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What are the company's major strengths and weaknesses?

Now that you are strongly being considered by this company and it's trying to hire you, you might hear more than just the party line. Don't necessarily expect something different than you've already heard, but it doesn't hurt to ask. Now that you are being invited to be an insider in the company, you may get a more realistic idea about strengths and weaknesses.

What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?

The best time to ask this question is right after you ask the same question about the company. You asked a similar question when you asked this person what it was like to work for her. But now you are more of an insider than you were before, and you might get a more real answer.

Really let this person talk about her strengths and weaknesses. In a way, it is like asking about her, so she will probably open up to you. Listen carefully. The kind of strengths and weaknesses this person will describe will be exactly the kind of person she will look for in others, i.e., you! Take good notes. See if what you hear is consistent with what your potential peers say about this person.

Can you explain the organizational structure of the company and of the department?

This is pretty simple and straightforward. You may have been unable to find this out before this interview.

What are the trends in your industry?

If you've done your research correctly, you will know the answers to this already. But it doesn't hurt to find out what your potential boss thinks.

Does the company have any present or pending legal issues?

You'll probably be one of the few, if not the only, candidates that asks this question. If you've done your homework, you already know most of the legal entanglements that the company may be involved in. This is not only asking about those but also any pending ones. As we've noted, the vast majority of companies in the United States are made of fewer than a hundred people. Major litigation can literally put these businesses in great jeopardy. Now it is rare for most businesses not to be involved in some minor litigation. Let the hiring authority describe what he or she might know.

If the hiring authority does not mention a legal issue that you know could have some major impact on the company, and therefore your new job, if you accept it, now is the time to ask about it. Be sure you understand where the litigation might be before you accept a job. A few things will make you feel so stupid as to show up at your new job and find out that the only thing most of the people in the company can talk about is the pending litigation that will have dire consequences for the company.

How is the department perceived by the rest of the company?

Notice the metaphors that the person uses to describe how the department is perceived. It is likely that whenever description the hiring authority uses, that is the way that he thinks that he is perceived. So, if he says something like, "We are very respected because we provide accurate information, on time," or, "The performance of the department affects everybody in the company, so we're very careful," you probably know what you're getting into. Likewise, if the person says, "We are the most hated department in the company because we say 'no' to everything and everybody," you might know what you're getting into.

Are there written goals for the department? Who sets them?

Even if there are not formal goals for the department, this is a good question to ask. If the department has formal goals for the year, it would be a good idea to ask to see them. If the goals are imposed on the department, you'll find that out. If the department does not have any written goals, you'll find that out too. The sales department with no written or formal goals can't be very effective. The accounting or purchasing department may be a different story.

How many people have been in this job in the last five years? Where are they now?

Listen carefully to this answer. If no one who had been in this job in the last five years was still with the company, you're being told something, and it may not be good. If people are promoted regularly out of this position, it may be good. If there is a high degree of turnover in this job, if you need to know why. If you hear that, "Everyone who has been in this position has been incompetent," watch out! No matter how good you think you are, the same thing may be said about you in the future.

In most situations, there's going to be a mixture of people who got promoted and people who simply left. Keep in mind that most jobs are only going to last two and a half to three years anyhow. High turnover in a job or tremendous stability with people in a job doesn't necessarily make the opportunity good or bad.

If you hear, "Well, I really don't know why people leave this job so often," you need to do further investigation. See the next question.

May I speak with the person who has left or is leaving the job?

If the person presently in the job or the person who is leaving the job is still with the company, you should be given access to him or her with no problem. If the person is being replaced and doesn't know it and the search for his or her replacement is confidential, you may not be able to talk to him or her.

If you can't speak to the person who is presently in the job or has been at the position most recently, you will not get tremendous insight into the job. In some instances, the company may not want you to get exposure to the person who is presently in the job. This shouldn't be a deal killer one way or the other. Listen carefully to the circumstances that cause the position to be open.

What would be my access to you? Daily, weekly, monthly?

You'll get a really good idea of the manager's style when he or she answers this question. You will also get a sense of how much autonomy you may have in the job. Balance the answer to this question with the answer you got about how much authority you might have. If you have a lot of responsibility but very little authority, and you only see or hear from your boss once a month, you may be in for a real challenge.

 
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