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Premise that I don't particularly want to discuss: I have some simple Yes/No questions, or possibly questions with a 1-short-sentence answer, for which the wrong answer will irrevocably rule out an employer - nothing can conceivably make me want to work here.

e.g. (As a programmer) Will I have admin rights on my work machine.

Note this is NOT a question like "would you agree to this minimum salary", since there are an enormous laundry list of things that could conceptually be negotiated to replace salary.


These are questions that the admin team aren't capable of answering, but which any remotely senior manager would be able to answer immediately, in less than 10 seconds. I have a list of maybe (EDIT: 2-4) of these, in addition to a bunch of more subtle questions that WOULD need a discussion.

I could apply and sit through an interview, and then in the last 5 minutes when I'm asked "do you have any questions" I could ask my list of checkbox questions.

But if I do, and one of the questions gets a "No" then I've completely wasted all of the application time and effort, and the travel time, and the interview time.

I've also wasted the company's time for the duration of the interview.

So it seems to me that it's in both party's interests for me to get answers to those first few simple questions before the interview.

My instinct is that a naive approach of emailing my questions to the recruitment email address is unlikely to achieve anything.


How can I go about getting answers to these questions, without giving the potential employer a bad impression about me?

  • 9
    Make sure your 10 must-haves aren't falling prey to the XY Problem. For example, I'm guessing you don't really care whether you have admin rights, you care that you aren't able to use the tools you need and face delays when you need to change something. Admin privileges is an easy solution to these problems, but the company may have a setup that, while maybe not ideal for you, is acceptable in the grand scheme of things. – David K Nov 28 '17 at 18:10
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    As a programmer, I'm really curious to know what your 10 questions are... – Alex Howansky Nov 28 '17 at 18:27
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    Be very careful with this kind of behaviour. It immediately makes you look like a high maintenance employee and may in fact rule you out of jobs you want. – Philip Kendall Nov 28 '17 at 18:35
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    As a programmer you demand admin rights? Good luck. I am a programmer and would never make that demand. That is a big security risk. You cannot make that demand without giving a bad impression. – paparazzo Nov 28 '17 at 19:23
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    If you think about it, you might see that these questions are better asked in an interview where you can have a conversation about them instead of a yes/no through a 3rd party. Using your example, the people interviewing you are the ones most likely to know if you can/will get admin right (90% the answer is no) while someone who gets a list of demands/questions could reply with the "official" answer of no while an interviewer could tell you the real answer "No, but maybe if you are in XYZ group or can prove you have need for it an exception can be made" – bluegreen Nov 28 '17 at 19:53
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How can I go about getting answers to these questions, and thus saving everyone involved some time?

Give the questions to the recruiter or agency you are dealing with.

A good agent can get these sorts of answers for you quickly. Although I would never have a 10-question checklist, I often leaned on agencies to give me inside information about a company that helped me decide if they would be worth pursuing or not.

Lots of recruiters would be able to tell you if you should continue or not - provided you make it clear that theses are all deal-breakers.

Of course you will severely narrow the list of prospective employers that way. Some will provide answers that you don't like. Others will refuse to participate in your "10 questions" survey. Some will simply write you off as "high maintenance" - unwilling to bend a little to business needs when no business is ever perfect.

But of course you don't want lots of prospective employers. You want a small list of qualified employers. And you have decided that asking during an interview would waste your time.

If you are approaching a company directly, you should run through your list during your first phone screen or interview. Emailing the list is unlikely to be productive. You'll "waste" a little time, but still get your answers relatively quickly. Be prepared that some potential employers will classify you as "high maintenance" and quickly cross you off their list. I'm pretty sure that's the conclusion I would reach, if I were the hiring manager (but it might depend on how demanding the contents of the list are).

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    This is a good (indeed probably "the correct") answer if I'm going through an agency. Do you have any opinions if I'm going direct? – Reinstate Monica --Brondahl-- Nov 28 '17 at 18:09
  • Could you expand your last paragraph to explain how to avoid being labeled high maintenance? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 28 '17 at 18:30
  • @JoeStrazzere - I suspect you are right. I think this answer would be improved if you stated that more explicitly in the answer. Maybe even at the start of the answer since it seems like putting it obscurely at the end seems to bury the lead. I think part of the established hiring process is doing the interview dance. Any time you try to break a process intentionally like this, you risk being labeled a troublemaker. (Which the is what people really mean when they say high maintenance) – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 28 '17 at 19:07
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Many interviews are preceded by a phone-screen. If not, request a phone conversation with the hiring manager before accepting an in-person interview, and ask your questions there. Don't tell them it's a list of 10, and do your best to ask the questions in a way that is gathering information.

If your question is "Is your company involved in any evil capitalistic schemes", instead ask "What sort of work does your company do?", following up with "oh, so no involvement in ?" Instead of asking "will I get admin rights on my machine", ask "So how is the day-to-day work environment for a developer?", following up as necessary. Not only are you more likely to get your questions answered, but you may learn other useful things at the same time.

And for questions whose answer is a shade of gray, a free-form response will help you read between the lines: "Sure, developers have admin access. You just have to attend a 2-week training course, submit to daily audits, write a monthly justification of your business need, and open a remote desktop session to our cybersecurity and compliance team. Don't worry, waiting times are usually same-day."

  • Yes, I would insist on a by-phone interview first. If you "just have to come in" it's usually a Cattle Call or a Sheep Fishing Expedition. Go question-for-question (don't lead with your most difficult one but start easy), that will cut down their questions if you don't get through the list. Having 10 preconditions is likely going to exclude you, if you dump in their lap you'd best be invaluable and know the market well. It's useful to be able to research-away some of your list or to emphasize flexibility and solution providing ability. – Rob Nov 28 '17 at 19:16
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Ask the questions at the end of the interview (even if it's just a phone interview).

Hopefully by that point the employer has decided they want to hire you, so you may have more leverage regarding updating/changing their working practises.

If you immediately open with "If you don't do X I am not interested in working for you" it is likely to sour their impression of you from the start, regardless of how sensible X is.

  • Yes. My stance is that this is unrealistic, and he'd have more success if he asked at the end of the interview. Especially for questions like "What would happen if the sales team concluded we'd be 15% under-budget in the next 18 months?"; seems like that's an in-person discussion. – RJFalconer Nov 29 '17 at 13:45
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    @RJFalconer Agreed - and I do think that "the thing you are trying to achieve is not realistic" is a valid and helpful answer, if it's true. Asking how to do Foo doesn't automatically force Foo to be an achievable thing, and knowing to give up is an important thing to know if it's NOT achieveable – Reinstate Monica --Brondahl-- Nov 29 '17 at 14:07

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