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There is an old saying that a job interview is a two-way street. Both employer and employee can get a picture of each other and finally decide.

As an IT professional, it is now often the case that you no longer write to the company, but the company/headhunter approaches the employee. Nevertheless, my experience so far is that the interviews often follow the same pattern. Questions are asked about the employee's qualifications and motivation. Of course, the employee can also ask the company his or her own questions later on, but it seems to me that the focus is still on the company going into the interview with a fixed "mask" and checking the employee to see whether he or she fits into this mask.

Therefore, in the past interviews (17 interviews in total), I have tried to consciously conduct a two-way interview. One of the methods I chose was to take questions that are usually asked of a prospective employee and apply them to the company. A few examples:

  • What are the biggest strengths/weaknesses of their company?
  • What do you think are currently the biggest challenges in their industry?
  • How do they specifically address these challenges?
  • Why do you want to work with me?
  • Why should I work for your company in particular?

Or also in the technical area e.g.:

  • Your infrastructure is based on Azure Serverless Functions. Do you have an exit strategy from Microsoft Azure and if so, what does it look like?

Pretty much all of the recruiters seemed very caught off guard by these questions in the interviews. Answers were very superficial, if there was an answer at all. Often, the conversation didn't have a positive atmosphere afterwards and my impression was that the recruiters became even a bit irritated by my questions.

To some extent, I can understand that the questions can be perceived as mirrored and the hr person/employer can become skeptical. However, on a factual level, these are all very common questions in the professional environment, which are definitely relevant/interesting for me as an employee. Furthermore, one can expect that someone who is supposed to represent a company to poetential employees has appropriate answers ready for these questions.

Apart from the quality of the content, however, I am most irritated by the fact that many recruiters/companies generally show very little willingness to respond to such questions at all, but conversely expect applicants to do so in common practice.

I have also talked to a friend working in HR for a medium sized company. She replied that on the other end there is probably someone who does not have time during his normal schedule to answer to a questionnaire presented by an applicant, or maybe there is even "only" some intern present who just cant give any answers to this. My thoughts on this where - then the company is just lazy, if I put time and effort into an application process, then the company should to, especially if the company contacted me and not the other way around. But since she speaks from experience, I guess I have to factor this in as part of reality.

My question to you is - how do you manage to conduct an interview and application process at eye level under these circumstances?

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    I understand your concerns but I hasten to point out that you are having this conversation in their office and not in your living room. The basis for the interview is unbalanced in the first place. Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 19:01
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    Your example questions come across to me as a superficial attempt at a power-play. They're the kind of questions you'd expect from a potential investor in the company, not an employee. And no, as an employee you're not "investing your time" in the company - you're exchanging your time for their money. There's nothing wrong with wanting to find out if you and the company would be a good fit, but you need to work out questions which are actually relevant to the situation. To be clear, I'm writing this as an employee with no direct management or hiring role where I work.
    – brhans
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 16:11
  • Who are you asking these questions? Asking them an external headhunter seems pointless, they don't know the answer, asking HR is still mostly useless. If you ask this during an interview with your potential future direct supervisor or colleagues this seems a lot more fruitful.
    – quarague
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 9:18
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    @brhans. I am not an investor, but I have a partnership with the company on which I base most of my livelihood. Shouldn't that be reason enough to ask questions about the current situation and market positioning of the company?
    – MrTony
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 16:14
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    "Being equals" is not a good analogy for a job interview. A better (= still imperfect but less flawed) analogy is: You are the seller (selling your time and expertise) and they are the (potential) buyer. I sell software products. My customers would rightfully be irritated if I asked them about their "biggest strengths/weaknesses", but I would totally expect them to ask me about the "biggest strengths/weaknesses" of the software I try to sell them.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 13:12

7 Answers 7

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Professionalism: As an employee, how can I create a process, where both sides negotiate and communicate as equals?

That is where your logic is quite flawed: you are not equals. They have money and you want their money. It is not even about the work. There is another one like you who will do the work, do not worry. For the same money, or for less.


To return on the constructive side.

  1. Keep using your strategy. If they consider you as an equal, you already have a big win. If they treat you differently, you know what you can expect in the future - another kind of win, but a sad win this time. Either way, you have your feedback about the company, even if they do not answer your questions.

  2. Continue teaching others to do the same as you. There are plenty of sites on the internet already advising people to ask questions to their prospective employers. They even provide sample questions that can be asked, from different POVs: financial, work culture, conflict resolution processes, technologies...


So, bottom line, you cannot really create the process you envisioned, but you can slightly improve the world: worst case only for you, best case for a few others too.

