Use interview questions to evaluate the team

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Did you notice there is a ton of organizational churn out there? With the number of layoffs companies have made over the last year and the constant reorganizations that happen within companies, who knows what’s going on in a team when you walk in for an interview? It’s not like you can go on the Internet and figure it out.

So you need to use interview questions to evaluate what you’re getting into with the team you’ll be working in if you get the job.

What do you need to know about the team?

There are four elements about a team that can tell you a lot about what you are getting into.

How long has the team been organized as it is now? This is important to know because of stability. If the team was reorganized last week, that sets off red flags to me. If that is the case, I need to know why they are hiring for the position, how the team’s focus will change and how they set up the organization. Did the reorganization, in fact, make sense?

On the other hand, if the team has been organized this way for a year, it shows more stability in this ugly employment environment. There are follow-up questions to ask, but your evaluation has to do with stability versus chaos with this question.

How long have the team members been part of the team? This also looks at stability, but also at the ability for you to break into the team’s culture. If there is constant churn in the team members, it usually means the job is a burnout job or the work is not fulfilling. If there is no or little churn, it means the team has jelled into some level of performance and culture that your arrival will do little to change that level.

Part of a job is how well you “fit” within the team’s culture and management style. The length of the team’s tenure affects how you fit.

What is the focus of the team now compared to a year ago? This is a subtle, but important question. If the focus of the team now is the same as a year ago, then there is a functional organization. If, however, the team didn’t exist a year ago or is now focused on something substantially different a year ago, someone made an organizational decision that is filled with risk.

If it is a new team, it means there is a big problem to solve in the organization and you need to help solve it. Without success in solving the problem, the team will simply go away through a layoff.

If the focus is substantially changed from a year ago, there is an exceptionally high probability that the job skills needed for the team to function well won’t be there. While you like to have job skills that can cover many functions, you don’t set yourself up for the best success if the people doing great at project management are now in charge of compliance reporting. Sure, much of both jobs is about reporting, but the bigger skills are different.

How long has the manager managed the team? If the manager has been managing the team for a year or more, it means there has been a complete cycle of goals, budgets, projects and performance reviews. All of those processes will have settled, for better or worse. The likelihood of how the manager will manage the team changing is low unless there is a management change (which often happens). But, at least with this manager, you know what to expect.

If the manager is new, on the other hand, the entire team will still be adjusting to the new manager’s style, goal setting process, and figuring out how performance ratings will be done.

Part of what your job is during an interview is to determine if the team you will be working with will work right for you. The only way to figure that out is asking great interview questions to help you understand your risks.

What other great team questions would you ask?

  • I think you covered the four most important questions, Scot. What I’d be looking for is a matter of observation: If you’re being interviewed by the team as a group rather than by individual members, I pay attention to how the members interact: Is there good-natured banter? Does the team leader defer to a team member if that person has a more informed answer to a question? Are the team members allowed to “correct” anything the manager says that’s wrong (as long as it’s done tactfully)?

    If I detect tension within the team, there’s a red flag. If, on the other hand, I get a good feeling about how they interact and that the manager genuinely respects the opinions of his fellow team members, that’s a positive sign.

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