6 Interview Questions You Should Ask A Potential Employer
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to interview for a job, including what kinds of questions you should ask employers. Most of that advice around what questions to ask in an interview is about positioning yourself most strongly as a candidate. It’s valuable advice, especially when you feel desperate for a paycheck and you are competing with a very qualified and very big pool of other applicants.
While we recognize that you might be at a point where you can’t be as choosy with work opportunities as you’d like to be, we hope that you still see job interviews as a two-way street. In interviews, applicants should be interviewing potential employers as much as the other way around. You should use an interview to make the best possible case for yourself as a future employee of wherever it is that you’re interviewing, but you should also use that interview to get the clearest possible picture of what it might be like to work there.
At Fractured Atlas, we understand how important workplace culture is. We collect our musings and our findings and our conversations with peers in our field through Work. Shouldn’t. Suck. We’ve written about toxic remote workplace cultures, pay transparency, and how much time you should spend on anti-racist work at your job.
Here are some of the questions we recommend job applicants ask of potential employers to get a real sense of their values, culture, and what it would be like if and when you get the job.
1. How has this organization or company changed in the past few years?
Learning how a workplace has changed over time and how its hiring team talks about that change can be instructive for you as a potential employee. Do they see change as necessary to adapt to the world we live in? Do they value agility and responsiveness or stability and tradition? If an organization hasn’t changed, or can’t articulate the ways that it has changed, it might be stuck in a rut or unable to respond to new situations creatively.
If an organization or a company has been completely unchanged in its vision, its strategy, and its values over the past few years (or even just in the past year!) it could indicate something concerning about its internal culture. If an organization hasn’t done some serious soul searching and shifting in 2020, at the very least, there might be an endemic lack of self-reflection and possibly a lack of care for employees. If a workplace has maintained the expectation that its workers keep performing like business as usual, it is probably not a healthy work environment.
It’s also instructive in learning about a workplace’s ethos. Is the workplace focused on continuing to do what it’s been doing or is it willing to try new things to accomplish broader goals?
2. How do you handle communication outside of work hours?
Back in what feels like the very distant past, you couldn’t take your work home with you. Your work phone stayed at work, your work computer stayed at work. Once you left for the day, you were really and truly off the clock. But now, workers are expected to have your work email, Slack, and other business communication tools on your phone.
Workers are now more reachable than ever. When you are interviewing for a new job, it’s a good idea to see what a workplace’s communication norms are. Is there an expectation that you respond to emails at night and on weekends? Will your boss text you on your cell phone?
Plus, with the widespread adoption of remote work, boundaries between work and non-work are even less clear. Hearing how an interviewer responds to this question can give you a sense of how the workplace at large thinks about boundaries and balance.
3. What does onboarding look like?
Learning what the onboarding process looks like has two major benefits. One is that if you end up getting hired, you’ll have an idea of what your first steps as a new employee are. The other benefit is that hearing about onboarding can show you how that job sets up its employees for success. Does the team thoughtfully give new employees the tools that they need to succeed or does it seem like they let new team members figure it out for themselves? Do they consider onboarding to be just about the technical aspects of the job or do they consider the workplace more holistically?
If a workplace doesn’t think carefully about what it means to bring in a new team member, it might have a larger problem of not giving people the tools that they need to succeed and therefore setting them up for failure or unnecessary challenge.
4. What are the professional development opportunities?
You might be afraid to ask about professional development opportunities because it could seem like you’re looking to move on from a job before you’ve even been hired for it, but nevertheless it’s important!
How does a workplace invest in helping workers grow and expand skills? Workplaces that have mechanisms in place to help workers develop professionally are more likely to be dynamic and flexible, and to understand that people’s careers only intersect with specific jobs for a limited time. Workplaces that prioritize continuing education and development might be more likely to not only give you the support you need to learn new things, but also give you the resources you need in whatever your current role is.
5. What does turnover look like?
This is a question that is commonly recommended to job applicants, but mostly because other sources tend to see low turnover as related to a positive workplace culture. That can certainly be true, but isn’t always the case.
If a workplace really does support its workers and create an environment where people can grow and thrive, people might stay for a long time. But a low turnover rate can also indicate that people get stuck, become stagnant, or maybe even feel too guilty about leaving coworkers in the lurch if they seek new opportunities.
A high turnover rate can indicate a toxic workplace where people can’t bear to stay for longer than a few months. But turnover can also mean that people feel free to take the skills they learn at that workplace and fly off into a new opportunity.
If an organization can handle turnover gracefully, it shows that institution knowledge is well-distributed and that the workplace understands that it’s normal for workers to switch jobs every few years.
Plus, hearing how an interviewer talks about turnover can give you insight into their workplace cultural values. Do they seem to value loyalty to the company or organization at the expense of what’s best for the individual workers? Do they seem content to work people into the ground and burn them out?
6. Is this a racist workplace?
This is definitely a bold question and we can basically guarantee that the answer will be yes. We live in a racist society, capitalism is racist, the nonprofit system is racist, the arts are racist. Your workplace is almost certainly racist, and so is anywhere else you will work in the future.
The way a hiring team responds to this question can tell you a lot about the workplace that’s interviewing you. Do they acknowledge that systemic racism exists and that it will seep into their work despite every best effort? Do they dodge the question by naming every Black and POC person who works there? Do they tell you that they don’t see color? Can they name ways that they have tried to minimize the impact of racism in their workplace?
Responding To Interview Questions
In the midst of all this advice about how to ask interview questions, it’s easy to lose sight that during a job interview, the jobseeker is predominantly the one fielding questions. And those questions aren’t always on the up-and-up. Here’s what to do if you get asked an inappropriate interview question, especially if you still really need the job.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman lives in New York City and holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley Insights. When she's not interviewing artists or sharing tips for navigating the art world on the Fractured Atlas blog, Nina makes ceramics at Center Point Ceramics Studio, hosts Planet Clambake on Newtown Radio, and is a member of the New Sanctuary Coalition pro-se legal clinic.