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Questions to Ask in an Interview
questions to ask in an interview

Questions to Ask in an Interview

Because getting the job isn't just about your answers.

The central purpose of a job interview is hardly a mystery from an employer’s perspective: it’s to figure out whether or not a prospective job candidate is the right fit for the job. 

However, that’s not all there is to it. From an employee’s perspective, the job interview is about more than what the job entails - it is also one of the best – if not the very best – times to decide whether or not the company at which he or she is interviewing is a good fit for them.

After all, just because someone offers you a job doesn’t mean you have to take it. The interview process is very much a two-way street, and at the end of that street may well be a great new position, or, if you’ll permit us to extend the metaphor, it might be a fork in the road at which you and the company part ways.

A two-way street

During a job interview, the hiring manager (or executive or potential boss or whoever is conducting the session, which can vary based on organization type and size) is going to ask you a lot of interview questions. But in almost every single job interview you are ever likely to take, at one point the interviewer will ask if you have any questions.

It may come in the form of the classic: “So, what questions do you have for me?” asked at the end of the interview. Or maybe the interviewer will tell you early on to ask any questions you have during the process. And in fact, the interviewer may never specifically prompt you to ask them questions, but if you pay attention, you’ll spot the moments at which they’re opening the floor to you. 

Whether that opening comes at the end of the session, or is left to you to figure out, just make sure you don’t go through the entire interview process without making at least a few insightful queries.

You could write a mountain of literature about the questions hiring managers ask. Today, we’re not focused on questions you’ll be asked, but are instead focused entirely on questions to ask in an interview if you want to give yourself a real shot at landing the job.

Before we get to the types of questions you should be ready to ask, let’s talk about a critical practice you should employ throughout the process: active listening.

Practice active listening during job interviews

Active listening is one of the most important communication skills you can develop. It not only helps you genuinely hear and understand what the party with whom you’re speaking is saying. It also ensures that when it comes time for you to speak again, responding to a question or taking up the thread of the conversation, you will be responding to what the person was really saying, not just in a manner you had planned while waiting for your turn to talk.

As noted, a professional interview process is about you learning about the company – about the work environment, the day-to-day responsibilities, the career path potential, how the company measures success, and so on. But it is about them learning about you. 

Even when you’re not asking specific questions, you can be learning volumes about a company based on what the hiring manager is saying, and even how he or she is saying it. (Do they seem to be trying to sell you something, or does it feel more like they are cheerleading for a cause they care about, e.g.)

And when you have practiced attentive listening, you can help yourself avoid one of the cardinal mistakes interviewees make: asking a question that the interviewer has already addressed. Doing so can show a lack of focus and perception, a lack of flexibility as you stuck to questions you had pre-planned, and, likely, it will lead to the lack of an offer.

10 questions you absolutely must ask during a job interview

No two job interviews you take are ever going to be the exact same.

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(Frank and Helena / Getty)

As such, there is no concrete list of questions you simply must ask. More to the point, there are myriad questions it would be outright wrong to ask in one interview in some cases. Asking about travel accommodations when you are applying for a warehouse management role, for example, probably wouldn’t make much sense.

But in almost every interview, a variation on these 10 questions, a few of which have follow-ups to consider based on the reply you get, will almost always be applicable and advisable.

1. What are a few of the most important functions of this job, both in a typical day and bigger-picture?

You should, of course, already know the answer to this question to a large degree. Knowing the answer to most of these types of questions in advance will most often align with the hiring manager’s expectations. After all, you should have done your research before applying, and the list of responsibilities is usually listed in the job posting. Still, it’s a topic you must understand fully before taking any job, so don’t be afraid to ask, perhaps with a qualifier like “in your opinion” at the start of the query or “that someone on the outside may not know fully” at the end.

2. What is the work-life balance and the company’s culture like? How is the value of work-life balance demonstrated and protected?

If the interviewer is demure in their answer to questions about the work-life balance and company culture, that’s a red flag. If they outright state that work will occupy much of your life, then at least you can make an informed decision. And if they seem genuine in stating that the company values your time and happiness beyond work, that speaks volumes about the organization’s corporate philosophy, and how you can chart your own professional path there. 

3. Why is this job opening available now?

Whether you’ve found yourself in the interview room through an executive search firm or through your own initiative, if the position you’re gunning for is a new position, ask why it was created, and how it will be integrated with the rest of the team and the company. And if it’s available due to being recently vacated by a departing employee, it’s perfectly alright to inquire about the reasons for their departure, within reason. .

4. What would be the most important projects I could tackle in the next 30, 60, or 90 days?

Asking a question like this can not only help you understand what work you may be jumping into, but it also demonstrates a thoughtfulness on your part and can help the interviewer start to envision you as one of the gang with the company’s future already at heart.

5. What are a few examples of the skills, attributes, and experiences someone in this role would be best served by having?

This type of question can open the door for you to showcase yourself some and, by equal measure, may well be the inquiry that proves to you (and potentially also to the HR person across the desk from you) that this really isn’t the job for you, after all.

