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Job Seekers

4 Questions That Can Point You to the Right Company

Job-seekers, just like employers, want to find the best fit possible -- and that means asking questions that go below the surface.
4 Questions That Can Point You to the Right Company
Image credit: Caiaimage | Paul Bradbury | Getty Images
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Co-founder of Hostt
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Job-seekers often feel that employers hold all the cards. They feel that they’re selling themselves to a buyer with lots of options and that they themselves need to be flexible and accommodating.

They want to cast themselves in the best light possible and highlight what they have to offer so prospective employers see those traits as must-haves.

“Although the employment process is a buy/sell transaction and it appears that both the employer and the applicant have an equal position, in most cases, the employer has the distinct advantage,” Chris Ruisi, an HR expert, wrote for Monster.com.

“As such, far too many applicants allow themselves to be victimized by the process more times than they should. Why? Because they don’t realize that they can exert more influence over the process.”

If you're a job-seeker, one clear way to shift the dynamic and create a two-way interview process is by asking questions of your own. Just like an employer, you'll want to find the best fit possible -- and that means asking questions that go below the surface.

Related: While They Interview You for the Job, You Need to be Interviewing Them as a Potential Employer

Ensure it’s a good ft for you.

Employers have experience asking questions about the elements that are important to them: candidates’ skill sets, accomplishments, work habits, experience. They often ask for specific examples or stories that illustrate what the candidate is saying, and many recruiters are practiced at asking behavioral questions, using past experiences to predict future behavior.

Job-seekers, on the other hand, may not have as much practice,but they can and should still ask about the things that matter most to them:

1. “Besides high performance, what does the company value?” Companies are clearly looking for people who are great at what they do, but what fuels those businesses beyond the bottom line? This is a good opportunity to find out which causes and character traits a company values and seeks out.

Some businesses will mention qualities like grit or an “explorer” mindset. Others will mention their core values or mission-driven work.

Credera, a management and IT consulting firm, champions a servant mindset as one of its core values, and its pro bono work with organizations like VNA, Meals on Wheels and Habitat For Humanity. The company sees those organizations’ ability to serve others as connecting with its own goal of innovating technology to meet people’s needs.

Credera takes its core values one step further, annually selecting someone to win its “Living the Core Values Award,” which recognizes the person who best epitomizes the company’s values. Finding out up-front what a future employer prioritizes will help you determine whether you would be motivated there.

Related: How to Define Company Values the Way One of Entrepreneur's 'Top Culture' Winners Does

2. “What does success look like in this role?” Roles can look very different from one company to another; an account executive or technical consultant could handle any number of responsibilities. This question gives you insight into not only how the job will be evaluated by the company, but also what traits are shared by the most successful people who have held it.

Tammy Perkins, the chief people officer at Fjuri Group, a marketing strategy consultancy, recommends this question because it’s open-ended. It forces the hiring manager to be very clear about the expectations being put on the person in the role, Perkins says.

It’s also an indirect way to gain insight into what’s prevented people from succeeding in the role. In responding to the question, recruiters will naturally think through both the people who have been successful and those who have failed and base their answers on those examples.

3. “What do you wish you’d known before you joined the company?” This  is another strong open-ended question, and the interviewer’s response will provide a peek into whether morale is generally positive or negative. It can also give you a leg up in sidestepping a problem that may plague new hires.

LaTisha Styles, an investment analyst, ran into a situation where she wished she’d known more about her future career path. After finding a company she liked, she decided to invest in her career there -- but found there were only two mid-level positions she could move to.

“Instead of taking the leap to look for more fulfilling work elsewhere, I convinced myself to squeeze my talents into one of the positions,” she told Fast Company. “After a few months, I realized that I had made the wrong decision -- and I had to change jobs almost immediately after the promotion.” These kinds of details can have a huge impact on your career trajectory.

4. “How would you describe your/the boss’s management style?” Continuing the open-ended question pattern, this query doesn’t indicate any preferences -- it simply allows the recruiter to describe the manager’s leadership approach.

You can then determine whether that approach would be a good fit: Do you want to have a boss who checks in daily? Do you want a leader who gives you endless autonomy? Do you want a fast pace, an easy conversationalist, a flexible attitude?

Kathy Harris, the managing director at Harris Allied, a financial and IT executive search firm, recommends using this question to dig into the person’s background to determine whether he or she would serve as a strong mentor.

She also says it can help to position this as a question about what the boss values in an employee: “Answers like ‘thick-skinned’ and ‘able to push back’ may mean this boss will be difficult to work with," she told Fortune.”

If you sense alignment around common interests or ways of thinking, you might be more interested in the opportunity; if you sense you’d fall into the category of people "leaving their managers," not their jobs, you may want to rethink things.

Related: The Strengths and Weaknesses of 4 Distinct Leadership Strategies

There are numerous questions you could ask to determine whether a role is right for you, but these four can touch on a broad number of elements you care about -- or want to avoid.

Interviews were never meant to be one-way exercises; they’re meant to ensure that both sides are entering into an arrangement they’re equally excited about. Take charge as you look for your next role, and you'll be more likely to be excited about where you’ve landed.

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