Job interviews are stressful times. Making sure you leave a great first impression and making sure you’re prepared for any answers that interviewers will throw your way is harrowing enough, but in doing all that preparing, figuring out which questions you should ask the interviewer often gets neglected. But it’s just as important, if not more important, to helping you find a job that’s the right fit.
In most interviews, there will be a chance for you to ask questions (with the occasional exception of initial phone interviews where you’re actually not talking to the hiring manager). And you should have questions. The best mental model for a job interview isn’t a sales call or an audition, but a courtship, where you need to determine if this job, this company, and this manager are a good fit for you as well.
Fortunately, there’s a question that can help you determine this. It’s not the only question you should ask, but it’s the one you should make sure to ask above all else. When you’re talking to the actual hiring manager—the person who will become your boss—you should ask him or her the following:
“What’s the thing you enjoy most about this position?”
There will likely be a myriad of answers. Interviewers will talk about purpose, and the company culture, and whatever else they can think of in the moment, but somewhere in their answer should be a few key words. And you should listen to make sure those words are there. Those key words are simple:
“Developing people,” “growing people,” “seeing people on my team develop into future leaders,” you should be listening for something along those lines. Because if you don’t hear that answer, then that’s a pretty obvious clue that your prospective future manager doesn’t care about your own development. And if they don’t care about your development then do you really want to commit to working every week for a number of years working for this person?
We know from copious studies—my personal favorites from Tuck business school professor Sydney Finkelstein—that the best managers (what Finkelstein calls “superbosses”) concern themselves immensely with developing the talents of their people…even if it means seeing them move on to a new leadership role or to a new company. And if the person sitting across the table from you can’t list that in his or her answer of the top things that they enjoy about their position, then you’re probably not going have a very enjoyable time with this manager.
Remember, both of you are really being interviewed in the moment. And if the person you’re interviewing to be your manager isn’t committed to developing you, then you should quit them before you even start.
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