Should Potential Employees Interview YOU Instead?

The marketing department at my company has fallen victim to the revolving doors of employment, with one new employee after the other leaving. It got me thinking that the job interview process may not have been as productive as the hiring manager thought.

Job search site Monster offers interview tips for employers, and it’s good to keep these points in mind, including knowing what not to ask to avoid legal trouble, and how to prepare for, and then conduct, an interview. But it occurred to me that it may be helpful to instead turn the tables on the applicant, and ask the applicant to interview you instead.

I’ve heard it said that all the answers to the questions on a test can be found in the questions themselves. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can believe it. The questions people ask are sometimes more revealing than the answers they give. If you allow applicants to ask you whatever question they want, you get the best sense of their familiarity with your company and industry. If they know nothing about you and your work, they won’t be able to ask intelligent questions, will they?

Similarly, you get a sense of passion and engagement. Let’s say they show they did enough research to know about your company and their potential role, but all their questions center on the benefits that will be provided to them. Or their questions focus on how they can keep their workload as light as possible. It’s also interesting to see how potential applicants handle asking the same question—it can make the difference between an intelligent, intriguing question and a question that turns you off from an applicant.

Think of the difference between this: “About how long does it usually take people in this role to finish their daily tasks? From past employees, what have you noticed about the ability to balance the workload so it’s manageable?” And this: “I’m passionate about learning more about processes like Six Sigma and Lean Management, and then finding ways to apply those principles to my work, so that tasks become streamlined and the functioning of a whole work group becomes more efficient. Would there be opportunities, or a need, for me to do that at your company?”

In the first case, the potential employee almost sounds like he’s getting ready to whine about the workload before he even started the job, and in the second case, the applicant is saying that he wants to help the company find ways of becoming more efficient.

An applicant knowledgeable about your company’s industry also could pose intelligent questions about new products you may have in development or could have in development. She also could note what your competitors are doing, and ask what you’re doing that’s comparable or even better, and how she, in her new role, could help you better compete.

In addition to asking insightful questions about your workflow and products, a great applicant would demonstrate interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence by asking about the interviewer’s own career trajectory, including the path the interviewer’s career took at the current company. The applicant is showing she has an interest in learning from others who are more experienced, and is looking for a similar path for herself.

In contrast, an applicant, who lacks interpersonal skills or professional curiosity might resort to the kind of questions you might ask a person you met at a bar or other social setting: “Where do you live? Is it a far commute? Do you have any kids? Did you take any good vacations lately?” There’s nothing wrong with those questions in another setting, but in a job interview you would hope applicants would ask questions that relate to their potential career path at the company.

Similarly, an applicant might ask about the interviewer’s career heroes and role models, and whether there would be opportunities at the company to work with mentors, and the kinds of reach opportunities that might be available. In that vein, an applicant might ask where the interviewer sees him or herself in the next 10 years. That would give the potential applicant an idea of how open the company is to advancement. And it would give the company an idea of whether the applicant is asking herself that question, too.

Would you consider doing a role reversal and having applicants interview hiring managers? What do you think could be gained from this exercise? What are the possible perils?

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