What Are Your Favorite Job Interview Questions?

When interviewing for jobs, I recommend coming up with two sets of questions. The first set are all the questions you ask because you want the facts: salary, benefits, amount of travel, number of people you'll be supervising, the size of the budget, and so on. The second set are more subtle, because the answers contain information that lies beneath the surface of the answers you get. These are questions that give you information about the culture of the organization beyond the canned responses of "our values as stated in our strategic plan are . . ." or "we encourage all of our employees to . . . " . Here's an example from my own career: 

When I interviewed for the position of Scientific Director at a women's health research advocacy organization, I talked (separately) to three people: the Executive Director (CEO), the Deputy Director (COO), and a member of the Board of Directors. I asked each of them, "Is this a feminist organization?" and I got three very different responses. 

CEO:  "No, absolutely not, we can't call ourselves that and be effective in the work we do on the Hill and at the agencies."

COO: "What do you mean by 'feminist'?" (This led to a great conversation about how feminism influenced my management style, how I regarded and treated staff, etc.)

Board member: "Absolutely it is. I wouldn't be involved if it weren't." 

All of these were the "right" answers.  The CEO's focus was on growing the organization's reputation as a thought leader and its influence among lawmakers and policy makers, in order to achieve the organization's goals. The COO's focus was on how well I would fit into the organization's culture and style of management. The Board member had the big picture in mind - how does this organization fit in the wider world of policy and politics? 

What is your favorite question to ask when you interview for a job?






The Medium and the Message

Effective communication requires that you first clarify for yourself what exactly it is that you want to communicate. Are you offering factual information that is relatively emotion-neutral? Are you delivering information that you can anticipate will bring up an emotional response? Do you want to express and get over your own emotional response to something? 

Clear communication also requires that you choose the right medium for conveying your message. Face-to-face is always ideal, because it allows for immediate response and feedback. You’ll know pretty quickly if the message you sent was the message that was received. Face-to-face conversation is the only effective option when the message you need to convey has a significant emotional content. Remember, we communicate on many levels other than verbal speaking-and-listening, and when our emotions are triggered, our brain is attentive to all kinds of signals, down to pupil dilation and how we smell.

When a face-to-face conversation isn’t possible, a telephone call can be an adequate, though not ideal, solution. Although you lose the context of facial expression and body language, talking by phone preserves the information conveyed by volume, pitch, and tone of your voice and by the pacing of your speech.

Great novelists are expert at conveying emotional content through the written word. For the rest of us, written communication is suitable only for providing factual information, free of emotional content. This includes emails, tweets, Facebook or LinkedIn posts – any medium in which your message will be read by someone at a distance. This is particularly true for communication in business or at work. In a work situation, one useful practice is to write out (NOT in your email program where you might hit “send” too soon) everything you want you want to say, including opinions, assessments, judgments, emotion, insults, “digs,” and so on. Then go back and delete anything that is not a statement of fact. Opinions, assessments, and judgments are statements of fact when they are prefaced with “I think . . .” or “My opinion on this is . . . “ Even so, keep the insults, digs, and emotions out of it. “Joe, I think that the analysis you’ve provided in this report incomplete. What I want is an analysis that addresses the following . . .” is ok. “Joe, what the heck am I supposed to do with this lame report you provided?” may feel satisfying in the moment, but is that really going to get you what you want?