Questions to Ask in Interviews with Potential Peers
Many companies, as part of the interviewing process beyond the initial interview, will have you in for interviews with the "team." The idea here is to get the group you might be working with to talk to you. Hiring authorities will tell you that it is a chance to get to know everyone for your sake. Don't buy this at all. This is an interviewing situation and these potential peers can nix you big time.
I can't tell you the number of times I have seen candidates who think that these are nice social events so that they can get to know everyone they might be working with find out that, after the event, a "vote" is taken on their candidacy and they lost. Every meeting with anyone at any company that you might be interviewing with is a "formal" interview, no matter what anyone says.
These peers are going to give an opinion about you to the hiring authority. Their opinion counts, no matter what you are told. They can't hire you, but they can sure tell the hiring authority not to hire you. They won't say totally negative things like, "Don't hire that person. He or she isn't qualified." It will be comments like, "Well, I'm not sure this person would fit in the group," or "I didn't really get a good feeling about that candidate. I don't know why, but I just didn't."
Very few hiring authorities are going to hire you if most of the people on the team don't want you on board. The last thing a hiring authority wants is someone who might change the chemistry of the group she already has. So, be ready, this series of interviews is like all the rest: serious.
In fact, if you do this right, you may find out some things about the job or the hiring authority that no one wants to tell you. Once in a while, these peers will give you the "real deal" information about the job or the hiring authority. Just pay attention.
If these peer interviews are in a group, like a lunch or semisocial event, keep your questions light. Let the group or the individual you are with take the lead. They may begin by asking you about yourself. If they do, remember you are still interviewing and you need to be selling yourself. Remember that you need to ask good questions, too. You need to let the individual or the group feel important.
A recent Department of Labor study, reported by Trends (June 2007), found that one out of every four workers today is working for a company for whom they have been employed less than one year. More than one out of two is working for a company for whom they have worked less than five years. So you have to be aware that many of the people who are "interviewing" you haven't been with the company that long.
How long have you (or you all) been with the company? What was your background before you got here?
The major reason this is a good question in the potential peer interview is that it gets people to talking about themselves, and they love to do that. There is going to be, whether you like it or not, an implied "we are judging you" on the part of these peers. The best way to not make a mistake is to say as little as you can without being stupid. Simple, one-word answers, like "yes," "no," or "maybe" don't work well in an interviewing situation. Getting people to talk about themselves keeps the spotlight off of you.
If you find similar backgrounds, values, or experiences that you can identify with, make a note and bring them up in future interviews. Companies often hire people with the same cultural values almost subconsciously. People like people like themselves. So, if you discover issues like this and they are compatible with yours, you can use it to your advantage.
What is it like to work here?
Watch for metaphors and analogies. See if all team members are consistent with what they tell you. But don't be alarmed by the answers. It is going to be different for most folks. However, if everyone says it's like a gulag and the boss reminds them of Hitler, take note.
What are the most difficult aspects of working here or the job itself?
Again, this question gets others to talk. You may be amused at the answers. Take what they say into account, but don't judge the job based on what they say. I have been involved in hiring situations where the peers really didn't want anyone else on the team or in the group. The hiring authority did, but they didn't. There may be all kinds of reasons for this, but it can happen. For example, the group of salespeople may have to each sacrifice some clients or territory to help get a new person started, and they may not want to make that sacrifice, because it may cost them sales or commissions. Just be perceptive. Pay attention and listen carefully.
How many people have you interviewed for this job?
This is a great question for potential peers. Most hiring authorities aren't going to waste a lot of their subordinates' time having them interview people they probably won't hire. Sometimes, though, companies set up a procedure involving peers as part of their interviewing process. Nonetheless, the answer to this question will tell you volumes about the situation. Potential peers will be a lot more honest with you than a hiring authority or his or her superiors.
Why haven't they hired anyone yet?
Only ask this if you get the sense from the hiring authority or his or her superior that they have been interviewing for a while. Potential peers will be more open about answering this question honestly than the interviewing authorities. Don't be surprised if you hear, "Well, they offered the job to two people who turned it down. Then they rethought the criteria, and you are the third one I (we) have talked to." And, the hiring authority told you that you were the only one they were interviewing! Liars!
Why did you get hired here? What did you do to get the job?
You only want to ask these questions if you really start "bonding" with your potential peers. You want to get them to help you get the job. You will be amazed at how much they can help you and coach you through the process.