more bodies in there to help cope with a crushing workload.

      It’s made me sort of cynical…

    6. LAI

      I had one interview where the answer to one of my questions was “well, it would be the responsibility of the person in this role to figure that out”. I took the job despite misgivings about that answer, and it turned out that the people doing the hiring had very little understanding of the daily responsibilities of the role.

    7. Beebs

      They might be prepared and will either spin, creatively answer, or flat out misrepresent the facts. However in my experience I have found that you will get a response that does not really answer your question. For example when I asked for managements style and philosophy to be described to me, I was explained the hierarchy and the sort of roles they take on. Not at all a reflection of how they manage or interact with employees.

    8. So Very Anonymous

      Glad someone brought up the possibility of misrepresentation. I thought I was asking the right questions about my current job, but there were definitely misrepresentations, and answers that should have been red flags. For example, when I asked the culture question, my current supervisor said, “*I* think we have a *good* culture here!” in the tone you would use to say “*I* think liver is *yummy*!” to a five-year-old. That worried me, but I had just graduated after going back to school full-time and really needed the job.

      The question I wish I’d known to ask, and which I’m still figuring out how to ask tactfully, is: “Do people here like to work collaboratively?” followed by “Can you give me several examples of collaborative projects, especially some that have crossed departments?” so that I know I’m not being given their one outlier example. I’m extroverted, and while I’ve noticed that in our hiring, quiet candidates are criticized for not having enough “personality,” most people where I work are extremely introverted and actively don’t want to talk with colleagues. Which is their style, and that’s fine, and I’ve carved out a couple of solid collaborative relationships, but it’s been an uphill battle, and I need to move on to someplace with a friendlier, more collaborative vibe.

      1. Just a Thought

        I think that goes back to “What is the corporate culture? Do people work collaboratively on projects or solo?”

  16. Future Analyst

    “What is the standard career trajectory for someone in this role? How long does the average person work as an assistant teapot maker before becoming a teapot maker, and how does his/her responsibilities change with the change in title?” I would never have taken a job knowing that I would be doing the exact same job year in and year out, and asking about change in responsibility would have helped me ascertain if the change in title actually means anything.

    1. Golden Yeti

      I would ask this question. I’ve been offered a promotion here before, but I would have to keep my old duties also until they could find someone new (dependent on the company’s available funds, of course), and then they would gradually transition this theoretical new person into my old role, etc. So it ends up being a rock and a hard place (either take the promotion and have twice the work for really no more money, or stay where you are and never move). Definitive transitions are important.

      1. Vera

        And then the new person is never actually hired. I have been going through this with my employer for the last 2 years and finally turned down the “promotion” – they were shocked.

    2. jesicka309

      YES. Execellent question. Some roles are designed to be only one-two year roles before you move into other areas (upward) and are replaced with other juniors, while others are looking for someone to fill that chair as long as possible as a specialist in that position.
      When I applied for my current role, I asked something along these lines, and was told that the company has a very flat structure, so jumping between my role and th nexy role up (my boss) would be impossible due to skill gaps. However, their plan for the role was for it to evolve with me – it would develop as I increased my knowledge, and would seek to move that role for entry level to something closer to where my boss was.
      Knowing that has kept me from feeling disstatisfied (not asking: why is no-one getting promoted?) as I know that everyone’s compensation & duties evolve with them, as oppposed to rigid title changes and promotions. Definitely a must ask!

  17. Heather

    I’d ask my boss, “What are some typical challenges someone in this role might handle day to day? What are some challenges or opportunities the department as a whole is dealing with right now? How do you communicate as a manger?”

    What I’d really be getting at is.. “Is this place dysfunctional? Do you have frequent, dramatic mood swings throughout the day? Do you talk nonstop and distract everyone around you?”

  18. Adam

    “In what year did your dreams die?”

    Kidding…mostly.

    Probably I’d ask something more like “What are your board of directors and high management like? What’s your confidence level in them?”

  19. Pickles

    Does this organization value success? What’s the general timeframe for decisionmaking?

    AKA, do your frequent reorganizations hide incompetency at performing basic mission tasks and/or the sheer inability to make a decision?

    1. CTO

      That might be a little too personal, but I do think it’s wise to ask about the stability of their funding. I was laid off from my last job after they didn’t disclose during hiring that the position was only funded for a year (by a grant). Now I try to ask some questions about if the role is grant-funded and if they see it as a long-term or time-limited position.

        1. CTO

          Really? Maybe I’m just too polite (Minnesotan here, so we’re known for that). I don’t mind asking about funding but I guess it’s never occurred to me to ask for an actual dollar figure of cash-on-hand (and of course, understanding the significance of that number takes some background information about the particular organization). I guess that if the interviewers are reticent about that information I wouldn’t want to work there anyway. I’ve really appreciated working places where there’s some transparency for the staff about funding and cash flow, even (especially) when the news isn’t so great.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Oh! You meant “how much in cash surplus do you have?” was too personal! I thought you were talking about asking about funding stability in general.

            I actually think you can ask about cash surplus too, although you’d have to lead into it through conversation — I do think it would come across a little oddly if you just asked it with no context.

            1. CTO

              Yeah, perhaps after a chat about general funding stability a good question would be, “I know that many nonprofits have struggled financially at one point or the other in recent years. Have you? How are you prepared to handle future hard financial times or crises?”

              I had a job once was I was hired shortly after a wage freeze was put in place. Fortunately they were able to lift it around the time I was eligible for a raise anyway, but it would’ve been nice to be aware of. The question might also give insight into what gets cut first in tough times: employee wages and benefits? Resources like training, facility upkeep, and supplies? Client services and programs?

      1. NortheastNonprofitDirector

        If interviewing with or applying to a nonprofit, you can also check out their most recent 990s for free on Guidestar, and get a sense not only of their financials but the compensation for the executives and the makeup of the board. All really good to know.

          1. Addiez

            Agreed! A lot of people wouldn’t be able to answer a question on how much cash they have on hand – I work in development and I couldn’t for my org.

    2. Cat

      I was once advised to ask (smaller/boutique) law firms whether there is any one client that would jeopardize the survival of the firm if it took its business elsewhere. I thought that was brilliant because it’s true of a lot of small firms and really does change the nature of the job (as well as its stability).

      1. (better than) Clara

        This is a good question to ask any professional service firm, actually. My company is doing gangbusters business right now, but 95% of our revenue is one client. If they go away/ when these projects are complete I’ll letting half of the company go.

        (Yes, we’re looking for other clients because that’s a freaky-scary situation.)

      2. Treena Kravm

        YES. My husband was laid off in 2011 because their one big client dropped them. Luckily he was the lead on the project, and they were finishing up the contract so he had something like 6-8 weeks notice. But for the rest of the staff? The client officially dropped them on Friday and 90% of the staff was gone within one week.

