Is It Appropriate To Ask Why A Position Is Open During An Interview?

If you're invited for an in-person interview in the hiring process, you've already overcome some big hurdles—outsmarting the algorithms of an applicant tracking system, standing out in a sea of resumes, and conveying your poise and professionalism during a screening interview. You've made it this far, so don't let nerves keep you from asking one of the most important questions in your job search: Why is this position open?

why position open

You might wonder whether it's appropriate to ask why a position is open during an interview. Not only is it appropriate—it's critical to ensuring the position is a good fit.

Remember: The Interview Is A Two-Sided Conversation

If you're hesitant to ask why a position is open, perhaps you need to reset your perspective on your job search. Once you've moved past the initial application process and have started interacting with a recruiter or hiring manager, you need to devote as much time to fact-finding as you do to impressing. This is your one chance to determine whether you will be happy and fulfilled spending 40-plus hours a week working for this organization. You can even derive some confidence from knowing you’re "interviewing" the company as much as the hiring manager is interviewing you.

This Is A Chance To Watch Out For Red Flags

Why is the position open? It's a simple question that can have revealing answers.

Hopefully, you've done some detective work before you arrive on the scene. Try to find other people who have been in the position on LinkedIn. Pay attention to their dates of tenure. If you discover multiple people who've held the same position for short periods of time, it could be a warning sign. If you’re interviewing for a position at a small firm, where there aren't multiple people holding the same title, and the last person to hold the position doesn't appear to have a new job yet, you might be stepping into a sticky situation. (Or this person might not have updated his or her LinkedIn profile.)

With that information in the back of your mind, ask the question during your in-person interview, whether there's an opportunity to ask during the flow of conversation or in response to "Do you have any questions?" Pay careful attention to how the hiring manager answers. There's no foolproof method of reading human behavior, of course, but at this point, all you have to go on is your gut.

Reading Between The Lines

Here’s what you should consider depending on the hiring manager's response.

  • If the answer is "Oh, we love so and so! She was here for 35 years and is retiring" or similar, you can take a couple things from this. 1) It's probably a good place to work. 2) You might have big shoes to fill. It's safe to follow up with the questions about what constitutes success in this position and whether the predecessor would be available for training.
  • If the hiring manager says, "The previous employee left to pursue other opportunities," consider whether the company has strict HR policies regarding commenting on former employees (not a bad thing) or whether that's code for "the previous employee was fired." If your LinkedIn research suggests the latter, be prepared to step into a messy situation, where you might be rebuilding a position, not just filling it. Either way, tread carefully with your own response, and don't mention the predecessor in your follow-up questions.
  • If the answer is "The position is new," ask why the position is being added and what sort of support will be available to the new hire. If you're a self-starter, this can be a great opportunity to shine—but if you're the type of employee who wants a guide to follow, it might not be the right fit for you.

One thing is for sure: Once you take a new position, you'll quickly figure out why it was open—and your new coworkers will probably share the dirt, too. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt, and work to make the position your own.

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