Employers like being asked questions. In fact, most are disappointed if you don’t ask a few questions; they may even interpret a lack of questions as a lack of interest. Giving the interviewer a chance to answer your thoughtful questions makes the interview interesting and makes you seem more interesting as well. Asking questions also gives you the opportunity to gather useful information and clear up any confusing issues.
Ask your questions selectively since asking too many questions can leave a negative impression. Ask only those questions you really care about. Also, avoid a probing or belligerent tone which could make the interviewer feel under interrogation. Don’t ask the questions too early in the interview. Instead, give the employer an opportunity to cover them first. Later in the interview, if some key points have not been covered, that is the time to ask your questions.
Questions Reveal You’ve Done Your Research
When asked properly, questions reveal that you’ve done your homework. For example, “What will the impact on exports be if the World Bank cuts loans to Taiwan?” Or, “What will the impact be if you have a long labor strike in June?” Or, “I saw that BAX is coming out with a complete new line of ultrasound equipment. What will you do to counter it?” These can be good questions.
When asking questions, be careful not to overwhelm the interviewer with your knowledge. Don’t try dazzling the person with your knowledge of earnings per share if you’re interviewing with the purchasing manager. Such questions may be perceived as obvious and deliberate attempts to impress.
Questions Can Prevent Misinterpretations
If you need to ask a few questions in order to remove confusion or clear up a possible misinterpretation, you might ask, “Does that mean I could complete the training program in three months instead of six if I learn the process quickly?” Or, you might say, “I’m not sure I know what you mean by ______.”
Some of your questions can be planned, but ask them only if they seem appropriate. Good general questions to ask might include: “Would you describe your management style?” “Would you describe your management training program?” “Where is the company (department) strong and where does it need to be strengthened?” “If I’m as effective as I think I will be, where could I be in five years?” “Is there anything else I should know that would help me understand the position?”
When you have a clarifying question, ask it as soon as it comes up by tactfully interrupting the interviewer. Often all you need to ask is, “Would you elaborate on that?” If even a tactfully worded inter-ruption concerns you, wait for the first break in the employer’s speaking to ask your question.
Ask your questions in such a way that they invite full and complete answers. Closed questions, which can be answered with a yes or no, or with a very brief, incomplete response, won’t work for this purpose. A closed question might be, “Are you going to implement a computer network?” An open question would be, “If you’re going to implement a computer network, how would you go about doing it?”
Ask General Questions In A First Interview
A mistake job candidates often make in interviews is to ask questions that raise concerns about their commitment to the job. For example, by asking, “Is there much travel involved in this job?” a question mark will be placed in the mind of the interviewer and the thought might be that the person is unwilling to make sacrifices for the good of the company. For that reason, during a telephone interview or the first face-to-face interview, ask questions that are more general and that do not indicate any concerns that you might have.
One concern might be that you have young children and you are unwilling to be gone more than two nights a month. That is a valid and real concern, but you should not ask about travel in the first interview. Give the interviewer time to address the travel issue. If it does not come up in the first or second interview, it is best to wait until you actually have an offer. If you just have to know, wait until at least the second interview and then ask in a neutral way, “How much travel is usually required in this job on a monthly basis?” If the person says it will rarely be more than four days a month, just nod as if that was about what you expected. In other words, give no indication that that will be a real problem for you. Once you get an offer, you can decide whether four days a month might be acceptable.
So, early on, concentrate on questions regarding the company’s priorities, company culture, and career development opportunities. Later you’ll drill down to more specific details in these and other areas.
Before going into an interview you should know what you want in a job and in the organization. Determine what is important. Do you want to work in a small or large organization? Will it be better for you if it is centralized or decentralized? Are there some duties you are not willing to spend more than five percent of your time on? Know what your absolute deal breakers are, such as minimum salary, amount of travel, likelihood of being transferred, and amount of overtime.
Develop a set of three to five core questions that are important to you and that you would likely ask when given an opportunity. The list below will help.
By listing the following questions, I am not recommending that you always ask all of them. Use good judgment and discretion. To find out if the people working for your potential manager tend to get promoted, for example, ask in a tactful, friendly way. Even the most neutral questions like, “Could you describe your management style?” must be asked in a friendly fashion.
Ask Questions The Interviewer Can Answer
Ask questions your interviewer can answer. Do not ask questions the interviewer could not reasonably be expected to know. That can be embarrassing and seem threatening. For instance, asking the sales manager a technical question about inventory control would be inappropriate. Also, do not ask questions that would result in giving away trade secrets. The employer won’t tell you anyway, and it will appear that you lack discretion.
If you do ask a question the interviewer is obviously sensitive about, back off and perhaps even apologize. This is true for all questions except those tough questions you must ask after the job has been offered to you. At that time, you will need a lot of data to help you decide whether to accept the position.
Avoid Dumb Questions
Do not ask dumb questions! An IBM recruiter shared a story with me that illustrates this perfectly. Right after the interview began, the interviewee asked, “What does IBM stand for?” Although the interview continued for a few minutes, it was over at that moment. Had this person really wanted to know what the initials IBM stand for, she should have found out on her own. Not only was this a dumb question, it also revealed that the interviewee was unwilling to do even a minimum amount of employer research. So, before asking a question, determine whether it’s something you need to know or should know, and whether it is something an interviewer would normally have told you by that stage of the interview. If the answer is something you could come up with fairly easily on your own, don’t ask the question.