        Before all this, his entire life revolved around making this client happy. It felt like he worked for Client, not Employer most times.

  20. Nerd Girl

    * how is training handled? Am I being thrown into the position with no warning, forced to sit in a conference room while some blowhard reads from a manual, or is it somewhere in the middle?

    * when should i expect my training to take place? (at this point I’m nearly a year into the position and sort of stumbling through things due to training that is always scheduled “in two weeks, I promise!”

    * What are the restrictions for the generous PTO you offer? (because telling me that I am entitled to PTO and then telling me, after the fact, that I can’t use those days until I’ve been with the company for at least a year isn’t as generous as you’d have me think!)

    * Oh goodie, health and dental…do you cover orthodontia? Because it’s kind of a big deal to have dental that will cover part of the bill for my two kids who need braces. (Good news, I didn’t ask but they do!!!) **off topic here but to anyone who may need braces for a kid: if you and your partner have dental cover your kids (and selves) with BOTH policies. It works in your favor to pay for two dental policies for your family.

    1. Jennifer

      Hah, there were still things I haven’t been trained on until I had been in the job over a year.

    2. Robin

      Having two dental policies is great until they start fighting with each other over who is primary and who is secondary, and both refuse to pay until the other one goes first, and you’re getting lots of bills from your dentist that say “Payment not received.” And then you spend hours on the phone with each of them and the problem only gets resolved when you ultimately cancel one of them.

      Just sayin’

      1. Agile Phalanges

        Oh good–I’m not the only one who’s dealt with this?

        It took months and months of fighting between the two insurance companies to determine who was primary and who was secondary. I was lucky that the billing manager at the orthodontist’s office was completely understanding, and that while their practice was going without pay, they didn’t bill me a dime (because with the double coverage, we shouldn’t have had any out of pocket costs). Finally, the information came through and the billing got handled, and sure enough, we didn’t owe anything. Yay!

        Then I got a call one day from the orthodontist’s office that we had an outstanding amount of nearly $400, and did I want to pay with check or credit card? The old billing manager had retired, and the new one didn’t seem to have two neurons to rub together, nor did she want to deal with the insurance companies. She fully expected me to just fork over money for a bill I’d been told had been paid in full. She also wouldn’t provide me a reconciliation of what had been billed to whom, and what had been paid by whom, so I could figure out which insurance company to complain to (or if we really did owe out of pocket after all). She seemed absolutely flummoxed by this request–both why I would ask and how she would provide that. So I told her to call my son’s step mom (the one who had the other insurance on him).

        She called me a few times after that, always a few months apart, always without having reached out to my son’s step-mom. I’m not going to roll over and pay the bill without an explanation as to why I owe it, so I keep asking for documentation and keep not getting it. Haven’t heard from her in a while now…

  21. gem

    Specifically for my last job? How stable is this small start-up? (Not that I’d have got the truth but still).

    What is the balance of the roles? What do you see me spending most of my time on, ideally? (The answer would not have been what I wanted or expected).

    What is the company like socially? Are the team close knit and are there outside work friendships on teams or do they not see each other outside work/don’t socialise at all?

    What are your policies like? (My current job is one of those ‘we don’t have a hierarchy’ companies and the lack of documentation drives me spare).

    1. Maddy

      Oh my gosh lack of hierarchy and all decisions being made by committees with no leader are my biggest pet peeves at my job — no clue how to ask about that diplomatically though :(

      1. gem

        where committees are the employee who brought it up, the owner and the marketer sitting around and half shrugging at each other and half just agreeing on the first idea that sounds ok.

        I just love documentation, so everytime I see them do this I want to scream at them to write things down once in a while, for cripes sake.

        1. Maddy

          Ah, ours are committees with 1-2 reps from every department (whether they relate to the project or not), but nobody’s in charge, so unless everybody agrees on something it’s just an endless debate without resolution (just came back from one of those meetings actually). But we also have no documentation either — my department handles customer service and transactions and we have no operating manuals, or we do and they’re really just individual instruction sheets saved willy-nilly through our server. It all drives me batty!

          1. gem

            Oh gosh that sounds annoying and a waste of everyone’s time! I’m escaping at the end of the month, thankfully :)

  22. ProcReg

    Is the person/people training me keeping their jobs once they’re done?

    I joined a company that was starting a new shared service center in a new city (I being in the new city). The people training us were the ones losing their jobs once finished training. They were so awful, and those left in Old City still have personnel decisions.

    I just left. :) As the 30% turnover would suggest.

    1. Kelly L.

      Oh, man. Not current job but a previous one: “Will you–the person who is interviewing me, gushing over me, and going to bat for me–quit two days from now in a hugely unprofessional way, thus tainting me by association?” I don’t think I ever did quite live down being That Guy’s pick at that job. Though there were a lot of other problems too–anytime I talk about surprise gotcha performance reviews, it’s there.

  23. Sharon

    Sadly, all of the questions I wished I had asked in various jobs just couldn’t have been phrased nicely. Maybe someone here can word them for me.

    1. Are you (the hiring manager) insecure, will feel I am a threat and ignore my attempts to be helpful and find all opportunities to knock me over and get me to quit? (An early job where among many other things I got written up for whispering. That’s a good story, maybe I’ll tell it on Open Friday.)
    2. I see that the jobs at this company are defined to parallel the government job titles/rankings. Will there in fact be opportunities to be promoted from level 1 to level 6 or will I be taken advantage of for 9 years until I start pressing for promotion based on my consistently “exceeds expectations” performance reviews until I finally quit in frustration?
    3. What is the one area where the organization does exceedingly poorly at, and makes light of the fact that it fails so utterly at? (One company I worked at that never documented it’s internal software or projects and actually kind of gloated about it.)

    1. CTO

      I often ask companies something along the lines of #3. “What’s tough about working here? Where does Company see room for improvement?” I think their response will show you whether or not they take those problems seriously. Of course, that can’t guarantee that there aren’t problems the company either doesn’t see or just doesn’t care about at all.

    2. Anon Accountant

      Please do post on how you got written up for whispering. Please and thank you in advance.

  24. The Other Dawn

    I wish I’d asked the questions about management style, cultural fit and why the last few people moved on. I really did myself myself a disservice by not asking with this job. But I knew my manager from my former job (he was a vendor) and thought I knew him so didn’t ask those questions. Bad idea.

