“No, I don’t. Thank you so much for your time today,” is the answer I want to give, but I know it’s a trap. They don’t actually want to know if I have any questions, they want to know how thoughtful I am. They want to know how critically I am thinking about this job (and at different points in my life, I’ll be honest, the level has varied). And, they want to know how diligent I have been and how much interview prep I did.
We’ve got a good list of questions for you, but you shouldn’t ask them all. What’s really important is to be able to feel how the interview is going and to suss out what will be most effective (and impressive) in the situation you’re in. We’ve broken the questions into four categories.
The first category is questions that will turn the tables on the interviewer. These questions are designed to show the interviewer that you are invested in understanding the company and the people that make it successful. It’s a good way to show you’re interested in their point of view. It can also be satisfying for you to put the interviewer on the spot if you just sat across the desk (or phone line) from an interviewer who was disinterested and just going through the motions.

  • Why do you work here? What’s great about this company?
  • Why do people choose to work here rather than a similar company in this industry? Are there things that can make it tough to work here that you can share with me?

The second grouping of questions is to build yourself up. These let the interviewer know that you are invested in this particular job — not just getting any job — and that you are invested in personal and company growth!

  • What kind of person really makes a big difference here?
  • How will this job help me understand (the area you are going after: sales, marketing, accounting, finance, supply chain, HR, etc.)?
  • Can you tell me what kind of training and mentoring programs you have that prepare your people for success?
  • What does amazing success look like for this company or team?
  • What are the important things that are going to affect the company’s performance and how do those things translate into what you need from the people you’re hiring now? How is that different from what you have needed from people in the past? (This question can be prefaced with the information you’ve picked up from your research, such as, “I saw your competitor just introduced a new product line…”)
  • If I were to come here, what could I do to make a real difference?
  • Assuming I got the job, at the end of 2 years, how would I know I was really a part of the company’s culture, and how can I get integrated into the culture quickly?

The next group of questions is to help you get some of the valuable answers that you need to decide whether or not this is a job you actually want. These are important, but they also are most effective when you’ve already demonstrated that this is the job you want. If you haven’t shown that you’re really interested, these questions can make it seem like you’re really on the fence, and most companies avoid hiring people who are ambivalent about working there. But if you have shown enough interest these questions about the manager and team will show that you’ve already begun to envision working at the company. So, to get some really valuable answers (A.K.A. inside dirt) ask:

  • What is the hiring manager like to work with?
  • Can you tell me about the team I would be working with?
  • Why is this job open?
  • What are the directions this position can take my career, and what are the opportunities for growth it allows?
  • What does amazing success look like in this job?
  • How many people who get hired at this level tend to be here in five years? And how many stay ten years? (This is especially good if the company has emphasized loyalty and tenure.)

This last group of questions is for if you feel really good about how the interview has gone, and you have developed a great rapport with your interviewer. Be careful though, interviewers are taught to develop a good rapport whether or not they think you are a strong candidate. It’s part of the job. But, if your interview gets warm and cozy, you can ask these:

  • What is the inside scoop that I wouldn’t know to ask you, because I’m not an insider, but would be really good to understand the company?
  • How does your company see itself as different from [insert competitor here], and how real is that difference today?
  • What do you wish was different about this company?
  • When people in these positions leave why do they tell you they are moving on and where do they tend to go?

The most important thing to remember with all of these questions is to be able to have a general read on how the interview is going. If you have one of these questions prepared, but they answered it at the beginning, asking it again won’t be helpful.

Relating to a total stranger is hard. Practicing it is often harder, which is why it’s nice to have standard questions for interviews, but what’s more important is that you’re present in your interview. Make a connection, and yes, be yourself.

Be on the lookout for a future article about what to do when you get past this initial stage! And tell us, have you ever frozen up on this question before? What did you do? I’m asking for a friend.

Nora Philbin

Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).