Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lucky #7

You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don't help. 
- Bill Watterson, cartoonist

I'm sure there's an amazing history behind how the number seven gained its reputation for luck, and I'm equally sure I don't know what it is. Yet, when I noticed that perhaps the best question a candidate could ever have the opportunity to ask during an interview was listed beside that very famous number, I immediately thought of the irony - of how skillful this question really is - and any job candidate asking it would then have no need, whatsoever, to rely on luck - or even wearing their lucky underpants - while landing their next job.

There's no shortage of top-ten lists for just about any endeavor and I always take each list with a grain of salt, maybe three. Yet #7 on the below list from Kazim Ladimeji is just so darn good, it creates that well-known halo effect, making the entire list shine... as it will for you, as well. I've reprinted the basic questions from his list, then edited the subtext a bit to reflect our own, unique domestic industry. No doubt you'll find other top-ten lists and have thought of some good questions of your own, reflecting your own, unique desires within your own next, unique domestic staff position.

1) What exactly would my day to day responsibilities be? 

I realize that you might have already received a job description, yet sometimes these can be out of date or generic copy-and-paste versions. And as important as good ones are, they're also rather static documents that don't really reflect the dynamic nature of the role, or the balance of emphasis of each duty.

The role is the fundamental reason you're joining the household, so it is fine to dive into some clarification here, nudging them on until you're comfortable with what the job really is. If they simply start reading from the job summary of the online advertisement... yellow flag!

As regular readers of The Citizen will recall, Gallup's most famous survey showed the number-1 concern on the mind of the best workers to be what, exactly, is expected of them at work. Never to be confused with inflexibility of tasks, clarity and effective communication which outline the responsibilities is always a good thing.

2) Can you describe a typical day or week on the job?

While the job description can tell you what your tasks may be, it doesn't really give you a live impression of the role. Asking this one gives you a more realistic view, so you can really understand how you feel about the job. Like #1 above, you're not looking just for what they say, but more how they say it. 

Often you'll be offered, surreptitiously, some rather useful information about the household culture by just watching their body language. Are they enthusiastic about your service role? You don't need to be a seasoned detective to catch on to this, it's pretty much human nature, so just go with your gut. Because of the emphasis on confidentiality in households, especially to outsiders (which you are, for the time being anyway), carefully observed body language may be your most accurate source of information.

3) What would be my biggest challenges over the next three months?

This is a probing question. You're trying to get the interviewer to reveal if there's any genuine crises lurking within the role or the organization, not just a list of projects to complete. At the same time, by using positive terminology like challenges (as opposed to issues), you're showing the interviewer that you are motivated, that you are someone who likes to achieve, and that you want to support the principal or estate manager in achieving their own objectives. It's a star question.  

An alternative question, one that's a little less heavy yet still puts it out there about your interest in solving problems, is simply, What's the first thing you'd like me to solve for you in the first 30 days? That brings it down to the first staffing or operational issue weighing heavily on their minds, right now, and puts a more manageable 30-day limit on the forecast for initial success.

4) Tell me about the the other staff and how long they've been on board.

If the other staff have joined recently e.g. within the past six months, then it's likely the household may be a little bit unsettled and going through some change. Not a problem, necessarily, especially if the change is for the good and they're now establishing new standards and expectations for better, higher performances. It's just something to be aware of. 

Also, it’s a gentle question that let's them talk about something other than you for a while. During this process, they may open up some more and you can learn useful things about their expectations for the staff, which you just may become a part of.

5) Is this a new role? 

If yes, ask them to explain why it was created. If no, ask them how the role became available. You're trying to understand if there's anything problematic with the role which caused the last employee to resign or to be fired; given either case, the job is not necessarily not a good one, just be aware of how you could attune and provide service according to the principals' own definitions of good service.  Broaching that very topic is a good follow-up.

Conversely, if you're now replacing someone who's been in the role for many years, it doesn't necessarily mean the job is good, or is good for you, as that particular employee may have stayed on for reasons other than you'd want to. Just use the information to decide, along with all the other data coming in, if both the role and the estate are truly a good fit for you.

6) What are the training and development opportunities here?

Although rarely discussed in domestic job interviews, training and development, on some level, is crucial to doing your job well and to helping you meet your career objectives, so it's good to know your employer’s general position. Also, this shows you're ambitious and thinking ahead as to how you can keep serving their needs better and with greater skills. Most likely, though, T&D will be framed as to how it'll help you meet the expectations of this position, not the one you may anticipate having down the road, so tread this line carefully and move on to other topics quickly if the air suddenly thickens. 

7) Are there any shortcomings in my application that may prevent you from offering me the job? Would you like me to clarify anything else?
You can be just as brave as Buck Rogers ~
and no lucky underpants will be needed.
#7! Truly the rocketship underpants of interview questions. Even if you're not a lucky person, you'll still gain valuable information about your shortcomings, which employers, interestingly, are often glad to answer honestly while interviewing you. You'll also demonstrate your extreme courage by wanting to know how you stack up and this, in effect, is saying to them, "please, evaluate and critique everything you see about me, so I can serve you better," which is a dream come true for estate owners and their managers, as it makes their ability to have you around so much easier! And guess what? You're in luck now, because people usually hire other people who make their lives easier for them. 

And, practically speaking, when you do get an honest answer from your interviewer, it gives you the chance to address any issues immediately, while you're still in the running and still sitting in the interview chair. If you're able to address those concerns to their satisfaction, you'll then move one step closer to getting the job. It's lucky #7 indeed, yet no luck is really needed here... you'll have done it all yourself, using the skill, humility, and bravery of your own making.

8) Do you want to know what I can do to help your household?

Assuming the interviewer says yes, you can then set about explaining how you can apply your skills and strengths to addressing specific challenges at the estate. Take into account what you've learned during the interview and ensure this is reflected clearly in your response. This will show you as positive, forward-thinking, and able to think quickly on your feet. 

Obviously, you'll needed to have taken some pretty good notes up to this point, while thinking ahead about how you'll answer this question that you're now proposing. Of course, if you honestly can't think of at least one problem you could solve for them, then you should totally skip this question ~ and perhaps the rest of the interview.

9) What is the next step in the process?

This is a simple but important question, as by inquiring and showing curiosity about the future, you let the employer know that you're genuinely interested in the role. Take careful notes and follow up on a regular basis (weekly is a good start), persisting until you receive a definitive yes or no from either them or your recruiter.

10) May I have your business card?

Ask each interviewer, whether it's the recruiter, the personal assistant, the household manager, the CFO, or the owner themselves, for a real, honest to goodness paper business card and then send them a hand-written thank you note, on good stationary. And as you're shaking hands goodbye, be sure to give them your own calling card, as well.  

Although this all sounds a little old-fashioned to some people in the age of online-everything, well, the truth is.... most people still like being a little bit old fashioned and besides, it'll show them you have some real manners and that you just may belong, after all, on their estate.