In the past, a job interview was an opportunity for candidates to sell themselves — to dazzle hiring managers with their preparedness, personality, and emotional intelligence.
But this summer, job seekers are the ones who need to be sold. As the pandemic loosens its grip and the US economy reopens, employers are scrambling to fill 9.3 million open positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Prospective employees have room to be choosy, and many are looking for more than just a paycheck or prestige, according to Debra Wheatman, the founder and president of Careers Done Write, a marketing and personal branding company. "Coming out of COVID, people feel differently about their priorities," she said.
Candidates want challenges and stimulation, of course, but they also, "seek balance and to work in an environment that’s aligned with their values," she said.
How can you tell if the organization you’ve applied to is right for you? Insider spoke with six career coaches and experts about the questions you need to ask in your next interview.
Why is this position open now?
Doing due diligence on your prospective boss and team is a fundamental part of any job search, but it’s even more critical in the post-pandemic workplace, Wheatman said.
"You don’t want your job to be something you slog out," she said. "If there’s a history of people leaving this job prematurely or not being successful in this role, that’s a red flag."
Wheatman recommended getting a feel for the team dynamics: Have many people left recently? Is the manager recruiting a whole new team? Ask for specifics about how colleagues communicate, how feedback is given and received, and how the organization fosters physiological safety.
Get specifics on the onboarding process, too, she said.
What’s your approach to flexibility and remote work?
In an era when a majority of employees would turn down a $30,000 raise to be able to work from home, according to a recent study, the ability to work flexibly is "a key part of the employment equation," said Chelsea Jay, a career coach based in Michigan.
She recommended asking how much flexibility is available for your specific role, location, and level.
Organizations with a formal policy often leave individual decisions to the manager’s discretion, so you need to find out how the person you’ll report to comes down on the issue. Be up-front and straightforward.
"You deserve to work for a company that meets your needs and that allows you to thrive," she said.
How will you look out for my mental health and well-being?
Asking how the organization pivoted during COVID-19 is a good way to find out, she said. Ask how it adapted to workers’ varying logistical and family demands and how it supported people’s emotional needs.
"Get them talking, and pay close attention to the answers," she said. "It will give you a sense of whether the organization values and trusts its employees."
Inquire, too, about the organizational culture.
"If they say, ‘We’re one big family,’ they may have some boundary issues," she said. "If they say, ‘We work really, really hard here,’ there’s probably no work-life balance."
How will this company support my career development?
Finding out whether your prospective employer offers opportunities for learning is of paramount importance in the knowledge economy, said Dan Schawbel, the workplace expert and author of "Promote Yourself."
"People are thinking long-term about building a sustainable career and are looking at companies as the new colleges," he said.
Ask how the organization will help you gain certifications and acquire both in-demand technical skills and soft skills like teamwork and communication. Inquire, too, whether the organization offers education benefits, including tuition reimbursement and student-loan repayment programs.
"You need to be asking, ‘How will you invest in my career?’"
How important is diversity, and what actions are you taking to be inclusive?
A June survey showed that 70% of job seekers want to work for an organization that demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Andy Agouridis, the founder and director of CareerHigher, a job search firm specializing in midcareer candidates, recommended asking how the company handles pay equity, promotions, and representation. "Also ask, ‘How easy is it to be yourself here?’"
You’ll need to dig in with the hiring manager on this one, he said. "Get a feel for how they operate because that will have a bigger impact on your day-to-day than any official policy," he said. "You want to know: Do they embrace diversity?"
How is the organization taking a stand on social issues?
In a similar vein, more job seekers want to work for socially responsible organizations that take active, meaningful stands on environmental and political issues.
This question requires some interpersonal detective work, said Kyle Elliott, a career coach and professional résumé writer.
"Beyond listening to the interviewer’s words, take note of their nonverbal communication," he said. "If your interviewer seems put off by this question, it may be a sign that the organization is not actively doing the work to advance social justice and equity."
What would you like me to accomplish in my first six months?
This is a standard question for job seekers in any market, but the answer you hear coming out of the pandemic might be more telling, said Priscilla Claman, president of Career Strategies, a consulting firm.
Beware: The hiring manager might not know. "There’s more uncertainty and organizations themselves may not be clear on what they want," she said. "If they don’t have an answer, they either don’t have a strategic direction or they haven’t thought it through."
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re looking for a chance to craft your role. But if you require structure, the job might not be a good fit.
Rebecca Knight June 29, 2021 at 09:24PM