You're sitting across the table from John Q Smith, manager in a big corporate IT department. He and his cohorts have just spent two hours grilling you about Web services, architecture, project management or whatever it is you're so darn good at. Smith is smiling reassuringly at you; you're the best candidate he's seen so far, and he's ready to stop looking.
"That pretty much wraps up the things I wanted to talk to you about," he says, sitting back in one of the elegant chairs that litter the office. "Is there anything you'd like to ask me?"
Unfortunately, too many job changes aren't actually changes for the better
"Good," Smith says, getting to his feet.
Two minutes later, you're back on the street. You wait until you're sure no one in the office building can see you before you pump your fist in the air, kick your heels or do whatever your patented "I just nailed that interview" move happens to be.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, too many job changes aren't actually changes for the better. Instead, we eventually find that we have simply exchanged one set of problems for another. There's a saying about choosing between the dragon you know and the one you don't know. Unfortunately, when it comes to job changes, the dragon you don't know often won't bare its teeth until it has you in its clutches. And then it's too late.
So, what can you do to make sure you see the unknown dragon for what it really is before you commit? You only get one shot at evaluating an organization, and that's the job interview.
Remember when Smith offered to answer your questions after he'd finished? That's the point when you should change your focus and ask pointed questions designed to help you determine whether the company fits your ambitions and desires. Think about the things that have frustrated you in the past. Do you hate red tape? Poor decision-making? A demoralized workforce? Then, try to think of specific questions that could indirectly expose those aspects of the company.
Here are some sample questions that I've come up with, based on my own past struggles:
How long does it take from the time someone identifies a need for a new piece of hardware to the time it is connected to the network and is available? Tell me about the people and processes involved.
Even if buying a server doesn't have anything to do with the job you're considering, it's important to know how complicated the approval and decision-making process is. This is frequently one of a company's most process-laden activities, so it's good to know how painful it is. If it takes four months to get a server, you can bet there's a mountain of process, people and organizations between you and the things your projects will need to succeed.
If the interviewer's answer amounts to "How long would it take you to go down to Fry's Electronics and buy it?" then you may be facing an employer with a very ad hoc decision-making process. Either way, it's better to know than to not know.
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