Legitimate Questions From An Interviewee?


From original questioner:

Hi there, I have used this site for a number of years, though not this forum in particular. I do like to read this forum from time to time to get an owners view of things.

I went to an interview the other day for a finishing position. Potential employer got my name from my supply house.I have 20+ years experience, no baggage/debt and am in the mid-Atlantic states. I am currently employed, so it would have to be a wow-factor to make me move places. I am assuming as owners you know that an interview is a two-way street, ie: why should you hire me vs. why should I work for you?

I will clarify now that I will not be going to work for this individual as we are far apart money-wise, other than that I thought he was a good guy.

So my question is this, during the interview I asked him a) to give me a sense of his management style and b) a general sense of a typical work week. And no I don't mean an off the cuff answer about "up to our asses in alligators", etc.

I got a deer in the headlights response to the first question and a variation of the alligator answer to the second.

Do you think these are fair questions? Would you be able to answer them?

From contributor Ri

Probably depends on the size of shop. When I ran a two man shop, me and a helper, I wouldn't be able to describe a management style either. If I had 20 employees, way different story.

From contributor Pa

Everyone who wants to call themselves a boss had better figure out an answer to these questions. They are totally appropriate for a prospective employee to ask. The fact that this guy didn't have an answer tells you that he is not ready to run a business - he may be doing it, but he will suffer until he figures out what a boss does. I don't think the size of the shop matters at all. When you hire that first employee, the game changes. And as you get bigger, it changes more, but presumably the boss is getting smarter as the company grows (although I am an example of how long that can take - 25 years to develop any management skills, in my case.)

Paul Downs

From contributor St

I agree with Paul. I actually ask prospective employees how they like to be managed. I also make it very clear that I'm not there to convince them to work for me, but that this needs to be an evaluation of good fit on both sides of the table. A bad hire (not bad person) is not good for the company or the employee. Both suffer and the employee may start to look like a job-hopper.

From contributor Da

If I have a prospective employee me ask those questions, I put him in class above those that don't. That is, he is looking at this as more than a paycheck or a job, and is more likely to understand team play, cooperation and career type behavior rather than hiding in the bathroom texting a girlfriend.

I would hope my answers would be accurate and appropriate, though honestly, I'd be surprised at the questions, as I have had maybe 1 in 50 ask for that info.

I usually stayed away from such questions when talking to a prospective employer since that would put them on a defensive, and for the fearful and paranoid, that is not a hiring incentive.

I recently talked to two different long time, respected competitors about working with them as a partner. I had similar questions, though mostly concentrated on compensation and security. I wanted a certain minimum wage, and guaranteed employment for 7 years.

While they both agreed they really wanted my skills, they backed away on the security, so I had to turn them both down. If I closed my shop to work with them, then I would have nothing if they broke up the partnership in 2 years. I have always been able to pay the bills and make a bit by my hand and in my shop, so I opted to continue that path.

From contributor Pa

tip top

Yup totally fair.

I would just ask him what is the mission statement of the company what are the goals of the company and show me the organization chart, indicating who has responsibility for the different functions to achieve those goals, and show me your policies, not just healthcare or vacation, type stuff and what metric do you use regarding my job.

From contributor Ri

All these responses are making me chuckle. How did all the shops become super businesses all of a sudden? I've been reading this site for a long time, and been a woodworking professional for 26 years out of my 41 year work history. You guys that just answered are certainly the minority and what a coincidence that you all answered in a row. Usually we get how much should I charge for a cabinet, but now we have business plans and mission statements. Nice for a change, but thanks for the laugh!

From contributor Pa

"but now we have business plans and mission statements. Nice for a change, but thanks for the laugh!"

Yea I have been getting laughed at with that one for a long time.

The diff between a big co and a little one is the ability to implement the things I talked about.

If you don't have a organizational chart or someone in charge of sales then you will have no need for any of the rest.