  25. C Average

    “You’ll have little feedback from and little day-to-day contact with your manager. Is that a setup that works for you?”
    “You’ll frequently need to take direction from people other than your manager, and it will be up to your instinct and your initiative to determine the importance of these people and their requests and to prioritize appropriately. Is this something you can do and want to do?”
    “Although you are being hired to write and are recognized as a good writer, you will not write a single sentence without potential input from other individuals and groups. Is this a manner of writing that interests you?”
    “Because you’ll do a lot of your day-to-day work in isolation, you’ll periodically need to demonstrate your productivity, output, and worth to the company to our senior leadership by trotting out a list of accomplishments, often on short notice. Is this something you’re willing to do?”
    “You’ll be exposed to consumer and stakeholder feedback that can be cruel, obscene, unfair, and is seldom actionable by you. Can you maintain morale in this environment?”
    “You will never be praised in this job. Do you need praise in order to stay engaged and motivated in your work?”
    “You will often be asked to produce a deliverable that ends up not being used. You’ll frequently devote time and effort to work product that never sees the light of day. Would this be difficult for you to accept?”

    1. CTO

      I’ve actually been asked some of those questions by interviewers, in almost that blunt of language!

      I actually had a hiring manager recently tell me almost exactly what your last one was: “You will often be asked to produce a deliverable that ends up not being used. You’ll frequently devote time and effort to work product that never sees the light of day. Would this be difficult for you to accept?”

      I really appreciated the heads-up because I can put a lot of my heart into projects when I find them interesting. She said it was something that some other people in the role had really struggled with.

      1. So Very Anonymous

        Or: “The only praise or feedback you will receive will be in the form of insincere flattery intended to persuade you to take on other peoples’ work because hey, you’re *awesome*!”

    2. A Nanny Mouse

      Number one for sure! LastJob had such shoddy daily supervision from upper management that I barely lasted six weeks before caving from the pressure. It doesn’t help when your training is six hours in a conference room being read to from the state standards for childcare and then you’re thrown headfirst in 40 kids to corral with privileged parents who think their kids are special snowflakes and said upper management doesn’t back up your decisions about how to run your site because “that’s now how I do things.” Oh, and all of management’s decisions are handed down through gossip from my subordinate, who seems to think that, because she’s 30 and I’m 22, she’s in charge.

      Clearly I have a few lingering scars from that one.

    3. Laurs

      All of these! I’m lucky that they were pretty up front about lots of it but they’re good to check, particularly in nonprofit writing jobs

    4. Tarte

      Exactly. If ONLY my last employer had been upfront in these ways.

      I would have still taken the job, because it was 2009 and my husband had been laid off and one of us needed to be employed. I was not in a position to negotiate salary (and in my world, that is seldom done) or have any of these things be dealbreakers. Now, they totally would be. All of these, wow.

  26. Still Trying To Find a Clever Name

    Depending on how the interview is going, I would ask training related questions:- What will my orientation look like, will it include formalised training or job shadowing? Is your training budget allocated per employee or department? Do you have a separate budget for developmental training vs required technical training?

  27. Ali

    I got my job from a promotion from within…a small step up the ladder. But I still wish I had asked how long it typically took to adjust, as other people in my role were also internal promotions. It took me about six months to feel comfortable, and not that that’s horrible, but I wish I’d known if it were normal or if others were up to speed faster. And since my role has a lot of protocol and whatnot, I would’ve asked about a system for keeping it altogether. I have an email folder for policies and procedures, but there’s always a lot of changes, so it’s hard to remember everything!

  28. BOMA

    “If someone in the department is underperforming, how do you handle that?”

    Ever since I started this job a year and a half ago, I’ve ended up picking up my coworker’s slack. My managers KNOW he’s underperforming, but haven’t effectively addressed it, and it’s starting to wear on me. If I had known when I started that this was going to happen, I might have acted differently.

  29. Biff

    “How does your organization handle promotions and lateral moves that turn out to be a poor fit?”

    What I really want to know is that there is a probation period where the person can step back into their old role, no harm no foul. My current organization is very bad about this. They promote and move people and then never address if they are a good fit in the new role, so we end up with people that are talented in one area, doing something else that they don’t like and don’t do well. It’s bad for everyone.

    “When you envision an ideal office space and staff, is the environment bright, youthful and energetic is it quieter and more experienced?”

    What I really want to know is does the boss prioritize young, cheap labor that will burn hot and then out to keep costs low, or do they prioritize the quality that comes with highly competent staff that will keep costs low in less direct ways (by not screwing up.)

    “I’m not familiar with this part of town/this city/this area. Can you tell me where you like to shop and what’s around here to do?”

    Even if you ARE familiar with the area, I think this can help you understand priorities. If the manager tells you there is a Walmart a couple blocks away and there are a number of good bars, then you might be able to form different expectations of the office environment than if they replied that there were two local bakeries, a cool organic market and that you should really check out the ballroom dancing classes just a few blocks from the office.

    1. CTO

      Eh, I don’t know if I’d personally glean much information from the last question. The manager might just not hang out in that area of town if they don’t live nearby. They might stop by the grocery store for milk on the way home and that’s it. That doesn’t necessarily tell you much about the office culture. I think the main thing it could tell you (besides the safety of the area, if that’s a concern) is whether or not the staff hangs out together in the area, like at happy hours or lunches. That’s definitely part of office culture that can matter to a lot of people.

    2. Critter

      ‘“When you envision an ideal office space and staff, is the environment bright, youthful and energetic is it quieter and more experienced?”

      What I really want to know is does the boss prioritize young, cheap labor that will burn hot and then out to keep costs low, or do they prioritize the quality that comes with highly competent staff that will keep costs low in less direct ways (by not screwing up.)’

      I’d rather hear that they’re interested in a balance of those things. While I get where you’re coming from and agree that I want to work with experienced, competent people, screening out employers with a more youthful culture is not necessarily the way to go. I’ve had an employer where all efforts to modernize and attract younger people to use our services were spearheaded exclusively by people over 45 who were not interested in talking to the peers of the people they were trying to attract about what might attract them, much less in changing their approach in a meaningful way. Lots of money and time were spent on unsuccessful projects as a result.

  30. Suzanne

    Not my current job, but my last, I would have asked “What exactly DO you mean by occasional overtime?” I assumed that meant an hour or two a month but in reality it was mor like 10-15 hours per week, including weekends. Had I known this, I would never have taken the job. Working weekends was never mentioned in the interview process. Ever.
    Fortunately, I was able to return to my previous position so all is well!

  31. Kacie

    Will you actually allow me to do the job you’re hiring me for? Or is it just a nice sounding title to make it look like you’re interested in progression and change when you’re really, really not?

    1. Pushy penguin

      +1 – this is exactly the question I wished I asked. Or maybe add something along the lines of – does your organization support the changes you want me to make or is it just something that is happening in your imagination?

    2. Anonie

      Wished I would have asked that too! Because the person I work with only wants to give me the crap work that she doesn’t want to do and then wants to micromanage me while I do it! :-(

      1. Liane

        Is there a way to ask these tactfully? They would be great questions then.
        The closest I can come is “Where is the push for change/progression coming from? Is it your personal initiative? Is it a directive from Above? Outside?”
        But I am not sure it would fit tactful. If there was an internet quiz for Which Fictional Employee Are You? I would get Engineer Alice from Dilbert.

