Interviews should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation. A big part of that comes from the questions you ask and when you ask them.
And, remember, the interview isn’t just for the employer to decide if you are a fit…you have to decide if you are a fit. Do you want to work here? What information do you need to make an informed decision?
Typically, the candidate will be expected to ask questions at the end of the interview. Depending on the overall length of the interview, employers will typically leave 5-15 minutes at the end for you to ask questions of them. You should plan to fill that whole time and have at least 15-20 questions prepared.
However, that doesn’t mean you should wait until the end either. The end of the interview is an awkward time for certain questions, especially if you discussed the topic in some depth earlier in the interview. Often candidates will get to this time in the interview, open their notebook full of questions and skip over the first five they prepared because they’ve already been answered. Could those have helped put you in a different light-made you seem more informed, demonstrated curiosity-if you asked them earlier?
Asking questions early is a way to disrupt the typical flow of “employer question/candidate answer” that removes the humanity from the interaction. The more free flowing and conversational your interaction is, the more comfortable the employer will be and this may help them envision you as a colleague. Sometimes two people just hit it off and this happens naturally, but interjecting your own questions can jump start the process. This shouldn’t be “forced”, but if it seems to fit with the way the interview is going, give it a shot.
Take a few of the questions you have prepared for the end of the interview and add them in as a follow-up after you have answered a question. For example, if they ask you “How do you manage your time?”, you might answer by talking about how you organize your day, use calendars, reminders and to-do lists to keep you on track, remembering to give specific examples. As you conclude your answer, you could say “You know, being that organized really helped me during senior year when I had to manage my thesis, five classes, and an internship my final semester. I imagine it gets pretty busy around here. Does the company have specific software or tools to help keep teams organized?” Obviously, the questions need to be relevant to the conversation you are having and worth asking. As with all questions for the interviewer, they should be based on research about the company, industry and specific job. Studies have shown that the more time the interviewer spends talking during an interview, the more likely a candidate is to get an offer, so engaging them in this way can have real benefits.
As we saw in the section about answering unexpected questions, asking questions as part of your answer to a question is also a great tool to seek information to better answer questions for which you don’t have a complete answer because of gaps in your pre-interview research or previous work history.
So, what should you ask? First, some rules.
- Ask about salary. Wait for them to bring it up.
- Ask about time off, insurance, or other benefits/perks—as with salary, those questions should ideally wait until an offer has been made.
- Ask a question they already answered. Since questions typically come at the end many basic questions may have already been provided. Asking again-unless it is a specific question seeking clarification or more detail-will make it seem as if you weren’t paying attention.
- Ask questions that could be answered by a quick scan of their website. As discussed in the “Research” section, a thorough review of the company website should be one of the first things you do to prepare for the interview. If you ask a question that is easily answered on the company homepage you will look like you haven’t done any research at all. However, asking a more in-depth question about something you discovered on their website (or somewhere else during your research) is a great way to show you have done your homework.
- Ask about a typical day and any clarification you need about specific responsibilities you saw in the job description.
- Ask about any training programs or process for your position
- Ask about how the company measures success and how you will be evaluated
- Ask about your direct manager’s style of leadership. What is it like to work for them?
- Ask about what opportunities there are for growth in the future
- Ask about their short, medium, and long-term goals for someone coming into the position
- Ask about the company’s top performers. What makes them top performers?
- Ask them about the culture of the company. How would they describe it?
- Ask them about next steps after this interview. What are their timelines, when should you follow-up or expect to hear from them?
And last, but not least, as you conclude the interview…
Ask for the job. Yes, if at the end of the interview (assuming this is a final interview, not a preliminary phone screen) you like what you have heard, the job seems interesting, and you would like to work there…ask for the job directly. Very often there is little that separates one qualified candidate from another. A small show of enthusiasm can be the thing that sets you apart.
Simply say something like, “Thank you so much for your time today. I really enjoyed meeting everyone and learning more about the opportunity here. Now that I have an even better understanding of the role I’m really excited by it, I think I could make a big impact, and would love the opportunity to join the company.”