Avoid Loaded Questions
Beware of asking loaded questions that reveal strong beliefs. Such questions can convey a sense of superiority or even contempt. A typical loaded question might be, “Do you really believe you should be operating plants in the People’s Republic of China where they use slave labor?”
Ask Your Probing Questions Only After The Job Is Offered
Your probing questions should be withheld until the job has been offered to you. Then it is your duty to ask whatever questions are necessary to help you determine whether the job is right for you. While you never want to offend an employer, you may need to ask probing questions to get the information you need. Just as you may sometimes seek to withhold information, an employer may be motivated to do the same. If you need to know how stable the company is financially, the employer may resist giving you these details. Therefore you may need to ask follow-up questions in order to obtain it. You need to ask tactfully, but if you really do need the information, you must also ask assertively. The answer to your question must be important enough that if the true answer is what you suspect, you would turn down the offer. Continue asking until you get a satisfactory response.
Many candidates have paid the supreme price for not asking enough questions once the job offer was made. The supreme price is getting fired because of misunderstandings, or feeling obligated to quit because promises were not kept. Terminations have occurred because expectations were never clarified. Typically in such circumstances, the new employee feels he or she is doing fine, while the manager does not. Be sure you know what the expectations are, and be sure you can meet them. Clarification before accepting a job is critical.
Be prepared so that when the time is appropriate, or when you are invited to ask questions, you’ll be ready to do so. Before the interview, jot down some things you hope to learn about the job and company. If those issues don’t arise during the interview, you should be prepared to ask about them.
SAFE QUESTIONS TO ASK IN A FIRST INTERVIEW
Some questions are safe to ask during a first or second interview while others are simply best left unasked until a job has actually been offered to you. Each of the following questions could be appropriate during a first, second, or third interview.
By asking the right questions you’ll be able to determine more accurately if the job is right for you. Go through this list of questions before each interview to determine which ones are most important to you. They are listed to help you select questions that are safe to ask at any stage of the interview process. Many of these questions could also be asked after the job has been offered to you in order to clarify points that were never fully covered in earlier interviews.
General questions about the interview process
Are there any concerns you have about my candidacy? If so, I’d like to address them.
What are the next steps in the interview process? (if not explained)
What are the deciding factors when determining who to bring back for the next round of interview?
When will you decide who you’re bringing back for the next round?
Questions about the job
How do you measure an individual’s success in your organization?
What are your expectations for this position?
What projects do you foresee for this position in the next year?
What are the main duties of this position?
What do you look for in people you promote?
Why is this position available?
How many people have held this position in the last three years? (If the turnover rate seems high, ask for an explanation.)
Who would I report to?
Can you show me how this position fits in with the total department?
What metrics do you use to measure performance?
What are the challenges that have to be faced?
What kind of things have worked before when facing these challenges? Will they work in the future?
What would be my first assignment?
Where is the person who had this position before? (If the person was promoted, ask where the person is now; if fired, ask why.)
How well did the previous person do in this job?
What was the person like who previously held this position?
Questions about the organization
How would you describe the corporate culture (environment)?
Would you describe your management training program?
How would you compare this company to others you’ve worked for?
What types of people seem to do well in this department/company?
What are the opportunities you see for this department/company in the next year?
What do you like about working for this company?
What are the challenges facing this company?
What would you change about this company if you could?
Do you see growth opportunities for yourself?
I get the sense that your organization is team oriented, dynamic, and creative. Is that an accurate assessment?
How would you rate top management? Do they have a vision for the future?
Is the company prepared to deal with technological changes in the next five years?
Will the company continue to be competitive? How?
Is the company quick or slow to adopt new technology?
What type of growth for the organization do you foresee in the next few years? Why?
What would you say drives the company—sales, marketing, engineering, or finance?
Where in the company do you hope to be in five years? (This is a good way to sense potential growth.)
What are the current plans for expansion or cutbacks?
What kind of turnover rate does the company have?
What is it like working here in terms of the people, work loads, and rewards?
How would you describe the politics of the organization?
How strongly does the organization try to promote from within?
How financially sound is the organization?
How does the company promote personal and professional growth?
What is needed to get ahead in this organization?
Questions about your boss
What is your background?
As you review your experience here, what are you most proud of?
How would you describe your management style and management philosophy?
How do you make decisions?
What is your leadership style?
How do you develop people? Could you give me a couple of examples?
Do people who work for you tend to get promoted. Could you provide a couple of examples?
Notice that all of these questions are basically neutral. They do not reveal a preference on your part, you simply want to know. This is unlike questions such as “Is there a lot of overtime?” “Is there a lot of travel?” “Am I likely to be relocated?” These questions raise red flags about you. Even if you are unlikely to be relocated, merely asking the question raises a question about your flexibility and ambition.
QUESTIONS TO ASK AFTER RECEIVING AN OFFER
How soon will you need an answer?
When would you want me to start?
If I have questions about the benefits, who should I talk to?
How do the stock options work? (i.e., what is the vesting schedule?)
How will my job performance be measured?
What are the main things you want me to accomplish?
How does the bonus system work? What part is based on individual performance and what part of department or company performance? What percent of salaries have the bonuses been worth in the last three years?
What will you expect of me in the first month?
What tools and resources will you and the company provide to help me achieve those goals?
Is there anything I can do to be better prepared on the day I start? (ask after accepting an offer)