  32. the gold digger

    Do you pay out unused vacation when people quit?

    Do you plan to completely remodel the office and get rid of all the private offices and the cubicles and go to open plan for everyone but the CEO?

    For this 401K contribution employer contribution that you show as a dollar amount on my offer letter: do you start paying that from day 1? Or do you wait until I have been working here a year at my abysmally small salary?

    You have a waiting period for your health insurance? For a salaried position? Really? Do you find this affects your recruiting?

    Is the CEO a total jerk who writes nasty emails to people telling them he can take away vacation days or reduce their pay?

    How do meetings work with the CEO? Are they scheduled in advance at a time other than lunch or are you called into the conference room at the last minute at noon, with no idea what the meeting is about and how long it will last?

    1. Iro

      I thought waiting periods for 401K/Health were standard even with Salary?

      My current employer gives health after 6 months and 401k aftera year; and my understanding was that this is generous for the area….

      1. Karowen

        Waiting periods didn’t sound out of the norm for me, but it never occurred to me that you could be forced to go 6 months without health insurance sounds! I was thinking more like 30 days – At my company it can be up to 60 days (it’s the first of the next month after you’ve been there for 30 days. So if you start on March 3, you have to wait until May 1 to get health insurance) and that seems like a lot. (FWIW, I’m in the Southeastern US)

      2. Kyrielle

        Mumblety-muck years ago my health coverage started on the first day of the job. (Policy was it started the first of the month, and my boss thoughtfully made my start date the first of the month even though they had to scramble a bit to be ready for me.)

        Now our new hires go through a 90-day wait before benefits kick in.

        6 months sounds -ridiculous-.

      3. CA Admin

        The only time I’ve seen waiting periods even close to that long was when I worked in retail. All my office jobs have had benefits start day 1.

        1. Windchime

          My current job made me wait 90 days to become active on insurance, and it was a salaried and exempt job. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate reimbursement for the COBRA that I had to purchase from my previous employer.

          1. Suzanne

            I had a job that made me wait a year before the 401k kicked in but no one bothered to tell me this. I had to go online to the intranet, dig around, and discover this for myself. Then, I had to beg to be allowed in because corporate didn’t send me the paperwork until the last day of the enrollment period. For-profit education at its finest.

        2. Liane

          I don’t think I have worked any place where benefits started Day 1, and I have had jobs ranging from lab tech to transcription editor to customer service. Most have been after a 90 day probationary period but 2 have had much longer waiting periods.
          At Current Job, part time employees have a 1 year waiting period & now it looks like they are restricting coverage for them in other ways, like only those who get more than X hours/wk.
          Even more glad I got FT status, although my hours have always been above X. Must call later this morning and make sure the status actually got changed.

  33. HR Manager

    Not my current job, as I love where I am right now, but my last job (where I got sick 4 days in and should have seen this as a sign) – which I’m sure none of them would have answered truthfully:

    – How many hours of work do you think on average is needed to be successful (and an honest manager should have said 70+ hr)?
    – What do you see as the strengths and weakness of the current leadership?
    – If an outside consultant were to come in and do a SWOT analysis of the HR department, what would they say?
    – What if this SWOT analysis were done by the employees?
    – Define and describe the culture of the company that the leaders would like to build, and tell me some of the things they are doing to get there.

  34. De Minimis

    It is tricky….a lot of the questions that really should be asked are ones that are probably ones that might hurt you if you ask them in an interview, or else are just not likely to be given a straight answer.

    Take advancement….it seems like it’s usually not good to ask too much about the potential for moving up from the job you’re trying to get, but I can say that I really wish I’d known that advancement really depends on the right person retiring at the right time, which seems to be the case at my job.

  35. Puddin

    May I see a copy of the employee handbook/benefits package/code of conduct [any ‘official’ employee general document will do]?
    -They say no
    -They say yes but never get it to you
    -You get a copy from 1978
    -You get a recent copy – booklet
    -You get a recent copy email or pdf
    -You get a recent copy intranet or web based
    -They do not know where it is, but there ‘for sure’ is one
    -other

    Each one of these answers can tell you something about the company policies, culture, and the hiring manager.

    1. AndersonDarling

      Or, they ask, “What is a code of conduct?”
      That goes along with my question… “Do you have a policy… on anything? Do you make policies, update them, and hold people accountable to them?”

    2. EarlGrey

      Great question – I was reading this thread and wondering how I would have asked “Is this great advancement/raise plan you’re showing me actually company policy, or is it your personal plan for our department that will vanish when you leave the company?” Something like “Can you show me what that looks like in the employee handbook?” or “Does the company have a formal policy for ___?” would have told me a lot.

  36. Random Reader

    How quickly do you deal with disciplinary issues/let people go? Right now, there are at least two people in my department that should have been let go months ago. But it just drags on, and on, and on…

  37. Brian

    “So many corporate and non profit leaders talk about accountability, but in practice it can look very different from org to org. Can you share some concrete examples of how accountability is integrated into daily operations?”

    1. A Non

      Ooh, that’s a good one. If the answer is “we don’t put security restrictions on our electronic file storage”, run.

  38. Kyrielle

    For an R&D position on a brand new product: “How do you envision this role changing as the product matures?”

    (It was similar enough to other products that they could have answered that. I viewed it as an “R&D” position but it was really a “product” position and once the product was released, the R&D was now a smaller subset. And there were other predictable changes. Even if the answer isn’t spot on, some of the guesses would help.)

    Although I’m actually pretty glad I didn’t know to ask. Fresh out of college, I would NOT have liked the reasonable answer. And I liked the job very much, even when it changed, because I had grown so much.

  39. Katie

    “Who is your longest standing team member? How long have they been here?”

    My prior job was at a small office, owned by a couple, with about a dozen employees. In my three years there, I saw enough turnover to become the third-most-senior employee (the most senior had been there 5 years). And most of the turnover was very mysterious and hush-hush. To this day I don’t have any confirmation about who was terminated and who quit. It was weird.

  40. TheTemp

    Um. At what point in the interview process would you ask questions like these (if you could have asked them during the process)? A lot of them strike me as questions that a candidate would ask if they the hiring team had communicated they were being considered, and not the first interview. Like “why are you asking me about raises we don’t even know if we want to hire you yet” *snaps fingers in z formation*

    1. Addiez

      Personally, my question would’ve been asked after I got my offer – for both of my last two jobs, I’ve met with my future boss after receiving the offer to go over the terms and ask questions I didn’t feel comfortable asking during the interview process.

  41. Amanda

    I wish I’d asked something about workload and how are people encouraged to take time off. It’s a small nonprofit, so everyone pitches in, but how do you know whether they really give people adequate time off or whether they just keep burning them out? I’m currently between the rock and hard place of my boss telling me to take time off to use up some of my (ballooning) hours, but having no realistic prospects or support in order to take more than a day at a time. So I guess it’s a cultural fit thing.

