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5 Things to Ask Your Interviewer
by Juliette Dupre on 07/02/13 05:16:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Assuming you've covered basics, these simple questions for your future colleagues and supervisors will help you get the info you need to evaluate the opportunity while helping you stand out as a attentive and engaged candidate. Showing that you are prudent about your next opportunity may also increase your perceived value to the interviewer by implying that standards must be achieved in order to acquire your contributions.

1. What has been your greatest challenge in the past 12 months?

Don't fool yourself. Every company has challenges. Every one. Better to understand a bit of it on the front end and be able to pick your poison. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is - don't let a lack of transparency woo you into a blindside.

2. What do you expect will be your greatest challenge in the next 12 months?

Follow-up on the future evolution of the issues and what is expected to change as well as what is not.

3. What do you like most about working for the company?

Here's where you find out some of the reasons that people are putting up with number 1 up there. Look for things that are valuable to you, and don't underestimate the importance of working with very collegial, talented people. If someone says it's because they provide meals 3 times a day, be afraid. Be very afraid - unless you love living at your desk.

4. What are future career expectations for this role?

This is an issue that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle or glossed over. Get specifics as much as you can - how many years between the various promotions, what measures are in place for determing qualifications at future levels, and what directional options there might be as you continue to rise.

5.  What is the company's financial history and projection?

With the sharp rise in layoffs and increased tendency toward contracts and project-based hiring, it's important to get into details like this. It's possible that not everyone you speak with will be qualified or authorized to answer this one.  

There they are in all their simple glory. Ask 'em early and often, starting with screening and at each interview along the way. You'll hear multiple perspectives, get a consistency check, and be able to connect dots that you can't from getting answers from only one person. Take control of your interviews and get the data you need to wade through your choices!

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y h
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I think there are personalities that answer more correctly to those questions and depends too on the job positions they are aspiring.

Anton Temba
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Really good tips, thank you.

Daniel Backteman
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Hm, so general consensus here is to not ask these questions?

Genuinely wondering, anything that makes me a more appealing, prospective employee is of course appreciated.

I've managed to get into all my jobs on personality first, competence second (pretty hard to show competence at the start of one's career and without a portfolio). But I have the worry that personality only goes so far - so how to catch the attention of the employer then?

There's a thin line between attentive, nosy and pita bread, yes?

Edit: Thank you very much for the replies below. :) Having more points of view is boss and you certainly answered informatively.

Jonathan Hanna
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I think it depends on the situation and the role you are interviewing for.

I've interviewed and hired more than a few people over the years and I've been asked the third question by almost all of them. It's a good question for almost all levels. The first two are also good in most cases, especially if you are going to be in a role where those challenges may directly affect you. I'd suggest asking the question more specific to the job you are interviewing for though rather than asking it as a general question. Any interviewer who doesn't want to answer that question or thinks you are a PITA for asking them probably isn't someone I'd want to work with. My assumption would be they are hiding something.

The fourth question I'd avoid. There is no way anyone can predict when/if you will get promoted and I'd agree it could look like you aren't interested in the position you are interviewing for and are only taking it to get some other position.

The last one I'd also probably avoid. The vast majority of people you talk to aren't likely going to be able to answer it and those that can answer it could take it the wrong way. At the end of the day every job and company have risks and even if the company is doing well today that's no guarantee for the future anyway.

All of that said, for me, a candidate who doesn't ask any questions is a big red flag. For a junior position it probably wouldn't be cause for concern, but for anything mid-level to senior I'd expect the candidate to ask some questions. Show some interest and curiosity about the job and the company. I find it best to go into the interview with a few questions in hand, but I'd also recommend being ready to form questions during the interview. I often learn more about a candidate from their questions than I do from their answers. While you certainly want to avoid looking like you are trying to control the interview, I think you also wan to avoid appearing indifferent.

Mike Weldon
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That is absolutely not the general consensus! Pretty much every person I have ever interviewed has asked me #3. And I would never decline a candidate solely because they asked too many questions. That is idiotic. However, regarding #4 and as Maria Jayne mentions below, be careful how you ask and how you respond to the answer or else you might seem like you will be bucking for a promotion instead of doing the job you are hired for.

I would also mention that it probably depends on what you are interviewing for. If you are 19 years old applying for a short-term QA contract, you probably don't need to ask about the company's financial history. Still, it doesn't mean they are bad questions.

Alexander Brandon
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First of all, this is great advice. Second of all, your last name is Dupre, so for games industry advice I have to take it seriously. Ah, the days of Ultima.

Maria Jayne
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4. What are future career expectations for this role?

Something about this question seems detrimental to you getting the job, you're basically asking how soon can I do something else. I think perhaps this would be a question better asked after you have been accepted and started settling in.

Asking it while they can still say no might give them ammunition to pass you over, because what they really need right now, is someone who wants to do the job they are interviewing for.

Sherman Luong
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In general where that job title is a normal title, I would avoid the question. But lately there are more and more weird job titles that who knows if there is a career path in.

Terry Matthes
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All of them sound fine to me except number 5. To be honest you could probably Google number 5 or at least infer it from news and financial data available to the public. I think number 4 is actually terrific. It might give you a clue as to the the internal path for your position which (in my opinion) is really important if you plan to move beyond what you're being hired for.

Katie L
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If you're interviewing at a start-up -- even a games start-up, number 5 is *entirely* reasonable. What's the funding model? How long a runway does the current burn-rate give? What's funding plan B? What are the exits under consideration?

