The best way to avoid taking a job you will hate (resulting in another job hunt too soon) is to learn as much as you can about the job, the employer, your boss, your coworkers, and the environment before you accept the job offer. How do you do this? By asking great questions of your own during the interview.
Job interviews should be as great a source of information for you, as they are for employers.
Be ready to answer the common job interview questions, of course. But also be prepared to great questions of your own in every interview.
Another tip: Don’t feel obligated to wait until the end of the interview to ask your questions. Some questions are appropriate at different times in the interview, as described below, and at different stages of the interview process which often goes several rounds.
Generally, asking good questions shows that you are both interested and prepared, which will impress the interviewer, and the answers to those questions should also help you decide whether or not you want to work for that employer.
Different Questions for Different Stages of the Interview Process
The job interview process may be simple. You may come in for one set of interviews and be hired. Or, you may have several different interviews on different days and in different locations.
With larger employers, the process is usually longer and more complex with an average of well over 3 weeks to fill a job. Typically, the interview process is comprised of several “rounds” of interviews, and making it past the first round is usually considered a good sign.
If the employer is local for you, the first interview may also be a phone interview which is often called a “phone screen” because that’s what usually happens. They screen applicants to determine who may be a qualified candidate to be invited in for a face-to-face interview.
Most of these questions are appropriate for every round of interviewing when you are interviewed by new people (to you) in each round.
If you see the same people again in a 2nd or 3rd round, as part of the interview process for the same job, you probably should not repeat a question unless you want to follow up on something another interviewer said. Hopefully, by that point in the interview process, you hopefully will have learned enough about the person and the job to have developed new questions to ask.
Great Questions to Ask at the Start of the Interview
At the start of the interview, understanding the people who are interviewing you will help you provide answers appropriate to the person’s role in your work life. You will also become a bit more comfortable talking with the interviewer(s), hopefully turning the interview into a discussion rather than a series of questions and answers.
You should be introduced to each person interviewing you before an interview begins. Make note of the person’s name, and ask for their job title if it isn’t provided. Ideally, you should receive a business card from the interviewer that contains all relevant information, including their contact information.
Particularly if the person will be a co-worker or your manager, understanding what motivates their questions and interest in you will give you more insight into both them and the job. You will also be able to ask the most relevant questions.
- How long have you worked here?
- How long have you been in this job?
- Who is your boss? Where is your boss located?
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- Why are you successful here?
- If the interviewer would be your boss, ask: How would you describe your management style?
- If the person is not a recruiter or the hiring manager, ask: Will we work together? How?
Understanding more about the person will help you choose the next questions to ask, and also help you keep their responses in perspective.
These questions are most relevant when you are meeting an interviewer for the first time. If you are returning for a second or third round of interviews with the same person, you should already know the answers to these questions, so repeating them is not necessary or smart.
Great Questions for the Main Part of the Interview
Once you understand who is interviewing you, you can move on to asking these questions as appropriate during the interview.
Ask questions that will help you determine if you would actually like the job, and be able to do it well.
- Why is this position open? Is it a new position or a replacement for someone?
- How long does someone typically stay in this job?
- Who does the person in this job report to? What is the boss’s job title, and where are they located?
If the manager and the person in this job don’t work in the same location, ask where the manager is located.
- What is the salary grade for this job? What is your lowest salary grade? The highest?
- What can you tell me about this job that isn’t in the description?
- How can I be successful in this job?
- What are your future plans for this job?
- What are the prospects for growth for the person in this job?
- How do people grow in this job? Do they have OJT (on the job training), pay for training, or are you responsible for your own training?
- How often is this job open?
- What is a typical (day, week, month, or year) for a person in this job?
Choose multiple time frames, if that feels appropriate.
- What is the toughest time of (day, week, month, or year) for a person in the job? Why?
- What is the key thing someone does to be successful in this job?
- How is success in this job measured by you? By the organization?