    Also agree 100% about the questions about nonprofit stability. SO SO SO important, especially in this environment.

    1. misspiggy

      You have to just take the time off and not worry about whether or not the work gets done – assuming your manager isn’t also threatening to fire you if it doesn’t get done. If the latter is the case, you have to look for another job.

  42. zecrefru

    Questions for the hiring manager:
    How would you describe your management style?
    Do all your people have a good handle on where they stand with you?
    How much do you anticipate growing the team over the next six to 12 months?

    For your peers:
    What does a bad day look like, how often do the occur, and when was the last one?
    How many hours do you tend to work each week?
    What’s the turnover been over the past year?
    How long have you worked here?
    What are the biggest challenges for new hires?

  43. Out the Door Next Week

    Looking back I’m not sure there are questions that I think would have offered more insight had I asked the managers I interviewed with at my current job. (Which I’m leaving next week after six months, partly because of a great opportunity that came along, but mostly because this place is run SO badly.)

    But I do think there are some better questions I could have asked when meeting with folks who were/are going to be my peers. Like:

    “What is your biggest frustration in your job?”

    “What are the things the company provides you that you think help you excel in your work? What are the things you need to do even better work?”

    “What is the turnover like?” (I think my peers would have been more forthcoming than the bosses.)

    And I think I could have been more blunt with them, like, “If I were your friend applying for this position, what advice would you give them? Warnings?”

    “Do you feel you’ve been able to grow in your role?”

    1. CollegeAdmin

      “If I were your friend applying for this position, what advice would you give them? Warnings?”

      I think it’s too blunt, but gosh I love that question!

    2. SherryD

      Those are great questions! Often the person doing the hiring is in a middle management role, and knowing what frustrates them about the organization could be insightful.

  44. Sharon

    Since I can’t come right out and ask “are you adequately staffed?”, I’d ask how they handle overtime– Is it a few hours once in a while, or will there be 12+ hour work days during your “busy season” (which is approximately 10 months long)? Is it truly voluntary, or will I be expected to put in loads of overtime in the interest of Being A Team Player?

    1. Jennifer

      Oh god, I wish I had known to ask about adequate staffing. Though yeah, they probably wouldn’t answer that.

  45. AnonyMouse

    Not for my job exactly, but a friend of mine would probably say to ask: Does this position report to/work closely with anyone other than the direct manager?
    The way her role is structured, she has a manager (let’s say Vice President of Teapots), but there’s also another woman who she kind of reports to (let’s say Head of Chocolate Procurement). The other person actually has the same direct manager but is much more senior than my friend, and since they both do a lot of chocolate procurement work, she gives her lots of tasks in addition to what the VP of Teapots assigns. The workload is fine and everyone basically gets along, but unfortunately there’s been some confusion about who’s responsible for what and what’s getting done when, because she essentially has two managers – one official and one unofficial.

    And a big one (I think, anyway): What are the opportunities for growth/development in this role?
    It’s hard to get an honest answer on this, but I’ve been in a situation before where I was told I’d be taking on much more responsibility for XYZ and stepping back from ABC etc…and it never happened because the organisation didn’t grow the way they expected it to. Again, it’s hard to really feel this one out, but I’d try anyway if it’s important to you.

  46. Iro

    “What is your approach to providing corrective feedback?”

    My current supervisor thinks constructive feedback = sugar coating and thus doesn’t believe in it.

    Also sorry for repost but I accidently replied to an unrelated question and I thought this one was imporatant. :)

  47. Golden Yeti

    Just wanted to say this is *awesome*, Alison. Thanks for posting this question, and thanks everyone for contributing your feedback. I’ll be bookmarking this post for future reference.

    One question I would have asked/will ask in the future is, “How does this company value its employees?”

    If all the company offers employees is a vague possibility of advancement, a standard benefits package, a holiday meal, and an occasional “good job,” you know the company probably doesn’t really feel compelled to be considerate of their staff and what they might need/appreciate.

    1. Kyrielle

      Yeah, but again, asking for examples is good.

      We went through a period – fortunately now in the past – where management could have honestly said that in addition to everything else, we had a process whereby employees performing above and beyond the scope of their job could be nominated by peers or their manager for extra rewards, up to and including $250.

      …but they wouldn’t mention that except for the $250 – only available if you were nominated for spending a weekend away from home, outside of normal scheduling, for an emergency at a client site – most of it was crap. I got a free sauce crockpot once, and a standalone spell checker. There was some costume jewelry I could have asked for, which I would have loved when I was 12. It was like the worst cheap gift catalog ever.

      (I should add, I got the crockpot for spending an entire weekend at the office, something like 25 hours in two days, sorting out a complete disaster at a client site. Because I didn’t physically travel to the client site, I wasn’t eligible for the $250, which was intended as a consolation prize to take families out to dinner and say ‘sorry’ for not having been there while away. Not an assumption – the explicit explanation given in the listing, and why it was denied when my manager asked for it for me for that weekend .Never mind that I hadn’t been home except to fall asleep….)

  48. voluptuousfire

    My last job:

    1. What would be some of the KPI or metrics used to measure the performance of someone in this role?
    2. What are the expectations for someone in this role?
    3. Are there any methods or processes in place to handle incoming leads? Can you explain them?
    4. Please describe your method(s) of coaching employees.

    In my last role, expectations were murky at best and any metrics or KPIs to measure our performance either weren’t in place or they just couldn’t be bothered to tell us what they were. Either way, the team just did our work and we never got true feedback about how we were performing or where our weak spots were. Management was just getting their sea legs and appeared to think some of our work was intuitive, which wasn’t necessarily the case.

    Ooh, that’s a good question to ask for the open thread on Friday.

  49. Mimmy

    This is for the last proper job I had:

    -What is the training like / Is there any training? I was hired to provide information & referral by phone, probably because of a previous internship I’d done. I’ll admit that I had some misgivings and wasn’t 100% sure I could do this, but I ignored all of that. So, when my 2+ weeks of training ended and they said I’d start taking calls on such-and-such date, I said, “Sure”. I thought two weeks was plenty! Had I asked about training in the interview, I would’ve probably discovered that the training was primarily self-paced and that there wouldn’t be any shadowing of the other specialist or any shadowing of me (probably due to confidentiality concerns).

    -How much am I expected to know right away? At the end of the probationary period?
    I was allllllllways asking questions and checking that I provided the correct information. I honestly had no idea that 200 calls would be about 200 different issues. I’m really good with attention to detail, but I kept pushing myself to absorb it all.

  50. Addiez

    I know you recently had layoffs – do you think you cut deeply enough?

    I was encouraged to ask this question but was too nervous to do so. Three weeks after I started, there was a second round. My now-boss told me he didn’t give me a heads up (even though I asked all the questions around it) because he knew I’d be safe. I wish I’d known though.

  51. Ribbit

    Can’t ask, “Are performance reviews based on a ridiculous bell curve so that even if 7 people (out of 80) in the department are outstanding, only 2 can be rated as exceeds expectations?”*

    Can ask, “What are the performance reviews like and what do higher performers look like?”

    *There’s no better way to kill morale than to make people feel like their hard work isn’t appreciated and that their efforts amounted to “average” (or “met expectations”), which is what everyone normally gets. For some people, just getting the acknowledgement is enough

    Interesting note, a little under a year ago, Microsoft had an interesting policy change to get rid of ranking systems and the curve because of the “cannabalistic” results it caused : http://www.theverge.com/2013/11/12/5094864/microsoft-kills-stack-ranking-internal-structure

  52. VictoriaHR

    I wish I’d asked about the company culture. But I worked here 6-7 years ago and assumed it would be the same. It isn’t. Before, it was very touchy-feely and if you made a mistake or got into an argument, they expected you to go talk it out with the other person, apologize if need be, etc. But now everyone is so busy and no one wants someone coming up to their desk to apologize for something. I did that last week and the person felt confronted. I wish I’d known about the culture change because I feel terrible about it. But c’est la vie.

    1. AB Normal

      I’m not sure asking about the culture will help you avoid this type of mistake, though.
      I can’t see they answer this type a question with, “Oh, about the culture, everybody here is very busy, so if you make a mistake or get into an argument, make sure you don’t go to them to apologize, because the person will feel confronted.”

      ;-)

  53. Marin

    What kind of decisions would the person in this role make? Can you give some examples? (good for assessing the true level of the job and the management style)

  54. AndersonDarling

    To the HR rep: “Do you track turnover? What are your current and past retention rates? What do you do to retain employees?”
    If you get a blank stare, then you know you will be fending for yourself in that company.

  55. Cajun2core

    How serious are you that the person I will be working for “Thinks he is God and reminds me of John McEnroe?”
    Answer: Very.

    Do you believe in training or just expecting your assistant to learn on the job and be clairvoyant?
    Answer: I believe in throwing people into the fire and my assistant must be clairvoyant.

    1. The Bookworm

      “How serious are you that the person I will be working for “Thinks he is God and reminds me of John McEnroe?”
      Answer: Very. ”

      That sounds like an interesting story – I hope you expound on it at some point.

      1. Cajun2core

        These are true statements but fudged a little for time. Here is how the conversation really went.
        I was being interviewed by two people. A faculty member (Dr. D) and the senior secretary in the department (Ms. S). I would report to both of them directly depending upon the situation. The interview finished and we are walking out of Dr. D’s office. Ms. S said something to Dr. D which I did not catch and the conversation went like this:

        Dr. D to Ms. S: I thought you thought I was God.
        Ms. S to Dr. D: No. I think you are John McEnroe. *You* think you are God. (emphasis original)

        Dr. D is a narcissistic diva (in this case diva refers to a male) with a Napoleon complex who is in denial about his hair loss.

        Luckily, Dr. D has left the department and I now report directly to Ms. S and my job is much better now.

  56. Peter Liepmann

    The problem with asking someone to evaluate their, or their company’s performance or ability is that the VERY SAME abilities you need to evaluate performance are the ones required for that performance.
    Ditto culture or anything else. So you’re better off making sure you get an unchaperoned visit with current employees than relying on what they tell you.
    John Cleese on not knowing you don’t know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvVPdyYeaQU

  57. A. D. Kay

    Do employees get cubicles, or will you jam four people in a tiny space so my coworkers keep bumping their chairs together and visitors block me from my chair when they visit with the team lead?

      1. Stephanie

        I find shared offices worse than cubicles. At you have your own space in a cube.

        Also, open plans or any plan where you don’t have an actual desk (we ran out of office space at OldJob and someone just had a table in the corner and others were in a conference room).

  58. Kat M

    I wish I’d asked about how they were handling the transition after being acquired two years ago by Great Company I Used To Work For In Another State. I naively assumed they ran smoothly and were holding people to the same high standards I was accustomed to, but with some shrewd questioning I might have known I was walking into a vat of whining and pushback that was hemorrhaging staff.

    It got better. It really did! And it’s been a great opportunity for me to use my institutional knowledge to really shine in a normally underwhelming role. But the first two months I went home every day wondering if I should quit. :P

  59. Burned Out Manager

    I really regret not asking more questions while interviewing for my current position. Several people tried to warn me that the company was dysfunctional, but I was unemployed and thought I could change things. I’m currently interviewing for other jobs. Here are two big things that I wish I had asked:

    1. We’ve talked about some great ways to improve your services. What resources will you provide to make that a reality? Follow up – specific examples + is the money set aside right now for technical support and additional staff?

    I’ve worked 60+ hours a week for nearly two years and made very little progress because they expect me to do the work of 3-4 people. There was no plan beyond hiring me.

    2. Your website are very outdated. Are there plans to redesign your site? If yes – Where are you in that process? Who is leading the redesign? Why haven’t you upgraded your site already?

    I am now convinced that websites really do matter. I won’t ever apply for a job again with another company that doesn’t have a decent website. If the company doesn’t care about their online presence, then management probably doesn’t care about investing in other internal things that make it possible for you to do your job well.

  60. Sam Fujiyama

    What is your policy on providing references for former employees (or current employees who are leaving)?

    I need to relocate out of state but my employer (6000+ employee nonprofit) has a strict policy against providing references and only allows the confirmation of dates worked. And very few people ever leave so I don’t have a former manager who is now somewhere else who could provide a reference for me. So despite receiving an “extraordinary” rating on my last two evaluations, I am struggling to obtain any references since this is my first job out of school.

    1. J.B.

      Give your manager anyway and let the person you are interviewing know about the company policy. Maybe also give a high level colleague who is not your manager. Alison observes that most managers ignore the dictums, if not at least you’ve provided an explanation.

  61. Loquaciousaych

    I wish I had asked three questions (and I just started a month ago)

    1- (to my manager) : Are you a crazy contradictory person who can’t give a straight answer? (I guess I could have asked “How do I best communicate with you”)

    2- to anyone in the interview process : Has anyone done this job at this location before? (they don’t have any idea how to make it physically possible)

    3- again, to anyone in the process: what are your processes like? (ie: do you KNOW you are 20-30 years behind the times?)

  62. Audiophile

    Pretty much all of the above. If I had asked any of those questions, I probably wouldn’t have taken the job. It only lasted for about a month but it was eye opening to say the least.

  63. Lalla

    * What measures are in place to ensure effective and timely communication across the company? (This after an experience working for a company where hardly anybody knew what was happening/what changes were occurring until they were actually already being affected by them.)

