You got the interview! Things are going well. You’ve smoothly discussed your performance points, you’ve glossed over That Incident We’d All Like to Leave Behind, and you’ve been making eye contact like a pro. Suddenly, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions. “Oh ho,” you think. “The interviewee has become the interviewer!” But in the moment, you start to feel a bit of inward panic. You’ve focused so fully on answering any question that could possibly be thrown your way, and now you’re drawing a bit of a blank.
The best way to avoid that deer-in-headlights moment in an interview is to be prepared. Ahead of the interview, think of a set of questions to have on hand no matter how the discussion shakes out. If possible, work them in organically during the interview (without seeming too Barbara Walters about it). If they don’t really fit with the flow of the conversation, hold them until the end when you might well have an open floor.
1. “How has this position evolved?”
This one can give you a sense of how the company sees this role—and, potentially, you. If this is a role that has expanded or updated with each person that has held it, that’s a good indicator that it is a growth position. If it has stayed more or less the same over time, it could be that there is not much room for you to a) make it your own or b) advance beyond a certain point. Not necessarily a dealbreaker, depending on your perspective, but definitely something to be aware of as you go into it.
2. “In the first year, what is the highest priority for this position?”
Five-year plans (a common interview and career subject) are all well and good, but the first year in a position could make or break it for you. Knowing the immediate plans for this role can tell you whether this is where you really want to be. After all, the company’s goals for the position will become your goals if you end up taking the job, so it would be helpful to know as early as possible whether the initial priorities are ones that seem manageable to you and likely to be a challenge.
3. “In this position, how would I be working with my manager?”
Speaking of things that can make or break your new job, your boss might be the most important one. We all have management styles to which we respond well—and ones that make us want to run screaming for the nearest exit. The answer to this question can let you know whether you’ll be working shoulder-to-shoulder with your manager, or if he or she expects you to take a ball and run with it, with minimal input or hand-holding.
4. “What are the biggest challenges in this role?”
Just like you present the best parts of yourself in your resume and the interview, the employer wants to present the best parts of this job to prospective employees. There is likely more to the job than the bare-bones job description, and now is your chance to get some of that extra context if the interviewer hasn’t already offered that information.
5. “What is a typical day like in this role?”
If you’ll be spending most of your day on particular tasks, this question can help you figure out whether that will work for you. For example, if you hate fielding phone calls, but it turns out that 75% of this job is working the phones, this is crucial information to have. This can also help you figure out what the priorities will be for the position and help you shape any subsequent answers around that information to show that you would be a good fit for that daily routine.
6. “Is there anything else I can provide to help you make this decision?”
This is a good grand finale question once the interview is winding down. It shows you’re proactive and keenly interested in the position, for starters and also gives you a chance to clarify any vagueness or confusion on the interviewer’s part.
Asking questions in your interview is key. It demonstrates that you’re paying attention and are engaged in the process. And by asking smart ones on the spot, tailored specifically to the job description and your pre-interview research on the company, you show the interviewer that you’re a better-prepared candidate than someone who either doesn’t speak up or who ignores the useful opportunity to ask counter-questions.