by Sam Williams
These are the questions you want to ask at that job interview.
An interview does more than simply let a company learn if they want to hire you. Its about you finding out if you want to work for them too. You’re probably going to be working there for some time, so you want to make sure that you enjoy it.
Asking certain questions allows you to find out more about working at the company, but also shows that you are taking things seriously. And it lets you show off some of your knowledge.
You shouldn’t ask all of the questions in this article at the interview — answer as many as you can for yourself from the website and job spec. But have a few ready. There’s even a BONUS question at the end which can help you win the job or find out how to win the next one.
I’ve broken each of the questions down into two parts: what you’ll learn (You) and what they’ll learn (Them). Not every question has both sides, but a lot of them do.
What is the culture like at the company?
You — Finding a company with a compatible culture is really important to being happy in a role. They may cover some of the other questions in this section, but make sure to note down everything they say. If they mention something that stands out, good or bad, ask more questions about it.
Them — They now know that you care about finding a company where you’ll fit in well. Some candidates will just try to find the offer with the highest pay, so knowing you value things other than money is great. It also means that if you accept an offer, you’re more likely to be productive and stay at the company as you chose to work in that environment.
How much say do developers have regarding the products?
You — Do the product managers define everything and just expect the developers to do it? Are developers incorporated into every stage of the design process, resulting in product designs that are more effective to produce? You want to find out these answers before you start getting really complex feature requests with impossibly short deadlines.
Them — You care about the design process. You want the ability to contribute to the full lifecycle of the products.
What qualities make someone excel at this company?
You — Are you the kind of person who can excel at this company?
Them — You want to excel at the company where you work. An excellent employee has massive value to any company.
Does the company employ Agile or similar practices?
You — Working at a company the practices Agile development is something that is going to become more and more important. Gaining experience now opens up more jobs in the future.
Them — You probably have experience working within an Agile environment.
What is the dress code?
You — Suits every day might be too formal and serious for your tastes, whilst t-shirts, shorts and flip flops might tell you that the company doesn’t take things as seriously. Never decide on a company’s culture from the dress code, but it’s often a good indicator.
What learning opportunites are there for developers?
You — You probably don’t want to find yourself doing the exact same things in the exact same place in five years. If they are continually educating their developers, it also means that the company will be better able to adapt to the constantly changing tech world.
Them — You want to continue to improve. This is great for them as the better you are, the more value you can provide to the company.
How flexible are the working hours?
You — Some people prefer to work 8–4, while some prefer a slower morning that starts at 10 or 11. Check if you are able to work flexible hours if that’s what you like to do.
Do the staff go out and do things together outside of the office?
You — Socializing with the other staff outside of the office is something that some people really like to do. If you’re one of these people, finding a company where this already happens is great.
Them — You want to have your coworkers be more than just that. Having a company with employees who all get on well can be great for morale and communication around the office.
What are the day to day responsibilities of this role?
You — What will you be expected to spend most of your time doing? Working on things that are interesting to you is great.
To whom will the role report and can I meet them?
You — To whom you report is very important. It’ll be very different if you report to a non-technical manger compared with a senior developer who sits three desks over from you. Meeting them is also great if you can. Ideally you want to get on well with your superior. If you can, ask a few of the other people that report to them what they’re like, as you’ll hopefully be in their shoes soon.
How many people will I be working with and how many work in the office?
You — You may prefer working in a small group in a separate office, or you may prefer having a large department team all working in an open office space.
How will role performance be measured? What metric will role performance be measured with?
You — Do they have a metric for performance? Sometimes it might be lines of code written (not great), features built (OK), or value added to the company (better but also very hard to quantify). It might just be based on the opinion of your supervisor (another reason to meet them), which means that your interpersonal skills will probably affect your performance score as much as your technical work. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your personality.
Them — You expect to be measured and know how you’ll be measured. This implies that you’re wanting to perform well, making you more valuable.
What will be expected from this role after 30 days, 90 days and 1 year?
You — Have they got any sort of progression planned for this role or will I be doing the same stuff in a year?
Is this a new position or an existing role?
