Interviewing the Interviewer: Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

Categories of Questions
What’s Right for You
Recruiters, Hiring Managers and Other Interviewers
Do NOT Ask these Questions
Summary

Job interviews are not just a one-way street. Believe it or not, you get to ask questions of the person interviewing you, and you must be prepared to do this!

Usually, sometime towards the end of the interview, they might ask, “Is there anything that you would like to ask me?

You should be ready with a series of questions that you have for the interviewer.

Even if a particular interviewer fails to ask this question, you should introduce the topic yourself.

They should be questions that will help you decide if this is the job and the company that’s right for you. They also demonstrate to the person interviewing you, that you are both thoughtful and serious about the position.

Categories of Questions

There are dozens of questions that you might want to ask the recruiter, hiring manager, or other interviewers, but first, let’s take a look at how they might be categorized.

Depending on what you need to learn about the company from the interview, you might only want to focus on one of the categories, or you might want to have a question or two ready from several of them.

Here are some general categories to help you learn about the future job, and a brief commentary on each from Mr. Simon.

Job Duties and Responsibilities

What are the company’s expectations of you as a candidate? The answer should help you understand their priorities and what issues they might expect you to tackle first.

Management’s Style

Does the company’s approach align with your understanding and expectations? See how well your own personal work ethic aligns with that of management so that a smooth working relationship will follow.

Company’s Culture and Reputation

Does the company’s culture support your own goals and aspirations? You want to know whether you would fit well with the culture and outlook of the company you will be working for.

Opportunities for Personal Growth

What does it take to be a top performer? In other words, what would it take to reach for the stars in this role? And are you interested to invest your time and effort in reaching these particular stars?

Department/Office Structure

Where does this role fit in with the office/department you will be working in? You are going to spend most of your day working closely with people from your future team and reporting to your future boss. You want to know more about your would-be coworkers and the hierarchy within the team, in order to get along with your co-workers as well as your manager.

Training and Education

What opportunities does the company offer for education, what type of training is provided? You probably want to know - are you expected to be on your own from day 1, or will you be able to immerse into the new context gradually, with the training they will provide? What about further growth? The answer should help you understand how well the company respects training of its employees, what its training strategy is and what you might expect them to offer and require.

Remember that you must research the company before the interview. It will help you determine the right categories of questions (and of course the right questions) to ask the interviewer.

As I said, knowing what to ask and getting the right answers will help you decide if this is the right job and company for you. Asking the right questions might also help you to ace the interview.


What’s Right for You

What’s right for someone else to ask may not be the right questions for you.

For example, if you are applying for a Project Manager’s role, you should be interested to know what current initiatives in the company require project management, what the goals and the current status of these projects are.

It is one thing to join a project that was just kicked off and everyone is passionate and excited about it. As a project manager, you should expect to be able to step in with your experience, training, and knowledge and be a great contributor to the effort.

On the other hand, if you learn that an important project is in trouble and the job candidate would be expected to rescue it, this may well influence whether or not you might want to take the job if offered. It is a very different thing to be invited to take on a failing project – in this case you should either prepare for failing together with it or have extraordinary skills to fix a possible disaster.

But if you are applying for a very different role – say, a Barista at Starbucks, or a Guitarist in a musical group - you may be more interested to know as much as possible about your future co-workers and their working styles because the success of your work will highly depend on your teammates.

Think about what you need to learn in order to make that job decision. Not every question and type of question that follows will fit every situation and not every possible question has been listed.

Think about what is important to you and don’t forget, the ones shown below can be modified to fit the situation.

Also, keep in mind, many of the questions shown below may have been answered during the interview.

For instance, if the interviewer has already explained that the position reports directly to her, don’t ask the question “Who does the job report to?” It will make you look foolish and/or incompetent because you didn’t pay attention during the interview.

Job Duties and Responsibilities
  • What is a typical workday and/or week?
  • Is travel for the job required and if so what percent of time is expected for travel? Note: this answer may have been in the job description. If so, ask for clarification. For instance you can ask just how “25% travel” is set up – is it 1 week every month or 3 months out of every year? If it is important to you, ask.
  • What do you consider to be the job’s biggest challenges?
  • Is there a 3-year plan for the department and how do you see this role contributing?
  • What is the most important thing that you would want me to accomplish in the first 90 days?
  • Can you tell me why my predecessor left the job?
  • Is relocation a possibility?
  • What is the company’s policy about working from home or working remotely? Note: Ordinarily this question is not asked but given the ongoing changes in the economy and the job market, it is both appropriate and timely."
Management’s Style
  • Does Management encourage employees to ask questions and offer innovative ideas?
  • Has management set up programs to recognize employee efforts on behalf of the company?
  • How long has the current executive management team been in place?
  • Has there been any significant turnover of executive management in the recent past and if so, can you tell me why?
  • What is the level of employee turnover in your department, in the company overall?
Company Culture and Reputation

A close reading of the company’s website may provide insight into some of these questions before you ask them, so you may want to word them differently based on what you read in preparation for the interview.

  • What do you like most about working for the company?
  • What charitable work does the company promote and support?
  • What are its values and how are they demonstrated to the employees, customers, and general public?
  • Does my background as I have explained it fit in with the company’s views?
  • How is the company addressing possible or potential problems going forward?
  • What are the company’s plans for future growth
Opportunities for Personal Growth
  • What does it take to be a top performer at the company?
  • What are the promotional opportunities with the company? How might I expect to advance with the company?
  • What process is used to evaluate my job performance?
  • What has been the usual career path from this job?
  • What has been your own journey with the company? Have you held other jobs here before this one?
Department/Office Structure
  • Does the position report directly to you? If not, to whom does it report? Will I have the opportunity to meet him/her?
  • What is the size and make-up of the staff? Will I have anyone reporting directly to me?
  • Where is the department in the table of organization? To whom does the department directly report and what is the reporting structure up to the C-Suite level?
Training and Education
  • What types of educational and training opportunities does the company offer?
  • Does the company expect me to pursue additional education or certification in my chosen field? Are these costs reimbursed?
  • Are there mandatory training programs all employees must take periodically?

Recruiters, Hiring Managers and Other Interviewers

Whatever kind of interview you participate in, whether it’s with a recruiter, a hiring manager, a sequential interview (several interviewers one after another usually one at a time), a panel interview (involving several people in a room – this could even be a panel of your future team), or some other format, you may expect to hear “do you have any questions for me (or for us)?” at the close of just about any of them...

Remember, no matter who asks the questions, Preparation is All! So do your research on the company in preparation for any interview.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Recruiters are usually the first person you will encounter, whether in person or via phone, Skype, Zoom or some other electronic method. They want to learn enough about you to pass you on to the next person, usually the hiring manager.

Some of the questions you should consider asking the recruiter may include:

  • How long has the job been open? This may give you an idea of the company’s need to fill the opening and how soon they want to act.
  • Is this a new or replacement position? This might help you to know how quickly you will need to get up to speed.
  • Can you tell me anything about the hiring manager? Information about who you will most likely be working for and what to expect when this person interviews you can be helpful and give you the opportunity to do research on him or her before that interview.

Hiring Managers are responsible for hiring employees to fill open positions in their departments. Most often they are the people that make the final decision so the questions you ask are a particularly important part of the interview process. Here are two examples of questions for the hiring manager:

  • What is the most important thing you would like me to accomplish in the first 90 days? This gives you an idea of what the department’s immediate needs are and how you will be able to contribute.
  • Do you have any questions or concerns about my background or qualifications to do this job? This is the last question you should ask the hiring manager and its importance cannot be overemphasized. If concerns are raised by the hiring manager as a result of the question, it gives you the opportunity to speak to them and clarify anything of substance about yourself. If there are none or if the hiring manager is very positive, all the better. In either event, their response might mean the difference between landing the job or being rejected.

Panel Interviews, as noted above, often involve more than one interviewer. Although these formats may have additional people involved, your questions should be similar to those asked of the Hiring Manager, and you should expect answers to help you decide if this is the job for you.


Do NOT Ask These Questions

Just as every question listed above wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for every interview, there are some questions that you should avoid in almost every interview situation. Here are some of the questions that you should not be asking (along with commentary from Mr. Simon):

  • Did I get the job? You should know that the hiring manager cannot possibly answer this question at this time. Asking it may make you look naïve, as though you have no idea how a job search is conducted. Even if the hiring manager really liked you for the position, there are too many additional steps before a final decision can be made (including interviewing other candidates).

  • Will I have to work nights or weekends? Unless the job description calls for specific hours, this question would not normally be raised in the interview.

  • What is the salary for the job? How about benefits? Unless salary is brought up by the interviewer, this subject and benefits are usually discussed as part of the package once the offer has been extended.

  • When can I expect to be promoted? Really! You haven’t even been hired yet and you are already looking for a promotion!

  • How many weeks of vacation (holidays, PTO days, and sick days) do I get? These are usually part of the benefits package and are discussed once the offer has been made.

  • I need to pick my kids up from daycare by 5 PM every day. As long as I work all my hours, can I adjust my work schedule for this? Be careful with a question like this. It might show the interviewer your personal needs are more important than those of your job. These kinds of accommodations are negotiable, now is just not the time.

While we are at it, you should also avoid these categories of questions:
  • Confrontational Questions – don’t ask a question that requires the interviewer to defend some action of the company. Don’t ask “why did the company close the Pittsburgh office last year resulting in the loss of 250 jobs?” Instead, you might ask “I read that the company closed the Pittsburgh office last year, what do you think the impact of this closing might have on the company going forward?”

  • Questions that do not require a complete answer – If you ask, “Do you like working here?” the answer might be “Yes.” What will you do with an answer like that? Instead you should ask “What is it that you like about working here?” This question requires the interviewer to give a more complete answer that should provide you a fuller picture of what he/she thinks about the company.

  • Questions that are too personal – establishing a rapport with the interviewer is a good thing. However, avoid questions that may be too personal. The interviewer’s family, race, religion, and gender are clearly off-limits unless the person brings these topics up themselves. Even in these circumstances, exercise care in addressing them taking your lead from the interviewer.


Summary

Asking the right kinds of questions in an interview setting gives you a certain level of power that helps establish you as a strong and viable candidate. Take advantage when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” Ask as many relevant and intelligent questions as you would like that will help you to understand the job and the company and help you to make the right decision to accept the position if it is offered to you!

About the Author: Stuart Weiner has over 25 years of experience as a compliance officer and auditor primarily in the healthcare field and is currently the Principal of Integrated Compliance, a compliance consulting firm. He also serves as the registrar for the training committee at the Professional Service Group of Central New Jersey (PSGCNJ) – a US-based organization that helps job seekers in their career transition.

Mr. Simon offers a Job Search Mentoring Program that supports individuals seeking their next job role. This program focuses on practical steps to achieve this end using a data-driven approach. Our team meets regularly, either one-on-one or in a larger group. If you are interested in participating or would like to learn more, please, contact us via email hello@mrsimon.ai or schedule time with our career mentor Natalie Lihacova, co-founder and CEO of Mr. Simon, and she would be happy to talk with you.

You are not on your own!

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