Monday, December 2, 2013

Questioning Authority

Ironically, the catchphrase “Question Authority”, came into vogue in the 1960s and early ‘70s. It was meant as an idealistic challenge to what the young generation of that period considered an inflexible and rigid societal status quo, which needed to be shaken loose. The ironic part is that these are the same people who now run the very system they once criticized and are more critical about dissent than their predecessors in power – or so it seems. I recognize that this is a blog about employment-related matters and not politics. However, in all aspects of our lives during the last few years, non-conformity, dissent or simple disagreement, questioning or challenging a process or a function increasingly evokes condemnation – and this trend also extends to the job market.
Take the interview process, for example, sadly I encounter a lot of people who worry that if they ask too many questions they will somehow disqualify themselves from further consideration because they might be, you know, asking too many questions. This is nonsensical and the complete opposite of the reality. If you are interviewing and trying to learn about a potential job opportunity, you can and should ask as many questions as you think necessary in order for you to have as complete an understanding as you require before making any decision. Certainly, the interviewer will ask you as many questions as they see fit to evaluate you, therefore, as an equal participant you owe it to yourself to ask. This benefits not only the job seeker but also the company conducting the interview. Too often people will pursue a job according to only the basic job description they read and responded to. Many people sit almost mute during the interview and speak only when spoken to, scratching together some courage to ask questions only at the very end of a process – this is a big mistake. “Why,” is the universal interview question to ask and I recommend you exploit it to your heart’s content.  Recall that when we were young, most of us drove adults crazy asking why, about everything, although at some point we were instructed to stop asking so many questions. This same trend continued throughout our time in the classroom and into adulthood.
As a headhunter I can tell you that asking thoughtfully structured questions demonstrates that you are fully engaged in the process – as you should be. Question away until you have nothing more to ask. Some may disagree with my viewpoint, so let me share with you what hiring managers tell me. Here are two common things I hear related to this subject. One comment I hear is, “…I was surprised they didn’t have any questions.” This is a response that is often met with an assumption of lack of interview prep or lack of real interest. Another observation I get from interviewers is, “…they asked me a lot of great questions and he/she is clearly interested.” Based on these comments, the message is clear, or do you need me to spell it out? Incidentally, one comment I never hear about an applicant someone wants to hire is, “…they asked too many questions.” 
So to overstate the obvious, when you interview for any job, assuming you are interested, ask as many questions as you feel the need to ask, don’t be shy and don’t be intimidated into feeling as though you are attracting negative attention. Remember, if you don’t stand out from the rest of the applicants, it means you are no better or worse but just the same, which is not a good strategy if they are looking for the best-qualified person, who stands apart from the others.
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  2. Indeed. After they got to know you with their questions, you better get to know their company and the position you are applying for as well to have a better view if it is what you are really looking for.