The interview has gone really well so far: you were exactly five minutes early, you hit all of your talking points in a confident and conversational way, and it turns out that both you and the interviewer went to Camp Mohegan (and you both remembered the secret handshake). Now things are winding down, and you can practically smell the new-folder scent of your employee orientation packet. Before you can collect your bag and use your superb (non-secret) interview handshake to close things out, though, there’s one more question: “Do you have any questions for me?” Here’s why questions to ask during an interview are really important.
If you’re not prepared, this is a chance for that unappealing deer-in-headlights moment. It may not be a total dealbreaker, but it can definitely undermine all the highlights of your interview up to this point.
Why Do You Need to Ask Questions?
Basically, interviewers are asking you if you have any questions for them for a few reasons:
- It’s polite.
- They’re out of questions themselves.
- They want to see how you interact.
- They want to gauge your interest in the job.
Okay, so #1 isn’t necessarily the most important reason. The ghost of Emily Post doesn’t haunt job interviews to make sure everyone’s behaving with impeccable manners. #2 and #3, however, make a difference to you. If, as in #2, the interviewer has just run out of topics for whatever reason, it’s a chance for you to step in and keep the dialogue open. You can re-emphasize points that you want to make sure the interviewer comes away remembering, and you can use this as an avenue to introduce skills or experience that you hadn’t previously discussed.
If you’ve had a pretty exhaustive interview where you covered your resume comprehensively, it’s likely that #3 is the reason. These days, just about everyone is busy at work due to understaffing and increased workloads. When companies hire someone new to join the team, they want to know that this person will be able to hit the ground running. So the “any questions for me?” question is really a gambit to see if you can follow up quickly, and request information that you want or need. If you just sit there with a blank expression, that’s a potential red flag. If you have the social skills to interact with the interviewer rather than just answer questions with a set of talking points, that shows you could be a proactive employee with good listening and communication skills.
Responding with smart, insightful questions can tell the interviewer a lot about you (or reinforce the overall perception of you as a great, detail-oriented candidate). When you have good questions (throughout the interview or at the end when there’s an official call for questions), it shows the following qualities to the interviewer:
- Engagement: You are actively interested in the opportunity.
- Intelligence: You get what the job entails, and how you could fit into it.
- Confidence: You know you can do the job well and be an asset to the company.
- Social intelligence: You understand the give-and-take interactions, and present yourself well.
And in addition to using questions to present your best self to the interviewer, it’s also a chance to do some final information-gathering on the job itself. Sure, you’ve read every line of the job description, have combed the internet and your social networks for intel on the company, and have checked to see what similar jobs at other companies entail. (If you haven’t done those things, definitely do them before interview day.) The interview is a chance for the company to evaluate you, but it’s also your chance to evaluate the job.
After the interview, the next big step is either an offer (or a non-offer)—the grace period for follow-up questions closes around the same time you send your thank-you email to the interviewer. So it makes total sense to use the interview to get as much information as you can on the day-to-day life of the job, or the colleagues with whom you’d be working. Seize the opportunity!
How to Prep Your Questions for the Interview
Interview prep is usually about how to frame yourself for maximum interview success: the resume points you want to emphasize, the specific anecdotes that show your leadership skills or your problem solving skills, and body language (posture, handshake, a hire-me smile that doesn’t scare anyone). But while you’re planning and practicing those things, also think about what you can ask the interviewer.
According to The Interview Guys, the questions aren’t so much asking any old question as they are about asking the right ones, intelligently. This means focusing on the job itself, not generic things like “how many people are in the company?” or “what’s the current stock price?”
To help you prep, you can break down questions into these different areas:
- The Job: What do you want to know about the nitty-gritty of life in this role?
- The Requirements: Are you equipped to take over this role? Or is there anything you can do to prepare?
- The Expectations: How does the company see this role, and what do they expect from the person who steps into it?
- The Company: What is this company really like?
- The People: What qualities do your possible future coworkers have? What do they value?
- The Follow-up: When is the company planning to fill this position? (This can help manage your expectations.)
