Few things are certain when it comes to interviews, but there’s one question you will almost definitely be asked: “Do you have any questions for us?”
At the end of an interview, the hiring manager will often let you take the lead. While it might seem like a relief to be the one asking questions, this can be a tricky moment for many interviewees. It pays to be prepared so you can leave having made a strong final impression. In this article, we offer tips and strategies for nailing this part of the interview and give you ten great questions you can ask the interviewer.
Candidates often get caught up in thinking of an interview as an audition. After all, they’re there to impress the hiring panel, right?
While that is true, you should bear in mind that the employer is also trying to impress you. If you are auditioning to be their employee, they are auditioning to be your employer. Competition for well-qualified candidates can be fierce, and good companies want to make the case that they are an excellent place to work.
When a hiring panel gives you a chance to ask questions, it is your opportunity to figure out whether or not the job matches what you are looking for. You can ask questions to learn a bit more about the organization, the team you would be working with, and what you would actually be doing from day to day.
Remember: interviewers expect you to have questions. You won’t impress them by letting them drive the entire interview. In fact, a lack of follow-up questions might lead hiring managers to think that you don’t have much interest in the role.
You know that it’s important to ask questions, but you may not think this requires any preparation. Can’t you just wait and see what questions come to you in the moment?
While you might be tempted to ‘wing it’ given how much other preparation you will be doing for the interview, you should be aware that asking questions is a potential minefield. You don’t want to tank an otherwise outstanding interview by including a breach of etiquette right at the final hurdle.
Here are some tips to bear in mind when preparing questions to ask at an interview.
The questions you ask your hiring panel should genuinely interest you and reflect the specific position and organization you are applying for. While you brainstorm, use the following ten questions to inspire your planning, along with the rationale for each, what you should be listening for, and how to keep the conversation flowing with some follow-up questions.
Why you should ask it: This question allows you to get a clearer understanding of the key duties and responsibilities required in this role. If you get the job you will likely spend a large chunk of time performing these duties. Find out now if these are things you will be happy doing.
What to listen for: Try to get a feel for an average day in the role. You might even ask the interview panel directly: “What would a typical day in this job look like?”
Follow-up questions: As you listen, note any tasks or responsibilities you want to learn more about. Don’t be afraid to follow up on these. You might also ask what percentage of your time you would be expected to spend on different tasks.
A conversation about roles and responsibilities can be a good moment to reiterate your skills and experience. If they mention duties in an area where you have plenty of experience (and it hasn’t previously come up in the interview), you can let the interviewer know that you would be ready to handle that task.
Why you should ask it: This question helps you to understand what the hiring manager values. It may also help you gather additional information that wasn’t in the job description. Asking questions about how you will receive feedback can also demonstrate your eagerness to learn and grow within the role.
What to listen for: Do the expectations sound reasonable to you? Will you meet the criteria that are described?
Follow-up questions: You might also want to ask who you would report to, who your performance manager would be, or how success is measured within the team. The way that organizations give feedback and manage performance says something about their company culture, and if you value feedback this may be a deciding factor in whether or not you accept a job offer.
Why you should ask it: This is another question that can take you beyond the job description and give you a clearer sense of what your role would actually entail. It can also reveal some of the team or department priorities that may impact your work.
What to listen for: Do these goals and expectations seem realistic and reasonable? Do you see yourself being able to meet these goals in the first three months of your new job?
Follow-up questions: If you are looking for more detail about the broader direction of the organization, you could follow up by asking how these goals fit into the broader team/department/company goals. This will show your interest in growing with the company as a stakeholder.
Why you should ask it: This is a great way to prompt your hiring panel to sell the company to you. Of course, you will have already read the statements about company culture and values on the employer’s website, but this is your chance to ask what employees actually experience from day to day. You will likely get a more authentic description of the company by asking your panel for their unscripted impressions.
What to listen for: Hopefully, you will hear amazing things about the company that make you even more excited to land the job, but take notice if anything sounds false or your panel is struggling to come up with positive things to say about the workplace. This could be a red flag that you need to consider when deciding whether or not you want to accept a job offer.
Follow-up questions: If you feel that you are not getting enough detail about what life at the company would look like, you may want to ask probing questions, such as “So what does that look like on a day to day basis?” or “Can you give me an example of that in action?” An alternative way to reveal corporate culture could involve asking more direct questions, like “What do you love about working here?” or “What is the most exciting thing about your job?”
Why you should ask it: No company is perfect. The answer to this question could provide some hints about the role’s challenges. Of course, just as you would never share all of your biggest flaws when asked about weaknesses in an interview, it’s unlikely that your hiring panel will be frank about the things they really dislike about the company. However, the question still has value because it can reveal things that you might otherwise never learn.
