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The Value of Asking: What and How?

I always stress that, during the interview process, it is a two–way dialogue and as a matter of self–respect and self–interest you have an obligation to ask questions and it is, and should be, an interactive process. Therefore, I’d like to offer some simple advice about an aspect often overlooked. Especially if the process seems to be going too smoothly, you might flatter yourself into thinking they are welcoming you with open arms because you are just that much better than the other candidates for the same job. It may be true, but don’t let the nice words and praise sway you from digging deeper to learn more information, because there could be another reason you are sailing through so effortlessly. Learn more about the reasons the position is open.
What are the circumstances for the open position? Ask them, “What happened to the last employee who occupied this position?” They should be willing to discuss this with you and your next question should be, “How long were they in the position?” You may hear some good information and perhaps they’ll tell you the previous holder of the position was promoted within the company after spending a couple of productive years in the role. On the other hand, if they tell you the last occupant left the company and you also learn they spent less than a year in the position, your obvious follow–up questions are again, what happened and why and additionally ask, “And what about the person before that?” See what a difference those two small questions can make and surely you recognize the importance of this information. What if they tell you the position was vacant for an extended period of time; what are the circumstances for why nobody else has accepted the job?
This opens up a whole new area for investigation. Be especially cautious if they seek to avoid the discussion. Of course there could very well be a good explanation, but you definitely need to know what the reasons are surrounding the opportunity, which would affect both you and the company for which you are considering working. It doesn’t mean every job should be easy with lots of career development opportunities, although that is the wish of most people. An environment of shared risk and mutual respect is the solid foundation of any business arrangement. In the bigger picture both you and the company benefit when you can make a better–informed decision. You might need a job, but under what circumstances? Don’t lose your focus and rush the process just to save time, otherwise you could find yourself right back where you started, looking for yet another job.