If you’re hoping to increase your income, it’s sad but true that you’ll find it a lot easier to do so by leaving your current position and finding a new one than by asking your current boss for a raise (this may not be true in all companies, and if you love your current job/boss/company then it’s certainly worthwhile to ask for that raise). Changing jobs can result in a 10 or 20% increase in salary, compared to the 3-5% annual raise you may get if you stick around (I’m not making this up – check out this article in Forbes magazine which says that people who change jobs regularly may end up making 50% more money than those who stay put). This is one of the reasons that the average length of time most people stay in a job is less than five years.

So, if you’re looking at new job opportunities, you’ll want to get ready for job interview questions.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Intuit CEO Brad Smith shared the questions he asks when interviewing someone. Actually, the whole interview (and it’s wonderfully short) is a really interesting read, ending with the advice to young people just entering the workforce “Do what makes your heart beat the fastest”.

I end up asking three questions, but after an icebreaker. I share my own story first, but the icebreaker is: “I want you and I to get to know each other. So in the next three minutes, I’d like you to take me from where you were born to where you are now, and share with me the major inflection points in your life that you think have helped form who you are today.”

After that, the first question I ask is, “Tell me about the area that your last boss and the one before that said, ‘This is your biggest opportunity for improvement.’ ” That’s really to see if they are willing to be vulnerable.

From there I’ll ask, “What is the single biggest professional business mistake you’ve made, and what was the lesson you took from that?” That’s intended to see if they’re a learner.

My last question is really designed to find out if there is a barrier to getting them to accept an offer from us. So I’ll say, “Why would you not join our company?” It helps me tease apart any concerns they might have, and whether those concerns are about the job or the company. So I’m able to learn in the process, too.

The icebreaker question (share the major turning points in your life that have made you who you are today) is a highly personal question. You can probably hope that you never actually get asked that in a job interview, but it’s also a wonderfully valuable exercise in self-awareness. Think about the key things about you that differentiate you from everyone else you know – where did they come from? When did you first become aware that you were driven to make other people happy, or you loved mathematics, or you hated bullies?

The ‘biggest opportunity for improvement’ question is basically another way of phrasing the all-too-common interview question “What are your biggest weaknesses?” You know you’re going to be asked that, in one form or another. Be prepared. And if the answer is something that might be seen to be a huge drawback that might stand in the way of them hiring you, make sure you can demonstrate continuous progress in this area. For what it’s worth, the answer that I’ve been getting from my last few bosses is that I’m too straight-speaking, I lack diplomacy. And when I think back to the difference between the first time I heard that and now, I’ve made amazing progress in that area (but clearly I’m not there yet). On the other hand, I also feel that there’s value in my manager knowing where I stand on something – if they want the truth about something, they can be sure they’ll get it by asking me.

The ‘biggest professional blunder’ question is an opportunity to say not just what you did wrong, but also to analyze it in terms of what you’ve learned (either from that, or since then) that would have you handling things differently now.

Brad’s final question (Why would you not join our company) is an opportunity to explore what matters to you. My big three criteria for a position are: I want to work with great people, I want to work on something cool, and I want the project/company to be well-managed (this one’s best left out, because I certainly don’t want to be implying that any of the companies I’ve worked for in the past were poorly managed – NEVER say bad things about past companies/managers/projects/co-workers, except in the context of explaining why it wasn’t a good fit for you).

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