Of course if you don't have a foreman than you will not be able to produce the sales so once again you will not have a need for the rest.

Why is that the smaller shop the funnier they find my statements?

Why of course it would be ridiculous to have a mission statement as we just do what comes through the door.

Of course it would be ridiculous to have an organization we should just have everyone do everything.

Of course it would be ridiculous to have policy written down and understood lets just keep making the same mistakes over and over and when new guys come in they can bring their own ideas on how we should do things,

Of course the ones who are me and a bunch of helpers, think it is hilarious.

From contributor Ri

Easy Pat, I just thought it was humorous. Congrats on your system, and happy your are so much more successful than the little shops.

From contributor Pa

Don't flatter yourself.

I'm currently not successful (because the market changed), but I have been moderately successful in the past.Which maybe lends more credence to what I'm saying, as I have made every mistake there is.

From contributor ti

Thank you all for your interesting responses. I fully expected something along the lines of an "all employees suck" rant, which I have seen in this forum on previous posts. You have all risen above that morass and I congratulate you.

Pat, I transitioned into this career after 15 years in the hotel/hospitality business. You better believe that Hyatt has a fully formed organization chart, mission statement, etc. I have never seen one in this industry but understand the value it brings.

Rich, I can understand your bemusement but you probably whoop on Pat on a regular basis......keeps the world going, doesn't it?

David, the reason for asking this line of questioning is just as you say. To weed out the fearful, defensive and paranoid. That may play well in "The Art of War" but would hardly be a leadership trait any grounded person would want to follow.

Paul, I figured you would give a well thought and reasoned response. I have much enjoyed your articles and found them informative in dealing with the perspective of the owner. A few years back I had thought long and hard about forwarding my resume to you. I have seen your work in some houses that we have also done cabinetry for on the Main Line, truly magnificent, you should be justly proud of your team. However, the thought of a 73, 295, 42, WW Bridge and Schuylkill commute would break even the hardiest soul. Even men insane enough to willingly be a finisher.

That said, I have to go pull some work out of the booth and continue on. Even though it is Sunday at 4:00, a deadline is a deadline. Best of luck to all of you.

From contributor Ja

TipTop: I agree with Pat, Paul & the like. I had a mission statement before I opened the doors almost 10 years ago. It has helped keep us pointed in the right general direction, though, now that we are growing again, I probably need to refine it a bit with a tighter focus as it seems a bit general in light of some of this thread.

I view part of my role as a teacher. I start in the interview by defining simply & clearly what our basic relationship is. I (employeer) am buying your time at wholesale and selling it at retail. This is a business arrangement and if I can no longer sell your time at a profitable price then we no longer have a business relationship. Likewise, if I don't pay you a fair rate in relation to your contribution, provide you with the 'tools' to safely and properly do your job, you should not stick around either.
I've found this is a good point to teach about economics, work ethics, taxes, quality (first time). Seem like very few people coming through the door understand much of any of that since it is not taught in school (or at home) much anymore.

BTW, I would welcome (and want to hear) any such questions from a prospective employee.

From contributor Jo

2 years ago when we opened our shop I would have never had an answer and laughed at the idea of mission statement. Now with constant growth we are just about to complete our "employee handbook" I think this shows that our industry is taking it self more seriously than a bunch of "guys with tools". A good thing in my opinion.

My last interview and most recent addition to the shop asked me the same line of questioning. He made it clear he was looking for a career move not just a job. He asked about future plans for growth, how work is delegated etc.. Based on the types of questions he was asking me, he was ultimately answering my questions of him at the same time.

From contributor ro

Your questions are not only totally fair but are very good questions indeed. I wouldn't be concerned about whether they are fair or not but instead 'are they critical to you' for accepting the job? If they are then they are fair. The only thing you want to watch out for is timing. You need to ask certain questions at the right time. Ask too soon and you shut down conversation. Ask too late and you may have wasted lots of time and energy.