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7 Questions Job Seekers Should Always Ask--But Can't

When you're interviewing for a job, it's crucial to interview the employer right back, to make sure that this is a job you want and a company you want to be a part of. But here are some questions most job seekers don't feel comfortable asking--even though they'd love to know the answers:

1. How secure is this job? No one wants to leave a secure job for one that's in danger of disappearing. If the new company is having financial troubles, new hires could be on the top of the list if layoffs happen--but all too often employers don't warn prospective hires that this might be coming.

How to find out: You can often find information online about a company's financial position--but it's also not taboo to ask an interviewer outright about the company's finances and how safe the position is in case of cutbacks or strategic changes.

2. What do your employees think of you? Managers have an enormous impact on workers' day-to-day quality of life at work. Yet it's often hard to tell in an interview if a manager is going to turn out to be unreasonable, or a wimp who can't get things done, or a jerk, or even outright abusive.

How to find out: Peek behind the curtain by asking to talk to some of the other employees who you would be working with. A good company won't mind arranging that, so it's a red flag if they balk. You can also check the company's reviews on sites like GlassDoor.com (although take these reviews with a grain of salt since they're anonymous).

3. Can I really use those benefits? Some companies offer generous vacation time on paper, but not in practice. If you can never get your time off approved and your manager frowns on taking vacations, it won't matter how much paid time off you're supposedly earning.

How to find out: Talking to current employees can help you learn the truth about benefits too. Try asking about what time people typically leave work, when they last took vacation time, and how they feel about the company's benefits package overall.

4. Why do most people really leave jobs here? In some offices, it's a poorly kept secret that turnover is high because the company won't give raises or offer opportunities for promotion, or simply because the management makes employees' lives miserable. But as a job seeker, it can be impossible to tell this from the outside.

How to find out: Ask what kind of turnover the department or organization has had recently. You can also ask what the company does to retain good employees.

5. How do people get along here? Few people want to work for a company where co-workers pass the day in icy silence (or worse, open hostility). And on the other side of the spectrum, most people don't want to work for a company where they'll be expected to attend nightly happy hours and participate in forced bonding either.

How to find out: Pay attention to the energy of the office when you're there to interview: Do people seem cheerful and focused, or miserable and counting the hours until the day ends?

6. How often do you give raises? A proposed starting salary might seem generously high--but if it will be years before that number is revisited, it might suddenly be a lot less appealing. A good starting salary could turn into a below-market thorn in your side in a few years.

How to find out: As with most things money-related, wait until you have a job offer to inquire about this one. Once you have an offer and you're negotiating salary, ask how often salaries are revisited typically. Is it an automatic annual process tied to performance evaluations or is it more ad hoc?

7. When is the last time you fired someone? Most people know how frustrating it is to have a co-worker who the company obviously should have fired but who instead was allowed to languish on. Just as good workers want to work for a company that will reward great performance, they also want to work for a company that will get rid of people if they deserve to be fired.

How to find out: This question can be tricky, because you don't want to sound as though you're hoping to slack off without any consequences. You can get around that by explaining why you're asking. For instance, you could say, "I've seen first-hand the impact on a team when someone isn't pulling their weight, and so I know how important it is to address that when it happens. How does the company handle performance concerns?"

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.



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