What to listen for: Responses to this question will vary depending on the workplace. Ideally you will hear that the panel is aware that there are issues—as there are at any workplace—and that steps are being taken to address those issues. Maybe there’s a culture of working long hours, and the management team has instigated a “no email after 6 pm” rule to address that. Maybe there are difficult customers, but there is plenty of support available. Be on your guard if interviewers tell you that there are no problems or challenges at the workplace, as this might be an indication of major problems that aren’t being addressed.
Follow-up questions: Ask the panel how they think the challenges they have identified would impact your role and what skills they think would be necessary to navigate these challenges. This can also steer the conversation back to your ability to tackle challenging situations and add value.
Why you should ask it: This question gives you some insight into the company’s goals and objectives. If you are planning to stay in this new role, you want to know that there will be opportunities for growth. This question also demonstrates to the hiring panel that you are thinking about a long-term future with the company.
What to listen for: Use this question to make sure that your personal goals align with the direction the company is headed. For example, if it sounds like the company is moving into a market that wouldn’t leverage your skills, you may want to reconsider whether this is a good fit or not.
Follow-up questions: If you are interested in learning more about upcoming changes or initiatives, ask for more details. For example: “Will there be opportunities for this role to get involved in project X?” or “How do you see X change impacting the duties of this role?”
Why you should ask it: This is another question that helps you figure out whether there will be opportunities for you to grow and advance in the role. Instead of asking “When can I expect to be promoted?” you will be able to indirectly signal your interest in growing your career at the company.
What to listen for: This question can help you understand the approach the company takes to managing their talent. Some companies are focused on building their internal pipeline of talent and working to promote people through the ranks, while others tend to hire senior candidates from outside the company. While asking this question is unlikely to reveal exactly which strategy the employer uses, the more detail and passion they demonstrate when discussing how they have seen other people moving up through the ranks, the more likely they are to be a company that fosters internal talent.
Follow-up questions: This question dovetails nicely with question 8 on our list about learning and development opportunities. For example, “In order to progress my career at ABC Company, I understand I’d need to develop my skills and experience. Can you tell me about the training and development opportunities here?”
Why you should ask it: If you are interviewing for a job as part of a strategic career move, you are likely interested in continuing to grow and develop your skills for the future. Different companies take different approaches to training and developing their staff, and this question can help you evaluate if the employer will invest in you. This question also illustrates your willingness to learn and build new skills, which are desirable traits in an employee.
What to listen for: Try to assess if their training and development offerings will help you to grow your career. If their answer is vague or very brief, this may indicate that there isn’t a large focus on training and development at the company.
Follow-up questions: When you were preparing for your interview and researching the company, did you come across any interesting programs? Feel free to ask about these or express your interest in them. You may also want to ask about specific types of development, such as whether there are any mentoring or coaching programs, lunch-and-learns, or opportunities for you to share your knowledge.
Why you should ask it: It may feel risky, but it’s worth asking the interviewer if there is anything that makes them doubt whether you’re a good fit for the role. If you have the confidence to ask this question, it can be a good way to correct any misconceptions or assuage any reservations that the interviewer may have.
What to listen for: Be ready for opportunities to offer reassurance or additional information to boost the interviewer’s confidence in your abilities. Listen carefully to what they have to say, and don’t jump in to defend yourself before they have finished speaking.
Follow-up questions: It’s not necessary to ask follow-up questions, but you need to be prepared to not get defensive and to be respectful in your response. Use phrases such as “I hear your concern” to indicate that you are taking it seriously. Do your best to turn your response back to your skills and emphasize any additional information that will help the hiring panel feel more confident about you.
Why you should ask it: You should always take the opportunity to clarify what the next steps will be following the interview. If nothing else, this will give you peace of mind when you are waiting to hear the outcome of the interview. This question also allows you to reiterate your interest in the position.
What to listen for: The details, of course. Sometimes a hiring manager will reveal that there is a second round of interviews or an aptitude test. They may also reveal the number of other candidates they are considering. Typically, they will give you a timeline for when you can expect to hear from them. Make a mental note of all the relevant details so you can plan for whatever comes next.
Follow-up questions: If you don’t have the contact details of everyone on the hiring panel, you can ask for a business card. This will make it easier for you to follow up with a personalized thank you email to the hiring panel, which is a memorable way to stand out from the crowd and emphasize your qualifications and excitement following your interview.
Asking questions at an interview gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge, your skills, your research into the company, and how interested you are in the job. It’s also a chance for you to learn some critical information that will help you decide whether or not to accept the role if you receive an offer. Make a strong and lasting impression on your hiring panel. With a little preparation and forward planning, you can use your questions to identify you as a keen and memorable candidate.
Once you’ve asked all your questions, remember to offer a genuine thank you to the hiring panel for taking the time to meet you. You’ve got this!
Community Success Manager & CV Writing Expert
Ben is a writer, customer success manager and CV writing expert with over 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their best careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume summary and the power of coffee.
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February 12, 2021