The 5 Absolute MUST-ASK Questions in Your Next Job Interview

WorkCoachCafeThese are NOT the MOST important questions for you to ask during every job interview and in every interaction with an employer, but they are essential to your success in your job search.

[For the important questions to ask, read Do You Have Any Questions?]

Gather the information you need about each employer’s hiring process so you can plan your activities, gauge your chances at landing the job, and understand how things are progressing (or not).

Don’t assume all employers use the hiring same process — they definitely don’t! And, while some employers will tell you about their process, many will forget or just not keep you informed.

Ask the Important “Housekeeping” Questions

The answers to these questions can give you an idea not only of how their process works, but also how urgently they want to fill the job. And, quite possibly, how interested they are in hiring you.

Be sure to ask these questions during the job interviews, when on the phone with someone from the employer’s organization, or in your email to them:

1. What is the next step in their process?

It could be an email, a phone call, a visit to their facility, list of your references, or something else, but you need to know. So, before you leave their premises or end the phone call, ask them:

What is the next step in your process?

If you can, ask more than one person this question, ask it separately or as a group.

Depending on where you are in their typical chronology for hiring, the next step could be interviewing other candidates, another interview for you, checking your references, having you take a test (or tests), or, even, waiting for them to meet and discuss what happens next.

Every employer is different, but each usually has a process they follow (formally or informally) when making a hire. To successfully navigate through their process, you need to know the process, or at least know what the next step is.

Chances are very good that the people whom you speak with won’t think to tell you what happens next. They’ll assume that someone else has told you (or will tell you), or they don’t realize how important that information is to you.

2. When will they be back in touch?

Again, ask this question of each person or group of people you talk with.

Assuming that you will be invited to continue in their hiring process, when you know what the next step is, ask them:

When can I expect to hear from someone [or you] about this job?

As usual, depending on where you are in their hiring process, you could hear from them today (unlikely, but possible), tomorrow, end of the week, next week, next month, after the holidays, etc. All the people you ask may not agree on the timing, but you’ll end up with a general idea of their schedule.

Expect this answer to be inaccurate or completely wrong, but ask it anyway, because it gives you an idea of the expected time frame for the hiring process, and it lays the groundwork for the next questions.

3. Who should be your contact?

At the end of each stage of the job interview process (phone screen, in-person round one, in-person round two, etc.), ask this question:

Who should I stay in touch with?

Typically, one person will be designated as the “point person.” And, that’s the person you usually stay in touch with throughout the process. Ask for the person’s business card.

Additional people may be added during the process, like the hiring manager or an HR manager. Hopefully, you have an internal contact who referred you for the job opportunity (best way to get hired!), and that person may be your best source of information, informally.

4. What is the best way to reach your contact?

This is essential information:

How should I contact [you, person’s name, or job title]?

Hopefully, they will say something like, “Call at ###-###-####.” Less useful is an email address. Best is both, so you can follow up when you don’t receive a response to your email.

If you have the person’s business card, get it out, and circle the preferred communications method on the card, or add it to the back of the card.

5. When can you get back in touch with them?

This is a very important question! The answer gives you permission to contact them if they miss their own deadline — and they usually do miss it.

Their answer usually gives you both information and permission to stay in touch.

So, ask this question:

If I don’t hear from you by [their back-in-touch date, # 2, above], when could I call you, just to follow up?

Add a day or two to their own back-in-touch date in your question. So, if they said, they’ll contact you next Tuesday, don’t call Tuesday morning! Call Thursday morning.

One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is following up too often and too aggressively, coming across as someone who would be very annoying to work with.

Often the expected time table for responding is wrong, usually overly optimistic. They say they will get back to you by Friday, but on the Wednesday after the Friday deadline, you still haven’t heard from them.

No Answers to the Housekeeping Questions?

Then, either they are extremely disorganized, not very well-managed, or not particularly interested in hiring you. Any of those reasons should make you wonder if you really want to work in that organization.

Why You Need to Ask

This blog has over 11,000 comments from job seekers, and most of those comments are about the seemingly endless wait between job interview and the next step in the hiring process. Often (but definitely not always) they are confused because they didn’t ask how the employers’ processes worked. So, they get discouraged and give up, or, worse, they put their whole job search on hold waiting to hear back from an employer. Don’t make those mistakes!

Understanding about the job, the organization, and the people you would be working with is critical to guide you in accepting or rejecting a job opportunity. The answers will keep you on track and informed about what is happening on the employer’s side of the situation.

More About Job Interviews

How to Ask the Right Questions in Your Job Interview

What to Do When They Don’t Call Back

Job Interview Questions: Do You Have Any Questions?

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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. Since 2011, Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoachCafe.  A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPostAOL Jobs, and LinkedIn.  Follow Susan on Twitter (@jobhuntorg) and on Google+.

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