My Best Lifestyle Interview Question. And Why.

I’ve been interviewing for my next £dayjob. As a freelancer, I change jobs regularly, typically once or twice a year so I’ve had a bit of practice at the process. Over the last few years, I’ve been noting down questions that I would ask in interviews but this time I’ve noticed a definite shift in focus and purpose of the questions. I used to focus on questions about the company, it’s values, day-to-day tasks, my role and the technical challenges with detailed questions about the technology, vendors and what products they were using. You know, the usual stuff.

Why do I keep the questions ?

  1. Because it’s the best way to stand out from other candidates – most people don’t ask questions in interviews. Not asking is a sure sign of desperation.
  2. Effective Laziness. Takes 5 to 10 interviews to get a job. Why keep thinking up new questions ?

What Matters to Me Now

These days I’m asking questions about what type of laptops and smartphones are issued and  how modern the software is because I care about my work quality.  It is really difficult to best-interview-questiondeliver good work on a five year old laptop using WinXP, Office 2003 and Putty. I’m looking for team software systems that use enterprise social, lean practices, wikis and websites (instead of Sharepoint).

I ask questions to senior management about attitudes to remote working, flexible working hours and how much travel is required. I get guidance on company attitudes to taking personal time off (without pay). These are all lifestyle or worklife questions.

My Best Interview Question

I want to know if a company “loves” their employees. Of course, they all say that they do but will they really treat me well and respect me as an individual ? So here is the best question I’ve ever come up with to test that:

“How complex are expense claims and are they paid on time ?”

Expense claims are a sure sign of company health. It’s a sign that the company has low quality IT, poor HR and bad accounting teams because employee expenses crosses all of those departments.

Expense systems have an ability to grow all sorts of useless appendages over time. If senior management doesn’t control the internal bureaucracy, HR and accounting teams to rune free then the expenses system tends run out of controller.  Expenses are a sign of good or bad management. It’s also a good sign to start asking questions about culture – a bad expenses system is a sign that the company has communication problems internally, high likelihood of a toxic internal culture and deep rooted internal problems.

Not to mention that management doesn’t care enough about employees to fix it.

Importantly, the peer interviews will always tell you about it when you ask about expenses. It’s not a taboo topic.

Finally, a bad expenses system is a financial risk to myself so I would be looking for an increased salary to cover that risk even if I took the job. (Don’t tell the interviewer that though)

By the way, this question is a good one for evaluating resellers and vendors. Being a customer or employee is pretty much the same thing these days.

The EtherealMind View

Why am I focussed on work life ? After 25 or so years in technology, I have developed some level of mastery.  Working on different products is usually just a few days work to come up to speed on the CLI or GUI. Takes a few more weeks to understand some of the subtle tricks. Say a month to be competent, maybe two months. The harder part is refreshing my knowledge on different technologies – for example, SSL, MPLS, Proxy, HTTP, IPsec, SSL VPN. I often need to refresh my knowledge since it fades from my brain or there is some advancement. IPsec is a good example where DMVPN is a solid advancement but takes a few weeks to update the knowledge to an operational level.

But taking a job at a company that makes it hard to do good work and doesn’t pay expenses prompt and makes them hard to claim is a strong signal of internal dysfunction. A company with  problematic processes or a toxic work culture is not something that I can fix, solve or manage.

That’s why I have my favourite interview question.

  • JaredTheGeek

    This is great, its a why didn’t I ever do that kind of moment.

  • mellerbeck

    rune should be run, or something, that sentence reads strange. Enjoyed the post

  • J Max

    Greg I had a interview last week and I wrote down every question they are going to ask me. I can even send you a snapshot of them. LOL. But the questions I had for them they where surprised. I was interviewing them. This was a global company in car parts. I just wanted to know basic questions. These basic questions covered all you said here. Do they care about what they are implementing or are you just a tool for them. Questions like: What keeps you motivated in this fast pace technology world? Very simple and easy. If they understand question they understand the candidate. I call this flip it to them.

  • augenthaler

    Greg, this is one of your best posts. I’ve got to keep this on file for future reference.

    • Etherealmind

      Thanks for feedback Tom. Appreciated.