Asking the right questions to your interviewer can help assess if the company aligns with your values, career goals, and personal growth.
An interview is a two-way street. The interviewer is evaluating if you are the right fit for the role and the company in terms of skillset, experience, and cultural fit. However, the candidate should also be assessing if the company aligns with their mission, values, and long-term career goals. This is important for all roles, but particularly relevant for engineering leaders, who are required to embody the core values of their workplace.
If this time is not allocated during the interview, you should request to speak with the hiring manager on a separate occasion to have all your questions answered before making a decision. Be sure to come prepared with “reverse interview” questions, as you don’t want to miss an opportunity to evaluate the company and also make an impression on the interviewer.
As a candidate, there are many ways to independently assess a company too. Start by checking reviews on Glassdoor, and by talking to people in your network who have worked at the company.
Questions to ask in an interview
Well-thought-out questions should be open-ended, encouraging interviewers to provide detailed and insightful responses. These questions should also be customized to the specific company and role.
To comprehensively assess company fit, it is beneficial to evaluate the company on the following dimensions: culture, role, company vision, and growth prospects.
Assessing the culture
A company’s culture can either make or break how well-suited it is as a workplace to an individual. Culture is much more difficult to change and has a subtle, pervasive influence. If you join a company where the culture does not align with your values, your chances of thriving as a leader are significantly diminished.
Take some time to reflect on the three values that are most important to you and write them down. The benefit of reflecting on your values goes well beyond the interview process. When it’s your turn to ask the interviewer questions, ask questions that will help you determine if the company aligns with and supports your values.
Here is an illustrative list of values to help you reflect on what matters the most to you and which questions you can ask to discern if the prospective company is a right fit for you:
Assessing if you will thrive in this role?
Before the interview, take some time to consider what you hope to achieve in this job and your career goals for the next three years. Reflect on how this job can help you progress towards those goals. Then, prepare a set of focused questions to evaluate if this specific role aligns with your aspirations.
For example, if you are a senior software engineer aiming to become a staff engineer, you can ask the interviewer questions such as: “What are the expectations for a senior engineer in your company?” and “How is career growth supported for senior engineers?.” It is particularly important to direct these questions to the hiring manager, as they will have the most contextual knowledge about the role.
Here are some examples to help you start thinking about questions that help assess the role:
- What do success and failure look like for this role after the first year?
- Why is this role important to the company? What top-level objectives does it contribute to?
- What opportunities does the company provide for professional growth and advancement?
Assessing the company’s vision and growth prospects
You have probably heard the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats”. This also applies to companies. Nobody wants to join a company with little to no growth prospects, as they provide little opportunity for career advancement.
When interviewing for a public company, it is easier to assess the company’s growth through publicly available financial metrics. However, when interviewing for a startup or private company, it can be concerning if they are not transparent about their financial numbers. Here are some questions to ask that can help assess the company's trajectory:
- “What was the company’s revenue in the last quarter or year? What is the growth rate?”
- “Is the startup cash flow positive, or is it burning cash? If it is burning cash, what is the burn rate?”
- “Can you provide examples of how the company has made progress towards its vision?”
- “How does the company encourage employees to contribute to its overall vision and goals?”
- “What are the company’s growth plans for the next few years? How can employees contribute to this growth?”
By asking these questions, candidates can gain insights into the company’s vision, growth trajectory, and the opportunities available for employees to contribute to the company’s long-term goals.
Ask the right questions for better clarity
Candidates often spend a significant amount of time preparing to answer interview questions, but they often overlook the importance of preparing questions to ask the interviewer. Asking insightful questions is crucial when it comes to understanding how the company will support your career goals and values.
It’s important to tailor your questions based on what matters to you, considering your circumstances and aspirations. By dedicating time to prepare before the interview, you can ask questions that provide a deeper insight into how well you will align with the company. Remember, the interview is not only an opportunity for the company to evaluate you, but also a chance for you to evaluate the company and make an informed decision about your future