Asking questions during the interview: we’ve talked and talked and talked about how important it is, but we only ever suggest questions that serve the purpose of distinguishing yourself as a strong, thoughtful candidate. Marilyn Driscoll suggests a different line of questioning in her post on LinkedIn. She suggests that you ask questions to establish whether or not a job is worth YOUR time.

The approach she outlines should not surprise me as much as it does. I’ve often asked about “what happens next” at the conclusion of the interview. But Driscoll wants you to dig even deeper. She wants you to find out about the interview process before it even begins (for example, how many interviews will there be?), to find out how long the position has been open, and also to see what kind of clothes they expect you to wear for your interview.

Personally, I think this approach is great. In my own experience, I’ve often wondered these things but hold back asking because I don’t want to come across as a diva. But really, it’s not diva-ish to make a company show they have nothing to hide. A job is something valuable – it’s a salary, a livelihood, a way to stimulate your brain, and more – but you the candidate are valuable too.

So gather your nerves and get all the information you need, and if the recruiter or interviewer skirts the direct answer, that’s a red flags or “Warning Will Robinson” moment, as Driscoll calls them (which, side note, is be a little bit of a red flag in and of itself because everyone knows the line is actually “Danger Will Robinson.” I kid, Marilyn, I kid!).

The one suggestion she makes that I didn’t like was about inquiring into how your potential co-workers interact:

Ask about camaraderie if this is important to you. Do employees go out to lunch or breaks together, socialize after work, are there after work employee activities etc. Also ask if its (sic) frowned upon if you choose not to participate.

Sure, if you’re someone who wants to be chummy with your coworkers (or if you’re someone who doesn’t) this is good information to know, but bringing it up in the interview seems a bit forward. Instead, ask about the office culture, about what kinds of backgrounds people come from. See how the interviewer answers. Is he/she warm and jovial when talking about office life or cold and clinical? This will tell you a lot.

Even then, though, you don’t want to put too much weight on a secondhand or perceived account of an office’s culture. You could be looking for a social group only to find that your new coworkers aren’t exactly your kind of people, or, conversely, you might be trying to avoid social stuff only to find yourself drawn to your new office-mates in ways you didn’t expect.

Still, this (and a few typos) shouldn’t turn you off from what Driscoll has to say. So, read her post, and keep your eyes peeled during your interviews for signs of a potentially toxic workplace!

(photo by Flickr user bpusf used under a Creative Commons License)

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