A job interview is no Friday-night fling. While most couples date for years before tying the knot, a job interview gone well presents a weighty, love-it-or-leave-it choice.
Like marriage, though, saying, “I do” to your next employer involves a careful matching of values. Taking a job for the wrong reasons—money, location, or title, among others—is like picking a spouse for looks, cash, or to stave off loneliness. But how, with just an hour to size up a professional home, can you know if you’ve found Mr. or Mrs. Right Employer? Many of us plainly aren’t great at it: In the U.S., just 32 percent of employees are engaged at work. With so few happy with their jobs, it’s no wonder that employer-employee divorce rates are high.
Ask Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
Choosing the right company starts with asking the right questions. Just like courtship, an interview shouldn’t be a one-way street. As a CEO who spends 75 percent of his time on talent acquisition, I recommend bringing these six questions to your next interview:
1. “How would you define your company values?”
With this question, you’re looking for consistency. If possible, ask three interviewers: If you get three totally different responses, the company’s culture probably needs work. Follow up on the interviewers’ responses. If somebody says the company values teamwork, for instance, ask how teams are structured. What activities do the company use to foster teamwork? Take notes, and look for congruence between company policies and management styles.
[Related: 7 Dating Rules That Apply To Your Career Too]
2. “If I’m hired, what would you expect me to have accomplished in a year?”
Ask this question early in the vetting process, ideally to whoever would be your direct supervisor. The supervisor’s answer should help you determine whether job specifications match with what you can deliver.
A reasonable answer that fits the job description points to a well-organized company. It shows expectations are fair, the company is willing to support your success, and it has thoughtfully considered the role’s effect on business.
3. “What’s the greatest challenge your company has faced? How did you overcome it?”
Everyone loves to talk about achievements in an interview — employers included — but you’ll learn more from the company’s struggles than you ever could its successes. How an organization behaves and operates when the chips are down is a true testament of character. Ask these two hand-in-hand questions later in the interview process, ideally to a CEO or other executive, after you’ve gotten a sense of the culture.
I’d admit this question once caught me off guard in an interview. It’s a great question because it asks for complete transparency about the company’s mistakes. Just as you’ll be expected to learn from failure, your employer should as well.
4. “What’s the most essential trait a new team member should possess, and why?”
Ask this question at any stage during the interview. A hiring manager, or better yet, your future boss, is the person to ask. Through their answer, you’ll learn about the company’s needs and cultural expectations. If the hiring manager, for example, tells you they’re seeking a detail-oriented worker, but also someone who sees the bigger picture, you’ll want to find out why. Perhaps the company is growing quickly or taking on larger accounts. They might need someone to keep tabs on current projects but also keep pace toward future goals.
5. “Why have people left this position voluntarily or involuntarily?”
Of all the questions you could ask, this is the most enlightening about the employer’s expectations. You want to know whether you’ll be happy and successful, so find out what personalities work well in the role. Which haven’t been so successful? Dig deep about any qualities shared by former employees that didn’t jive well with the culture. Perhaps the position requires great organization, but also constant adaptation. If you learn multiple qualified people have left the role, that’s a red flag. Is the position unfairly demanding, or were life circumstances to blame?
[Related: Rate your employer]
6. “Where do you see the company in five years?”
If there were ever a question for the CEO, this is it. You’re looking for strong vision and steadfast leadership. Identify ways you could help the company achieve its goals, as well as ways the company can help with your professional development.
If you like having a say in company development, find out how much employees contribute to company steering. Most of all, watch out for a wavering response. For you to succeed, the company needs to know where it’s headed. You wouldn’t jump into a marriage without getting to know your spouse, so why would you for a job? If the position is full-time, you’ll likely see more of your co-workers than your husband or wife. That’s not a decision to be taken lightly. So go ahead: Ask the tough questions; your happiness depends on it.
Gene Ku is the founder and chairman of Mobovida, a vertically integrated online retailer and fashion-forward, direct-to-consumer mobile accessory brand.