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    "They have money and you want their money". 1. I already have money, because I am currently employed and dont need to change jobs which also brings me to 2. Other companies also have money, so I dont need their money specificly.
    – MrTony
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 14:21
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    ...and they don't need you specifically, just someone from a pool of people like you. And as long as most of the people in that pool need the money, they can continue acting like that. And you can walk away from the interview/company. Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 16:07
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    "That is where your logic is quite flawed: you are not equals" - Sorry, but if they headhunted me, then we are equal. They found me, not the other way round. They want me, not the other way round. Justify why I should join you. You play by my rules when you pick me Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 7:35
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    @TheEvilMetal The likelihood is, they (the company offering the interview) didn't actually headhunt you themselves - a recruiter found your CV/ LinkedIn profile online, and put you forward for the role. This is very different to being headhunted by the company. If you were headhunted, it was because you have a specific skillset/ knowledge/ experience they need which they haven't been able to find in anyone else - and I would expect that they would be more than willing to engage with your questions in this scenario. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 8:44
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    If a recruiter put you forward for a role, having found your CV online, the likelihood is that they searched based on a few keywords/ skills, and found that you had those listed on your CV - they will have done exactly the same with numerous other candidates, in the hope that the company will like at least one of them, but the knowledge that most won't be successful in the application process. For the recruitment agency, it's a case of 'throw as much mud at the wall as you can, and see what sticks.' (Crude way of putting it, but you get what I mean. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 8:46
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It is true that an interview is a 2-way street. The interviewees should be able to ask some questions at the end of the interviews about the companies and the jobs.

However, the questions asked by the interviewees should focus directly on the jobs and positions that they apply for. This will be helpful to everyone.


Here are some possibly unexpected reactions to your questions:

What are the biggest strengths/weaknesses of their company?

Some managers may be uncomfortable to disclose the biggest weaknesses of their company to an outsider (who is looking for a job). There may be some confidential and private info of the company involved here.


What do you think are currently the biggest challenges in their industry?

This question may be too broad. Is it really within the scope of the interview ?


How do they specifically address these challenges?

They may think this question really is not related to the position you apply for.


Why do you want to work with me?

They may mistakenly feel that this question is a bit arrogant (even though you are not trying to be arrogant). Maybe, you can try to rephrase it.

It is very normal for a company to ask a candidate "Why do you want to work for our company ?" to simply test to see what or how much the candidate knows about the company. They are not trying to be arrogant.

But, it is not quite common to see a candidate asking the company the exact same question.


Why should I work for your company in particular?

You could probably frame the question in a more friendly way such as "Would you please tell me about the benefits that your company can offer job applicants such as long term career growth and other things ?"


Your infrastructure is based on Azure Serverless Functions. Do you have an exit strategy from Microsoft Azure and if so, what does it look like?

They may think why would this guy assume that we want to stop using Microsoft Azure ? Why would we want to do that ? Is this guy trying to tell us what to do even before he is hired ?

It may take the company a huge effort to find a new product to replace Microsoft Azure, do the training for the team to use the new product, and port the code base, etc... In addition, there are always some potential risks that the new product may break some functionalities unexpectedly.

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    While I appreciate your perspective, I wish to point out three things: 1. Questions about strengths and weaknesses are uncomfortable for both parties, however it is queite normal for companies to ask this question 2. Questions aboutIndustry challenges are relevant (to me) since I want to know wether the compnay is modern or still stuck in technical debt with out of date technologies 3. The question regarding azure is called "vendor lock in" and is a real concern for people working in devops (like me)
    – MrTony
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 9:01
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    @MrTony Per Question 1: As previous commenters have said, it's normal for companies to ask, but a) not common for interviewees, and b) it sounds like a veiled way of asking "Why should I work for you?" Alternatively, I heard of an interviewee who asked "Can I take a few minutes to talk to you about your company?" and proceeded to discuss topics he'd learned in the EXHAUSTIVE RESEARCH he'd done before the interview. That guy clearly racked up a lot of points. Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 23:12
  • I impressed an IBM interviewer, decades ago, by having studied some of the company's published research reports; I think I knew more about the 802 machine (IBM's groundbreaking RISC prototype) than he did.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 22:11
  • "Some managers may be uncomfortable to disclose the biggest weaknesses of their company to an outsider" Not wrong, but the same applies as when the question is asked by the company. The person being asked the question is not forced to answer it and can sidestep it, but the question asker can still draw their own inferences from that. A company being unwilling to admit flaws may indicate a less desirable work environment - that's for the OP to decide. The question is not disallowed the other way, but it should be remembered that no one is forced to answer every question they may be asked.
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 3:40
  • @ShawnV.Wilson "it sounds like a veiled way of asking "Why should I work for you?"" Yeah, that's the entire point of the applicant vetting the company - this isn't some hidden truth you're uncovering. While it may be obvious what the OP is trying to ask about; the same can be said about the company if they asked the question. It's not wrong to ask it, and we can argue till the cows come home whether it's better to be upfront or subtle about what you want to know - there's no "right" answer here, only one of personal preference and whether that's mutually agreeable between both parties.
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 3:44
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There is an old saying that a job interview is a two-way street. Both employer and employee can get a picture of each other and finally decide.