You — If this is a new position, the company is expanding or changing direction. If this is an existing role, someone has left (they quit or were fired). You will be compared against that someone for some time. This can either be great or bad: if you think that you can quickly pick up the role and start performing as well, if not better, than the previous employee, then the company is going to think you’re great. But if you think that you’re only going to be OK, you’ll be constantly compared to the old employee.
Is overtime expected in this role?
You — Some overtime is expected at certain roles. You’ll have to weigh this up if you get an offer. If they expect overtime, ask how much they’ve done in the last month, not how much do they expect to do.
Them — They’ll know that you understand that some roles are expected to do overtime. If you negotiate an offer, you are saying that you accept that.
What career path is there for this role?
You — You shouldn’t want to be doing the same thing in five years. What opportunities are there for change and moving up the ladder?
Them — You are looking for a career and want to progress through the company. Home-bred senior staff are normally better and cheaper than recruited ones.
These will change drastically from job to job, but here are a few general questions that you can use and modify to match the role you’re applying to.
What tech stack is used at the company?
You — Are you comfortable with all of the tech that the company uses (senior positions) or is there an opportunity to learn a new language, framework or methodology (Junior and Mid level)? You can also learn about how much the company focuses on sustainability, scaleability and how progressive they are.
How are the services/products deployed?
You — Are they cloud-based? Self-hosted servers? This gives a good indication of whether they’ve adjusted to modern practices.
Them — You think about more than just the code you write. A developer who considers deployment will likely write code that utilizes the benefits of this deployment method.
Why was one technology/language/infrastructure chosen over another?
You — Did the decision making process happen at the start of the project? Can they justify decisions made or do they do things because the person before them did?
Them — You understand the trade offs that are made between one technology, language, or infrastructure and another. Having ‘bigger picture’ thinking is a very valuable attribute.
Who are your biggest competitors?
You — Does the company understand who their competition is? Competition motivates a company to keep/get one step ahead and not relax into mediocrity.
Them — You appreciate that this is a business and therefore has external motivations.
What is the company planning for the next 6 months, 2 years, 5 years?
You — A company that doesn’t have future goals or plans has nothing to aim for. Strong goals shows a company that has a plan, and is therefore more likely to succeed.
Them — You are planning to stay at the company for the long run and understand the benefits of long-term planning.
What is the biggest challenge currently facing the company/ department?
You — Can the company identify its own challenges? What kind of things challenge the company? Is this an area where I can help? If they don’t have any challenges, then are they trying anything crazy enough?
Them — You focus on solving problems.
How do I compare against other candidates that have interviewed/ applied?
You — What level are the other candidates applying for this job and where can I improve?
What’s the next step?
You — You find out the timeline for the rest of the process. If they say they’ll contact you within a week and you don’t hear anything from them, give them a call. Follow up with them.
This is a very forward question, but can significantly strengthen your chances of an offer or provide you with insight into how you need to improve. Borrowed from Maseena Ziegler.
If you didn’t offer me this job, what would be the reason be?
There are two ways that this can play out. “I can’t really think of any reason why we wouldn’t offer you this job” and “Well, there were one or two things that have let you down”. Both of them are good.
I can’t really think of any reason why we wouldn’t offer you this job
This is obviously the preferred answer. This shows that you’re a really strong candidate and gives the interviewer a nudge. This nudge is because of the way that our brains work: if they can’t think of a reason not to offer you the job, they have to offer you the job.
Follow this up with a questioning “Are you sure?”. It goes against human nature to tell someone that there’s no reason but then to not offer them the job. They may also change their answer to the second option.
Well, there were one or two things that have let you down
This opens a discussion about where the interviewer thinks there are issues. GREAT! You now have an opportunity to convince the interviewer that you don’t have that issue or that it isn’t an important issue.
If they say that you are lacking the commercial experience needed, ask whether they think that years of experience is a good measure of ability. Describe how varied your experience is and how you’ve continued your personal development outside of work.
If they say that you’re lacking a skill, give examples of when you’ve used it.
If you aren’t able to convince them, then you’ve learned something. You’ve found an area that you need to work on to get a job like this. If you hadn’t asked this question then you’d have never known.
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