If you're one of the millions of Americans re-thinking their career trajectory in the wake of the pandemic and the so-called Great Resignation, there may very well be a job interview in your near future. Getting that callback tends to come with mixed emotions — excitement that you could be on to bigger and better things, maybe, and dread at having to answer a series of questions that might as well be brain teasers.
The good news is, it's a job-seeker's market. Employers are advertising more positions than there are people to fill them, and are more willing than ever to negotiate with you on the aspects of work life that you think are most important. You just need to ask, experts say.
"You should feel confident being open and transparent about what you want," says Scott Blumsack, chief strategy officer at Monster.com. "Interviews need to be a two-way street."
To that end, if you're interested in landing your dream job, perhaps it's time quit prepping your response about how your biggest weakness is actually a strength and focus on another question you're likely to encounter: "Do you have any questions for me?"
Here's how career experts say you can respond to that question and follow up on the answers you receive.
About 1 in 4 job seekers, 26%, have little confidence that that they'll find the right fit in their next gig, according to a recent survey from Monster.com. By turning the proverbial desk around, you vastly increase your chances that you'll land a job you know you'll like, career experts say.
"Candidates need to remember that they're interviewing the employer, too," says Blumsack.
Here's what to ask about.
Every company is taking a different approach to offering remote work, with some allowing for fulltime virtual work, others shifting to a hybrid model, and some firms bringing employees back to the office. If you're interviewing with a company with flexibility on this front, "be very candid about what you prefer," says Renata Dionello, chief people officer at ZipRecruiter.
But don't stop at asking how your vision of work would fit into their policy. "Ask if there is a level playing field for remote employees," she says. "Make sure they get the same opportunities for promotions and that they're truly trying to make it a good environment for people who aren't always in the office."
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The classic "Where do you see yourself in five years?" question can cut both ways, says Brie Reynolds, a career services manager at FlexJobs. "You could ask, 'Where do you see this position going in the next few years?'" she says. "'What have people who have come into this position in the past done?'"
Your goal here is to understand the potential how taking this position will shape the trajectory of your career growth.
Many HR reps will tell you what a terrific company you're going to be working for. They may even go so far as to say it's like being part of a big happy family. To find out what it's really like to work there, it can help to get creative.
Along with other questions you may have about company culture, Reynolds suggests you ask a hiring manager, "If you had a magic wand and could change something about the company, what would you change?"
Hopefully, she says, the answer will help you drill down to what may actually make life difficult for people working there. "It's a nicer way of saying, 'What's the worst thing about working here?'" Reynolds says.
Salary is negotiable, but you'd generally be wise to wait on sliding a number across the table until the employer makes an offer first, say Reynolds, who adds that you'll have the best chance of landing a counteroffer if you research salaries for the position beforehand.
One important thing to ask before that stage, especially for remote workers: How are salaries set? If you're based in Cincinnati, for instance, and working for a firm in San Francisco, do you earn a San Francisco salary?
It's appropriate to ask these broader questions early in the interview process, says Reynolds, if you approach the topic the right way. "You might say, 'I was hoping to get information on how the company approaches setting salaries for workers in remote locations,'" she says. "That way, you can go and do your research."
Many prospective employees sense that not everything they'll be told will turn out to be entirely true — 24% of job-seekers in Monster's survey say they are skeptical of promises companies make about job expectations, benefits, perks, and culture.
Some things, like benefits packages, will exist in writing — and you'd be wise to ask for them before accepting any offer, says Dionello. "Ask for documentation from talent acquisition. Any good company will send you a benefits package," she says. "You can email the hiring manager and say, 'Do you have a document that outlines all of your benefits, your return-to-work policy, your hybrid policy, your vacation policy?'"
She adds: "If anything seems too good to be true, it's a good idea to ask for a policy document."
Video by Mariam Abdallah
Beware of some common red flags. "One big one is if you get a lot of really generic answers or a lot of 'I'm not sure. Let me get back to you,'" she says. "They should be informed enough to answer your questions, and if they don't know how things are handled at the company, that's a red flag."
You may be able to get the scoop about a company by networking with former employees, consulting career sites, such as Glassdoor, or scouring internet forums such as Reddit or Quora for conversations among former employees.
It never hurts to talk to a current employee who isn't trying to hire you, either, points out Reynolds. "One of the questions we recommend people ask is, 'Is there anyone else on the team I can speak with to learn more about how things work around here?'" she says. "If the answer is no, that's the red flag."
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