By a "two-way street", I'm not sure that any old sayer meant to imply that you are on equal terms with the employer.

The point is merely that there is some opportunity for you to gather information for yourself.

So in this respect, your approach is erroneous from the very outset.

Insofar as the questions you've asked are designed to solicit information, it's not necessarily clear how the interviewer is supposed to respond.

For example, if you ask how the company collectively "addresses challenges", you might not be speaking to anyone who even has any idea about the answer to the question, or who has any responsibility for it.

Similarly, the interviewer would not (usually) ask you how you address the challenge of world peace, because they would understand that you are not there in the capacity of someone accustomed to promoting world peace.

Why do you want to work with me?

This would seem like a legitimate question if you have been headhunted, but unless you are speaking personally to the person who hunted your head, you risk getting no good answer. The person in front of you may have simply been asked to conduct an interview or process a stack of leads.

This is not a mirror to the situation most candidates are in - usually the candidate has been personally involved in selecting a particular employer.

The only time you are likely "at eye level" with an employer, is if you are being interviewed by a sole proprietor personally, or at least by the director of a very small firm where (if hired) you will be a very big wheel.

You can always ask the director of a bigger firm for an interview, and you might even be obliged, but then you're back to being the supplicant asking for your counterpart to give you an interview, rather than him approaching you as a headhunter.

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I've found a couple of small changes to my question-asking strategy as a candidate made a large difference in how the interview process went. (The examples are from a software engineer perspective since that is my experience.)

Timing

Tailor your questions to the audience/stage. Asking the recruiter for details about the tech stack or the software development lifecycle (SDLC) in the initial phone screen probably won't get you the information you're looking for.

  • Recruiter: Ask about why the role is available, the rest of the interview process, benefits, and possibly company-wide communications & ceremonies (like a weekly corporate newsletter and annual off-site retreat). There may not be time for many in-depth questions when this is a 30-minute interaction.
  • Hiring manager: Ask about tech stack, SDLC, team size and structure, details about the role and expectations, and their perspective on the company (see the next point).
  • Teammates: Ask about a typical day, specific details about the tools and processes (how are constructive critiques in code reviews handled), questions raised by what they share (I heard you're dealing with white space changes in back-end code reviews; do you also deal with that on the front end and if not, why not), and additional perspectives on the company.

Phrasing

I ask questions differently as a candidate than as an interviewer.

What are the biggest strengths/weaknesses of their company?

Why should I work for your company in particular?

Instead of these, I ask, "What is your favorite thing about working here?" and "If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?"

An added bonus of open-ended questions like these is the insight you may get beyond the information in the answers. If everyone you talk to can't wait to list off multiple favorite things, the company probably has a better employee experience than one where (in a panel interview) one person gives a carefully worded response after a delay and everyone else quickly agrees with that one thing. Similarly, if the changes mentioned are small (it'd be nice if this process improvement would be implemented in 4 weeks instead of 12 weeks), there are probably not a myriad of much larger issues you'll discover after starting. If everyone you ask brings up a different large issue, it may suggest organizational or leadership issues that you'll also have to deal with in this role.

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It's going to be difficult to ever get a real feel for the company at interview stage.

I do feel like the process is getting better as demand rises for developers (at least here in the UK) but that doesn't mean you can ever really know what you're getting into.

To my eye, these questions are all really good and one green flag would be the company you're interviewing with being able to answer these questions without the superficial brush off.

One thing I have found in the past though, is that you tend to get interviewed by someone more senior and someone from HR. If you really want to know more about the ins and outs of the team you'll be working on, it's not uncommon to be able to talk to a more junior member, someone who you'll be working with directly. You can always request this, either at the time of the interview or ask:

Do you think we might be able to set something up at a later date, if I'm successful, with a member of the team - in order to get a feel for if the environment would be a good fit for me?

In general, you'll be able to get a feel of what the company is like from their reaction to you asking questions and to asking to meet a team member. It's all about spotting the green and red flags!

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A lot of the answers here are answers that lean towards maintaining the power that companies have over people.

They try and explain why the company doesn't have to do the things you do. Or why they have power over you.

The reality is that if you are in a position to be asking these question, then PLEASE DO. These questions do not come up often because usually there is an unbalanced power dynamic in job interviews that heavily favors companies at the expense of the people they hire.

The company is the boss and you are the lowly worker. The company has every right to make sure that the workers that they hire match expectations. They often make them jump through any number of hoops to prove their worth and capability.

