• Mel Butcher

Your Second Job as a YP: Interview Preparation (1/2)

Updated: 3 days ago



My former colleague, a young engineer, recently approached me for advice on her job search. Let's call her Haley (not her real name). She has a couple years experience under her belt, but she's still a young professional (YP).


In particular, Haley wanted help preparing for her interviews.


You may have heard the saying that goes something like: an interview is just as much about you interviewing the company as it is them interviewing you. This is true. And it's also true that the questions you ask in an interview are not simply to get answers. The types of questions you ask can speak volumes about what stage you're at as a developing professional and what you bring to the business.


Before Haley's interview, I gave her an assignment: 1) Write out your list of questions for the potential employer, and 2) Write out several things that you have led in your career, as a student, for an organization, etc. with narrative.


What I'm going to share with you next is her redacted first pass at #1 in the assignment" and my responses to her...


Questions for the potential employer:


First, simply a take a look at the questions Haley sent:

  • What is the hiring process like for this team?

  • What would my career path look like being on this team?

  • What types of projects does this team work on? Is there a quantifiable success or positive impact to climate change and sustainability?

  • DE&I is important to me. How diverse is the leadership in this team?

  • What is the [redacted] team looking for in a candidate? Are there any particular set of skills that this team is looking for?

And here are my responses...


What is the hiring process like for this team?


Will this question really give you the insight you're looking for? When someone asks about "the hiring process," it can sound like a cog that wants a job in the machine, versus sounding like the professional that you are. You are a professional with professional talents, full stop. Keep that at the front of your mind through this entire process.


What might it convey when an interviewee's most pressing message is - what exactly do I need to do next to get hired?


Does it show focus on the profession or the business? This type of question could be an indicator that the candidate is so focused on landing a gig, that they don't care whether or not it's an actual fit.


A better question might be something like: "This is a niche industry and I've seen team members come from many different educational/training backgrounds. Could you tell me a bit about the team and where leaders have hired various talent from?" This way, you convey that you understand the landscape of the business and you are expressing curiosity.


What would my career path look like being on this team?


This question implies that the employer holds the reigns to your career path entirely. Might it also convey a sense of "what will this company do for me?"


I'd like to turn to No Ceiling, No Walls by Susan Coalntuono, for a moment, to get some perspective on the approach...

Do you want to be a great leader? Instead of thinking that you are an individual to whom the company owes something, realize that you owe the company every contribution you can make to its success in the marketplace. Break free of thinking that you're acting for individual achievement, break out of self-limiting ideas and break through to a new understanding that you have a positional purpose -- to lead others in support of the organization's goals.
... Wearing the mantle of leadership in business means that you understand and act on the fact that you are for the company and by extension for the customer. It means being for the business.

After reading this excerpt from Colantuono, what questions might you want to ask a future employer? How might you frame questions to a potential employer to demonstrate that you are a (future) leader?


How about: "What type of talent does the team need most urgently today? How do you and other leaders hope that a new hire will contribute to the team's success in the first few months of being hired?"


What types of projects does this team work on? Is there a quantifiable success or positive impact to climate change and sustainability?


In the middle of these two questions, I would add the following:

  • What types of projects does this team work on?

  • How do the team's projects contribute to the company's over all strategic goals?

  • Compared to other service offerings or departments, how profitable are the jobs completed by this team?

  • What growth areas does this team's leadership hope to pursue in the coming 2 years? 5 years?

  • Is there a quantifiable success or positive impact to climate change and sustainability?

Rather than approaching with the directness of the questions that begins with, "Is there a quantifiable success..." You might start by asking if they track sustainability metrics at the company. If so, how are they performing and are they looking to reach new targets? You could also ask if they track the cascading sustainability impacts that they are able to produce for clients and how they quantify those.


DE&I is important to me. How diverse is the leadership in this team?


I need to speak to you (the reader) directly for a moment here: Typically, when women are coming from a strong negotiation standpoint, I strongly encourage questions during an interview in the Equity and Inclusion realm - especially in engineering. After all, we want to know before we get into an organization how supportive an environment we might reasonably expect to be entering.


True equity initiatives are not embraced by all businesses. And the reality can be that a job-seeker may not have numerous options, or they may need a job urgently, for financial or other personal reasons. In such a case, I think the individual must use their judgement when asking about topics that could put their interviewer on the defensive. Believe me, I also recognize it is disheartening that this is where we are in 2020.


Haley urgently needs a job as soon as possible for reasons it would be inappropriate disclose here. This means that she needs the employer on her side because she needs them to help her get hired. Therefore, she must consider how bold in questioning she wants to be with this topic.


My advice to Haley was this - If you still feel compelled to query on the topic, I would word it something like: "Could you tell me about the company's diversity and inclusion values and how they manifest within this team, specifically?"


What is the [redacted] team looking for in a candidate? Are there any particular set of skills that this team is looking for?


I recommend rewording this to:

  • What qualities does the [redacted] team value in team members?

  • Are there any particular skills or strengths the team needs to hire for immediately?

  • Do you have any specific concerns about my candidacy in terms of me being able to meet current needs?"

Then, after the last question there, of course, you must be prepared to respond if they are candid enough to tell you concerns. And that's why reflecting on what you have led is important!


In the follow-up post, I'll share #2 of the assignment and how I helped Haley reword her experience leading so that she's prepared to describe it to the potential interviewer.



Many engineering schools do a poor job of preparing young people for non-technical aspects of the workplace, including landing a job. If you have a career question or conundrum in this vein, feel welcome to send me a message or leave a voice message for us on the Lead to Soar speak pipe and I'll do my best to get your question answered.

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