As a librarian, I often tell people that there are more questions than there are answers. This might seem counterintuitive because libraries are often synonymous with answers, however, there are always spaces and gaps in information.
Similarly, while what you answer during an interview is important, the questions you ask are even more important. After all, you are also interviewing the place you might work, and it’s important to know what’s important to them. By asking certain questions, not only will you learn the answers, but you’ll indirectly learn other information.
Here are three questions you can ask during a job interview and what they you’ll directly and indirectly learn from the responses.
1. What are the team’s and your values and how do they align with the organization?
I have become very interested in values. Values drive our motivation and shape the work we do. But before you ask this question, have a good idea about the organization’s stated values. Notice, I say “stated” — just because an organization names values, that doesn’t mean they are aligned with them. Check this out on the organization’s website or do some research beforehand.
Sometimes our personal values come into conflict with an organization or team, and sometimes they complement them. So it’s good to ask about this so you know how you’ll align with whoever is interviewing you, especially if they might become your boss.
Asking this question also makes the person or team who is interviewing you think. This is important because if the question rattles them and makes them uncomfortable, you’re still learning something about the person, team, and/or organization. If they are thoughtful about this, it says something as well! Definitely take note of what they say and think about how this can guide you.
2. What does collaboration look like on the team? Can I have some examples?
How a team works together says so much about how your daily work will look. I firmly believe that more than half your job is who you work with, and this requires communication and teamwork. By asking this question you’re indirectly finding out about potential issues surrounding territoriality, team dynamics, working styles, and more.
By asking for examples, not only are you demonstrating that you’re serious about the question, but you can learn how collaboration looks in action. You might find out more information about projects within the team and organization as well.
3. How does the team communicate on a daily basis? What is the expectation for communication?
These days, there are so many ways to communication. There are spoken and unspoken expectations as well. If the organization uses Slack, then do they expect you to be on it? Or is it just a tool for convenience? Do they only use email only? What internal tools do they have for documentation?
This might seem technical, but it is very important because communication can take up a large part of your day. By asking this question, you’re also indirectly learning if there even are consistent communication practices within that team or organization. You might learn that half the organization uses one tool and half of it doesn’t. This will affect how the organization runs as a whole.
While you are interviewing for a specific job, you’re also interviewing to work with people in a team and organization. Teams and organizations have their own structure, values, and policies (or maybe you’ll learn they don’t). This will ultimately affect how you can get your job done, which can potentially impact your mental health even more than the day-to-day tasks you’re assigned.
No organization is perfect. But by asking these questions, you’ll have a better idea of what you might be signing up for, and you are also demonstrating genuine curiosity to learn more and the intention to understand. When you get to know how a team or organization works, you also get to know yourself a little better too. And this is a win-win no matter the outcome.
Nisha Mody is a writer who also is also a Coach, Podcaster, and Librarian. She has written for The Rumpus, The Times of India, and Ravishly. Find her on Twitter and Instagram. But most importantly, adore her beautiful sister cats. Read more of her work in her healing and justice newsletter and community, The Healing Hype.