  64. littlemoose

    What is the potential for or typical pattern of advancement in this position?
    I love so many parts of my job and don’t really have any plans to leave, for professional and personal reasons. But despite being very good at my Teapot Maker Job (have gotten awards and tons of positive feedback, etc.), there is no way they’ll promote me to Senior Teapot Maker anytime soon. My boss would like to, but the organization has very low turnover and there just aren’t any openings. There might be some management openings, but that would be a huge change in job duties and a loss of some current perks like working from home. Overall I am happy here and do still get some challenges work-wise, but information about the rigidity of any promotion potential would have been useful. (Of course the economy was so terrible and I had been unemployed for so long that I would have taken this job regardless, but let’s imagine this is a scenario with more opportunities for the job-seeker.)

  65. jesicka309

    What kinds of training/development programs do you have in place for employees?

    I love my job, and I may have asked this, but it wlould have made me want my role more knowing the formal and informal opportunities the company has to offer. It’s particularly useful if previous lines of questioning have uncovered a low tunrover/promotion rate, as if ytou can’t be promoted, at least you’ll know if you can get the training you need to get you there/keep you mentally stimulated.

  66. S from CO

    What type of training do you provide for new employees?
    Do you have a good work/life balance?
    What is the most challenging part of this job?

  67. Employee of Shady Boss

    There’s probably no way to ask this but I’d have loved to have known before accepting my job that my boss engaged in shady business practices. It would’ve kept me and several others from accepting our job offers.

  68. Ash (the other one!)

    Not this job, but the job before, I wish I asked how many people had resigned in the past year, or something to that effect. The organization has a toxic culture and has a mass exodus every 1.5 years (about the length of my tenure there)… I also wish I had asked for more specifics on what they wanted my job to be and who my supervisor would be. I was led to believe one thing (that I’d be the manager of my own division) to actually be under a different division, which made no sense at all…That one is a basic one though, but you live, you learn.

  69. hannah

    What is the office environment like?
    The real question is “Will my office mate spend most of her time on the floor crying?” Of course, I doubt they would answer truthfully. The truthful answer would be “Yes, and when she is not on the floor crying, she is telling you about the vagina cream she needs. Often, vagina cream comments come when there are office guests.”

  70. WorkerBee

    “Are there any idiots working here who claim they’re sick, forcing you to come in on one of your few precious days off, and then blithely inform you that they’re not sick, they just want to go home?”

  71. Anon Accountant

    Do you stand behind your employees or will you throw them under the bus?

    When they ask you to step in for assistance with a client will you leave them out to hang in the wind or will you assist them? Or offer some guidance to help them navigate through the issue they’re experiencing?

  72. anon718

    Not this job, but my last: “exactly what do you mean by ‘some phone calls with the public’, and under what circumstances do people call this office”? Because my data entry position ended up being around 40% phones, and mostly with people who were pissed off about a certain problem. (for anonymity I won’t go into details.)

  73. Rvamarketer

    “How is your team perceived?” Simple question to peers responded with shockingly sexist statements “He calls us his Angels.” Run.

    1. Soharaz

      My manager refers to my team (three women, all married, two with kids) as ‘girls’…I hate it.

      1. Karowen

        I had a co-worker do this to me and my co-worker/friend. The kicker? The guy was in his early 40s at the oldest and, though I’m younger, my co-worker is in her mid-50s. This was probably 6 months ago and I’m still mad at him for thinking that that was an okay thing to do.

  74. AUB

    I’d ask: “as a leader, does your style excel best under pressure or when there is ample timeframe situations?” Id ask because after my last leader – who waited until the last minute to do everything and preferred putting out fires to anticipating them (often causing others to put in unpaid overtime hours as result) – is a danger to your work-life health. Any person who takes valid qualities such as spontanity, ability to exhibit pressure under fire, and big picture thinking and perverts the meaning of the positive-sense of these skills to cover over their general unpreparedness, laziness, and disrespect of the staff reporting to them is a huge red flag for me. The answer I look for it that they strive to prepare and plan ahead if at all possible.

  75. Nervous Accountant

    How likely are you to lose the lawsuit and thus lay off 1/3rd of your staff?

    or, how do you treat seasonal temps? like tissues?

    The company I worked for was in the middle of a lawsuit, and had a few bad client reviews. (ok a few is an understatement). After I got laid off I saw the horrific employee reviews on glassdoor.

    FWIW, the reason I took the job was because it’d be a big step up for me in terms of experience and pay (guess I was at hte bottom of the barrell?) and I really did enjoy working with everyone. Managers and coworkers were a great bunch of people and I’ll miss them the most. I’d go back there in a heartbeat, since my only job after that has been with a psychotic verbally abusive guy who doesn’t give a sh*t about paying his employees on time.

  76. Soharaz

    I wish I had asked how my team would be structured. I am the only full time person on a team of three. It’s not a deal breaker, but it would have been nice to know I’d be on my own two days a week before I started.

  77. victoria

    Before I took a call center stop gap job, I wish I asked ‘what is your policy on abusive customers’ because I could have saved myself from a job that expected employees to take unreasonable levels of abuse and then felt trapped there because it took longer than expected to find another job.

  78. Kathlynn

    At the time of the interview I was under the impression that I needed to give my employer at least 12 hours notice before calling in sick (I worked at 5am, and was told by a coworker that I had to call before management when home at 4:30). So, I asked about how they handled people calling in sick, though this might not have been at the right stage. (I later found out that, at least under current management I didn’t need to give more then the company policy’s 4 hours.)

    I’m not sure whether I’d ask the question again. Though, I would certainly ask about it before accepting a job offer (because, even though I phone in sick maybe once a year, it can tell one about the culture of the place).

    How will I know if you do not plan on keeping me past the summer? I was hired for the summer (cashier, first job), with the possibility for the employment to continue. After the summer they moved me to on-call, (probably only because my mom racked my charge account higher then I wanted her to). I couldn’t make one shift (my mother refused to take me to work), and poof they were told not to call me. (they also didn’t pay me the severance I was owed, but since the other cashiers didn’t charge me for my hot-chocolate for 6 months I’m not complaining).

    I’d love a question that would slip past managers who back stab their employees, to find out how they treat them if they do something the manager doesn’t like (like get a second job, request scheduled changed due to life changes. OR give two weeks notice, most people I work with agree, they are not giving two weeks notice, even if the store is still super short staffed)

  79. nyxalinth

    I had a job for a pet insurance company back in 2011. I got fired after training, because I couldn’t pass the exam. Not for lack of trying and studying, mind: my learning style and the training clashed.

