Last Updated: Aug 31, 2016
There are loads of books and blogs written on mastering the job interview. Candidates are coached on what to wear, how to balance humility with confidence, and even what body language to display. Above all, there’s an emphasis on how to answer common interview questions. And while that’s important, applicants are rarely coached to ask questions of their potential employers.
In addition to displaying your genuine interest in the company through questions like “Where do you see the company in five years?” I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to ask your interviewer questions about your future too. Trust me, they will appreciate your vetting them. And you owe it to yourself to determine to the best of your ability if the job really is the right (preferably long-term) fit for you. Furthermore, asking thoughtful questions will alert your interviewer that you’re motivated and self-aware, two desirable traits in new hires.
I sat down with Laura Johnson, Project Manager at Trepoint, an Inc. 5000 company, for questions interviewees can ask to learn more about their future at a given company. Johnson suggests that employees who are likely to stick around don’t just ask about pay and benefits. They ask these four questions:
1. Is there an opportunity for me to grow here?
The #1 reason why young people leave their jobs? It’s not an inherent flakiness like popular culture might have you believe. According to research by Deloitte, Millennials are unsatisfied when they feel like they can’t meet their potential in their current position. That is, they don’t feel like they’re being developed into the leaders they know they can be.
By asking your potential employer about your career path with their company, you’ll make them aware that you value your own personal and professional development.
As an added benefit, by having the discussion early, your employer will be aware of your desire to grow when they’re faced with decisions about who to promote into leadership roles. Planting seeds in the minds of your employers about your aspirations with the company may give you an edge over employees that neglected to do so.
2. How does the company invest in employee development?
Understanding that there is an opportunity to grow with a company is only part of the equation. Understanding how your potential employer plans to nurture your professional aptitude, particularly your leadership skills, is essential. It’s much easier to be invested in a company that’s willing to invest in you.
For example, will your employer conduct industry or leadership training? Do they offer to pay for your continued education? What does their professional development program consist of?
Knowing the lengths your potential employer will go to in order to facilitate your growth is invaluable as you’re weighing employment options.
3. What drives the company?
Understanding the company’s motivation is important, because you can then determine if your values and motivations align.
“The truth is, while the amount of time or access you may receive from an employee can be influenced by how much they’re paid, no amount of money can change someone’s level of commitment at their core,” says Johnson.
That is to say, motivation to conquer a goal will correspond to how committed you are to doing so. Of course, it stands to reason that all companies are going to be motivated by revenue, to some extent. If not, that should be a red flag. After all, it’s the company’s revenue that will theoretically provide you a paycheck.
However, there are plenty of companies that are driven by an enthusiastic desire to fill a gap in an industry, to provide creative solutions, to expand partnerships, or to otherwise innovate. Oftentimes, increased revenue is a byproduct of these goals.
Some companies are strictly revenue-driven—and that’s ok. Some people thrive in high-pressure sales environments, while others who find it’s not the right fit. You get to decide what’s motivating to you.
4. What’s the employment turnover like and why?
This question is straightforward. Are employees with a similar background to yours likely to stick with this prospective employer?
If there’s high employee turnover, it’s important to ask why. Going into these conversations with an idea of your own deal-breakers is helpful. For examples, if inconsistent hours are leading to low employee retention, and you know you need a fixed schedule, it’s not a good fit. However, if you don’t mind schedule flexibility, you can feel more confident about your decision to come on board.
Gleaning insights about a company by asking meaningful questions will help you to make the right decision in your job search. While we’re often coached on exactly what to say to land a job, it sometimes comes at the price of being offered a job that really doesn’t fit. Do yourself a favor, and evaluate your potential employers in the same way that they evaluate you. Your future self, and your future employer, will thank you for it.