Successful job interviews aren’t interrogations, they’re conversations. Asking the right questions of a prospective employer can improve your understanding of the job…demonstrate engagement…show you’ve done your homework…and steer the conversation toward your strengths.

Here are important questions to ask when you’re being interviewed for a job…

  • What’s the biggest challenge for people starting out here? This question helps you figure out what day-to-day life at the job would look like. Asking about challenges other employees have faced also gives you a chance to talk about times you’ve overcome similar hurdles.
  • What three words describe the culture of the team I’d be working with? Employers often talk about corporate culture when what’s most important to you as a prospective employee is the culture of the people you’d work with directly. Asking your interviewer to choose three words will ensure a more specific answer and will give you openings to discuss your approach to work.
  • What qualities do successful employees here share? An interview is a chance to show that you have the skills for the specific job and qualities shared by other successful employees. And the best evidence is not your résumé—it’s stories from your life. When the interviewer responds to this question, use the answers as opportunities to describe times you’ve demonstrated the same qualities. Stories from volunteering, school or other experiences are just as effective as episodes from previous jobs.
  • What was the catalyst for this opening? The answer to this question helps you find out exactly what the company needs to accomplish with this hiring—and that gives you a better opening to make the case that you’re the right person for the job.
  • What would my first major assignment be? An interviewer is likely to talk in broad terms about the type of work that you would do if hired. Get beyond these generalities by asking for examples of specific assignments you’d be given early on. The conversation that ensues will bring your first days on the job into focus and help you decide whether you want the position.
  • If you hire me, what accomplishments would I need to make in three months to convince you that you’ve picked the right person? This question focuses the discussion on the potential contributions you can make and on the skills and experience you possess that would help you achieve them. Talking in terms of a three-month timeline encourages the interviewer to imagine you as a coworker.
  • Can you tell me more about how the company is addressing [choose a specific trend or challenge]? Before your interview, do some research on important trends and challenges in the industry. You can do this easily online—just search for “trends in [industry]” and “challenges in [industry]”. Choose a trend or industry you’re knowledgeable about and bring it up at your interview to show you’ve done your homework and you know your stuff.
  • How long do people in this sort of position at this company typically stay in their jobs, and when they move, do they typically transfer to other positions within the company or move on to other companies? Before starting a job, you’ll want a sense of the opportunities for advancement. Rather than asking how long you’d be expected to stay in the job—which could suggest that you don’t really want it—inquire about previous employees’ experiences. If the interviewer suggests that most people stay only a short time and typically move on to other companies, the job might not be a good bet for a long-term position.
  • What is the pay range? Use this question only if the interviewer asks what you would expect to be paid. Don’t negotiate during the interview—that sets the wrong tone, and you don’t have a strong negotiating position unless and until you’ve been made an offer. If the pay range is too low, you may not want to pursue the job. Otherwise, say you’d be happy with a number in the range offered, making it clear that salary isn’t the most important factor to you. You can always negotiate after you get an offer.
  • Do you have any concerns about me as an applicant? If you are able to find out about any negative perceptions, you can address them. Remember: Not all of your skills show up on your résumé, so some of your interviewer’s concerns may be due to incomplete knowledge of your experience. Don’t wait until a follow-up letter to respond—you’re at your most influential when talking face to face.

Related Articles