    So I wish I would have asked, “I’m a hands on learner who learns best through time and repetition when the subject is more complex/wholly new to me. Will this be an issue?” Most call center jobs I had had only used testing to see where our strengths and weaknesses were, because they knew and understood that when we were on the floor, we would forget what we learned somewhat and would need to ask questions and look things up. Not this one. They expected you to know stuff as well as anyone who’d been there for ages, while still in training. The result was my classmates and I had to cram for the exams, especially since we had a week and a half to learn stuff that could realistically take three or four weeks to learn. I don’t cram well, I suppose!

  80. Laurs

    I wish I’d thought to ask about COL increases and incremental pay rises – coming from a public sector background of annual incremental increases meant I didn’t worry too much about COL however the nonprofit world tends to have very low COL increases (think 1% if you’re lucky) and it’s very unclear how you move to the next increment except through long service….

  81. Spice Caramel

    “How do you manage projects?”

    (In terms of software, collaboration and who oversees things)

  82. Contessa

    Who would be supervising me? Will I have a supervisor? What resources are available for new associates? Are there annual or other routine performance reviews?

    (Accurate answers would have been, “No one,” “Only if you screw up and then only for that one afternoon,” “Nothing in this department,” and “No.” I would have taken the job anyway because I needed the money, but it may have prevented a nervous breakdown if I knew I would have to seek out my own supervisor/mentor)

  83. phillist

    Not a job I ended up taking (because the interviewers didn’t just send up red flags, they lit NOPE-flares and waved them around), but I wish I had asked some version of:

    “Are you aware of your reputation in your industry and in the community you serve, and how do you feel about/combat that?”

    I was initially giving them the benefit of the doubt, because they work with a notoriously intractable client base, but after their behavior throughout my interview process, it was clear that their reputation was well-deserved. I’m still curious if they’re aware just how poorly they are viewed by both their clients and professionals in their industry; my guess is: yes, and they don’t really care and/or have a million excuses as to why that is.

  84. KC

    I think I would have probed into the work/life balance question more deeply. They warned me that it wouldn’t be 9-5 all the time, as when you’re in development and project work, there are times when you’ve got to crunch. But I was lead to believe that was an occasional thing. I haven’t worked a “regular” work week since I started; and it’s not something I would have willingly signed up for had I known.

  85. A. D. Kay

    How is your department’s relationship with your software vendor, contractors, and upper management? Oh–so you are antagonistic with all of them and any one of them will throw us under the bus at any given moment? Good to know.

  86. Critter

    “What level of authority will I have on this project?”

    Less because it would have changed my decision to accept than because I spent months trying to figure out the answer to this question. Still not always sure and suspect my manager does not know, either.

    “How much time will you devote on a weekly basis to communicating with me about the project?” and/or “What level of involvement do you have in the projects of the people you manage?”, though I’m not sure I would have got a straight answer.

    My current manager wants to control absolutely everything even though they’re constantly overwhelmed by their non-managerial duties and never has time to communicate with the people they supervise. I managed to establish semi-regular communication so I can function (I work mostly independently anyway), but the combination of micromanaging and absenteeism has made life difficult for some of my coworkers with projects in which manager is (or wants to be) more directly involved. In the interview I did ask about management style and was told “hands-off,” which is true only after a fashion.

    What kills me is that this person is awesome at the non-managerial duties. I’ve lost my anger since coming to recognize that I’m simply dealing with someone who’s ended up with duties that they’re not good at, but now it just makes me sad because this person is also very insecure and high-stress and reacts badly to disagreement and criticism. I can deal with this for now because I won’t be here forever, but I’m hoping the next job is more permanent and need to screen employers much better next time.

  87. Treece

    “Can you give me specifics on what the VP (I interviewed with) is referring to when he told you to make sure I really want this job? Is he concerned with my fit or is there something in particular about the job he fears I may not like?”

    Turns out the personality/egos of those I am working with leave a lot to be desired. Guess he couldn’t say that directly. Then he left our division getting himself out of the mix. Smart guy.

  88. Jill

    Question 1: How would you describe the management culture? (As opposed to the general office culture). Job #1 was one where the boss gave me an incredible amount of freedom and trusted me to “just run with it”. New Job requires every little thing to go up my entire chain of command and back down again to me before I can act. It’s maddening.

    Question 2: My position was newly created & never held before. I wish I’d’ve asked “What specific projects will I be working on in the first year”. If I’d’ve asked that, I probably would have discovered that they really had no clear objectives for the position. Eight years later and I’m still working on “filling in” type of work and doing nothing remotely close to what’s on my official job description.

  89. Wilton Businessman

    Does the owner have psychotic outbursts because you spelled Wednesday with a small w?

  90. ECH

    Sort of a tangent, but I had a favorite intern I couldn’t hire because we didn’t have an opening. He finally (after months of unemployment) located a job he was really looking forward to, but now dislikes it because of the egotistic and angry personality of his managers. In our recent correspondence, he said his predecessor warned him it was a toxic workplace but he didn’t believe it. A word to the wise …

  91. Jane

    “Can I have a tour of the workspace?”. I was only shown the public areas and assumed there were additional staff offices (the industry norm). Turned out that we were expected to do all work in the public areas, next to the students.

    Key point – don’t assume the industry norm is your potential new employer’s norm. Make sure you ask about things rather than just assuming!

  92. Jazzy Red

    Are you going to move the guy who I interviewed with, and who is going to be my boss, to a different job and hire someone new to be my boss?

    I mean, I took the job because I was sure I could work well with this guy, and when I reported for my first day of work, I was introduced to someone else who they just hired and told he would be my boss. I wouldn’t have accepted the job if he had interviewed me. (It was a long two years working for him, but I did end up with the first guy eventually.)

  93. Professional Sweater Folder

    I’ve been working the same sales associate at a retail store position for almost two years and I have a few questions I wished I would have asked.

    Does the company have a high turnover rate, and how will that affect my position?
    (A few months into the job the manager left, and we went through a period of uncertainty for almost a year before having a permanent manager. Not to mention the grab bag of characters I’ve seen come and go.)

    Will the fact that you’re hiring me so close to Christmas conflict with my training?
    (I was hired a week before Christmas Eve, and training was all over the place. I was even put on till on my first day)

    Who could I turn to in upper management as an ally if I ran into problems with the store level management?
    (I almost caught our acting manager stealing (an offense she would later be fired for among other things) and she began a tirade to get me fired. She literally had me begging and screaming hysterically at the person who is the step below District Manager to keep my job a few weeks after I bought a new house. Keep in mind, I had dropped out of university and had less than a year of work experience, so I literally had no options. It was after that that upper management realized something was going on with our acting manager, and thankfully they gave me a second shot.)

    How and when would one express interest in and pursue management opportunities?
    (I only found out a few months back that I actually had to officially tell my boss I would be interested, despite frequently saying I wanted to level up in the company. Because clearly I want to stay at this fabulous position of no authority for the rest of my life. After two years I am just starting to get some training to level up, though it’s really uncertain as people keep saying they’re going to leave, and then change their mind.)

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