An important question to ask in an interview

The interview is coming to an end, all has been going well and then they ask: Do you have any questions for me? There are a number of questions you may ask at this point. The key is to ask a question that will help you figure out if this is a place where you will succeed. My question is a bit of a ‘turnabout is fair play’: Can you describe a time you failed and how did the organization respond?

Every survey I have ever read lists who you will work for as the most important determinant in accepting a position. And your immediate supervisor will be key to your decision to stay. It’s not money. It’s not the nature of the work. It’s the relationship.

Why the question about failure? An interviewer will ask you some version of the question to determine how you deal with setbacks. It’s just as important for you to understand how they deal with failure. You don’t want to work for someone who was valedictorian of their high school graduating class, and who has since progressed in their career by managing not to fail. It will limit your freedom to take risks and you may be micromanaged to the point where your hair catches fire.

The opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview gives you the chance to have the conversation about the potential for professional growth and success.

As the economy improves, there is opportunity for mobility at all levels. There is always the possibility that your boss may move on within a few months of your arrival. And it may be that the opportunity for advancement is the component that attracts you to the position. You may want to work for the person who is moving on in six months.

Can you make an impact during his/her tenure? What happened to the last person who held the position?

Many candidates miss the opportunity to have this conversation about success and failure with a potential employer. Often time is limited at the end of the interview. Be prepared with the questions that will help you differentiate this offer from the others. And take a chance to ask about failure and its’ consequences.

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