Silicon Valley's tech companies are notorious for asking candidates bizarre interview questions--some of which seem better suited for a trivia contest than an interview. Candidates have been asked to estimate the number of Big Macs McDonald's sells in the US each year (Facebook), what type of tree they would want to be (Cisco), how much paint one would need to coat all of New York's building (Google), the list goes on.
Although most candidates fear off-beat interview questions (a survey from CV-Library revealed that about 10 percent of job candidates forgo applying to companies that ask them), they help interviewers better understand how candidates think and help assess for cultural fit.
Just as interviewers use unorthodox questions to humanize the hiring process and hedge against canned responses, so too can interviewees use these types of questions to better understand your potential employer and to predict job satisfaction levels. Here are three nontraditional questions that you should ask before signing on the dotted line:
1. How important is the company mission statement here?
A 2012 study by Gallup found that less than half of employees (41 percent) strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and what makes it unique. It's mind-boggling to think that we can spend most of our days without truly knowing what we are working towards. When we don't understand our company's greater purpose, we view work as an item on a to-do list--a means to an end--and don't feel motivated.
If your interviewer can't articulate the value and importance of the company's mission statement (or, worse yet, if he/she can't recite it), this can be a tell-tale sign of low levels of empowerment and job satisfaction. You may want to think twice before moving forward with the interview process.
2. What are the best-run meetings here?
Meeting bloat occurs in almost every workplace. It's inevitable that meetings will be part and parcel to your workday. It's irksome to sit in unproductive meetings. Yet this is the all-too-common reality. According to Doodle's 2019 State of Meetings report, nearly two thirds (71 percent) of professionals lose time every week due to unnecessary or canceled meetings.
When we find our days subsumed by meetings, our motivation and productivity levels plummet, wreaking havoc on our job satisfaction levels. The best companies recognize the dangers of meeting bloat and take proactive steps to maximize productivity. Bob Sutton and I have written about how Dropbox proactively erased all recurring meetings from employees' calendars.
Ask your interviewer to describe the best-run meetings at the company. If your interviewer is able to describe meetings that have a clear sense of purpose, productive outcomes, and involve attendees with alternative viewpoints, it's a sign of a healthy meeting culture and that meetings serve a greater purpose than as a time sink.
3. Can you describe your relationship with the custodial staff here?
There is a strong correlation between employee perceptions of fairness in the workplace and job satisfaction. Our perceptions of fairness or "organizational justice" can even predict job satisfaction. We want to know that we'll be given equal opportunities for career progression in the workplace.
Asking your interview to describe his/her relationship with custodial staff can be a powerful and subtle means by which to assess overall levels of organizational justice. If the company does not have custodial staff, ask about relationships with other more junior employees such as interns, contractors, or junior sales reps.
It's tempting for an interviewer to blow smoke and claim that their organization encourages equal opportunity. If you get a sense that your interviewer interacts with and values employees at all levels of the organization, chances are that you've found a company that strives for equal treatment and opportunity.
Too many of us don't feel empowered at work--we see ourselves as cogs in the system. After the ink hits the paper and the employment contract is signed, it's easy to feel safe and difficult to jump ship to another company despite low job satisfaction levels.
Yet if you can predict your ultimate job satisfaction before committing yourself to an employer, you'll save yourself a lot of hardship down the road. It's time for us to take a page from the tech giants, devise our own unorthodox interview questions, and put potential employers to the test.