As you develop your job search plan a ‘cheat sheet’ helps to uncover some common issues which you need to understand. Answers to these questions will help you select employers who meet your goals.  Later, as you interview, review the research you did on the questions to prepare for the interview. Then select questions to ask during each interview.

This ‘cheat sheet’ is designed to help you organize your thoughts, research, and questions. Some questions shown will depend on the level or type of position.  Those sections or questions shown with an * are more useful to those seeking mid-level to senior management positions.

This ‘cheat sheet’ serves as a useful starting point.  Modify it as necessary and appropriate for you. Don’t forget to add questions specific to your personal and professional goals!

You are seeking to learn, via these questions, both the employer’s approach to your field and to assess your interest level in each target. Also ask such questions while you are networking.

When you get to the interview stage, ask a number of specific questions of each interviewer.  Ask several interviewers a few of the same general questions – the more you ask, the better you will be able to assess the reality versus the “sales pitch.”   Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

This process helps you assess the opportunity and how much it matches your goals and needs. Many hiring managers will assess you on the quality of your questions. “How much vacation will I get” is a negative since it doesn’t show an interest in the work . “What are the critical few goals for the first three months” is a positive. Having no questions at all is often interpreted as a lack of interest.

Let the “cheat sheet” help you think about the basic information you need so that you can make a good choice.

A. The Organization:

  • What is the vision? Mission?
  • How is the vision manifested in the organization?
  • What is the current strategy?
  • * Is there a strategic plan? How is it used?
  • * Who is involved in strategic planning?
  • What is the culture currently? Is the culture seen as positive?
  • * Are there culture change issues or plans?
  • What are the organization’s stated values? Actual values?
  • How do these compare to your values and needs?
  • Who are the major competitors?
  • What is this organization’s market share in comparison to competitors?
  • Are trends increasing competition or not?
  • Is there potential for disruption in the business arena? (Think Uber vs taxi)
  • What are the critical business issues facing the organization?
  • Does the organization have formal development programs in your function?
  • Does it tend to promote from within?

B. * The Executive View of the Function:

  • What is the function’s role within the organization?
  • What are the current critical issues?
  • What are longer-term critical issues?
  • How do these relate to the primary business issues?
  • Is the top person in the function a member of the executive staff?
  • What role, if any, does the top person have with the BOD?
  • What does each executive interviewed see as the role of the function?
  • What experience does each executive have with your potential role?
  • What are the ‘critical few’ objectives for the next 6 months? 12 months?

C. Immediate Manager’s Views:

  • What is the function’s role within the organization?
  • Is it seen as effective as is?
  • Are there plans that will change the role in the next year?
  • How is the function currently organized? Is it effective?
  • * How are current staff members seen within the organization?
  • Who are peers to this position? Subordinates?
  • What aspects are currently outsourced?
  • * Why those functions?
  • What are the critical relationships outside the work unit for the person in this position?
  • What other functions does it support?
  • What development opportunities exist?
  • What are the ‘critical few’ objectives for this position in next 6 months? Year?
  • * What are the key projects related to: Critical business issues, Strategic plan,
    Operations/business plan, Internal initiatives
  • * What is the budget?
  • How will performance be measured?
  • Timetable?
  • What is the current level of turnover in the company? In the function?
  • Why is the position open? How long has it been open?
  • Are there internal candidates?
  • Previous incumbent’s successes?

Assessing and Maintaining Your Interview Cheat Sheet

As you gain experience in the interview process, modify and update your ‘cheat sheet’ as needed:

ADD those qualities that are important to you and match your goals and values. Consider your needs versus wants such as specific goals, professional growth, ability to mentor others, a short commute or whatever.

SUBTRACT the questions which are not important for your level or goals.

Bottom Line

This cheat sheet is a starting point. As you do your research and informational interviewing, you should find other questions which will give you insight.

Don’t be afraid to bring your questions into an interview or to make notes about the answers you receive. Some interviewers gauge interest by the questions asked and the notes taken.

Always compare the answers you get in interviews to those you got from your network and in your research of the organization’s public information. Sometimes the “talk” is not the reality.


Adapted from LinkedIn Pulse article previously published.