You don't necessarily ask them of the tech interviewer, but you should ask SOMEONE. Because if you don't there's a very serious risk of the moment where they ask you to start working for free (or "deferred pay" as it's called) being closer than you would like.

Answers like "We don't know" about financial questions are a serious warning sign. Not knowing which of a set of exits would be best is OK -- it at least shows they're thinking about the future. Not knowing their own burn rate, for example, would be scary.

And anyone who doesn't want to answer questions like that is simply aware that the answers aren't good.

Proper start-ups being run by proper people will have proper answers for these questions -- they will sound rehearsed exactly because they are; because investors, customers and banks all ask the same sorts of questions.

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kimberly Sabina
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I find it quite interesting that there are so many people who believe these kinds of questions are inappropriate and dare I say even "upity" of the "worker" to ask and only suitable for CXX's. I think that may stem from the almost ingrained mentality of many of us who work in Silicon Valley to think about these kinds of things when working in very high tech, high demand growing industries.

The first and most in demand people to get hired on at these kinds of companies are Engineers and UI Designers, so it's of course these kinds of questions that separates, "Does your company deserve having me work for it?" rather than "Do I deserve to work for your company?", the latter being the way most people approach job searches.

To me, these seem as completely viable questions, but I come from a very startup heavy environment and background. My colleagues and I are usually involved in companies which are private, and do not have a lot of public information floating around on these matters. This is the sort of question as a business owner or hiring manager I would actually expect top talent to ask as a matter of fact, I certainly would not penalize someone who is interested in the culture, financial prospects, career path, product projection of my company and if I got the impression that someone was not keen to answer these kinds of questions in an interview I would be looking for the exit because that spells trouble.

Jess Groennebech
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Working in the HR field for years, I will say that #3 and #5 is either lack of time to prepare or simply lack of preparation for your interview which I would question the candidate regarding (Lack of preparation says something and may become a factor on what candidate to pick).

The rest is sound for a job where you're supposed to participate on a higher level then grunt.

Paul Furio
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These actually are good questions, and I'd say that for startups, #5 is not always easily available outside of the company. It's also telling how a company responds to these questions. If their reaction is "this guy/gal asks too many questions," then unless you're looking to slave away to "build cred", this probably is not a company for which you want to work.

Anyone with skill and a mature, professional attitude should be able to ask the correct questions to discern the key points of these questions:
1) What's the day-to-day like? What's the year-over-year like?
2) How have you handled challenges in the past, and how will you handle challenges in the future? Are they the same challenges? (If yes, that's bad, if no, do they have a framework for how they approach and overcome challenges, or is their methodology random?)
3) Are you financially stable and growing?

As a software and entertainment professional, you don't want to work in a grindhouse. You just don't. Let someone else suck that up. You also don't want to work someplace with only three months of financial runway, or a hire-and-fire shop. Finally, you want to be surrounded by people with a good approach to advancing their studio/company/IP/services/whatever. Compensation is not the only thing you get out of any employer, you're also learning their techniques and culture, and contributing to improving both.

Jeff Jirsa
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I think it all depends on the delivery when you ask questions like these. I try to get this info without overtly asking a direct question - let it flow as part of a conversation. If they're describing a new position, you could make a statement like "Sounds like it's been challenging without a around," and see if they elaborate. A lot of it depends on context and how the interview is going, so you just need to stay on your toes and pay attention. You need to find out about your prospective employer as much as they need to vet your skill set.

adam anthony
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I think the subject of the questions are important for anyone to ask. Jobs aren't quite as scarce as they were a few years ago, so now the interviews really are 2 way streets. I know plenty of people that would turn a position down if the interviewer seemed hesitant in answering any of these. The problem is that the way they are worded are a bit robotic. But what I think Mrs. Dupre is trying to get across is the subject matter of the questions.

Juliette Dupre
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Precisely! Word them how you like - I simply erred on the side of formal verbiage here.

Giro Maioriello
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I think that question 4 is important 'if' worded in the correct way.

I once went for a job interview and basically asked this question.

The reply was, "There's no career progression in that role, however we pay more than the average wage to reflect this.".

So make of that what you will. But it's better to be upfront than to waste everybody's time.

Steven An
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As someone who tends to prefer small companies over large companies, I definitely would want a candidate to ask these questions. If they don't ask these kind of questions, I would probably assume that they're 1) desperate or 2) not really interested in the role.

Krissie King
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Having questions in mind at an interview is a good idea, since everyone tends to be nervous and can't think on the spot. I would add that the questions be customized to the company, and not so drilling... and even start with a compliment! For example.... "Such-in-such was a great game with an in-depth story". That was a huge success for ! "What would you say has been the greatest challenge for (company name) in recent months/years? "

Albert Meranda
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The first 4 questions are completely reasonable things to ask in an interview. I can see being concerned about coming across as a PITA if this is an interview for a first job, but variations of those 4 questions are really common. As people above have commented, #3 is asked in *most* interviews.

#5 might make sense at a startup or a small studio, but most devs conducting interviews aren't on the business end of things and likely won't have a great answer for that type of question.

Dustin Demonja
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I think these questions are all great and you should ask them. Project based and contractual hires are what keeps our industry churn and burn out right around 5 years.

I asked all these questions on all my interviews and they were well received. It's all about how you frame them and what your intention is.

Having now been in the position to help hire people to teams I find it great when people ask me these questions. It shows that they truly care about where they work and what they work on, and that they are not just looking for their next pay check.

Just remember ask them with the correct intention and possibly frame them in a way that helps convey your sincerity.