Job Interviews: How to Ask the Right Questions

WorkCoachCafeMost job seekers understand that they need to ask questions during a job interview.  Not asking questions is an admission of lack of attention, lack of interest, or lack of preparation.  Right now, most employers have too many other people to choose from to offer a job to someone who doesn’t seem very interested.  

Not asking the right questions also leaves you vulnerable to taking a job you may hate or not do well. (Been there; done that – terrible experience!)

4 Important Reasons to Ask Good Questions in Job Interviews

1.  To find out if you want to work at this employer, with and/or for these people.

It is essential to know whether you’d enjoy the job or be job hunting soon because you either got fired or quit because you couldn’t stand the place.

2.  To find out if you want to do this job.

Maybe this is the right employer for you, but the wrong job.  Perhaps that can be fixed immediately, or maybe you stay in touch until the right opening happens.

3.  To demonstrate your interest in the employer.

If you’re going to work there, you should want to understand how the place is organized, who does what and when, what a typical day/week/month/year in that job are like, and on and on and on.

4.  To demonstrate how you approach a task in your work.

Many employers view a job interview as a “try-out” for a job.  Does the candidate come in well-prepared and focused on making the most of the opportunity or do they walk in unprepared, waiting to be “fed” information and providing canned answers to the standard questions?

Show Your Interest in the Employer and the Job

Several recruiters have emphasized that they do not want to hire someone who isn’t interested enough in the organization to have done some research.  A couple of years ago a recruiter sent out this great tweet (81 characters) -

Don’t ask a question in a job interview that you could have answered with Google.

In my discussions with recruiters since then, I believe that what the recruiter was really saying is do not ask the obvious questions that you have hopefully already answered doing your pre-interview (and perhaps your pre-application) research online.  

Employers do want to hire someone who really wants to work with them.  Someone who is interested in what they do and who they are.

DO ask questions like:

  • Tell me more about this job.  What do you expect of the person doing this job successfully?  What would you want the person in this job to do that didn’t make it into the job posting?
  • Where do you see this job in 2 years? In 5 years?
  • What do you think makes this organization successful?
  • What makes someone successful in this organization?  What are the qualities they have?  How are they different from people in less successful organizations?
If this is not a new position: 

  • How did the previous person in this job succeed?
  • Where is the person who did this job now? (You want to know if they got promoted, made a lateral move, or left the organization.)  How long were they in the job?
  • What are the toughest aspects of this job, the things that others in this job have struggled with?
  • What did people seem to enjoy the most?
Then, as the interview is ending, request a copy of the interviewer(s) business card(s) or contact information, and ask:

  • Do you have any concerns about me?
  • Where are you in the hiring process?  
  • What is next for me?  
Finally, to get permission to stay in touch after the interview, ask:

  • How and when will I hear from you after this interview is over?
  • If I don’t hear from you by (time frame they gave in answer to the question above), may I call you?  
  • Who else should I stay in touch with?
Ideally, you want permission to stay in touch with the interviewer, but you may get directed to stay in touch with HR, or that HR will be in touch with you.  
 

Do NOT ask questions like:

  • What does this company (or organization) do?
  • Who is the CEO?
  • How long has this company been in business?
  • Where else does this company have locations?
  • Who are the competitors?
  • How well is this company doing?
  • How much vacation time?  What are the benefits? (This is not usually a question for the first round of interviews!)
It is important for you to understand if you want to work for this employer.  Working in a job you hate is a very difficult situation – tough to stay, but complicated to leave – and I hope you can avoid the situation by asking the right questions during your job interviews.
 
Good luck with your job search!

More About Preparing for Interviews:

18 Practical Tips to Help You Ace That Interview

15 Things I Look for When I Interview Someone

How to Knock Their Socks Off in a Job Interview

Job Interviews: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Strength?

Job Interviews: How To Handle Tell Me About Yourself

How to Answer Why You Left Your Last Job When You Actually Quit

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About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .

Comments

  1. These are all great examples of questions you should be asking in the interview, whether this interview is in person or through online video. First, asking great questions shows employers just how interested you are in the company and the position. It demonstrates you’re thinking of the future and have done some research into the organization. But more importantly, you need to know if the company is going to be a place you want to work. Don’t skimp on questions and make sure to get the information you need so you can determine if the company fits your goals.

  2. This really helped me yesterday. Now my question is about where I think I blew it, where I always blow it. I have started answering the “…so how would your previous employer describe you” question with a copy of my last review and an email praising my performance. Lets be real, I can’t say “they thought my work was good enough to train my manager and my replacement. ” The interviewer yesterday looked a bit suspicious when I handed him the papers. I think as always this? Is where I blew it. How does a person in a legal dispute with a former employer answer this?

    • Hi Nikki,

      I think what you could say is that they would say that you care about the work that you do and how it gets done. Then when you follow up with a thank you, include a copy of the last review and an email praising your performance.

      If you were a whistle blower at your last employer, you might want to look up career advice for whistle blowers, etc.

      Good luck and all the best,
      Chandlee

      • Well I know they wouldn’t say that now, in fact they refuse to verify my employment. I’m going to check out this link. Thanks Chandlee!

        • Hi Nikki,

          I’m pretty sure it’s illegal not to verify employment — though an employer can say you were terminated. I recommend you talk to the Department of Labor and ask someone what employers can and cannot do. There are some businesses that you can pay to check references (though I would not suggest you go that direction if you can help it).

          Good luck,
          Chandlee

          • Chandlee we are way pass the DOL. We’re in Federal Court. Welcome to Louisiana politics and our legal system. We already have the proof they are doing this when people call.. I know for fact I missed two jobs because of the case. This is why I’m so hard on many of my posts /comments. I’m going through a lot with my job search. I’ve seen a lot between being a former union organizer here in the South to being discriminated by my employer (a major corporation ).

          • Nikki,

            Sorry to hear all of that. Not sure what the consequences would be if you simply left the job off your resume, so cannot advise you on this.

            Are there any temporary work opportunities you can pursue?

            Good luck and do keep us posted.

            Best,
            Chandlee

          • Thanks for your input and concern. It means a lot. Really it does.
            I can’t leave them off for two reasons. First I need the work I did there for my portfolio because (which leads into my second reason ) I spent a huge chunk of my career in organized labor. The job counselor at WORKS said, and I quote : “it’s easier to place a stripper than an ex union worker.”
            I temped in the beginning but that dried up once the case got moving. One of the people named in the lawsuit is a recruiter linked to many temp agencies here.
            I’ve taken on some freelance gigs. Right now I’m proofreading a novel for a local writer and even cleaning up for people post Issac. I also do evet planning but I haven’t had the time to devote to new clients since the case gained momentum in June.

          • Hi Nikki,

            Based on what you’ve shared of your situation, you may want to check out sites like elance.com and flexjobs.com … given the case and the local challenges/politics you are facing, freelance and remote work may be optimal for you right now. Flex Jobs has a lot of skills tests you can take; that may help you showcase your skills and areas of expertise in an objective manner…(That said, it is a site you need to pay to access which may not be something you want to do.)

            Good luck,
            Chandlee

          • Thanks! I will check them both out.

          • UPDATE: I have a second interview tomorrow! In addition I was offered a sales position on Friday with a media conglomerate. I’m hoping that this second interview leads to an offer. It’s in the city I want and the salary and benefits are great. I am blessed because I have a week to let them know about the sales job. There’s time to make an informed decision. I’m just glad I didn’tblow my chance on the “What would your last employer say about you” question

          • Nikki,

            That’s all terrific news and we are delighted to hear about all of this. Good luck, keep us posted — and let us know if you have any questions in the interim.

            All the very best,
            Chandlee

          • Update… I got the job!!

  3. This really helped me today, I have my first ever Job interview on Thursday and I was really worried about asking the interviewer questions that are appropriate but at the same time would help me know how the company is. I really hope I get a position in the graduate programme and thank you!!

    • Thanks, Fifi!

      For a graduate programme, make sure you study up on the faculty — and, if appropriate, make a reference to their research and show you understand what they do.

      Good luck and keep us posted.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

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