Questions to Ask in an Interview: What to Ask and Why
“Do you have any questions for me?”
At this point in the interview, the ball is in your court. And, of course, you’re not a deer in the headlights. You’ve planned for this moment and have questions to ask the employer, right?
As Toni Frana, Career Coach at FlexJobs, points out, “It’s important to have a few questions prepared that you want to ask the hiring manager in an interview.”
Not asking any questions, or only very vague ones, gives the impression you’re not very interested in the job or company.
It can be easy to come up with a list of general (and obvious!) questions. However, if you take the time to ask well-researched and thoughtful questions, you’ll do more than wow the interviewer. Don’t forget that while the hiring manager is trying to figure out if you’re the right fit for the company, you’re also trying to figure out if the company is the right fit for you.
The questions you ask will give you insight into the job and the company, helping you figure out if this is your dream job or something you should pass up.
Smart Questions to Ask in an Interview
What to ask: “What are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now in this department?”
Why ask: “This question is important because you want to find out what problems your prospective boss is grappling with so you can talk about how you would solve those problems. If you can convince the decision-maker that you can solve those problems, it will increase the likelihood of being offered the job,” says Kelly Donovan, Principal at Kelly Donovan & Associates.
She also notes that the question gives additional insight into what’s going on in that company. “You might have second thoughts about the job if the problems are very bad and would be nearly impossible to solve, especially if they’re indicative of larger problems within the company.”
What to ask: “If I’m hired, what are the three most important things you will want me to accomplish during my first six months at the company?”
Why ask: Having this as one of your questions to ask in an interview shows confidence, as you’re clearly looking ahead to what you’ll do in the position. Second, it shows that you know the company is hiring someone because it has a need and that you believe you can fill it. And finally, it sets expectations for both you and the manager if you do, indeed, get hired.
What to ask: “How do you see your team’s growth potential over the next three years?”
Why ask: “I feel that this type of question allows the hiring manager to project ahead. And hopefully, the hiring manager will include the candidate in his or her projections,” says Vicky Oliver, author of five career books, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions.
Want to really make an impression? Oliver suggests bolstering the question with a lot of research that shows you’ve done your homework. Here’s an example:
“I’ve been impressed to see that your company has added so many new employees this year. The article in (insert trade magazine) forecasts that your hiring boom will continue. How does this impact your team? How do you see your team’s growth potential over the next three years?”
What to ask: “What are the company’s immediate and long-term remote plans?”
Why ask: Hopefully, the employer was clear about their remote work plans in the job posting. But, if not and the interview didn’t clear it up, you can ask about remote work during the interview.
However, blurting out, “Can I work from home?” may not be the best choice. Instead, consider a more subtle and indirect question, like, “Does everyone work onsite every day, or will some of my coworkers work remotely?” Setting up the question this way puts the focus on how you’re expected to work with colleagues instead of where you are working.
What to ask: “How do you resolve disagreements?”
Why ask: “Disagreements at work cannot be avoided. Yet, people often operate under a false harmony where they feel pressured to agree, or at the other extreme, they are aggressive and adversarial,” says Executive Coach, Mikaela Kiner.
“Knowing what happens during disagreements and whether they result in (healthy) conflict tells candidates a lot about a company’s culture. Companies that invest time to learn how to talk about differences are far more likely to reach good resolutions. It’s an important topic that’s not likely to come up unless the candidate raises it.”
And while this information certainly helps a job seeker evaluate the company, venturing into such territory also conveys something to the hiring manager.
“Asking a question about relationships and interpersonal dynamics makes the candidate appear more well-rounded,” Kiner says. “Asking a probing question like this demonstrates that the candidate really wants to know what it’s like to work with this company. It shows courage on their part, asking a question that may be difficult to answer.”
What to ask: “How would you describe the company’s culture? What kinds of people fit best with that culture? If I asked an employee what their favorite thing about working here is, what would they say?”
Why ask: When you’re looking for work, you’re usually hoping for more than just a paycheck. “These questions can give some insight into the company culture and values,” says Frana.
Even if the role seems to be a perfect match to your skills, you could end up miserable if the company doesn’t offer the flexibility you desire, encourages micromanagement by its supervisors, or otherwise creates a dreary and unwelcoming work environment. It’s important to find a good cultural fit, so don’t forget to ask about it.
What to ask: “What do you like most about working for this company? What is your favorite part of your job? How did you come to work for the organization? What has been your career path within the company?”
Why ask: Along with questions about the corporate culture, these questions may give you more insight into how people feel about the company.
If the hiring manager can quickly outline several great aspects of their job, and those resonate with you, you’ve probably identified a good fit. If they struggle to name something they enjoy, that also may give you a clue regarding the work environment.
What to ask: “What is a typical day like in this position? What are the biggest challenges of this job?”
Why ask: These questions “will give you a sense of not only what you may do on a daily basis, but about any challenges you may face each day,” says Frana. The answers will be telling and give you a strong indication of whether this role is right for you.
What to ask: “What type of personality do you think would be a good fit for this position? How does the company measure success? What do your most successful employees do differently? What differentiates good employees from great ones?”
Why ask: The reality is that a hiring manager doesn’t want to hire an “average” employee. They want to hire an outstanding employee. Asking what the interviewer is looking for in the right candidate gives a job seeker the opportunity to connect the dots and give specific examples of times when those skills have been used in previous roles.
Knowing what the company considers success—and what it doesn’t—can show that you’re interested in not just clocking in and getting the job done, but helping the organization achieve its own brand of success.
It also shows that you want to make an informed decision. Understanding how the company measures and defines success can help you better determine if you’re right for the position, and if you’d be happy working at the company.
What to ask: “What happened to the person who previously had this job? If it is a new position, what was the reason for creating this role?”
Why ask: This is a smart question to ask in an interview because a candidate should know the history and plans for the job for which they are interviewing. For example, if the last person was promoted, that tells you something about the growth potential of the role.
Conversely, if the person exited under less than positive circumstances, that may also give you some insight into the role, the department, and the company.
If it’s an entirely new position, the department and company may be growing, which could impact your decision to take (or not take) the job.
What to ask: “What time frame are you looking at to fill this position? What are the next steps in the process?”
Why ask: A good hiring manager will probably address this without you having to ask, but if they don’t, make sure you get a good handle on the post-interview process.
You’ll want to know what kind of follow-up questions to expect, whether additional interviews are likely for finalists, and even if you’ll be expected to complete a skills test of some kind.
Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics. This helps you know what to expect and when to expect it, so you aren’t annoying the hiring manager and worrying that you’ve been ghosted.
What to ask: “Have I answered all of the questions you had for me? What other information can I provide that would be useful to you?”
Why ask: Be as helpful as you can at every stage. Sometimes the hiring manager will state that they don’t have anything else to ask. But other times, they may want clarification on one of your previous answers. Either way, this bounces the ball back to the interviewer and gives you a chance to finish on a strong note.
Getting Interview Help
Interviewing is part preparation and part improvisation. Researching a company before your interview is a good place to start. It will help you figure out what job-specific questions you want to prepare.
However, practice makes perfect, and not everyone is good at improv. Fortunately, our career coaches can help you get ready for your big day with mock interviews and action plans to help you figure out what questions to ask in an interview.
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