Tips for Interviewing a Potential Employer

Posted on May 31, 2021

two people interviewing

This Morning Buzz is brought to you by Kayla Barber-Perrotta, Budget Manager, City of Brighton, CO. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

What I’m Reading: Think Sideways by Tamara Ghandour

What I’m Re-Watching: Friends-That reunion triggered some serious nostalgia.

What I’m Listening To: Whatever comes up on “all songs” next. This morning it ranged from old school Taylor Swift to Marianas Trench.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the largest crop of candidates I have ever experienced for what is generally considered an entry-level/early career position. Not only were there the fresh and eager faces of the recent and soon-to-be graduates of the class of 2021, but those of the class of 2020 who graduated just as municipalities were slashing positions and cutting budgets, and finally those who had spent the last year struggling to return to work after being one of those cut positions.

Across a week of interviews, I noticed two things 1) it is going to be an exciting time for anyone hiring as the candidates are all coming in eager to get to work and with a new outlook on how local government can and should operate, and 2) there were very few who had any questions for me. Now as to the first observation, I will save that perhaps for a future blog. Today I want to take some time to address the second as I know here at ELGL we have a strong student membership, many who are likely to be graduating over the next few weeks, and if I can in some way make a keyboard contribution to a more positive workforce experience, I feel it is my duty to do so.

Let us start by unraveling a common misconception: interviews exist so that an employer can determine if you have the right skills and are the right fit for their organization. Wrong. Interviews also exist so you can determine whether an organization is a good fit for you. I can speak from experience when I say that fit (both of you in the organization and the organization to you) is probably the single most important thing in determining how successful you will be in a position. If the fit is strong, you are likely to be happier with your work while the employer is more likely to receive your contributions in a positive way and support you moving forward. On the other end, a bad fit can lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement that can stall a career. As such, I believe it is of the utmost importance that candidates use their interviews not only to discuss themselves, but to discuss the organization as well, and to give you a starting point for that I am sharing my top three questions to ask a potential employer.

  1. Can you tell me about your organizational culture?

This is a must-ask question in my book as a conversation around the culture of an organization often unpacks answers to a lot of other fit questions, and gives you a good foundation to delve in deeper with follow-up questions. For example, you can learn whether the organization builds in time for fun and team-building in the office or if it is strictly a clock-in do your work and clock-out kind of place. You can determine whether an organization values taking initiative and is open to innovation, or whether it is considered best to just stay in your lane. A lack of an answer may mean there are issues with employee engagement, while an immediate and enthusiastic response means there is probably a strong positive culture. Whatever the answer may be, weigh that against your own values and what you are looking for in your work environment to determine whether you will be happy joining that team and working in it for an extended period of time.

  1. What is your leadership/management style?

This question is a great one to gauge how well you will work with your supervisor on a day-to-day basis. Focus on whether they discuss their team or themselves. Are they all about supporting the team, is the answer focused on themselves, or is it a mixture of both? Do they consider themselves demanding? Do they value work-life balance? Do they execute an open-door policy and encourage collaboration or do they expect employees to be fully independent? These are all things you need to know as a potential employee so you can determine how well you will be able to work with this supervisor and whether you will have all the tools you need to succeed. If something is concerning, do not hesitate to ask follow-up on what is meant or discuss specific needs you have to learn how they would be handled.

  1. What opportunities are there for professional development?

I like this question because it not only tells you a lot about how employees are valued by a potential employer but whether they are willing to invest in your growth. Good employers know that investing in their people pays back in spades. It not only makes the organization more effective in its work but if often results in greater employee retention. It also allows you to plan properly for your future if you are someone who seeks to continuously learn or to advance. Ideally, an organization is going to support some level of professional development in conjunction with your work. Perhaps they make a point of employees attending one professional conference each year or they pay for professional memberships that offer webinars and other activities. Some may even have in-house training options. What this looks like will range greatly depending on the job, the size of the organization, and the budget available to them. Knowing what level they can provide you lets you know what you will need to plan for yourself, and the tone around their answer can let you know if they are willing to invest in you in the same way you are willing to invest in them.

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