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One Vital Interview Question You Don’t Want to Forget to Ask

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So you’ve landed what you thought was going to be a great job. But you find yourself working fast and furious without any real clarity about what’s expected of you, what your priorities are or how well you’re doing. You’d like to broaden your skills with maybe a course or an industry conference… but good luck getting support for that. You’re a high performer, so you’d hoped to use this gig as a stepping stone to bigger things, but your manager is clearly not interested in your career advancement.

You start to look for a new job, something that will be a better fit, something with a future. But how do you know the new scene will be any better?

Here’s a one word answer for you: ask. That’s right — ask about career development during the interview.

The interview process isn’t only for potential employers to learn about you. It’s also a great opportunity for you to dig a bit on topics like:

  • Does the company have any kind of process for giving employees feedback? How often does that happen? Is it formal or formal? How does it work?
  • Do employees have goals? How are they assigned? Are employees’ goals linked to their managers’ goals or to the organizations’ goals? Are there other ways your boss can communicate performance expectations?
  • Will your bosses support employee development? How? Is there funding for you to attend conferences, trainings or other development opportunities?
  • How does compensation work? Is your pay tied to performance? Does the company use formal salary scales or make it up along the way?
  • Does the company support and encourage internal promotions or lateral moves for career development? Do they have a formal succession planning program or a program aimed at grooming people for career progression?

The answers to these questions will give you several important clues about what it might be like to work at the company. What you’ll learn:

Is this a good employer?

Companies who value their employees, who want to attract and hire great people, and who want to excel in their sector know it’s smart to invest in their teams. And really — size has nothing to do with it; it’s more a matter of whether they see their people as a valuable asset or a necessary expense.

A ton of research shows companies with mature talent management programs outperform their peers in the industry. If the company is enlightened enough to invest in programs, tools and resources to properly manage and develop their staff, they’re likely a good bet to be your next employer.

It’s up to you now. Figure out which of these elements are really important to you in your career right now, then ask how they handle them. Look for things like regular feedback opportunities, goals and clarity, funding and support for development, compensation and rewards that are tied to performance and whatever else matters to you.

Oh — and guess what? A progressive company is going to think you’re a candidate that’s invested in growing and getting results when you ask these types of questions.

Now gauge the responses. If the company doesn’t seem to have any formal talent management programs, chances are you won’t get the career development and growth opportunities you’re looking for. So you might want to sit tight.

Is this a good manager?

Let’s face the harsh reality folks. Even in companies with great programs that support employee performance and development, there are lousy managers. And on the flip side, even if the company doesn’t have formal programs, really good managers make sure their employees have goals, get feedback, are developed, get rewarded and progress.

So find out what the hiring manager thinks about things like performance reviews, giving feedback, coaching their employees. Ask them how they view their role as a manager.

You’ll get a sense of whether they’ll be committed to your success or not. Remember, a lot of people get promoted to a management role because they were good at their previous role, not because they have good people management skills. And many managers never get any training or support in how to be good people managers.

Where would you rather work?

Given a choice, would you rather work for a company that values its people and invests in them so that employees AND the company can grow… or one that thinks employees should just figure it out for themselves?

Obviously you won’t always have the luxury of choosing to work for a great employer; sometimes you just take what you can get. But if you have the opportunity and option, wouldn’t it be sweet to work for a company that will support your career progression? And if they won’t, wouldn’t you want to know that at the outset?

Sean Conrad blogs about talent management trends and best practices for Halogen Software.

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  • Anonymous

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  • http://twitter.com/conect2u mOE

    Great questions for a prospective employer and demonstrates genuine employee interest. Plus these answers provide cues to whether the company culture lives their attitudes & beliefs, or if they’re just fillers posted on the website…Thanx

  • Kira M.

    Career development (or lack thereof) has been a factor that has prompted me to leave past positions. This article does a great job of framing the issue because many companies/managers don’t value this as being important to retaining talent. Asking this question can be helpful to the applicant and should also be considered when accepting internal promotions later on down the road because sometimes it is not the company so much as it is the manager that chooses not to offer the path to career growth which many of us feel is necessary to be happy and fulfilled in our work. Great article.

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