In a recent blog post, we covered questions you should not ask in an interview — the way that they were phrased indicated a lack of interest in the position. But most interviews will offer a time that the interviewer is expecting you to ask some questions – and you should!
Here are examples of great questions that show a thoughtful approach to the position:
What is the company’s culture like? Where do you see the company evolving? How is the company dealing with (name industry trend or company development you have read about)?
These differ greatly from a question we don’t recommend, which is “What does your company do?” You want to avoid asking any question that could easily be answered by doing minimal research online. The questions posed here, however, indicate that you are more broadly interested in how the company aligns with your values, or that you want to know more about their strategy going forward, or that you have done some industry homework and want more information about news that you have learned. Each of these questions shows that you have a deep interest in the company and are likely to be a committed employee. You want to show that you are invested in the company and its go-forward plans.
What does a typical day here look like?
It’s perfectly fine to want to get a sense of your responsibilities and the pace of the day. Perhaps you are expected to spend most of your time outside the office on sales calls, or conversely, sitting at your computer putting together proposals or doing research. Maybe the environment is very team oriented, with ample meetings and team input, or maybe it’s a leaner environment where people work independently. Maybe there’s a large support staff, or maybe it’s a department where everyone wears a variety of hats and takes a turn at the photocopy machine. The goal for this question is to find out not just what the actual daily duties are, but what the environment in the office is like and if it dovetails well with your expectations and preferences.
Will you be my manager? If not, who will?
This question is likely to be addressed in future interviews, but it’s one that can be asked in a first interview too, to show that interpersonal relationships are important to you. If the interviewer is just a human resources person who is whittling down the slate of candidates, it’s important to know that. Maybe you really liked — or didn’t like — his or her style. It’s important to be assured that you will or will not be working with that person on a daily basis. Then, it’s important to learn more about your eventual manager and be assured you’ll have a chance to meet. First impressions aren’t everything but you want a chance to assess how your personalities and styles will match up.
Where did the previous employee go?
This question can answer a whole host of other questions, because what you really want to know is what kind of shoes you’re stepping into. If the person got promoted, that’s a great sign that the position and company foster upward mobility. If the person moved on to another company, that can be good or bad – maybe they weren’t a right fit, but maybe they were stagnating. If the person was “let go,” maybe they were lazy or maybe the boss is a task master or the schedule is unreasonable. That’s the tricky thing about this question — most answers to this question can be interpreted either way, and can leave you with even more questions. But, asking this question can help give you a little window into the position – and if possible, offer clues to how and where to do further research about the previous occupant of the position for which you are applying!
What did you like most/least about the person in the position before me?
This is another question that gives you a window into both the person and the position. It can help you see whether the person who was there before was fired for cause or if the expectations of the position might be too high. Be on the lookout for answers like, “they weren’t careful with details,” “they didn’t come in on time,” or “they didn’t have a customer service ethic.” These are good answers to a problem you can overcome – and provide clues that can be used to strengthen your position by allowing you to see the traits that help someone in this position succeed, and the qualities that your potential boss most values. If the answers are things like “they couldn’t work weekends,” or “they didn’t get along with the team,” those could be — but not necessarily are – red flags. Use the question to get as much information as you can and then seek to get corroboration from others in the company or through online searching to find out as much as you can.
How do you communicate with the team? Do we meet regularly?
This is another way to determine if the culture and expectations are a good fit. A team that has regular meetings might be more cohesive, and might provide more opportunities for learning and sharing best practices and training. If the interviewer seems hesitant to answer or says that they don’t meet regularly, that could be a red flag that you are on your own. Which, for some professionals is an ideal work environment. This question can at least give you a peek into what to expect.
Interviewers will expect you to have insightful questions to ask them. But remember it’s a two-way street. Make sure to ask strategic questions that can help give you more information into the culture of the company and your prospects for fitting in and feeling challenged.
by Cathie Ericson