How to Ask Interview Questions

Obviously, an interview is a chance for an employer to ask questions of a candidate that will determine if she is a good fit for the company and the position.  However, candidates often forget that interview questions are a two-way street.

Smart candidates absolutely use the interview as the opportunity to better assess if they will be able to do their best work at a particular organization.  They know that one spends more time at work than anywhere else, and they aren’t doing themselves or the employer any favors by taking a job in which they’ll be a square peg in a round hole.

Jot Down Ideas the Night Before

It is generally a good idea to prepare a list of 2-4 questions gleaned from your online research about the company after looking at its website and recent news.  This shows that you’ve done your homework on the organization and understand its business proposition and industry.  It also demonstrates that you are serious about the opportunity and savvy enough to take advantage of this additional opportunity to sell yourself.  When you ask these questions, listen carefully.  You’ll gain critical information not just from the direct answers, but also from what isn’t said.

Use Thoughtful Questions to Finish Strong

At the end of most interviews, the hiring manager will ask the candidate if he has any questions. A lot of candidates decline this offer, and while I don’t think this is a deal breaker, I do think they are missing a perfect opportunity to show that they’ve given a lot of thought to their potential role and are assertively seeking a solid employer/employee match.  Asking intelligent questions leaves the interviewer with a powerful impression of your competence. Assuming you’ve gone through your 2-4 specific questions throughout the course of the session, here are several general questions that will likely produce useful insights:

  • What would you say are the three most important skills to excel in this position?
  • What is a typical week like for the person in this position?  Is there travel, flextime, etc.?
  • Who would be my manager, and will I have the opportunity to meet him/her?
  • How would you describe the company’s culture and leadership philosophy?
  • What did the last person in this position go on to do?
  • What is the typical career trajectory for a person in this position?
  • Why do you like working here?  What would you change if you could?

Steer Clear of Obvious or Controversial Questions

Similarly, there are certain questions you should not address with an interviewer.  If you’ve heard any gossip about the company, for instance, I would not ask the interviewer about it.  I would also not ask for any information you could have easily found out with a quick Google search.  Finally, don’t ask if you can change the job, the schedule, or the salary in an initial interview.  Wait to negotiate those things until you are further along in the process.

One final point: this is a such thing as overkill here.  Don’t spend so much time grilling the interviewer that they don’t have enough of an opportunity to get through their agenda.

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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  • http://twitter.com/evarykr Eva Rykrsmith

    I really like the question, “What did the last person in this position go on to do?” I think the answer would say a lot about whether this job is a good fit for your career plan.

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