upstart thoughts on talent and leadership

Archive for the ‘Look’ Category

16 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview (As a Candidate)

In ! Jen, Employee Tips, General Work, Listen, Look on Monday, October 12, 2009 at 3:33 am

You’ve prepared, you’ve researched, you even ironed your socks. You look the part. You’ve answered the interviewer’s questions brilliantly, you’ve generated good vibes of camaraderie, and your confidence is high. There’s just fifteen minutes to go until your next interview. You’ve just got to close this one out.

Then the interviewer asks: “okay, that’s all I’ve got. What questions do you have for me?”


In grad school, I had on-site interviews with a company that had one interviewer who asked no questions. She simply said to candidates: “Ok, so what do you want to know from me?” At the time, I was terrified at the prospect of 60 minutes with a total stranger who was just going to answer my questions. But in retrospect, this was an excellent opportunity. One that I didn’t know how to quite take full advantage of, being new to the work world.

This is your opportunity to interview the company. What? I’m trying to get employment here. I need an offer, I don’t need to interview the company! Yes, you do. Better to make an informed decision on fit, even if you know you must accept the job if it’s offered. Here are some questions that will assist you with getting more information about the candidate company, send the message that you are interested and curious, and additionally, enable you to wend the conversation to selling yourself as the selected candidate.

Questions to ask your prospective manager:

  1. Tell me more about why this position is open.
    • How long has it been open?
    • What happened to the previous incumbent?
    • How many people have held this position in the last three years?
    • Has the job’s responsibilities changed in the last year? in what way?
    • Get at: is this a winnable position? One that people stay in? One that people grow in and move over or up? The type that grinds people up and spits them out?
  2. Tell me about the other members of your team.
    • Then bring up how your portfolio of experiences and expertise helps round out the team, is complementary, or adds strength.
  3. What do you envision my goals would look like for the first year?
    • Come prepared! Share your own 30/60/90-day plan.
    • Get at: how well do you know and appreciate this position?
  4. If I were to have extraordinary success in the first six months of my tenure, what would be some examples of what I would have accomplished?
    • Share previous examples from your work history where you have had easily-transferable successes.
    • Get at: have you thought about what criteria on which I will be assessed?
  5. What problems should I expect to encounter on the job in the short-term?
    • Get at: where are the potential land mines: people, projects, politics, departments?
  6. How does upper management view our department / division?
    • What are the department’s goals and how do they align with the company’s mission?
    • Get at: is your work and/or department respected? Seen as valuable players? Catch the blame a lot?
  7. Imagine your ideal candidate. What specific experience or expertise does she have that makes her “ideal?”
    • Now, sell your little heart out! Address how you fit the bill.
  8. What keeps you up at night? -or- What is the most significant project on your desk today? -or- What is the most challenging issue you’re dealing with this week?
    • Ask this if you can think quickly on your feet. Provide insightful feedback on what’s shared. Clarify, brainstorm, show your worth and efficiency.

Questions for key decision makers on the interview panel:

  1. What can you tell me about the prevailing management style here?
    • How do people recognize achievements? Are there avenues outside of those set between manager-and-employee?
    • Walk me through how decisions get made here, using a recent project.
  2. How does the company support and promote professional growth?
    • Some companies have set-aside $’s for each employee to pursue learning. Some have a minimum learning requirement, 40 hours per year, two classes a year, etc. And a lucky few have true learning cultures, where there are ample opportunities to engage in synapse sparks.
  3. What are the best and worst aspects of the company’s culture?
    • What makes this a great place to work?
  4. Do you do employee surveys?
    • What was the last participation rate?
    • What positive feedback came out of the last survey? negative? most surprising?

Questions for peers:

  1. What have you liked most about working here?
    • Least? Most unexpected thing about working here?
  2. What do you wish you had known prior to joining this company?
    • Listen to how carefully the person answers this question. If they are upending words considering how to share information with you–and this is a pattern you’ve seen with others–you should be concerned.
  3. If you were my best friend, what would you tell me about this job that I may not have discussed in general interviews?
    • I like this question. It is so open-ended and has the potential to tell you a lot.
  4. What is [manager]’s reputation for developing people?
    • What you really want to know is his reputation for managing people, but “developing” hints at growth and the managing part will follow if you’re with an astute employee.

I have scads of questions for candidates to ask the HR interviewer or representative. But that’s a post for another day.

%d bloggers like this: