Top 10 Best Questions to Ask During a Job Interview
Congratulations! You made it through the application process and have been granted an interview. This is your chance to really stand out, to show them that you are the best person for the job. Or better yet, the only person for the job. But what’s the best way to really shine at an interview? In the interest of creating a level playing field, Human Resources departments often design a hiring process which can seem a bit limiting. So how does one stand out in a procedure that’s designed to look at all of us through the same lens?
The solution may have more to do with your questions than your answers. That’s not to say that you’re not going to go in prepared to dazzle the interviewer with the perfect reply when they ask what your strengths and weaknesses are. And you’ll give an honest and simultaneously self-flattering assessment when they ask why you left your previous position. But what can you do to make a unique impression? In the end, we probably all cough up the same bull when asked if we’re a team player. Just remember, while everyone gets asked the same questions, the questions you, the interviewee ask, can be completely original and designed to make you shine.
Questions should be open-ended so that they foster further discussion; and of course you should not ask basic information about the company that you could have (should have) researched ahead of time. Your questions should be formulated to do three things; show that you’ve done your homework, highlight your unique skills and ability, and help you and the perspective employer determine if you’re a good fit for each other.
Did You Get A Chance To See My Résumé (Application)? Do You Have Any Questions About It?
Oddly enough, the interviewer or panel of interviewers may or may not have seen all the wonderful information you’ve provided about yourself. Depending on how large and/or bureaucratic the organization is, the process of deciding which candidates meet the minimum qualifications and can therefore be interviewed, may be completely separate (as in done by different people) than the process of interviewing and selecting the right person for the job. So double-check and make sure that the person/people you’re talking to know your story.
If they do, you can use the question to call attention to some of your greatest accomplishments. If they don’t, this is your chance to enlighten them. Practice giving a short (two minutes or less) summation of your education and work history, as well as your goals and vision of the future. Highlight the parts that are relevant to the current job, or that show-off your most unique skills and abilities.
If they answer that, yes, they’ve seen your résumé and no, they don’t have any questions about it, that’s fine. The important thing is that you’ve made sure they have a context for placing the information they will learn about you in the interview. You’ve also provided them with an opportunity to inquire into any burning issues which may not have been on the official list of interview questions.
Are There Opportunities For Advancement?
As a perspective employee you will definitely want to know whether the company offers opportunities to move up. Pay attention to how you ask the question though. Said the wrong way, it sounds like you are stating that the current position, the one your applying for, is below you. You don’t want the employer to think that you are only interested in this job as a way to get your foot in the door (even if that is the case).
Rather, your question should deliver the message that you want to be at this organization for a long time, that you are looking for a company that is a good fit now, and that will still be a good fit for you in the future as you grow and develop.
In the end, this question digs into the culture of the organization. Is the person who is interviewing you the person who will be your supervisor? What did they do before they were in this position? Are there examples of people in the leadership who came up through the ranks?
To be fair, the answer to this question may be largely determined by the size of the company. Small businesses simply may not have that many different positions to fill or layers in the hierarchy. However, as a business grows, it should look for ways to reward and develop dedicated, capable employees.
What Does Your Company Offer As Far As Training?
How deeply invested a company is in training says a lot about them. It will give you an idea of whether they like to cultivate internal talent or would rather spend their money on Head Hunters who recruit from the outside. It will give you insight into the likelihood of learning new skills which could lead to promotions, or the opportunity to change departments once your in the door. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is an indicator of how serious they are about being the best in their field.
Asking about opportunities for professional development also tells the perspective employer that you see yourself as a “life long learner,” that you are willing and anxious to hone your abilities, develop new skills and take on new things.
Don’t be afraid to be specific. Ask how much training will be provided initially, as well as how much is offered on an ongoing basis to long-term employees. Is training conducted internally or externally? Is there a budget (how much per employee?) for training? Will you be able to/required to attend regional or national conferences? Is training focused on technical development or also on soft skills? If you’ve attended trainings in your field that you’ve found especially useful, feel free to mention them. Every employer wants to hire someone that’s willing to learn.
How Would You Describe The Workplace Culture?
There are things you’ll want to know that you can’t really ask. You can’t ask if everyone who works there is an uptight workaholic. Nor can you inquire whether or not management and worker bees have a hostile relationship. But you can try to elicit this information by asking about the culture.
Probably the biggest factor that will decide whether or not you like a job is the overall culture of the organization. “Culture” can be hard to get a handle on, as it is a bit intangible. However, asking the interviewer describe the culture might reveal some interesting things. Is there a cut-throat competitive atmosphere? Does the boss bring in donuts every Wednesday? Can you dress casual? Do people keep to their cubicles or mingle with each other? Do many people use the break room? What kind of a vibe do you get from the place? Ask the interviewer(s), what his/her favorite thing about working there is?
When I was in school, I once attended an event in which we soon to graduate students were addressed by recruiters from various businesses. Only one employer (a sporting goods company you’ll probably recognize) made an impression on me at the time and I still remember it all these years later. It wasn’t the pay and benefits, or the company’s fantastic campus. It was that the recruiters short, fresh, honest description of the culture made it sound like a fun place to work:
“Look, we’re about sports. We rise and fall with the human spirit. And we believe in Just Do It! Sometimes that works out and sometimes it gets us into trouble.”
Can You Tell Me How Employee Performance Is Evaluated?
Knowing how to do a good job means knowing what a good job is. Ask how, how often and by whom your performance will be reviewed. Is there a specific format for evaluating performance or is it up to each supervisor? Is employee assessment based on measurable outcomes? On technical performance? On soft skills?
A well-defined evaluation process tells you that organization has policies and procedures in place to support employees in doing their jobs and improving their skills. If a place is loosey-goosey about conducting evaluations, it sets employees up for substandard performance. Goals should be well defined and employees should know what has to be done to measure up. The schedule and process for evaluation should be standardized throughout the organization.
You will also want to know who gets to provide feedback for employee evaluations. Does the supervisor execute the performance review on their own (indicating a hierarchical workplace culture)? Or is there a “360 degree” evaluation process which considers feedback not-only from the employee’s supervisor, but also from their co-workers, subordinates, and possibly even their customers. This type of process not only allows for a more complete picture of your performance, it permits employees to participate in improving the entire team.
Performance evaluations may be linked to wage increases. Therefore, it’s important that evaluations are conducted on a timely manner. Even when no salary increase is possible, regular performance assessments give the employee the opportunity to establish a documented record of their good work. Many organizations no longer allow supervisors to serve as references for former employees. Instead these calls are sent to the Human Resources office. Therefore, having a documented history of your excellent work in your personnel file is essential.
What Can You Tell Me About The People I’ll Be Working With?
Once hired, you’ll be part of a team, maybe even part of more than one team. So find out who they are. Indicating that you’d like to hear more about the people you’ll be working with lets the employer know that you understand the primary importance of relationships. What are the positions, and who are the people in them, with whom you’ll be working on a daily basis? Is the team relatively stable, with a core of long term employees (a good sign)? Has the size of the team been growing in recent months or years? Are there other people working under the same job title as the position you’re applying for? Will one of these people be training you? Are roles between team members tightly defined, or do people naturally gravitate to the task they like best? Is it the kind of place where people stick closely to their job descriptions, or does everyone pitch in to get things done in a crunch? Once again, the answer to these questions will give you an idea of the workplace culture (and the subculture of the particular team you’ll be working with) and will help you know if it’s the type of place where you want to work.
Once you have a feel for who your co-workers will be, expand the question to ask how this team fits into the department, and the overall structure of the organization. This will give you a feel for how the pieces fit together and what other ways your skills might benefit the company. You are also letting your perspective employer know that you’re interested in the big picture, in knowing how you doing your part serves the whole of the organization.
What Changes Do You See On The Horizon For This Position? For The Department? For The Company?
While preparing for the interview, you familiarized yourself with the company’s history and public profile. Has the organization been in the news recently for skyrocketing stock prices, changes in top personnel, the introduction of an exciting new product line, or (hopefully not) layoffs? If it feels appropriate, show you’ve done your homework and mention some of these things now. Compliment the company on the positive changes that have been happening.
