Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Interview Your Next Employer: Don't be Unhappy

Greg Stocker

Are you unhappy in your current job and ready to search for something better? If so, you are not alone. Recent surveys show that more than one-half of U.S. workers today are unhappy with their jobs and with each successive survey, the situation is getting worse.

Exhibit 1 presents some of the reasons for the decline in job satisfaction. Unfortunately, this means that the odds are not in your favor of finding a job that you will enjoy.

There are ways, however, to minimize the risk of accepting a job that you will later regret. By asking the right questions during the interview and listening very closely to the answers, you can assess fairly accurately whether you are dealing with an organization where you will want to work.

The questions help you assess three basic aspects of the job: (1) the leadership style of your prospective boss; (2) the company’s commitment to its people; and (3) the company’s purpose and focus. Obtaining information on these three areas can help you determine whether the company is improving or declining, and it is much more likely that you will enjoy working at a company that is improving than one that is in decline.

Exhibit 2 presents the practices that lead an organization into decline. It is important to note that even though a company is hiring and appears to be successful, it can still be in decline. A strong economy and good market for a company’s products or services can mask problems and allow an unhealthy organization to be profitable. Years of following these practices, however, break down an organization’s immune system and make it vulnerable to external events like an economic recession, natural disaster, rising energy prices, or a host of other occurrences. It is when a significant external event occurs that problems begin to surface, forcing management into crisis-mode and leading to such drastic actions as layoffs, pay cuts, and plant closings.

By asking the right questions during the interview process, you can learn enough to avoid joining a company with a weakened immune system that may be ultimately headed for a crisis.

The Questions

The way in which the questions are answered lead to either comfort with the organization or a red flag that should make you wary of accepting the job. The nature of the traditional interview process makes some of the questions difficult to ask, but the information you can gain is invaluable to improving your chances of moving into a better job. Each question is followed by a red flag that identifies the answers that should make you wary of accepting a job with the company.

Leadership Style

The first set of questions helps you ascertain whether or not your prospective boss is the type of person for whom you would enjoy working.

1. Ask the prospective boss about the company’s problems and what the causes might be.

The Red Flag: If the answer focuses on blaming others for the company’s problems, it could mean a lack of trust in people (especially those on his or her team) and/or a lack of teamwork between departments, plants, etc.

2. Ask the prospective boss to tell you about the others on the team with which you will be working. Specifically, ask how well they work together and how they stay focused.

The Red Flag: Look for clues regarding a lack of respect for, and a lack of trust in the motivations of people.

3. When interviewing with others, ask about your prospective boss’ management style.

The Red Flag: Listen for clues and watch body language to look for clues that the boss is not someone for whom you would like to work (e.g., the person manages by fear, micromanages, etc.).

Other clues that should raise red flags during the interview include the inability to ask questions during the interview, the boss rushes the interview, or the boss does not give you his or her full attention while you are speaking.

The Company’s Commitment to People

4. If you are interviewing for a management position, ask why the company doesn’t have someone inside the organization to fill the position.

The Red Flag: Look for clues that training and development is not a high priority. Also, make sure that there is a good reason for not promoting someone from within the company to fill a management position. Companies that value their people develop managers from within the organization.

5. Ask how job performance is evaluated.

The Red Flag: Traditional performance reviews are a sign of a company that undervalues its employees (see exhibit 3 for problems commonly associated with traditional performance reviews).

6. Ask how satisfied employees are within the company and on the team.

The Red Flag: Be wary if employee satisfaction is not measured or the interviewer doesn’t know how to answer the question.

7. Ask to interview with others in the organization – especially those with whom you will be working.

The Red Flag: Note how open the organization is with your request. If you are able to interview with others, ask the same questions and look for consistency in responses – especially at different levels in the organization.

8. Ask which metrics are followed closely and are considered critical to the company’s success.

The Red Flag: Look for balance among key metrics – including customer, employee, operational, and financial metrics. Note that overemphasis on financial metrics usually results in more frequent drastic cost cutting actions.

9. Ask about company purpose (i.e., mission and vision) – even if it is published on website, annual reports, etc.

The Red Flag: Look for clues that the purpose is not meaningful or if it appears to focus heavily on financial measures (e.g., profits, share price, etc.).

10. Ask for clarity regarding how a bonus (if applicable) will be determined.

The Red Flag: Be wary if the bonus is tied to meeting objectives that may conflict with other people or departments.

Another way to gain vital information about the company is to ask for a tour of one or more facilities. If your request is refused without a good reason (e.g., safety, clean room, proprietary processes, etc.), you should wonder about the company’s focus. If you are granted a tour, look at how the people interact as they work (i.e., do they smile, display high energy, etc.). Also, note the level of cleanliness and organization of the workplace.

Making Your Decision

Once you have gathered information during the interviews, you can make an informed decision regarding whether or not you want to be a part of the company. If red flags are raised, you need to determine whether you want to avoid the company altogether or join it and work to change the organization. You spend a great deal of time selling yourself to the company during the job interview process and it is vital that, before accepting a job offer, that the company has adequately sold itself to you.


-Shift in management focus toward shareholders.

Increasing the stock price has become the prime objective
People are now ‘headcount’ and can interfere with increasing stock price
Conflict has developed between employees & shareholders
Management is more concerned about short-term success than long-term
-Managers have no time to coach & develop employees.

-People feel a general lack of control over the work they perform.

-Fear of layoffs is very prevalent in today’s environment.

-The gap between executive and worker pay is large and growing rapidly.


• Lost Focus: The organization forgets its reason for existence and tends to focus only on money (e.g., profits, share price, etc.);

• Number-Obsession: Attempting to run the organization by numbers while ignoring the importance of non-measurable characteristics (e.g., the cost of low morale, lack of training, a culture of fear, etc.);

• Supplier Squeezing: Basing the relationship with suppliers solely on the price of goods or services purchase;

• Undervalued Employees: Treating employees as expenses that can be cut when troubles are encountered;

• Dirt, Clutter & Damage: The workplace is dirty and unorganized. Equipment and machinery are in disrepair;

• Operational Fragmentation: Managing the organization by breaking it down into components (i.e., departments or teams) and setting goals for individual teams or persons.

* From Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline by Gregg Stocker (Quality Press, 2006).



1. The boss judges performance of a person without always knowing what the person does all day;

2. Feedback comes only from one perspective (that of the boss);

3. The process forces the person to please the boss instead of pleasing the customer;

4. The process ignores the supervisor’s responsibility for the performance of an individual (e.g., removing the barriers that prevent a person from performing at a high level);

5. Assumes that the boss can judge a person’s performance from a completely objective perspective (which is impossible for a human being);

6. Studies show that most people feel that they perform above average work. A rating that is anything less than above average is demotivating;

7. Forced distribution systems require low ratings to be given to a specified percentage of people which, if accurate, points to ineffective hiring and training processed within the company;

8. System ignores the power of intrinsic motivation and places all emphasis on extrinsic motivation (which is counter to most studies on the subject).