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If I am interviewing for a position at Company X, is it appropriate for me to ask the interviewer what they don't like about working at X? For example, say I were to ask the interviewer, "what is your least favorite thing about working at X"? Is that appropriate, or is considered a faux pas and will likely negatively affect my performance in the interview?

Of course, the reason for asking such a question is to gauge if the negative aspects of a company (because we all know that no company is perfect) would be a deal breaker in accepting a position. For example, if the person answered, "Well, the company just did a giant reorganization and didn't ask any of the engineers what they thought about it. Given that it directly impacted my team and me, I would have liked to have been part of the decision." then that would give me insights into challenges I would face as an engineer with higher level management. Specifically, I would want to ask these questions now, before I got an offer because it's likely to be my only time to ask the actual day-to-day employees of the company rather than someone who is removed from their routine such as a recruiter.

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Yes, you can. But, you might want to keep them polite and don't want to appear as if you are scrutinizing the company's culture or focusing a bit too much on the negatives.

A direct question like this:

What do you like about working here? And what do you dislike?

And some can be put/framed as indirect questions, which can be:

Original Question: What is the firing policy like? How are mistakes handled?

Framed Question: What is the process of onboarding of employees for my position, and how are beginner mistakes handled?

This does not completely do justice to the actual question, but it does touch the mistakes and firing parts.

How does < this > position affect the company's goals and mission?

What is the difference between an average employee, a good employee and a fantastic one?

This question focuses on your career ladder and what mistakes can you avoid, in order to excel at the company.

It is okay, and interviewers face such questions, so it is all right to ask them.

But, please avoid asking questions like:

Why is the company involved in this < issue >?

How are employee politics handled in the company?

etc.

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    Related: workplace.stackexchange.com/q/12516/325 – Monica Cellio Oct 22 '15 at 15:27
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    I like to ask about a 'typical' day. This gets employees to open up and you can often times read between the lines. If they talk about all the meetings they have (not including daily standups) that might be a red flag. This can tell you a lot of things. Do they work a lot of overtime, do they start early or late, do they knock off early or late, do they all get a beer from the keg at 3 (yes this is actually how it works at my company). Then you can guage is this is good fit for me. – Bill Leeper Oct 22 '15 at 15:36
  • @BillLeeper - Or they tell you there is no typical day, which makes me feel like it's a bit chaotic. – user8365 Oct 22 '15 at 15:46
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For example, say I were to ask the interviewer, "what is your least favorite thing about working at X"? Is that appropriate, or is considered a faux pas and will likely negatively affect my performance in the interview?

That's not something I would ask of the hiring manager. When being interviewed by a potential boss, I tend to stick with only positive questions and avoid anything negative.

However, when setting up the interview schedule, I try to ask for some time with at least one person who would be a peer, and if I'm a candidate for a management role, I try to get some time with one or more of the people I would be managing. Asking about the negative side of the company, department or manager are very reasonable questions for this group.

Remember, while the company is interviewing you, you need to be interviewing them as well. You need to see if they fit into your personal and career needs. Asking for both the good and the bad can help you make a good decision, and help you find a company where you want to stay around for the long haul.

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Job interviews are a lot like the first few dates with a new partner. Each party tries to appear to be what the other party may be seeking. Neither party gets to see what the other party is really like.

You can ask about the negative aspects of the company but you are likely to get a standard prepackaged response which has little to do with what working in the company is actually like. However, it is still a good question to ask because a candidate in an interview is expected to be very excited about the company and this one of the questions to ask in order to show how serious you are about working there.

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Just as candidates learn not to answer "What is your greatest weakness" with a blurted out "often I don't care about doing a good job, I cut corners, go home early, and steal office supplies" so your interviewer is not going to say "Well, the company just did a giant reorganization and didn't ask any of the engineers what they thought about it. Given that it directly impacted my team and me, I would have liked to have been part of the decision." They just are not, so the fact you might find that helpful is irrelevant.

If you ask specifically for things the person doesn't like, there's a good chance they will resist or give a non answer. But it turns out that doesn't matter, because it's just as helpful to find out about things the interviewer likes (after all, they still work there) but that you don't. So you can ask

  • are reorgs common here? How do they usually happen?
  • can you outline the way the company is organized? Maybe draw me a quick org chart so I understand where this group sits? How often does that change?
  • how would you describe the management style here when it comes to big strategic decisions, not just the day to day decisions that line managers make?

These are neutral questions. The interviewer might tell you about something that you hate, or love. You may, for example, learn that reorgs are common and generally disruptive and surprising. You may learn that the organizational structure is one you dislike. But you haven't "tipped your hand" to the interview, you're just gathering information, right?

Yes, this is harder than asking "What don't you like?" but it will get you information that you need. So work out in advance a bunch of these kinds of questions, and when you get to the end, if they haven't been covered already, ask them.

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