What to Ask in Your Next Interview
What to Ask in Your Next Interview

I don’t know about you, but the limited education on interviewing I received before being thrust into the corporate world revolved around preparing your top three strengths and weaknesses and not chewing gum. That might get you through a McDonald’s cashier interview, but it isn’t going to cut it in the increasingly complex interview processes being crafted by today’s leading companies.

Today you can find quite a bit of online fodder around the types of questions you’ll receive in an interview. In fact, Glassdoor has an entire section dedicated to sharing the specific interview questions candidates received from a company — an interview cheat-sheet if you will. While important prep work, it’s all geared toward convincing these companies to hire you. But how do you determine whether you want them?

As an in-house recruiter for many years, one thing that struck me was how often this topic came up in our post-interview debriefs. If a candidate didn’t have questions about the job or organization, the hiring team universally viewed it as a bad sign, and it significantly impacted the hire/no-hire vote.

Interviewing is a two-way street. They need to get to know you, but you also need to get to know them, and few of us understand how, exactly, to do that, particularly in a situation where we’ve been trained to answer, not ask, the questions.

Why You Should Ask Questions

First of all, get past the idea that the hiring team are the only ones allowed to ask questions. You aren’t getting arrested; you’re learning more about a job. Preparing questions to ask in your interview serves two important purposes:

1) To help you to determine whether the company and role are a good fit for you.

2) To show your interviewer that you are thoughtful, well-prepared and taking this opportunity — and their time — very seriously.

Is This Company a Good Fit?

To determine whether a company will be a good fit for you, you need to first have clarity around what is important to you in your job. Most of us focus on the obvious: compensation, benefits, flexibility, work-life balance. But I challenge you to think beyond these basics to what fundamentally drives and engages you on a day-to-day basis. For me, that means truly believing in a company’s values and mission. So, some questions I might ask are:

Question: How are the company values [which I’ve already looked up on the website as I prepared for this interview] incorporated in the way the company does business?

Translation: I want to know that the company values are not just a poster in the breakroom, but an inherent part of company culture.

Question: What are the company’s goals?

Translation: Can I get onboard with these goals? Do these goals inspire me? 

Question: What is the longevity of the team members?

Translation: Unless this is a newly established company or team, if there’s a revolving door of employees that’s a big red flag that something about the company culture is off.

Question: How does your team celebrate success? How does it handle failure?

Translation: I’m trying to determine whether employees are appreciated for their contributions. What happens if I or my team fails? Is this a culture of blaming and finger-pointing, or healthy collaboration and shared responsibility?

IS THIS JOB A GOOD FIT?

This one’s a little trickier because there are so many reasons why a job may or may not be a fit. But, like before, the best way to tackle this ambiguous subject is to outline for yourself, ahead of time, what is important to you in your next job. Is it impact? Scope? Growth opportunity? An opportunity to learn something new?

Here’s a tip: regardless of your answers to the above questions, most of us just want a job in which we are fairly certain we’ll be successful. So, I might ask:

Question: What does success look like in this role?

Translation: Do you even know what success looks like in this role? Is there a tangible goal for me to achieve, or is the hiring manager unclear herself about the responsibilities?

Question: What problems do you need this role to solve?

Translation: Do I have at least a decent sense that I’ll be able to successfully solve those problems? Are the problems interesting to me?

Question: What are the top three goals you’d like this person to achieve in the first 12 months?

Translation: Do I think these goals are reasonable? Do I think I can achieve them? What metrics will tell me if I’m doing a good job or not?

Question: What impact does this role have on the broader company objectives?

Translation: Am I a cog in the wheel or an important part of the company’s success?

The Questions You Shouldn’t Ask

We’re aiming for giving the impression of a thoughtful candidate who isn’t only interested in making a good impression, but gathering information in order to make an informed career decision. In order to achieve this impression there are certain questions we should shy away from — at least in the first interview.

1. What is the salary/benefits/vacation policy?

Hint: Of course these are important questions, but if these are your top priorities — over fit, career development, etc. — you aren’t going to come across as focused on the right things.

2. How did I do?

Hint: Nobody likes being put on the spot, and that’s what you’re doing to your interviewer if you ask for immediate feedback. It’s hard, particularly when it’s the kind of interviewer who doesn’t give you a sense of how well the conversation is going, to leave the room without knowing if you did well. But you don’t want the interviewer’s final impression to be one of pressure from you. Also, it’s not fair to ask for feedback before an interviewer has had time to digest the conversation. However, it is okay to ask at the end: What are the next steps? Or, What is your timeline for making a hiring decision?

I’ve said this a thousand times before: interviewing is like dating. If your date doesn’t ask you any questions, that’s a bit of a turn-off, right? You wonder if he’s really all that into you. It’s the same with an interview. If you aren’t asking thoughtful questions, the hiring manager may wonder if you’re really all that into this job, and move on to the next candidate.


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Karen Bertiger

Guest writer Karen Bertiger has two decades of recruiting experience across myriad industries, including finance and tech. She was a founding member of the internal executive search team at Amazon and is now a managing director at Seattle-based executive recruiting firm Herd Freed Hartz. 

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