Competing successfully in today’s job market requires your evaluating your career options with the same level of due diligence that you would take when making a major purchase such as buying a house. Yet many job candidates forget that an interview is a two-way street when it comes to an evaluation. This chapter focuses on how to interview the organization you are thinking of joining to determine if joining the organization is a great career move for you.

You can greatly accelerate your career by investing time gathering information in advance of an interview. Profitable traders know that they make their money at the beginning, when they purchase the item they are going to sell. If they buy the item at a low enough price, the profit margins are excellent when they sell. Planning for the interview process will give you a foundation of information that will enable you to further your career.

Parts of the Interview

A successful interview has three basic parts: preparation, presentation, and closing. The sequence varies, but during the interview process you still need to execute the three basic steps of the cycle.

Preparation involves studying the position profile and researching the company. Use your contacts to learn about the position and company. And develop a list of strategic questions.

The actual presentation part of the interview should be focused on learning about the enterprise and individual goals within the organization. Obviously, you need to know the goals of the enterprise, but how does each member of the interview team want to be supported by this position? Try to get an insight into whether expectations are in alignment. If they aren’t, then address the misalignment. If the interview team is not aligned, it could mean a red flag for you. Practice your strategic questions before interviewing. Hold an imaginary conversation between you and an interviewer. Nothing is more important than active listening. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.

In an interview, the closing must be done subtly. Begin by addressing an important point that many candidates find uncomfortable. As the interview nears its end, ask if the interviewers have any concerns about your ability to meet, or exceed, their expectations for the position. This is your indication if you can be successful in this new role. Don’t be afraid of the question or their response; address concerns forthrightly. Make sure you have a clear understanding, and address your own concerns during this final discussion.

Strategic Questions for the Candidate

Following are some excellent questions to ask during an interview. The answers you get early on during the interview will help you answer later questions. Don’t hesitate to ask the same question of different people to check for consistency. You should have more questions than anyone has the time to discuss. Of course, not all questions apply to all situations. Focus on four major areas to properly evaluate the position: culture/company, boss, position, and success factors.


Each company has its own unique culture—for example: intense, laid back, rigid, process focused, formal, entrepreneurial, flexible, has no rules.

• What is the corporate culture and the chief binding force among employees?
• What are the characteristics that the company finds attractive about itself?
• What are the principal strengths of the company?
• What is your company’s management style?
• Is the growth strategy through internal development or through acquisitions?
• What key things drive results for the company?


The boss can have many management styles: micromanager, hands off, strategic view, detail oriented, share lots of information, or share little information. A boss can be great at getting people promoted or do nothing to develop people.

• If I should have questions of you after the interview, may I call you directly?
• What is the company’s attitude toward attendance at professional meetings or community involvement?
• Why did you come to work for this company? Have your own expectations been realized?
• What career path can I expect, given good performance?
• Tell me about how you manage a project within your group.
• Tell me how the organization views this division, group, or business unit.
• For others who were in your group at some point, can you tell me what they went on to accomplish within the organization?


It is important to understand the new role from many perspectives. Learning what the position responsibilities are, the expected outcomes, what resources are available, who the key people you will work with are, and how the position contributes to the company’s success will help you decide whether there is alignment of enterprise goals and individual expectations within the company. It will help you decide if it is a position that you will want to accept.

• What are some of the major short- and long-range objectives of the company?
• What challenges do you see for yourself and the company over the next five years?
• From the kinds of things that we have talked about, where do you see a good fit between my qualifications and the position? Are there any areas where you need some information to strengthen fit?
• How does this position contribute to the organization’s success?
• When you look forward 60 to 90 days from my starting with the organization, what will I have accomplished that would make me successful in this role?
• What is the most important thing I have to accomplish in the first year?
• In what period would you expect a very solid contribution from me?

Success Factors

To be successful in a new role, understand the position, the company, the mission, and how to bring value to your boss and the company. Being successful at a new company is determined by many factors. Being able to integrate quickly and smoothly into a new organization is one key factor that is often missed by candidates during the interview process.

• What outside influences affect your company’s growth?
• What strategies do you think have contributed most to the company’s growth over the last five years?
• What are some of the common attributes of your successful employees?
• Do your employees understand that you are going outside to fill this position? Do they agree with the need to go outside?
• Why do you believe that the existing team will play ball with a person hired from the outside? What preparation has been done to bring in someone from the outside?
• How important are new products to the achievement of the company’s goals over the next five years?
• How is individual performance evaluated throughout the company? How often?
• How does the company plan to deal with the challenges it faces?

By asking good questions and probing in the four areas of focus, you can achieve the desired outcome. You will have a comprehensive picture of the potential next step in your career. You will know you are stepping into a new role that will result in career success.


Steven J. Burks, PhD, is CEO of Sanford Rose Associates—Crystal Lake Executive Search Consultants. He earned his BA, with highest honors, from Earlham College, and his doctorate in chemistry from Miami University. Steve entered executive search from a chemicals industry career, where he served in executive positions in technical and sales/marketing. He helped launch three start-up chemical businesses during his career. He was global manager at Momentive and held executive positions with Eastman, Air Products, PPG, and Solvay. He has authored dozens of scientific papers and patents. He is adjunct professor at McHenry County College. Email: