Business HandshakeArriving at a job interview without well prepared questions is like going clothes shopping with no pants on. You’ll be conspicuous for what’s lacking instead of what you have to offer.

There’s a pretty standard flow to job interviews. They usually start with a few minutes of small talk, followed by a review of experience, then some questions to understand your soft skills (approach to work, coping strategies, interpersonal skills), a conversation about career goals, and then the famous closing:

“Do you have any questions you’d like to ask about the job or the company?”

In my 17 years of interviewing people I’ve been impressed by many candidates who were well prepared. Some were even able to diplomatically and politely ask some very pointed questions about the structure and culture of the organization. And then there were the others. The ones who demurely declined, saying something like:

“No. I think we covered everything. I don’t have any questions.”

Here are three reasons you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to ask questions at this point in the meeting. First, the interviewer has probably set aside the last 10 minutes for your questions. If you have none, you just lost 10 minutes of face time. Second, many HR folks and hiring managers use this segment of the interview to assess your business acumen and your level of interest in the role. After all, you’re playing a big part in the decision making process here. You want to be seen as an active decision partner. Third, your questions are an ideal way to end the meeting on a strong note. You’re in control of this portion. Declining to ask questions ends the meeting on a soft note which may make you appear disinterested and passive.

So, here goes. My best questions for job seekers to ask during an interview.

  1. What are the most important objectives for this department to achieve in the next 12 months? (Listen.) Here’s how I see this role contributing. Is my thinking in alignment with what you have in mind?
  2. How long has this role been open? What have you done so far to fill the role? Are you interviewing internal candidates as well as external candidates? (This will give you REAMS of information about what’s going on.)
  3. How many people have been in this role in the last 2 years? Does there seem to be a common thread for success factors — or what do you think has been the biggest challenge for those who are no longer in the role?
  4.  How will you assess your new hire in the first 90 days? Will there be measurable milestones or are you taking a less formal approach? (If you get the job, this question will pave the way for you to request a conversation with your new boss to set concrete measurables.)
  5. What is the company’s thinking on performance appraisals? Are they formal — and happen within a set time period or do you operate in more of an unstructured way? (This will tell you about the culture. Are they performance based, or is success measured in terms of relationships.)
  6. Here is my understanding of the department I would be working in (relate what you think you know about the structure). Do I have that right? What other areas does this position interact with?
  7. What kind of structural changes do you foresee for the company over the next 3 years?
  8. It seems to me that your top competitors are A, B and C. How do you differ from them? What are your strengths in comparison to them?
  9. It seems to me that the top challenges for your industry are A and B. Do I have that right? What kind of strategies are in place to reduce risk or come out on top?

Presumptive close questions
Use these only if you’re comfortable with this kind of direct conversation. These questions, if asked without an appropriate degree of confidence, will sound rehearsed and insincere.

  1. During the course of this interview, did you discover any reasons why we should not move on to the next step?
  2. Can you see any reason why I would not be successful in this role?
  3. Who else would need to be in agreement for me to be chosen for this role?
  4. What topics did we not cover that you feel should be part of our next conversation?

I wish you the best of luck with your job search. Try to enjoy it.

And now I’ll ask you: What questions do you like to ask? Are there any that you think are important to discuss but that you’d be too shy to ask?

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11 thoughts on “For Job Seekers: Great Questions to Ask Your Interviewer

  1. Your list of questions is very helpful. Here’s my take on interviews from both sides of the table: The decision to hire a candidate by the top decision maker is almost always made in the first 60-120 seconds of the interview. After that, a candidate can only screw up his or her chances by doing something stupid, that places a doubt in the decision maker’s mind.

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    1. Hi G.T. – There’s validity in what you’re saying, especially with the top decision maker. Frequently, the most senior person on the interviewing team will assume that all previous interviews have verified the candidates’ skills and abilities – so the “top dog” may be looking simply for cultural fit and likability. As an interviewer, even if I’ve already made up my mind, I’m keenly interested in what questions – if any – a candidate will come up with. I find them very telling. I consider curiosity such an essential skill at work that a lack of questions about the job or the organization may drop a candidate off my shortlist.

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  2. This is great! In today’s highly competitive job market, anything that can set you apart from the rest of the crowd is a plus. Asking the right questions shows your interest in and knowledge of the company and indicates to the interviewer that you are the best candidate for the job.

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