Prepping for this can be difficult, because you don’t know what you’ll be asked in the interview. You might cover any combination of these areas during the course of the interview, so you don’t want to ask questions that would directly repeat information that you’ve already been given. So the best way to account for this is to come up with a broad list of questions you can ask. Try to remember at least two in each of the categories above, so that you’re covered.
You Can Bring a Cheat Sheet
Notes are fine to bring into an interview. There will be no Teleprompter, and you don’t get bonus points for memorizing and repeating canned responses. If you do decide to bring in notes with you, keep them limited to bullet points on an index card or small notebook. You don’t want to spend your time looking down at your novelized questions instead of making eye contact and engaging with the interviewer. Basically, you should come up with your list of tentative questions ahead of time, and know them pretty well, bringing notes only as a cheat sheet if you need them. Nothing stops the momentum of a good interview like pausing to shuffle through your notes in a moment of awkward silence.
What to Ask During the Interview
As you think about what questions to ask the interviewer, here are some examples in the categories we outlined above. Again, make sure these are as specific as possible to the job for which you’re applying, so that it sounds like you’re engaged and enthusiastic to learn more.
- Can you describe what a typical day is like as an [insert job title]?
- What do you see as the biggest challenge for someone in this position?
- What kind of training can I expect if I’m hired for this job?
- Is there any training you would recommend in the meantime?
- Can you tell me about the performance expectations for this role?
- Thinking about the long term, can you give a quick outline of the path for advancement in this department?
- What are the employee review processes for this role?
- What would you say is the overall mission of this company?
- How would you say the company fits into the industry as a whole?
- What’s your favorite part of working here?
- What’s your least favorite part of working here?
- How does the company approach work-life balance?
- How big is the team I’d be working with?
- Which other departments would I be working with as a [insert job title]?
- Can you give a brief description of the team members I’d be working with?
- If you could describe the team here in one word, what would it be?
- How would you describe the working environment here?
- Can you tell me about my direct manager? (Note: This one really only works if you’re being interviewed by a recruiter or HR person.)
- Can you describe your management style? (This is the equivalent if you’re being interviewed by the person to whom you’d be reporting.)
- Can I email you with any additional questions if I think of any later?
- Do you know what the approximate timeline is for filling this position?
- What are the next steps?
- Is there anything else I can provide?
- We talked a little bit about my experience with [example based on job description]. Is there any other info I can provide on that front?
Tips for Framing Questions
- Ask open-ended questions. Basic yes-or-no questions can shut down the conversation, and then you’ll be on the hook for another question even faster.
- Make sure you’re framing it as a question, and not just trailing off. “Is this position subject to an annual review, or…”
- Don’t ask leading or loaded questions, which make it look like you’re fishing for a specific answer. You want to seem like you genuinely want information, and aren’t just looking to confirm something you already know. “Isn’t it true that…”
- If you can, weave your questions throughout the interview. It demonstrates that you’re paying attention, and engaged in the process. If you find you can’t really do that with the conversational flow, save them until the end or until you’re asked if you have questions.
- Keep the tone light and professional. Don’t try to trap the interviewer in a mistake or misstatement, or use the questions aggressively to pin down an answer. You want to seem involved and relatable, not intense and overbearing.
What NOT to Ask During the Interview
There are some areas where you just shouldn’t go with your table-turning questions.
Anything about salary
This isn’t the time or the place—and the person who’s interviewing you may not have much insight into compensation. Also, if you jump the gun on salary discussions now, you could put yourself at a disadvantage later during the offer and negotiation phase.
How soon you can take vacation time
This is not only presumptuous, but also a part of later benefit discussions, like salary.
If you have a complicated question, ask it in pieces, in a conversational way.
If the rumors are true
Any rumors. Whatever you’ve heard about the company, now is not the time to bring it up, even with your new Camp Mohegan buddy.
Personal questions about the interviewer
You’ll have plenty of time to get to know your (hopefully) new colleague later.
Once you have a feel for the general topics for these questions, you can start bending them to fit the job you want, and practicing the questions in a confident, conversational way. The more you come up with ahead of time, the less likely you are to be that deer in the headlights. You want to finish the interview strong, so get ready to have interview questions cut both ways.