- What are the most important skills of the person who does this job?
- What is the biggest challenge someone in this job faces on a daily (or weekly or monthly) basis?
- If anyone has failed at this job, why did they fail? What mistakes did they make?
- Who does the person in this job report to?
(If this job reports to more than one person, ask who writes the performance report.)
- Is there much travel associated with this job? Where and how often?
- What hours are typically worked in a week for someone successful in this job? Is overtime expected or accepted?
- Where is this job located?
Ask this question if it isn’t clear where the person will be working. You might be able to work from home, or the job might be at a different location than where the interview is happening.
Understanding more about the job will help you decide if the job feels like a good fit for you.
Great Questions for the Main Part of the Interview
Ask these questions to learn more about the organization:
- What can you tell me about this organization that isn’t widely known?
- What is the key to success in this organization?
- How many people work in this group (department, office, and/or company)?
- How many have joined in the last year?
(In a fast growing company, several people could have been added. In a tough place to work, several people could have left.)
- How many people have left in the last year?
- Where do people usually go when they leave this group (another company or another part of this company)?
- How long do people usually stay in this organization?
- How do you define (or measure) “success” here?
- Would an employee know if they were considered a success or not?
- How does someone get promoted in this organization?
- How does senior management view this group?
- Where do you see this group in five years?
- When and how is feedback given to employees?
- If regular performance reviews are done, what is the time frame between reports?Who writes them? Also, who contributes to them?
Ask about anything else in your preparation that raised questions for you.
Great Questions for After the Interview
As the interview winds down, or when the interviewer has indicated that the interview is ending, you need to ask these end-of-the-interview questions.
Tell the interviewer that you are very interested in the job and enthusiastic about joining the organization. Then, finish by asking these questions.
Use your judgement about the interviewer and the situation. Some interviewers will like this approach and the confidence you are demonstrating by asking these questions, but others will not. Do what feels comfortable and appropriate to you.
These questions are usually best in one-on-one interviews. If it feels appropriate, ask:
- Do you think I could be successful in this job?
- Is there any other information you need? Any concerns or questions about me or my qualifications for this job?
If they answer these questions (and they might not!), those answers will give you an indication of how well you did in the interview and perhaps an opportunity to clarify a question they might have about your qualifications to do the job.
Great Questions for Next Steps and Follow Up
You want to be sure that you understand what happens next, and how their hiring process works, and this information may not be volunteered by any of the interviewers. So, ask them of the hiring manager, the recruiter, or the HR person.
Don’t expect that the timetable described will be met. Filling a job usually takes longer than people anticipate (or plan), so be prepared to wait. By asking these questions, you will know what they are planning to do, and you will also have permission to stay in touch as well as a contact and timing indication..
- What happens next in your process? (another round of interviews or reference checks or…)
- Who should I stay in touch with (get name, job title, and contact information if you don’t already have it) from this point forward?
- What is the best way to stay in touch (telephone or email)?
- How will you get back in touch with me (telephone, email, or something else)?
- Is it OK if I call you in 2 weeks (or some point after the date they mention when answering the question above) if I don’t hear from you?
- How soon do you think you’ll be making a decision on which candidate to hire?
- When do you expect to make an offer?
- If you make me an offer, when would you expect me to start work?
No matter what great answers you hear from these great questions…
Don’t offer to leave your current job instantly or make a starting date commitment you can’t keep.
Even if you hate your current boss and job, give the amount of notice required (typically 2 weeks). This employer will worry that you would do the same thing to them, so that may end this opportunity. Plus, that old employer may be contacted by future potential employers, and leaving abruptly without notice, can ruin opportunities for you.
If you don’t ask these questions, you will have no idea when you will hear from them next or where they are in their process which will be very stressful for you.
Gather as much information as you can during the job interview by asking great questions. Only then can you decide if you really want this job in this organization working with these people!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Job-Hunt.org!
About the Author: Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.