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"Abby looks for ways to make others successful in their career paths and aspirations - she demonstrates both competence and integrity. She is very knowledgeable and always willing to extend herself to help others."
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Asking Tough Questions Print
Written by Abby Kohut   

On my last Career Wake Up Call, a job seeker asked this question, "How can I ask difficult questions during an interview about a company's business model and performance, especially when the employer is receiving mediocre reviews from industry analysts?" This answer to this question is not necessarily straightforward.

During an interview, both parties are on their best behavior. An interview is really a sales call for both sides of the table – you are selling yourself to the company and the company is selling themselves to you. Both people want to show their best sides and hide their weaknesses so that a mutually beneficial relationship can begin. For that reason, you may think that asking difficult questions about current news is detrimental, when actually, ignoring the news and worrying about it later is far more detrimental.

The last thing that your interviewer wants to talk about is their bad press. However, in order for you to make an informed decision about the company, you need to know as much information as possible. The last thing you want to do is to look for a job a year from now when your new company lays off employees due to LIFO (last one in, first one out). If you don't ask these difficult questions, you won't know the truth. Then again, you may not know it even if you do ask.

In many companies, employees are taught how to respond to specific bad press. If their stock price is declining, they are taught how to explain it. If they recently changed CEO's, there is always a positive spin put on the story. If they had layoffs in the past 6 months, there are always reasons to explain the situation. Regardless, if you ask the questions, you should get closer to the truth about the answers than if you didn't ask.

Here are three ways that you can ask the tough questions:

  1. Can you please comment on the recent news about your 4th quarter earnings?
  2. I read the recent news about your 4th quarter earnings. How does that impact you?
  3. I read the recent news about your 4th quarter earnings. What is your opinion on that news?

Avoid asking any question that might make the interviewer defensive such as questions that start with the word why. For example, "Why is your stock price going down?" or "Why should I consider working here when you stock price is going down?" And, before the interview is over, be sure that you also ask questions about the good news that you're read about so that you don't give them the impression that you're a negative person.

Absolutely Abby’s Advice:
Just because a company has bad press, it doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't work for them. There is no such thing as a perfect company or a perfect employee. Asking detailed questions about a company's performance is not only permissible, it's expected. To be able to make a sound decision, you need all the information available. These questions become part of the full package and will help you with your decision. So, ask away… but just be sure to do it tactfully.
 
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Drawn from my 18 years of experience and research in recruiting and Human Resources, my blog posts are intended to provide insight into what corporate recruiters and Human Resource professionals look for when they are evaluating your qualifications. Simply reading these blogs will not guarantee you success. However, consistently applying the strategies mentioned, as well as developing your own personal interview style, will greatly enhance your chances of victory amidst the competition. I wish you the best of luck with your search as you begin to take charge of your career!