But for some reason those rights don't extend to the worker? Doesn't the worker have a right to know if they're joining a company that regularly uses unsafe practices? or if the company doesn't have a backup plan for very real scenarios that the worker has concerns about?

Lots of people will fall over themselves pandering to companies, and never try protect themselves. Ask the questions. Normalize it.

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    While I completely agree that the "power dynamic" between employers and employees is far to heavily weighted in favor of the employer (particularly in the USA in my experience), asking these kinds of superficial "power play" questions in an interview will just get you labelled as high-maintenance and likely get your CV/resume filed in the trash. A potential employee should ask questions which actually affect their relationship with the company - team dynamics, benefits, or whatever is important to the individual) opportunities for promotion, etc. You're an employee, not an investor.
    – brhans
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 16:21
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    @JoeStrazzere the entire premise of the question hinges upon that though? Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 6:58
  • True, @TheEvilMetal. That's exactly the problem with the question.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 14:23
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I am of the opinion that interviews are all about finding a match (from both sides), rather than "passing" some sort of test.

Passing a test implies that you have to pass some gate and then you're home free. That's a really bad way of looking at it, because it means that you (or the company) temporarily presents themselves differently from how they will behave in the long term.
Maybe that's your cup of tea (or the company's), and that's perfectly fine and then you've already answered your question. But it's not mine, so my answer assumes my cup of tea.

1 - we'll get back to this point at the end of the answer.

Any question is the right question

When your goal is to find an appropriate long term match that's agreeable to both parties, any question is a valid question to ask (obviously barring legally protected ones for their own reasons). The key here is that it's not just the answer that reveals information about the answerer, the question also reveals information about the asker.

If you have a genuine concern/interest about a particular topic, it's better to ask that question regardless of how the other person might feel about the topic. At least you can very quickly identify an incompatibility which can save yourselves a lot of time if it's going to result in a no-go anyway.

Asking the question the right way

That being said, if your question implies something about you that is not the case, it is better to learn to avoid asking questions this way. Not because it's a bad question, but because it's detrimental to present yourself as any different than what you intend to be (during your potential employment).

The reasoning here is the same for when you intentionally hide things; whether through active avoidance or unintentional implications, if you present yourself differently from what you intend to be in the long term, you're defeating the process of looking for incompatibilities between you and your potential employer.

The subsequent conclusion here is that "am I allowed to (or should I) ask this question?" is not the right focus, it should be "how do I make sure I communicate in a way that does not make wrong implications about me?"

What your questions reveal about you

So with that in mind, let's review what I'd infer from your questions, and you can decide whether that's how you want to be perceived or not.

What are the biggest strengths/weaknesses of their company?
What do you think are currently the biggest challenges in their industry?
How do they specifically address these challenges?

These are boilerplate questions. While they're not without merit, they are uninspired copy/paste. If I were hiring a creative thinker, these questions would not reflect well on their ability to think creatively.

If I were hiring someone to work a well-established formal process, the questions indicate a similar attitude.

Why do you want to work with me?

That's very direct and to the point. It also implies that you feel that you are unique (as an employee, not as an individual) and do not provide an easily interchangeable role.

If I were looking for someone to be multi-faceted and upfront, that would reflect well. If I'm looking for someone to work as an interchangeable cog in the process, I would suspect they'd always leave their personal mark on things (which I might not appreciate).

Why should I work for your company in particular?

Same as the previous one, but about the company. It suggest that you think of a company as a very custom-tailored process that is a unique footprint of a company. It does not imply that you think about it in terms of industry standards and interchangeability. Depending on the business, that may be desirable or not.

Your infrastructure is based on Azure Serverless Functions. Do you have an exit strategy from Microsoft Azure and if so, what does it look like?

Woah there buddy. Who said we need to move away from Azure?

Unless the tech in question is commonly known to be phased out, this is an immediate red flag about you making assumptions about what tech stacks should and shouldn't be used. This is not desirable if you're looking for someone to solve the problem agnostic of a specific tech stack.
Opinionated developers with a specific preferred tech stack tend not to be the most flexible employees willing to compromise.

However, if the tech in question is commonly known to be phased out; it's a more acceptable question as the implicit assumption is not an overstep. But this is very much not the case for Azure.

Conclusion

So do you feel like I inferred who you are as an employee? If not, which part of my inferences is incorrect? Do you see how I came to that conclusion?

That's a learning point for you to ask your questions in a different way so that the interviewer will not infer the wrong thing.


1 Re-read the first two paragraphs. See what I did there? I very quickly defined what the goal of my answer was going to be; and if you disagreed with that you wouldn't need to waste your time reading the rest of the answer.
Obviously, this doesn't save me any time because the answer is already written, but in a conversation we could've stopped the conversation then and there and gone our separate ways, instead of needing to interact for longer only to then conclude that the interaction wasn't going anywhere.

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