6. How does this company evaluate success and how often is performance reviewed?

No execs at your (potential) new company are going to expect you to hit peak productivity on day one. But depending on how demanding an environment is, you may have little time for professional development and growing pains and such. If you go into a role knowing how your work will be assessed on an ongoing basis and when the company more formally measures success, you have milestones on your career path by which you can monitor your own progress.

7. What are the opportunities for growth, both within this position itself and within the company beyond it?

Never come into an interview with a mindset that you’re too good for the job on offer or that you’ll only be in it for a bit before you bounce out or clamber up the ladder – hiring managers can smell that attitude a mile away, they hate it, and they’re right to. 

On the other hand, also never consider joining a company where a growth mindset seems verboten. Any company that wants you should also want you to succeed and grow and move upward and will help you do so just as soon as the timing is right.

8. What are some of the biggest challenges a person in this role tends to face?

It’s OK to acknowledge that things aren’t always going to be hunky dory at work – it is called work, after all. You can ask about specific issues past holders of the job have faced, about the challenges experienced between teams in the company or in dealing without outside vendors, clients, and contacts, and on it goes. 

Pretending there is never strife will not prevent the strife, in short, but it may establish a fault in communications between you and the human resources team who very well may soon be a part of your work life.

9. What brought you to this company?

It’s entirely acceptable to ask your interviewer about her own experience with the company and to inquire further what keeps her there – what keeps her satisfied. Again here you must pay keen attention both to what the person says and how she answers: does she seem to be trying to convince you of her overall job satisfaction, or is she genuinely telling you about being satisfied there?

10. What have we not talked about that we should have?

Provided you have already asked a few good questions, it’s perfectly alright to ask a thoughtful question about what else you should have asked. One of the best ways to do this is to pose this question to your interviewer:

“What is the best question a job candidate has ever asked you?”

Why aren’t we making that our #10 question itself? Simple: it’s not always going to sound just right – in fact, it could come across as a bit cocky to the wrong person. But some take on this query – some way to ask what you should have asked – shows that you are not so arrogant as to think you thought of everything and demonstrates a keen willingness to learn.

Six questions to never ask a hiring manager

OK, we’ve done the good; now it’s time for the bad and the ugly all rolled into one. There are a few questions you could utter during a job interview that are so out of line that they will all but ensure that two-way street scenario turns into a dead end with a roadblock thrown up just for good measure.

1. What are the duties for this job?

Don’t worry about the responsibilities of the job if you ask this question, because you won’t be getting an offer. You should already know what will be expected of you in the role for which you’re applying and, if by some strange circumstance you do not, don’t make that painfully clear by asking – fake it and figure it out later!

2. What is the compensation for this job?

Information about salary, benefits, vacation time and the like is all third-rail stuff during an interview – you just don’t touch it. This info, and the negotiation that goes with it, comes after an offer has been extended, not before. You will come across as haughty and short-sighted, not to mention inexperienced, if you ask about such at the wrong time.

3. Are the hours flexible?

Or “when can I start taking days off?” or “can I work from home?” (though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things there) or any question that seems to be inquiring about doing less work or doing it on your terms has no place in an interview – land the job, do good work and secure it, and then later look for the flexibility.

4. Will I get my own office?

If you’re applying for an executive level job, you probably know the answer to this question is yes. In all other cases, just don’t ask unless you have some certifiable reason that you need an office, such as a hypersensitivity to noise or other distraction, and be ready to take what you get and appreciate it. 

Also, if you just look around some, you can probably figure out the logistics of how most people work in the offices (or other type of workspace) at which you may soon be employed.

5. Do you want my references/do you check references?

Offering up references can seem desperate and, what’s more, can seem dishonest, as you may seem to have planted people at the ready. On the other hand, asking if references are checked can make it seem like you’re worried. 

Hiring managers know they can check a candidate’s references and if they want them, they’ll ask. You need only know your list and leave them at the ready but unmentioned.

6. So, where did you…

As a general rule, just don’t ask your interviewer personal questions. Don’t ask where they grew up, about their families, about their past jobs, or any of it. There are exceptions, such as if they have a college’s banner prominently on a wall of a picture of their kids right there on the desk – these are openings for that more personal chatting, but still keep it light and basic and read their cues, and when in doubt, keep the talk all to the shop, so to speak.

Wrapping it up: Questions to ask as the interview ends

A good movie can be ruined by a ban ending. So too can a solid interview be spoiled if it fizzles out as it comes to a close. Thus it’s critical you have a few questions to ask people across the desk from you at the end of your time with them. 

what to ask in an interview
(Morsa Images / Getty)

So right before the handshakes and parting smiles, consider asking one, two, or all three of these great questions to end an interview.

1. How do I compare with your ideal candidate for this job?

And if the answer is anything other than “perfectly,” you can follow up asking something like “Do you see the potential for me to grow into the ideal fit?” If the answer is a clear no, at least you’ll know now and you can move on.

2. What makes people stay with this company for the long run?

This gives your interviewer one last chance to sell the company and its mission and values to you, and by asking it at the end, you leave them with a last impression that they were trying to win you over, not the other way around.

3. Did I answer all of your questions fully enough?

This open, honest query gives your interviewer one last shot at getting to know you, and it may help seal the deal if they were on the fence.

You’ve got this! Good luck at the interview.

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