8 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

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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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