8 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

8 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

by Kerry Scott on 9 November 2009


Do you have any questions for me?

Most interviewers will ask this at the end of each interview.  The correct answer is always, “Yes.”  There’s nothing more pathetic than a candidate who doesn’t have a single question about the job.

Sometimes people ask me what they should ask the interview.  I’ve already talked about some things you shouldn’t ask.  These are the questions I always ask when I’m being interviewed for a job:

  1. Why is the position open?  How long has it been open? Getting some insight into what happened before this is key.  If they’ve gone through seven people in the past two years in this role, you need to know that going in.  If it’s been open for six months, that might tell you something about their ability to make decisions, about whether they really need someone in this job if they’ve been functioning that long, and about how big the mess will be when you start working.  I always want to know why there aren’t internal candidates for the position as well, because sometimes there ARE internal candidates, and if you get the job over them, dealing with them is going to be a challenge.  Other times, there are no internal candidates because they have a lousy team, or because they have some great people but are too dumb to know it, or because their expectations are completely unrealistic, or because the boss is a weenie and everyone internal already knows that.  Listen for clues.
  2. What would you want me to achieve in the first 3/6/12 months? I always like to get a sense of what their priorities are.  Sometimes I agree with the direction they’ve chosen, and sometimes I don’t…but I need to know that going in as well.
  3. What kind of people are really successful here?  What kind of people fail? There are lots of ways to get some insight into the culture of a company.  This is one of them.  Once I asked this question and heard, “People who don’t respect traditional ways of doing things and always want to try new stuff usually don’t do well here.  Also, people who just blurt things out instead of being circumspect and working through back channels usually crash and burn fast.”  Frequent readers of this blog can probably guess how well I would have done in that company.
  4. What’s your pet peeve in an employee? This is a great question to ask your potential boss.  You may save each other a lot of grief.
  5. Why do you like working here? I ask this of every single person who interviews me, and I look for themes in the answers.  I’ve interviewed with companies where a surprising number of people had trouble answering, which is a huge red flag.  I’ve seen others where people at different levels or in different departments had very different answers.  This is all helpful in determining whether the job is a fit.
  6. How do you like to communicate with people?  How do you let them know how they’re doing? This is another question for your potential boss.  I’ve found it very helpful for making sure I have a good fit—something that’s very important to me, because I’ve learned that while I can put up with all kinds of company dysfunction, I can’t work well for a boss I don’t like.  I need to make sure up front that we’re going to have compatible communication styles.  I also need to make sure I never work for someone who lets me know how I’m doing via formal performance reviews, because that drives me crazy.  If you can’t come in and tell me immediately when I rock or suck or something, I can’t work for you.
  7. What are the next steps? This question serves two purposes.  First, it tells you what is supposed to happen next, so that when you go home and obsess, you know what to obsess about.  Second, it gives you some insight to how they make decisions in this company.  If they need to you to interview with 15 more people, and eight of those people belong to the parent company rather than the subsidiary you’re actually interviewing for (true story), that’s a clue.
  8. What’s your time frame? Never leave without asking this.  That way you know when to follow up (but you should add one week to whatever they say, because they’re never on time).

What questions do you like to ask in job interviews?

Photo by Stefan Baudy

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class factotum November 9, 2009 at 8:47 am

What would make you hesitate about hiring me?
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lecture 82: You’ll miss me when I’m dead =-.

class factotum November 9, 2009 at 8:48 am

In addition to all your great questions, of course.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lecture 82: You’ll miss me when I’m dead =-.

class factotum November 9, 2009 at 8:53 am

I mean, your excellent questions are now on my list. I knew 5, 7 and 8, but not the others.

OK. I’ll shut up now and go bother another blog.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Marriage 201, Lecture 82: You’ll miss me when I’m dead =-.

Amy Boland November 9, 2009 at 10:08 am

Dag, I wish I’d talked to you before my last 3 jobs.
.-= Amy Boland´s last blog ..Persimmon Teacake =-.

Sabrina November 9, 2009 at 11:55 am

I also like to ask what they DON’T like about working there. There’s always something even if they love their job and their company, there’s something that could be changed. Unless they’ve only been on the job a month.

Melissa November 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm

@Sabrina I would personally never ask this question to my interviewer. I don’t think Im in any position to ask this, plus Id be worried this question would make me come across as a whinger or a negative person. As Kerry said, if they have a trouble answering “why do you like working here?” that in itself would be a clue. Ok in each company there could be areas for improvement, but why do you think they would share this information with us who might never see them again or might go interview with their rivals? Just a thought.

Carla November 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

About question number one, that is the first question to ask. Unfortunately one of my former employers wasn’t honest in their response. It was NOT a new position and their last office manager walked off the job after a few weeks. I found out after my second day there what really happened. Though she could have given them an appropriate notice, I see why she walked out.
.-= Carla´s last blog ..Documentary – Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags =-.

abdpbt November 9, 2009 at 7:18 pm

You mean, “Not really,” is not a good answer? No wonder I’m unemployed.
.-= abdpbt´s last blog ..11 Rejected Ideas for Full-Length Nickelodeon Specials =-.

Tim G November 9, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Out of thousands of interviews, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard more than 2-3 of these from any one candidate. If you are interviewing for an HR position, and don’t ask at least 5 of them, you probably aren’t the candidate they’re looking for. Unless you want to work for someone who doesn’t get you.
.-= Tim G´s last blog ..Frequently Given Answers – 8 Reasons to Take Short Cuts =-.

HR Mark November 10, 2009 at 7:49 am

I really appreciate your list. 1, 2, 7, & 8 are four that I have always used, but I always thought I was jumping too quickly to the wrap up questions. If time permits I’ll mix in something from 3 – 6.

Crystal November 10, 2009 at 10:33 am

How about, “When was the last person fired in this department?” because if it’s a good size group and the answer is “Never” you should run, run far and fast.

Kerry Sandberg Scott November 10, 2009 at 12:26 pm

These are all great additions.

I actually do sometimes ask “What do you NOT like about working here?” It depends on the person, the culture, and the circumstances. This wouldn’t work in some places (like the U.K.) where this would be totally obnoxious…you have to gauge whether you’re in a circumstance in which you can pull it off. When I interviewed for my last job, I asked some of the interviewers, but not others, depending on how the conversation flowed. The answers I got proved to be hugely valuable once I started the job (and also helped get a toehold into the task of building a rapport with those people, which is critical in an HR leadership role).

Melissa November 11, 2009 at 3:08 pm

When my husband was laid off, he would ask the majority of these questions at every interview he had.

The one that tended to surprise them the most was, “What do you like about working here?” One interviewer even said that he had never been asked that before.
.-= Melissa´s last blog ..Are Illusions THAT Important? =-.

Abigail December 3, 2009 at 11:52 am

Rather than asking “What do you dislike about working here?” In my last round of searching I asked the following

“What’s the biggest challenge the company is currently facing?” It caught them off guard a little but gave me a chance to show how I could fit in and help with that challenge.

Kerry Sandberg Scott December 3, 2009 at 11:53 am

Ooo, I like that one.

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