A typical interview cycle can sometimes last up to several weeks. A recruiter screens you, followed by an interrogation-style panel interview a week or two later; background checks, "ride-alongs" and lunches with prospective co-workers follows; and personality and career assessments are used for good measure to further screen you out and test your patience level.

Sound familiar? Adding insult to injury, another two weeks go by before you hear a word from your recruiter. And then it happens, unexpectedly: You get the job offer.

Before accepting, what should be coming across your mind are two very important questions: Am I the right fit for this company? and Is this company the right fit for me?

But most job candidates aren't equipped to ascertain this during the final stages of an interview process; they just don't know what questions to ask because they're mostly playing on the defensive end: They dress well, sell themselves on skills and expertise, overcome objections, follow up with thank-you emails, and hope to survive and make the next round.

So, when the offer comes, what if you went on the offense and struck back with some mind-blowing questions that would reveal whether this is truly the right company, or the right boss, for you long-term?

Here are six questions to never forget asking from this point forward.

1. "What qualities will I need in this role to be successful in your company culture?"

A company culture may be defined by different buzz words like "mission-driven," or "entrepreneurial." But what does that mean exactly for your role, say, if you're a clerk in HR? What does "mission driven" mean to your role? By asking point-blank about the qualities needed for success in your role, rather than accepting the company-line, you turn the tables on the interviewer and force him or her to give you specific, job-related information applicable to your every-day role within that culture.

2. "Why do people choose to stay at this company?"

While you may be salivating at the job duties and responsibilities, so many people make the wrong employer choice by not drilling down on the culture. This question should always be asked to get to the bottom line of what defines your future company's culture. Interviewers, HR people, and future bosses on the receiving end of that question will proudly and quickly share stories of happy and engaged employees, and highlight things like organizational values demonstrated daily (and not just as buzz words on a plaque on the wall), strong leadership that puts people first, low turnover for their industry, great perks and benefits, and healthy collaboration among teams. 

3. "Once I start, what are the three most important things you'd like me to get done in the first six months?"

Two reasons for asking this question: 1) You want to make sure that the position you're applying for has a real problem to solve, and a legitimate pain point the company is hoping to alleviate with the right hire. 2) The more you know about the hiring manager's expectations and metrics for success, the easier it will be for you to gauge whether your manager has the capacity to set clear goals and expectations for your role the first six or twelve months on the job. 

4. "Where will this role potentially lead me to down the road?"

What you'll want to listen for here is "mailroom-to-C-Suite" type of success stories that demonstrate promotability and succession planning. Companies with strong leaders will create paths and opportunities for their top performers to develop their skills and keep them engaged. Can you move around in the company, or will you be stuck at your position for years?

5. "What will happen to my job when business is going through slow cycles, or if there's a recession?"

An obvious red flag is hearing about people losing or potentially losing their job when things go south. If you're accepting a job offer from a people-centered work culture defined by its servant leadership, they'll typically do their best not to restructure or lay off employees when faced with a downturn in the economy or a slow business cycle. One great example I recall from 2009 comes from St. Louis-based manufacturer Barry-Wehmiller. They implemented four-week unpaid furloughs for 7,000 employees instead of layoffs during the height of the recession in 2009. Far better for all to "suffer a little than any of us should have to suffer a lot," said longtime CEO Bob Chapman. That choice saved the company $20 million, and ultimately increased morale.

6. "Can you share an example where you demonstrated good leadership skills?"

This is a question reserved for your potential future boss. Studies indicate that 50 percent of workers quit because of their immediate managers. Here's what to listen for when asking this question: Stories about whether your potential boss leads from the trenches and sees herself as "one of us." Use your emotional intelligence to sense whether there's a superiority complex or sense of self-entitlement in the air. You always want to formulate questions that will trigger positive and uplifting stories about how a potential boss will grow you, listen to your ideas, and craft a job for you that has purpose and meaning. 

Published on: May 11, 2018