A good interview is more than just artful answers to any question a prospective employer throws your way. Remember, you’ll need to be just as prepared once the tables turn.
When an interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?” she’s not just being polite. She’s trying to gauge whether you’re informed, interested, and engaged. Explains recruiter Angela Smith, “if an applicant doesn’t have any questions for me, that’s a red flag. I’m thinking that they either don’t care or can’t be bothered to do research about my company.”
This question is also an important opportunity to help you decide if the job and company is the right fit for you. Here’s our guide on what to ask (and avoid!) when you’re interviewing the interviewer.
Step 1: Clarify Your Uncertainties
Your first step should be to ask anything about the position that hasn’t been covered in the interview (though not questions you’d know the answers to by looking at the job description or company website). “You want the questions to be well thought-out and meaningful to the position and industry,” says Smith. Sample questions could include:
- What does a typical day look like?
- What are the biggest challenges that someone in this position would face?
- How will I be trained? How will my performance be reviewed?
- What are the performance expectations of this position over the first 12 months?
- What are the most immediate projects that need to be addressed?
Step 2: Remove Their Doubts
Next, ask questions that will allow you to talk about any strengths or accomplishments you didn’t cover in the interview, or to make sure that you are sharing with the interviewer the same types of qualities they are looking for. “I ask what kind of person they see ideally fitting the job,” says Brittany Mazin, a young professional. “It’s good to be clear on exactly what they are looking for and whether you are a good match for the job.” Once they answer, you can clarify or reiterate why you’ll be a good match. Some ways to phrase this:
- What are the skills and experiences you’re looking for in an ideal candidate?
- What attributes does someone need to have in order to be really successful in this position?
- What types of skills is the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?
- Is there anything that concerns you about my background being a fit for this role?
Step 3: Uncover Red Flags
This can be tricky to do tactfully, but asking questions about turnover, culture, and growth opportunities during the interview process can prevent unpleasant surprises down the road. Questions you could ask include:
- What is the company culture like?
- Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?
- Where is the last person who held this job moving on to?
- Where have successful employees previously in this position progressed to?
- What are the career paths in this department/company?
Step 4: Get a View of the Future
Asking questions about the growth of the company and its employees is a good idea for two reasons. “I always ask what a company’s goals are for the next five to ten years. It gives a good perspective on what their values are and how I may or may not fit with a company,” says Diane Kulseth, another young professional. Plus, asking about the future of the company and opportunities for your own growth shows that you’re committed and eager to learn. You can ask:
- Where do you see this company in the next few years?
- What can you tell me about your new product or plans for growth?
- What training programs are available to your employees?
- Are there opportunities for advancement or professional development?
Step 5: Build a Relationship
When in doubt, ask the interviewer about himself or herself. “I ask interviewers about their journey in their career, such as what field they were in before and how it led to where they are now,” says Sasha Rice, a recent graduate. “People love talking about themselves… Plus, if you have similarities, it creates a bond between you and them.” But “be careful,” suggests Smith “to not get too personal, and pay attention to how the interviewer reacts.” Try questions like:
- How long have you been with the company?
- What did you do before?
- Why did you come to this company?
- What’s your favorite part about working here?
Step 6: Wrap Up
At the end of the interview, don’t forget to ask about next steps. First, reiterate that you’re interested in the position (assuming you still are, of course!), and ask the following non-presumptuous questions about what’s next in the hiring process:
- What are the next steps in the interview process?
- Is there anything else I can provide you with that would be helpful?
Questions to Avoid
Sure, there are a million more questions you’d like to ask (um, where’s the best place around here for happy hour?), but there are some key topics to avoid, too. Most importantly: “never ask any question you should already know the answer to. You must do your homework and research before going to the interview,” says Amy Stake-Michalenko, Career Services Manager at Fresh Start Women’s Foundation.
Salary is another taboo. “Never ask about benefits, pay, what they will do for you—particularly in a first or even second round interview. This will be negotiated once they make you an offer and prior to you accepting,” Stake-Michalenko adds.
Finally, don’t bombard the interviewer with a laundry list of questions. If she seems engaged in the conversation and encourages you to keep asking, great, but if you see her looking at her watch, time to wrap it up! It’s best to pick a handful of questions that are most important to you and leave on a positive note.