I’ve done my fair share of interviews, even though I’ve only worked for two companies after college. While I interviewed as an outsider for the positions initially, I have actually interviewed more often from within the organizations as I steadily climbed the corporate ladder. I was very successful in most of my interviews and usually landed the position I was seeking.
Why you should Interview the Interviewer
An interview is essentially a sales pitch–and your skill set is the service you are peddling. However, you should never enter an interview believing that it is only you who is on the market. It is equally important that your potential employer sell you on the position as well.
When you pose questions in an interview it does a few key things:
- It shows that you are interested in the position and company.
- It shows that you are assertive, competitive and driven.
- It demonstrates that you have done your research and are prepared for the interview (which also provides the interviewer a peek into the type of employee you’ll be).
- It makes you appear less desperate (this of course depends on the type of questions you ask).
- It changes the tone of the interview. Roles flip-flop and you become the interviewer and the interviewer is now pitching to you.
- It helps to inform your final decision on whether or not to accept the position.
Make your questions count
Before we dive into the questions you should ask, there are a few things to remember when you are preparing your questions and during the interview:
- The Q & A portion of the interview usually takes place near the end. It is essential that you have questions prepared (write them down) but it’s even more important that you mentally tweak them based on the interview conversation. Some of your questions may (should) be answered or partially answered during the interview. Do NOT ask questions that have already been answered. Be sure that you remain flexible enough to add, delete and amend your questions as necessary.
- If the interviewer fails to ask you if you have any questions — take the initiative and ask the questions anyway. Saying something like “before we end, I have a few questions I’d like to ask if you don’t mind,” is the perfect way to politely remind the interviewer that you haven’t had the chance to get your questions answered.
- Ask clarifying questions throughout the interview. If you don’t fully understand, ask the interviewer to clarify the question or ask additional questions about their initial query. It is critical that you understand and fully address all of their questions–the ones they ask verbally and the ones hidden in the subtext.
- Avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions. You gain very little–if any–insight from yes or no questions.
- Avoid self-centered or “me” questions. Try to avoid asking about vacation time, benefits, company perks, stock options and even salary — unless the interviewer brings it up. And even then, proceed with extreme caution. Once you are offered the position you can discuss those items at length.
Top 10 questions to ask in an interview
Here is a proven list of the top ten questions you should ask in an interview
1) What are the company’s vision and overall mission?
Employers love to talk about their company’s vision for the future. If they are passionate about their work, they enjoy discussing the company’s vision. Let them start to think about your help in fulfilling them. Asking questions like this also shows you are interested in understanding and contributing to the success of their mission.
*Caution: This is a question that most likely will be answered–at least partially–during the interview. Be prepared to amend or nix this question.
2) Can you tell me more about ______ (insert a specific fact or aspect that shows you researched the company)?
Employers want to know how much you want this job. Are you willing to put time into studying the company and position? If you want to stand out, you’d better be. Once you have done your homework, let them know it. Prepare specific questions to ask about areas that show you did some digging. Make sure your questions are relevant and well-researched.
3) What are the top 3 most important qualities for someone to excel in this role?
This question will tell you exactly what the interviewer is looking for–while making the interviewer pause and think. Asking for a specific number of traits–three–forces the interviewer to tailor his or her response to be short, precise and easy for you to remember. Jot down the answer to the question and at the end of their response, make sure you have demonstrated that you possess those three characteristics.
4) What does success in this role look like?
It’s helpful to understand expectations upfront. Asking them to paint a picture of what success looks like from their vantage point shows your willingness to align with the vision. Disappointments are often caused by unmet expectations. This question gives the employer the opportunity to clearly establish expectations from the beginning and it allows you to assess whether or not those expectations are realistic and achievable. Pay close attention to this response and don’t become blinded by desperation.
*Note: This question can serve as a follow up to the third question or may be omitted altogether based on that answer.
5) Can you describe a typical day for this position?
This question is helpful in highlighting the actual the details of the work. It goes from being abstract to a concrete answer to the question, “what will I actually be doing?” It sets the tone and will show you things like pace, work flow, meeting schedule and how the work is structured. If it is a free-flowing position where tasks are random and sporadic, make sure you consider that before making your final decision. Be sure the environment and pace suits you.
6) Can you describe the company culture?
Every company has a culture. Corporations are like microcosmic versions of countries. Understanding the cultural expectations and hierarchy is important. Be prepared to ask follow up questions such as:
- What are this company’s core values?
- How does the organization support your professional development and career growth?
- Is risk-taking encouraged, and what happens when people fail?
7) How has the company changed over the last few years?
This is a great chaser to the question about company culture. The answer to this question will highlight growth (and problems associated with growth) and also gives you a bit of insight on the primary focus of the company. Are they aggressive? Are they understaffed? Are they stagnate and comfortable with the lack of growth? Is this a traditional company or a start up? And the most important question here is–are you comfortable being apart of this company’s culture?
8) How has this position evolved and how do you envision it continuing to evolve?
This question can tell you exactly what you need to know about this particular opportunity. It lets you know if this job is a dead end or a stepping stone. It shows the potential for either growth and development or mind numbing stagnation.
A great follow up question to this question is what is the typical career path of a person in this position? This will let the employer know that you are ambitious and want to grow and progress. It also subtly tells them that you will be committed to them if there is potential for you to grow.
9) Is there anything in my background you have questions about or need to be clarified?
In sales, it’s always best to get all objections on the table so you can deal with them. Some people don’t want to get into these discussions because they can be uncomfortable, but wouldn’t you rather know what may be standing in the way of you being hired? If you know before the interview ends, then you at least have a shot at changing their minds. Maybe they misunderstood you, or maybe you failed to address something specific they were seeking. Either way, your best bet is to deal with any obstacles head on.
10) Can you explain how the rest of this process will go?
I’ve actually been a bit bold and asked, “So, when do I start?” and I got the job when I did this. However, I was interviewing for a sales position so that may be a bit too brazen for interviewers seeking a different kind of employee. However, taking initiative to know what the next steps are is helpful. It will give you peace of mind and also asks the interviewers to commit to a time frame. It will let you know an approximation of when you should expect a call or when you should stop waiting and pursue other opportunities.
While the bulk of interview success is how you sell yourself answering the interviewer’s questions, asking the right queries in return can be the final icing on the cake to strong content. If the candidate pool is competitive, sometimes the line between your dream job and rejection is just asking the right questions.