Training / Risk assessment

Interview Tips: Keep These Questions To Yourself!

You can’t probe into certain crucial points during an employment interview

By Dirk Willard, Contributing Editor

A horrible experience — that’s what this trip to a plant to interview for a job turned out to be. The plane was stranded at the gate in Minneapolis for an hour and a half while the airline looked for a pilot and mechanic. Then, when I finally arrived at the destination and got to the rental car desk, I found the car would cost $417.40 for two days! I winced but the company I was interviewing with had promised to cover all costs — flight, hotel and car. In fact, I had confirmed that just the week before. Yet, when I turned in my expenses, the firm refused to pay for the car rental. I was stuck with the bill. That convinced me this was a company I really didn’t want to work for.

When do I get to meet the real ogre I’ll be working for?

You can’t do much about these situations. I’ve had Fortune 100 companies promise to pay interview costs but then renege on the expense report I submitted — costing me hundreds of dollars. (I wonder if they just treat the losers this way or if they stiff the winning candidate, too?) Making matters worse, with the changes to the U.S. tax law, you no longer can deduct job hunting expenses.

Interviews at companies usually seem unreal — because they are. Everyone you see invariably is on best behavior and presents the company and the job in the most glowing terms.

I wish I had the nerve to ask some questions that often come to my mind during interviews. (I’m sure you have your own list of unutterable queries.) Here’re a few of mine:

Do you really want candidates to ask a lot of questions or does that put you off?

How come the job you describe doesn’t match the one I came to interview for?

Everyone I meet is so nice — when do I get to meet the real ogre I’ll be working for?

If I asked the person who had held the job or coworkers what they think of the boss, what would they say if they were truly candid?

If I looked at my future boss’s resumé, how many of the achievements listed take credit for things actually accomplished by subordinates?

How long do I have to work here before I regret taking this job?

Is your fear of me bolting the reason why I can’t take a vacation until after I’ve put in six months?

Will I still have a job at the plant in five years?

Did the person who had done the job leave voluntarily or get fired?

Was either lack of promotion or not getting raises the key issue? Or was running afoul of certain people or not properly playing plant politics the main factor?

How often does whether an engineer is liked matter more for getting raises or in awarding a bonus than actual performance?

Can I really expect a bonus if I save the company, say, a million dollars?

What’s the worst mistake that company management has made?

How frequently does the plant drastically cut staff when business slows down — once every two years, every five years, or never?

How many vendors and contractors do you have a long-term relationship with? Do you regularly change them depending on which firm puts in the lowest cost bid?

Why does the site look so dumpy?

When was the last time corporate spent some money here?

When was the most recent safety incident on the site? What did it involve?

Has anyone ever gone to jail for working here?

If you’ve done so much to eliminate your emissions problem, why is there a sign near the creek in front of the plant that says: no fishing, bathing or even stopping?

What obligations for environmental cleanup or other legal liabilities does the company have? Can it meet them without going bankrupt?

If I asked homeowners near the plant about your site, what would they say?

This is such an interesting topic for me, I could go on for hours. However, let’s stop here. It’s too addictive!


DIRK WILLARD is a Chemical Processing contributing editor. He recently won recognition for his Field Notes column from the ASBPE. Chemical Processing is proud to have him on board. You can e-mail him at

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