However, your web search probably told you more about the company’s past than its future. So ask your interviewer what new opportunities and challenges they expect to see the company facing in the next few years. Then drill down and ask the same question for the department you’ll be working in, and for the specific position for which you’re applying.
The answers to these questions will shed light on the stability of the position you’re applying for, as well as the long-term goals of the company. It will also help you understand how your perspective position and department fit into the big picture. Most importantly, however, when you ask about the future, you are letting the employer know that you plan to be in it for the long haul.
What Qualities Are You Looking For In The Ideal Candidate For This Position?
The job description, which hopefully you received, tells you what skills and experience the employer is requiring. But they are hoping for more than they’re requiring. And in addition to skills and experience, they are looking for certain behaviors, abilities and soft skills. Furthermore, unless it is a new position, the employer will know how previous people who held the position did and how their abilities and experience served them in this particular job.
Having the employer spell out exactly what they are looking for means that they have to consider precisely what they do and don’t want. They may reveal shortcomings of previous employees giving you a chance to assure them that you will not fall into the same trap. And of course, you get a precise, detailed description of what qualities, skills and experience you need to demonstrate.
Finally, asking this question sets the stage for establishing clear expectations. This will initiate a positive communication pattern with your (hopefully) new employer and improve the odds of fulfilling their expectations.
Do You Have Any Concerns Or Reservations About My Qualifications Or Abilities? Are There Any Other Questions You’d Like To Ask Me?
A job interview is a two way street. As the session progresses, you will be learning about your perspective employer, just as they are learning about you. If you feel that this is the job you want, then as the interview winds down, you’ll want to put any reservations the interviewer has to rest. Remember, they may be constrained in what questions they can ask by strict rules imposed by Human Resources. So open the door for them. Find out if they have any specific concerns and answer them!
Would they like a list of references? Have one on hand to give them. Do they think you’re a wonderful candidate except for the fact that you don’t have any experience doing xyz? Explain to them that you when you worked for ABC Incorporated, your duties included tasks that, while different, used the exact same type of skills. They just told you what the ideal candidate looks like, so take the opportunity to make sure they can see that that’s you.
Are you fresh out of school and lacking in real world experience? Play up your enthusiasm, your flexibility and the fact that you are a fast learner. Highlight the ways in which your school success demonstrates the same qualities (that you’re a hard worker, a self-starter, motivated, etc.) that will make you an excellent employee.
When Can I Start? (Or At Least – What’s The Next Step?)
If you get to the end of the interview and know that you’ve aced it, smile up at the interviewer and ask when you can start working. Of course things are rarely that simple, and they will probably launch into a description of the process rather than giving you a date. That’s okay. You need to know what the process is and if there’s any more information you need to provide.
How you end the interview will be as memorable as how you started it. Asking what the next step is, and getting specific details, will not only show that you are assertive and anxious to start working. It will provide you with an idea of what to expect and a time frame so you don’t go crazy not knowing.
So feel free to ask, “When do you anticipate making a decision?” Will they finish interviewing all the candidates today, or will the process continue into the next week? Will the company inform you of their decision either way? If not, who should you call to follow up with? When are they hoping to have the new employee begin working? There may be several post-interview steps (reference and background checks, etc.) which have to take place before a decision can be finalized. Knowing this will help you feel less anxiety as you wait for the job offer.
Finally, as you leave, thank the interviewer, or each member of the interview panel by name. Smile and let them know, you’ll be in touch. This could be the start of a long term working relationship…
So, you did your homework. (The fact that you’re reading this list means you’re doing some now. Good job!) You researched the company on and off line. You prepared questions and answers, and presented yourself as a competent, confident professional. What’s next?
Waiting. And keeping your spirits up. Looking for a new job is one of the most exciting things we do. But it can also be one of the most discouraging. Sometimes you may feel like you’re on a rejection marathon. So be extra good to yourself when you’re job hunting.
When that phone call comes, you may find that your dream company is declining to hire you. If that’s the case, thank them for considering you and ask if they have any feedback as to what would make you a better candidate. It may be that they give you just the tip you need to secure an even better job the following week.
On the other hand, your stellar performance in the interview may win you a lucrative job offer. Congratulations! Enjoy your success. You’ve earned it!