Stop! Before you accept that cushy job, make sure it’s actually as cushy as you think it is. Managers have a long line of questions to ask in an interview, but what about you as a candidate? What questions should you ask?
Here’s my top ten questions to ask before taking an IT job:
10. What happened to the last person in this position?
Did they quit, did they get promoted, did they die of a stress-induced heart attack, what? Rarely is a position created completely from scratch, and you want to know why the last person left so you can avoid their fate. If they’d been around for less than a year, I would ask the same question about their predecessor as well.
9. Have you had any layoffs in the last year?
Nobody’s going to tell you if layoffs are scheduled for the future, but you can at least ask about the past. Maybe they did a round of layoffs and they’re perfectly positioned for future growth, but maybe they’re spiraling down the toilet.
8. What’s the on-call rotation schedule?
Will you be sharing the pager with someone, on call one week per month, or on call at all times? If you’re on call, do you get a company laptop and wireless aircard to be able to respond, or do you have to hoof it to the nearest desktop, or heaven forbid, the office? And to follow that up…
7. In the last year, how many times has the on-call person been called?
From 1997 until 2008, I was on call 24/7 – but I got maybe one call per month. That kind of load is do-able, but if the on-call phone is ringing every other night at midnight, forget it. Or at least budget psychiatry bills in with your expenses. Speaking of expenses…
6. Is there a training or travel budget for this position?
In your struggle up the career chain, you’ll reach a point where suddenly you’re expected to do a little learning on the company dime in order to keep your skills sharp. It never hurts to ask. If the answer is no, ask if you would be paid your salary while attending an industry conference like the week-long PASS Summit on your own dime. I know employees who have to take vacation time to attend these conferences, and that really hurts.
5. Can I access online tools to do my job?
More and more companies are barring employees from surfing the web. This isn’t just a quality-of-life issue – although allowing Twitter would be nice – but it can also make life tougher when troubleshooting an IT problem. The best help is on the web, not in Books Online.
4. Can I schedule vacations around the holidays?
I’ve worked in IT shops where everybody wanted to take vacation around Christmas week or New Year’s, but the low guys on the totem pole weren’t allowed to do it. Seniority dictated the vacation schedule, so the old pros got the holidays off while the new kids on the block got shafted. It shouldn’t dissuade me from taking a job, but it’s something to think about.
3. How important is my work to the company?
I’ve worked in shops where my database platform was the black sheep of the family, the platform of last resort. I’ve worked in shops where it was seen as highly visible and mission critical. The more valued this position is, the more you’ll be seen as an asset to the company – and less likely to be looked over at raise time, or worse, laid off.
2. What’s the telecommuting policy?
Database administration lends itself really well to working from home. Denny Cherry and I sit around our houses most of the time, while some folks are cursed with driving in to the software factory every day. Telecommuting cuts your expenses, increases your productivity, and raises your quality of living. Some companies get it, and some don’t – but ask before you start. This is one of those policies that probably isn’t going to change after you take the offer.
1. What does “success” look like for this position?
Here’s how I like to phrase this to my future manager: “90 days after I start, if you’re talking to your boss about what a great job I’ve done in my first 90 days, what kinds of things are you raving about? What are the tasks that you wish this new employee could accomplish? What would make you the proudest?”
The answer to this isn’t written in the job description. We’re talking about things that will make your manager jump up and down with excitement, things that will make you a seriously valuable employee, and things that you want to put first on your task list when you start.
And a Bonus Question: Will I have to sign any non-compete agreements?
In IT, the answer to this is often yes, and they can be pretty restrictive – especially at consulting companies. It’s not uncommon to sign away your rights to work for any competitors or any clients for years after you leave the company. In a tight market or in a small town, that can pretty much eliminate your job options. Better to find out ahead of time rather than after you’ve already accepted the offer, quit your old company, and started filling out your new hire paperwork on your first day at the new job.
More Articles on Interview Questions
If you liked this, here’s a few more of my posts about interview questions for job candidates: