17 questions to ask in an interview
Job hunting can be incredibly stressful, and believe it or not, recruiters feel your pain! With job portals or advanced automation technology, your resume sits amongst a large stack of applicants. And if you manage to pull an interview, you want to make sure you make the best out of it.
An interview isn’t just for you to make the best impression, it is also for you to find out whether the job is what you may be looking for. This also means it is important for you to ask questions of your own. When you ask questions in interviews, it also shows that you have a genuine interest in the company and demonstrates your thoughtfulness and proactiveness about your career.
To help you, we’ve put together key questions to ask in an interview. These are guiding questions to cover the important aspects but you may choose to weave in other questions you may have as you go along the interview. Of course, don’t feel compelled to ask all of them.
First, let’s talk about questions you should be asking during the pre-screen interview or other early-stage interviews such as phone interviews.
Consider the context and purpose of these early interviews. If you are speaking with a recruiter, they have selected your resume because they find that your experience and knowledge make you a suitable candidate on paper. Typically they are only calling to make sure that you are either actively looking for a new job, or that you are comfortable in exploring a new role. In addition, they can also check if there are any glaring issues or conflicts that would disqualify you as a candidate. Your goal here is to gather information about the role and company that can help you in future interviews. It’s also a good idea to keep a notepad and pen handy in case you want to take note of any important points. Of course, stay polite and professional during these interviews.
What you should ask at this stage:
1. How many employees work at this company? What is the size of the organisation?
If you have applied to the company directly, then you likely know the answers to these questions already, but if you’re working with a recruiter or getting contacted based on your LinkedIn activity or profile, chances are you are getting an unscheduled call. Although recruiters are not always allowed to reveal who their client is this early in the hiring process, but without them explicitly saying the company name, you certainly can and should find out some basic information. This can include the company size, what the company values are, what type of service or product provider are they, and more. These questions should help to answer some of your suspicions about the type of company it may be.
2. Why is this position available? Why did the last person leave this role?
It’s important to know if this is a new role or a replacement role. If this is a new role, expect a lot of ambiguity and maybe even conflicting expectations of what the responsibilities of the position may entail. In such situations, it may be good to find out what the company direction is, what their strategy is and even who this role may be reporting into. If this is a replacement role, find out if the last person who held this position was successful. If they were successful, they might have been rewarded for their success with a promotion. Alternatively, they might also be frustrated with their job and moved to another department or company. If you can, try to find out the name of the last person to fill this role, and look them up. If they are still in the organisation, ask if they will be involved in the hiring process, too. In this way, you can see if you have a similar experience to them and understand their expectations of you a little better.
3. Who does this position report to? What division of the company is this position located in? Which team will this role be in?
This probably goes without saying, but you are definitely going to want to know who your potential boss is. Get their name and look them up on LinkedIn and Glassdoor, just to make sure there aren’t any glaring problems. Asking for information about the position relative to its place in the organisation’s structure is also a way to find out how this role or its duties are valued by the company. But keep in mind that the recruiter might not have those specifics. Whatever you are unable to find out, just write it down for a follow-up with the interviewer or hiring manager.
4. How is performance evaluated? What goals do you expect to be achieved in the first 30, 60 and 90 days?
You want to make sure that you are up for the role. This will help to manage your expectations as well as determine if you can excel in it. In addition, it’s always good to know what targets you need to meet so that likewise, you may be able to manage your future employer’s expectations of you.
5. Can you share with me how this job has performed in the past, and how you would like to see it improved?
This question is only relevant if this is a replacement role. You want to ensure that you’re fully aware of what your hiring manager is expecting, and what metrics they are looking for you to achieve. Similar to the previous question, this will allow you to manage your expectations as well as give you an indication if you’re up for the role.
6. What are the highest priorities for selecting the right candidate? What type of skills do you NOT already have on-board that you would like to see filled?
You’ll actually want to ask this question at every stage of the interview process. You’ll be amazed at how different the answers can be, depending on who you are speaking with. At this stage, the recruiter should be able to tell you what is important to the hiring manager and this is information that may not be apparent from the job posting. This will also give you an idea if you are up for the role based on their priorities.
7. What about my qualifications or experience appealed the most to you?
Again, this should be asked at every stage of the interview process and ensure to take careful notes on the differences in answers you receive from one person to the next. Try to get at least three specific details from your interviewer, and don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions! It’s possible there is something about your background that was a previously unidentified priority or advantage. This is also a good opportunity for you to understand what your hiring manager may be looking for.
8. Are there any reservations about my fit for the position that I could try to address?
This question should also be asked at every stage of the interview process so that you get an opportunity to clarify or even sell yourself to the interviewer. Asking this question may even force them to speak positively about you. Most people may have their internal judgements, but even when asked for direct criticism, they will likely coat them politely. Use this to your advantage by helping them to remind themselves of why they like you or your skillsets.
The more they are able to expand their thoughts about you, the more information you have to leverage on. Keep them talking with follow-up questions but don’t forget to be humble!
9. How soon does the company want this position filled?
Don’t be surprised to receive a boilerplate answer here, such as “immediately,” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. No matter what, it’s good to ask just in case they surprise you by saying this role is budget-dependent, awaiting headcount approval or something equally revealing.
In the likely event that you are asked or even pressured about your availability, don’t sweat it. It means they like you! If your schedule is tight, congratulations! You’re a competitive candidate which can look great to hiring managers, even if scheduling interviews gets tricky. If your availability is wide open, you have nothing to be ashamed about and you will be able to leverage that availability to get the best interview slots.
Having a sense of urgency from the organisation can mean they value the work product and can also mean that this role is of high priority and importance. If they feel that you’re the right candidate for the role, you’ll still have plenty of time down the road to discuss flexibility on your start date.
10. What is the next step?
In most interviews, the hiring manager will let you know about the next step towards the end of the call or interview. But if they don’t, don’t hesitate to ask so that you can prepare yourself for the next step. It’s also useful to know if you might be expected to come in for a half or full day of onsite interviews, so you can keep a mental note of your availability and scheduling concerns. If the process could involve you having to travel, it’s not an issue to ask if they will cover the cost of travel and lodging when it comes to that point. Rest assured this will not reflect poorly on you.
As important as it may be to ask questions, it’s also crucial not to ask and do certain things.
What you should not ask or do at this stage:
● DON’T pressure this person about the budget, salary or rate, benefits, or annual leave. You absolutely want to know this information, but the person you are speaking with likely has little-to-no influence on these decisions. Instead, DO listen carefully and take notes on any information that is shared with you about these programs. You may want to ask follow-up questions about them in the negotiation stage.
It’s true that they may pressure you to commit to a certain salary or rate upfront, but we’ll save our advice for how to handle that conversation for another article. No matter what your minimum requirements may be for compensation and benefits at your next job, it’s always worth it to get as far as you can in the interview process. This will also add to your negotiation power. Even if you ultimately choose to turn down the position, it’s never a bad idea to get as much practice interviewing as you can. You can then negotiate as much as you want once you’ve decided you want this job at the company. You don’t want to leave a bad impression by negotiating for a role you’re not interested in, especially if you work in a relatively small industry.
● DON’T speak poorly of your past jobs or employers. Nothing good can come from this, no matter how your previous circumstance may be. You don’t want to appear as a negative person in front of your potential future employer.
● DON’T wing it! Know exactly what you want to convey when speaking about your past experiences and future expectations. If you need to, write a script for walking through your resume and rehearse it a few times before the actual interview.
● DON’T turn your interview into an interrogation. As much as you may also be interviewing them as your future employers, you want to leave a good impression. Simply take notes about what sticks out to you and bring up any lingering concerns you have with your recruiter. They can act as an intermediary and seek more information on your behalf without it affecting you.
● DON’T get too caught up with questions about flexible scheduling, availability, perks, company policies, etc. until you’ve solidified your interest in the actual work or position. If the company has incredible perks, they will be sure to flaunt them. Don’t worry. Just remember that this stage is the perfect time to discuss the actual job duties, and you get the benefit of doing so with people who are working on the ground. Don’t waste the opportunity to get all that juicy information by distracting the hiring manager with questions that may give them the wrong impression about your ultimate value as a qualified candidate.
What questions should you ask as you progress through the interview process?
1. What is the average tenure of employees in this company?
This will give you some insight into the turnover in this organisation and even the role you’re applying for. This can either give you a sign of a negative work environment, lack of growth, problematic management team or perhaps great benefits, good work life balance, etc.
2. What is your diversity and inclusion policy? What initiatives are you implementing to improve D&I?
If diversity is something you’re passionate about, this will be a great question to ask so that you can get a grasp of how you may be a part of it. However, even if diversity and inclusion programmes isn’t something you’re interested in, you should know if the company has the capabilities to modernise and recognise the need for change if necessary. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, this could be a red flag.
3. What is your family leave policy?
It is important to know how your company handles this. While family policies are often thought of in terms of maternity or paternity leave, they can also include personal health issues or time taken to care for an ailing spouse or parent. While this may defer with local government laws depending on the city you’re in, it’ll be good to know what the company’s take on this is. This will also show you the company’s values especially if you’re planning to have children or already have young children to care for.
4. What is the onboarding process going to look like (day one, week one, etc.) and who will be responsible for my onboarding experience?
You want to make sure that they have a plan – or at least get them to start thinking about one. This will set you up for success from day one. As a follow-up, you can also ask when you first employee evaluation will be scheduled.
5. If you get a peer interview, ask them what they like best about working there? And get any advice you can from them.
If your role requires you to work with others, you may be interviewed by people that report to the same manager as you or those who may work on the same project as you. This is your opportunity to clear up any confusion you might have about how work is distributed or evaluated. It is also a great time to ask them what keeps them happy at their job. They will probably be able to offer you the best advice if you need any.
6. Does the company have formal recognition programmes? Are special occasions celebrated?
This could give you some insights into the company culture. Whether it’s a tribal mentality or a work-hard-play-hard organisation, you want to manage your expectations first. If recognition is important to you, then this question might be your deal-breaker!
7. If you are being offered during the interview, ask if you could get it in writing?
Having all the details in front of you in writing will enable you to better access the offer and any points you might want to negotiate on. Remember, salary is only part of the overall package. There could be other areas that employers are often open to discussion, such as bonuses, professional development, benefits, stock options, etc. If you’re really keen on the role but don’t feel comfortable with the offer, consider speaking with your recruiter, hiring a negotiation coach or calling a trusted mentor. Remember that this is an important decision to make.
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