The Best Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

During almost any interview you will be asked:

“Do you have any questions?”

That sounds harmless. You might think – “OK the interview is over and now I get to ask questions.” Not quite. They will often learn more from you based on the questions you ask than they did when you answered their questions. So tread carefully. Here I will give you a list of great questions that will help you. But the questions differ based on who you are interviewing with.

First – Who is doing the interview?

Once you get past the entry-level jobs, most employers do a series of interviews. In fact, the higher the salary, the more interviews you will likely have.

For most jobs that are management or pay over six figures, you will be interviewed by the following people.

  • Search firms or Human Resources (HR) – This is the front line and their job is to make sure you qualify for the job and the second interview – if required.
  • The hiring committee – They are the internal group inside the department who is doing the grunt work of sifting out the applicants for the boss.
  • The hiring manager – This is the person who might become your boss.
  • Team members – If you get the job, these people will be your peers. In many positions, you will be interviewed by others on the team – your future peers or other managers.

If you are looking at a more executive level job, you might also encounter the following interviews:

  • Board members – This will likely be only for executive level positions – but these are common.
  • Customers – If your job interfaces the clients of the companies and they are selling high-value services, you might be asked to interview with key customers
  • The spouse of the top executive – This is usually true in executive teams only – but in smaller companies, this might be common. This spouse is often not involved in the company at all. And you might be asked to interview with your spouse – likely over a “friendly dinner”.

But you might also be surprised by them throwing in other groups of people – but they likely fit inside one of those listed above groups.

Wow – that can be a lot of interviews. They are also with different people and so you need to be prepared with different questions to fit.

Each Interview has One Purpose

Your only goal in each interview is to move to the next level. Each interview is used to weed out the pack. During the initial interview with a search firm or HR, you are likely one of 10-20 people being interviewed. Their goal is to get the number down to 3-5 people. So your goal is to be one of the 3-5. That is it.

The other meetings are designed to pick the right person from the remaining pack of 3-5 candidates. Of course, they may pick none of these. And, they often will order their picks so they can have a backup if their top choice refuses the offer.

What Questions do You Ask When You are Being Interviewed

You have arrived at that point in the interview when they ask you – “Do you have any questions for me?” You should always have questions.

The key to all interviews is to realize who you are talking to, and what is their role in the process of finding the right person for the job.

Note that the questions below are a guide. You do not want to come off like a machine gunner firing questions without giving thought to the answers. So instead of memorizing these questions and asking them all – shoot for the spirit of the questions and let the conversation be a guide to what to ask next and when to quit asking and say goodbye.

Interview #1 – The HR or Search Firm

If a company has an HR team, this interview might be conducted by their HR rep. But sometimes this is conducted through a search firm that has been contracted to find the best people. Search firms are used for almost all executive searches.

The role of this first interview is as a filter.

You only have two goals at this interview:

  1. Learn if this is a job you would enjoy doing.
  2. If the job is a fit, get the next interview.

Nothing else matters here. This is not the time to talk money or benefits or even expect an offer. Just focus on getting through the filter.

Key Points about this interview:

When talking to the HR person, you want to look qualified and professional so that you get the next interview. You should dress the part (even if it is a video interview), be on time, be professional, and look confident. All those normal interviewing tips are most critical when talking to HR.

Your questions should leave them thinking you know your stuff and you are ready to contribute to the team. So talk about how you can help the company and ask questions that show you want to learn how to help. Avoid questions about how working here helps you!

Questions to ask:

  • How is success defined in this job?
  • What are the key company or team values?
  • What are the company’s greatest challenges?
  • What are the company’s greatest strengths?

Questions NEVER to ask at this stage: (If they address them, fine, but do not ask too much even if they bring it up.)

  • How much does it pay?
  • How much vacation do I get?
  • What about my benefits?

Remember to focus only on the employer and the problems the employer has that has generated the interview. The only reason they are looking to hire someone it to make a problem go away. This is not about you and what you want.

Interview #2 The Hiring Manager

Here you are talking to the person who may be your boss. You want them to see how much you can help, but you also want to see if you will like working for this person. You want to ask questions that leave them thinking you are going to be focused on the goals of the team. You want a balance between you telling them enough about you and them talking about themselves.

Remember – the more the manager gets to talk about himself or herself, the more they like you.

Key Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager

  • What does a new employee need to accomplish in the first 30-60 days to be successful in this job?
  • What would you like to see your team accomplish in the next year?
  • What kind of information will you need to see from me daily or weekly?
  • What is the most important thing I can do daily to support you?
  • How is your team viewed by your peers? By upper management?
  • What about this job keeps you awake at night?
  • What challenges are you facing in this group?
  • What are the strengths of this group?
  • How does your team contribute to the corporate mission?
  • Do you feel like your leaders support you and your team?
  • How did you get started in this business?

Interview #3 Team Members

These are people you will likely be working with on a daily basis. You want to leave them feeling that you are going to be a great team member, someone who contributes and is fun to work with.

Things to look for on the team member interview:
Morale issues and negativity. If they are complainers and other team members seem to also complain, you know the work environment will be stressful and negative. If you get a sense they mostly like their job and are supported by their management, you have found a great working environment.

Beware of the negativity trap. – Sometimes a team member goes negative on purpose to see if you will become negative. It is a trap. Do not follow them. If they are negative you stay friendly and positive.

  • What can you tell me about the morale of this team? The company in general?
  • How do you like working for [manager’s name]?
  • What does [manager’s name] expect?
  • What does [manager’s name] hate?
  • Do people quit often? Why or why not?
  • What would you like to see from the person who fills this position?
  • What do you love about your job?
  • What do you hate about your job?

Other things to keep in mind

Remember your goal is not to make friends during these interviews – it is to show them you can do the job while at the same time, learning if you want the job. So your main role is to look professional and reliable. This means:

  • Dress the part. Dress nicer than you would need to on the job. If a business casual environment – wear a suit.
  • Be on time. No excuses.
  • Leave the drama at home. Do not talk about anything that you are personally going through.
  • Turn off your phone. NEVER answer a text message or a call on an interview. Do not even look at your phone or IPAD or another device.
  • Shake hands and make eye contact. You want to appear confident. Practice this and fake it if you have to.
  • Smile. If in doubt, smile.
  • Stay positive. Do not say anything negative about past employers or other companies, even their competitors. In fact, do not say anything negative at all!