In the blog titled, “Three Reasons Why Hiring Sucks,” I looked at the top three reasons why hiring has become so difficult today. As I point out in the blog, the reasons are the following: the market is tough with new hiring rules, HR is pretty much MIA (missing in action), and both the candidate and the interviewers are inexperienced with the interview process. This has resulted in frustration, dissatisfaction and acrimony on both sides and is not getting better.
Suppose you just found out that a company left you a message that they are interested in talking to you about a position for which you applied. This is a great news and you are excited about the possibility of landing a job in this brutal job market. You simply can’t wait to call the company back immediately.
But not so fast.
Before you contact the company, you want to make sure you have a clear strategy in place. The first call is very important in gauging whether you pursue the opportunity or not. If you are not adequately prepared, you could end up wasting a lot of time and eventually get frustrated.
The first call should be with the HR manager so she can provide you with all the information you need to better qualify the opportunity and be well prepared for the call with the hiring manager.
What I am going to recommend in this blog is very similar to what a good salesman does when the salesman comes across a potential opportunity. Note, when you are interviewing for a job, YOU are the salesman, YOU are the product and YOU are the solution. The company is the prospect. Think of yourself as a company selling to another company (business to business).
The first thing you must do on your call with the HR manager is to set the expectations right upfront by letting the company know that you take the interview process very seriously and will take your time to do a proper due diligence to make sure that the position is a good fit for you.
Let me tell you what happened to me one time when I accepted an interview at Fort Monmouth, NJ for a project manager position. I went through several one-on-one interviews and a final group interview with nine people. After the interviews were over the hiring manager takes me in his office to get my impression and tells me that he and his team were very impressed with my background and then lays a bombshell that I do know that this was for an entry level position. I felt so stupid since I had over 20 years of experience doing various kind of work in high tech companies so I never thought I had to bring this up right from the start. I kindly asked the hiring manager to take me out of consideration if they could not find a suitable position commensurate with my background and knowledge.
One thing I want to emphasize is that these are not hard questions; they are uncomfortable questions. Uncomfortable questions are very easy but are type of questions you don't like asking. You don't want to be perceived as an "asshole." And we all know that companies have a "NO Asshole Allowed" rule that they enforce strictly during interview process. I think the way you ask can eliminate this perception. Just let the hiring manager know that you do not want to waste their time if there are show stoppers very early in the process.
1. What is your company’s interviewing philosophy?
You need to know what is their interviewing philosophy if they are going through the interview process and investing time, money, energy and their reputation.
2. What is your interview process like?
The interview process is also very important to you too since a company’s process will tell you plenty about the company, people and the job. At this point, process is the job, since you are not doing the job. This is analogous to NFL combine for college football players who want to be drafted by the NFL team. Though you have a very good track record, you have to perform in the interview like the way NFL prospects have to uring the NFL Combine that takes place in February, usually in Indianapolis.
3. How is the decision going to be made?
You need to know how the company is going to make the hiring decision by finding out whether the hiring manager is going to be a proponent, opponent or neutral. You also need to know how they have made decisions of hiring in the past when they hired for a similar position for which you are being consiered.
4. Where are you currently regarding this position?
You need to know where the employer is currently in their interview process. You want to know upfront what your chances are and how you can increase them (if you think you have a shot) as you progress through the interview process.
5. Is this a new position or a replacement position?
This is an important information you have to discern since the company tends to go in a different direction if you are different than the previous employee. You have to drill down on why the previous employee did not work out since companies don’t like to change the way they have done things. Also there is always a lot of similarities in the employee and team mix no matter how much they try for diversity. You have to see it early so you can hone in on that part. If you are like them in some ways, then they will overlook some negative things. If not then the negative things become the focus.
6. Are there any candidates that are internal or have been referred by someone ( inside or outside the company)?
You need to know this since companies tend to hire people they know or someone inside that has referred a candidate. You must know this to determine what realistic chance you have of getting a job offer.
7. Can you tell me little bit about the hiring manager?
You want to find out things that are not in his LinkedIn profile or on the Internet. The more you know about the hiring manager, the better prepared you will be when you talk to the hiring manager.
8. What is the makeup of the team?
Believe it or not, people hire like minded people. Find out whether there is any diversity within the group and whether you fit in the company’s culture.
9. How is the team perceived within the company?
It is very important to know that the team has a standing within the company, since a good manager who is well connected knows how to get things done and makes the team and individuals look good to the rest of the company.
10. How much time is the company investing to fill this position?
This question is to find out whether the company has an unreasonable expectation to fill the position.
11. How is the company impacted by not filling the position?
There is not an investment in terms of time commitment they are making but also do they really understand the opportunity cost that they are losing.
12. What is the implication to the company if a wrong hire is made?
Companies tend to be very risk averse so no one person wants to be held accountable for a bad hire so you want to find out if anyone is under the gun for making sure they succeed with the person they hire. This is usually the main reason why companies take a long time to hire.
13. How long can the company wait without hiring?
The purpose of this question is to find out if there is an urgency or a compelling event that will necessitate the company to hire fast.
14. What will the company do if the candidate is a good fit?
You want to find out that the interview ends with you. If they say that they have other candidates then the company is going to be very rigid with their interview process.
15. What is the salary for the position?
Lot of interview tips stay away from this, but I disagree. Unless you know it is a voluntary position, you have to know what the salary range right at the beginning. Also you can find out what is the value they hold for this position. This is something the HR manager is not going to know but what is the financial metrics used to justify this position. Is it direct as in sales or indirect as in development? You have to know the metrics that are going to be used to measure you very early.
16. Are you “hot or not”?
Since you are qualifying, the last question you want to ask is whether you are “hot or not”? There is no point in proceeding further if you are not hot. This is similar to when you hear on the TV show American idol in the beginning of the season: “You are going to Hollywood!” All the contestants know when they are stopped by the judges whether they advance and get to go to Hollywood for the next round.
I know these type of qualifying questions may not be conventional and someone without a job is reluctant to ask many of these type of questions, fearing that you might alienate the company by appearing arrogant. This is difficult in the beginning, but I say, an early “no” is better than a late “no.” And we all know that hope is not a strategy. If you are going to get a no, it is better to get it on your terms so you can move on to the next opportunity with confidence.
This approach is more likely to work since it makes you appear more confident candidate and someone who is already doing a good job the way you are navigating through the interview process. This is the kind of candidate that gets a job offer since you have minimized or reduced their risk of entrusting you with a job. You are not making them think too hard of hiring you.
1. Have you ever really qualified a job opportunity like a good salesman?
2. What question would you ask besides the one I have listed above?
3. Do you think these type of questions are little too early to ask?
4. Do you think these questions would make you appear difficult to work with?
Jay Oza is a founder and principal business development consultant at 5ToolGroup, a company that helps startups and established firms with executing their strategy to bring innovation to market within 90 days through our unique 5Tool Methodology that coordinates and integrates sales, marketing, partnerships, customer development and agile/lean methodology to increase company's market valuation. We believe that to succeed today, you need excellent strategy coupled with smart execution to win today. 5Tool can help you turn your innovation into money.