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As someone who has interviewed probably thousands of job applicants throughout my career, I'm always surprised by how some candidates handle the part of the interview where it's their turn to ask questions. Strangely, many people don't ask any questions at all. This is surprising when you consider that they will be working 40+ hours per week in this job and how it will impact their daily life.
Fair enough, many people are concerned about the questions they should ask. People worry about appearing demanding or nitpicky, or that the interviewer will draw unflattering conclusions based on the questions they ask. While it can be difficult to get the information you want, such as "What is real like as an administrator?" or "Am I going to cry every day?"), it's possible to remain empathetic.
Others are unsure about the purpose of this opportunity to ask questions. Instead of taking the time to learn about the company, the manager and the job, they use the opportunity to impress the interviewer and to pitch themselves for the job. They don't have the information they need to make a decision about whether the job is right. Interviewers will be annoyed by this transparency.
What questions should be asked of your interviewer when you are ready to ask them? These are 10 powerful questions that will give you valuable insight into the job and whether it is the right fit for you.
Questions about the Position
1. "How do you measure success in this job?"
This is the essence of the job. What does it mean? And what do you have to accomplish to make your manager happy?
It's possible to assume that the job description has already stated this, but it is not unusual for an employer to use the same job description for the past ten years. This applies even if the job has changed substantially. Many job descriptions are written by companies and rely on boilerplate language from HR. However, the manager may have very different views about the most important aspects of the job. Employers are often terrible at creating job descriptions. This is why many seem to be written by automated programs rather than human beings. It's also useful to have a conversation about the actual role. It is possible that you discover that, while there were 12 responsibilities listed on the job posting, your success actually depends on two of them. Or that the hiring manager is having a difficult time communicating her expectations with her boss.
2. "What are some of the challenges you expect the person in this position to face?"
You might be surprised at the information that this job description doesn't include. For example, you may learn that your department has a lot of politics or that the person you work with is not easy to get along. Or that you will have to adhere to strict budget restrictions for your program.
You may also be able to share your past experiences with similar challenges. This can help you to reassure your interviewer. It's not a good idea to ask questions in order to make a sales pitch for your company. However, if you are able to talk about the challenges and come up with an effective solution, it can be very useful.
3. "Can you give us an example of a typical week or day in your job?"
It's important to understand if admin work will make up 90 percent or 50/50 of the job description. You might discover that the part you are most passionate about isn't available every six months. Even if you don't have such profound insights, this can help you to better imagine what it is like to work in that job every day.
Tip: Some interviewers may respond to this question by saying, "Oh, every single day is different." What was their most time?
If you don't get a clear idea of your time, it could be a sign you are walking into chaos or in a job where expectations never seem to be met.
4. "How many years did the person who held the previous position hold it? What is the turnover rate in this role?
A lack of long-term commitment by any one person could indicate a difficult boss, unrealistic expectations, a lack of training or other problems. It's possible for one person to leave after only a few months. However, this is not necessarily a warning sign. Sometimes things don't go as planned. If you notice a pattern of people leaving, you might want to ask, "Does this give you an idea of the reasons?"
Questions about your success in the position
5. "What do you hope this person will achieve in the first six months, and in the first year?"
This question will give you an idea of how long you expect to learn and how fast the organization and team are moving. You won't have much time to ramp up if you expect to achieve major accomplishments in a short period of time. This might not be a problem if you have a lot of experience but could be a concern if it isn't. If you are someone who loves to get things done quickly, it might be a disappointment to learn that the majority of your first six month will be spent training.
You may also find information that is relevant to your project of interest.
6. "Remembering people who have done this work before, what was the difference between the good and the great?"
A job candidate asked me this question years ago, and it might be the strongest question I've ever been asked in an interview. This question goes directly to the core of what the hiring manager wants. Hiring managers don't want to interview candidates for a job that isn't worth their time. They are looking for someone who will be able to do the job well. This question shows that you care about the same thing. It doesn't guarantee you'll do exceptional work, but it does make you sound like someone who is aiming for it -- someone who is conscientious, driven, and these are big things to a hiring manager.
The answer to this question can provide you with a more detailed insight into the requirements of the job. Regardless of the answer, you can still consider whether it's something that you are likely to be able to do.
Questions about the Company
7. "How would your culture be described here?" Which type of people thrive here and which ones don't?
This might not be the right fit for you if the culture is strict and has a lot of hierarchy.
If you are more competitive and prefer low-key or if the company describes itself as being entrepreneurial, this might not be the right place for you. You might still consider taking the job even if there aren't many options. However, it's likely that you will be happier if your expectations are clear, and you aren't surprised when you get started.
8. "What do you like about working here?"
The way people answer this question can reveal a lot about you. People who truly enjoy their job and the company will often have many things to tell you about it. They will also sound sincere. If you receive a blank stare, a long silence before the interviewer answers or an answer that is more like "the paycheck", it's a red flag.
9. Ask the questions you care about.
Interviewers sometimes use their time to ask questions to impress the interviewer. They may ask questions that reflect poorly on the interviewer (e.g., asking questions to make them appear smarter, more thoughtful, etc.) and not questions intended to help them decide if the job is right for them. Although it's natural to want to impress your interviewer in a way that will make them feel good, interviewing is not a one-way process. You need to assess the job, the employer, and the manager and decide if this is the job you are interested in and would be successful at. You could end up miserable or in financial distress if you are too focused on the job.
Before you go to interview, take some time to think about what you want to learn. What are the most important things to you about the job? How does it make you feel every day? Perhaps you value a collaborative environment that encourages informal communication. Perhaps you are most interested in working somewhere that has a relaxed work environment, with few calls or texts during the weekends or evenings. Maybe you've heard rumors about the stability of the funding for the position. You can ask the questions that are important to you, or you would like to know before you decide if this job is for you.
You shouldn't just rely on the answers of your interviewer about these matters. Do your research by speaking to people in your network about the culture and the manager, as well as reading reviews on Glassdoor and talking with other employees.
Questions about the Next Steps
10. "What's your timeline for next steps?"
Although this is a simple logistics question, it's important to ask it because it provides a guideline for when you should expect to hear back. If you don't hear back within a few days, you will likely start to wonder if you should have and what it means. You may also begin to obsessively check your phone to check if the employer tried to contact you. Knowing that you won't hear from the hiring manager for 2 weeks, 4 weeks, or for 1 month is better for your life and quality of living.
This question allows you to easily check in with your employer if they don't give you a timeline. If they say they will make a decision in 2 weeks, but it has been 3 weeks, you can email them to ask for an update. I am interested in this position and would like to speak more with you.