Ask potential employers the right questions

Identifying the right company to work for means investigating the potential employer thoroughly, and that means asking solid questions. TechRepublic members offer up best questions to ask during your interview with a prospective company.
Written by Judith N. Mottl, Contributor

Identifying the right company to work for means investigating the potential employer thoroughly, and that means asking solid questions. TechRepublic members offer up best questions to ask during your interview with a prospective company.

When it comes to finding that next job, experts consistently advise that IT managers take a proactive approach and don't just wait for the Sunday job listings, then spend Monday sending out resumes. The focus should be finding a company that is in tune with your professional and career goals. Two of the best ways to determine if a company's culture will be a good fit for you involve getting insider information about the company for which you are considering working.

The first investigative approach is to try to talk to someone in the company (unrelated to the interviewing process) and find out as much as you can about management philosophy, technology adoption and viewpoint, the work culture, and what the internal turnover rate has been during these tough economic times. It's worth calling a few networking contacts and sending some email messages to friends and former colleagues to ask if they know the company and anyone working there.

The second approach hinges on getting the hiring manager to invite you in for an interview or pre-interview. This is a valuable opportunity to delve into pertinent issues and get feedback and insight directly from the most relevant manager.

The key to making these investigative approaches work is developing a solid list of questions to ask before you sit down to talk to anyone at the prospective company. Here are some suggestions from TechRepublic members on what job hunters should ask of company officials, either during an interview or a pre-interview.

The questions to pose
Our request for these types of interview questions was perfectly timed, as many TechRepublic members are in the throes of job hunting and interviewing, including Deanne who offered up this list of questions:

  • What do you find most frustrating about your position? (Assuming the interviewer is in your field and not just the HR weed-out person.)
  • Why is this position open?
  • Can you describe a typical day in this role?
  • Where do you see this position in three to five years?
  • What is the company's policy regarding training?

Debasish Sarkar, an analyst/software engineer, asked the following questions of his employer before joining Automated Workflow Private Limited, in Bangalore, India:

  • Would the job description assigned to me be based on my interest areas?
  • How would you describe the growth and financial stability of the company, as well as it's future growth possibilities?
  • How would you describe the work culture (do people work overtime, etc.)?
  • What are the personal growth opportunities? (And what is the training budget for the IT staff?)

Ramonart investigates potential employers through multiple means. First, this TechRepublic member uses his business contacts and local user groups to get an "impression" of the company. He then reviews the company's Web site and queries search engines to find articles about the company.

Ramonart recommends asking the hiring manager for an employee contact within his or her department whom you can speak to directly, during or after the job interview.

Here are the questions Ramonart posed during his most recent job search and the reasoning behind each one:

  • How many IT employees do you have? (A response of just a few IT employees means that you might have to cover multiple technologies and tasks.)
  • How many people does the IT staff support? (A very small proportion of IT staff to staff supported can mean long hours and high pressure.)
  • What technologies have you implemented? (A huge variety of technologies can be a warning of poor IT strategy and implementation.)
  • What are your major IT initiatives for the year? (This response should give you an idea of the overall IT strategy. If the initiatives are reactive to problems rather than proactive, beware!)

Once you have the answers to all the questions suggested in this article, you will have a very concise understanding of the company's IT department, what it has been focused on, and what it's hoping to accomplish in the future. All of this information will help you determine if you would be a good fit in its IT department.

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