If you have the opportunity to speak with someone at a company where you’re applying for a job before a formal job interview, you should be prepared to find out as much as you can about the role. Sam Gordon, who’s in charge of the CIO practice at Harvey Nash Executive Search, and Phil Rosenberg, founder of career coaching firm reCareered, suggest questions you can ask to learn more about the position you’re interested in.
If a job ad emphasizes a particular software implementation, Gordon recommends asking about the project:
- What stage is the project in?
- Who is the project sponsor?
- How have previous software projects gone in the last two years?
These questions will give you a sense of whether the company’s had trouble with projects in the past and whether the current project is going smoothly.
To build rapport with the interviewer so that you don’t sound like you’re giving them the third degree, Gordon suggests interspersing tougher questions about projects with more innocent questions, such as, Why do you enjoy working for the company? (See also, Interview Questions to Avoid and Interview Roadkill.
“If you sense that some of the questions you’ve asked have been too pointed, back off a bit and try a different tack,” he says.
One tactic you could take is to ask the interviewer about performance and expectations. Gordon advises that job seekers ask the interviewer what they expect the person in the role to achieve in their first six months on the job and then in their first year. “That way you get a very good sense of what the initial priorities are for the role,” he says.
If you sense that the role may be more tactical than strategic, Gordon says you should ask the interviewer how much time the interviewer thinks the new hire should spend on IT strategy versus operational technology initiatives.
Don’t forget to cover the basics. Rosenberg says to ask to whom the position reports, the size of the department and the budget, the structure of the department and if it’s changing, the amount of travel the job requires, and, of course, why the company is hiring the position—whether it’s a new position or a replacement.
For more interview tips and techniques, see How to Ace an Executive Level Job Interview.