The call when the interview is scheduled provides a great opportunity to collect information.
The more you know, the better you can prepare, and the better prepared you are, the more likely you are to succeed.
Collect information about the people, process, and logistics before the interview to arrive at the right place and time.
Typically, recruiters schedule interviews over the phone, but whether the interview is set up over the phone or via email, don't be afraid to ask for this information.
Smart Questions to Ask BEFORE the Interview
To prepare for your interview, ask these questions in advance of the interview. Usually, it is best to ask them in a phone call so you can ask appropriate follow-up questions and have all the information you need.
Asking these questions and knowing this information can help you be better prepared for the interview. Knowing the answers to these questions can also help you decide if you really want this job.
Generally, I recommend accepting an invitation even if you aren't sure you want the job simply because you will learn more about the job and the employer in the interviewing process to help you make an informed decision.
You may find the opportunity is better than you originally thought. Or not. You will gain more experience in interviewing, helping to reduce your stress and improve your interview "performance," and also learn more about the employer and industry.
If you are working with an external recruiter (someone who is not an employee), you may or may not receive answers to all of these questions from that recruiter.
If you are working with an internal recruiter (an employee), they should know the answers to these questions or be able to find the answers for you.
Be sure you have the name, job title, and contact information (email and telephone number) for the person who answers these questions for you so you can send a confirming message after the interview is set-up.
This person may or may not be your contact during the entire hiring process.
10 Questions to Learn About This Job
Before you agree to schedule the interview, learn what you can about the job to see if you are really interested. If you are interested, then focus on getting answers about their interviewing process for this job.
⏩ Necessary pre-interview information:
Ask these questions about every job you are asked to interview for.
Why is this job open?
A newly created position can be a great opportunity or an "interesting experience." They may be opening a new part of the organization or expanding an existing part.
If the job is not a new job, then you can ask more questions about where the last job-holder is now (promoted or left the company?) during the actual interview.
How long has this job been open?
If it has been open for quite a while, then it could be a tough job to fill, or a manager or an organization which doesn't move quickly.
If it is a new job or an existing job that was opened recently, they may be in a hurry to fill it so that work does not go undone. Or, they may be taking their time to be sure they choose the best candidate.
Who does this job report to?
You want the name and job title of the hiring manager, so you can do research to learn more about them before the interview.
You also want to know if the person in this job has more than one "boss." Ask for the names and job titles for all of the people who supervise the person in this job. Research them all, if possible.
How many people report to the person in this job? (for management jobs)
Knowing the number of employees and their job titles is important. Is the number two or two thousand? Are they managers or clerks?
You may also ask for the names of the people reporting to this job. Be cautious though. Asking for the names may be considered too aggressive. (But great information for your research.)
Where is this job located?
If the interview is not taking place where the job is located, ask for the address where you will be expected to work, unless you will be working from your home.
What is the pay grade for this job and where does that pay grade fit into the salary structure?
Most large employers (over 500 employees) have a standard salary structure comprised of pay grades, and most jobs for that employer will fit into that salary structure. Smart smaller employers (fewer than 500 employees) also have a formal salary structure.
The purpose of a salary structure is to typically pay employees equitably, internally, and to value a job appropriately, depending on the skills and experience required, the scarcity of people qualified for the job, and the competition with other employers for those qualified people.
The top grades pay better than the bottom grades, and it is good to know where a job fits into the salary structure -- at the top, middle, or bottom. You may not be told the salary range for the job (the maximum and minimum salary paid), but knowing where it is in the salary structure is very useful.
⏩ Essential information, but questions that could be postponed to ask during the interview:
You will typically need to ask these questions only for your first interview with an employer, unless the employer is very large and you are interviewing with different divisions which may have a different process and expectations.
What hours are employees expected to be at work?
This is particularly important for nonexempt/hourly jobs, but it's important in considering your commute and other details of your personal life. I'll never forget accepting a job, but not learning that the start time was 8:15 AM rather than 9 AM until being told for my first day of work. That was a big, unpleasant shock.
Can this job be performed remotely all, or part, of the time?
If working remotely is something you want or need, then asking the question now will enable you to determine if you want to interview for the job. Often, working remotely starts after you have worked at the job's location for a few months and had an opportunity to learn how things are done and get to know your boss and co-workers.
Are any pre-employment tests required for this job (or employer)?
Learn if there are skills tests or other standard, related tests every applicant must take to qualify you for the job. They may be a standard part of the hiring process for this employer or this job. Knowing in advance will help you prepare and also decide if you want to proceed.
Do NOT ask about drug tests unless you want to look like a drug user.
What is it like to work here?
An open ended question like this may result in information that helps you decide whether or not you want the job. You may also learn much more about the job and the organization which can be very helpful for you during the interviews.
Choose the day/time that works best for you, protecting your current job if you have one. If they aren't flexible about the time, making it more difficult for you to protect your job, consider if you really want to work for this employer.
Where is this interview?
Assuming this is not a phone or a video interview, you need to know the street address, the floor, and/or the office number, as appropriate for this employer.
If it is a phone or a video interview, you need the details (phone number or URL) and the time (or time range) for that interview.
If you drive to the interview, ask about the parking (cost, if any, and location). Or, the details about public transportation if more appropriate.
Not knowing these logistics details can cost you time -- making you too early or too late.
Any special access requirements for the location?
You need the important details. The interview may be on the 4th (or whatever) floor, in a specific office number, and you should check in at the reception desk, and ask for a specific person. If that is the process, ask for the relevant information.
With some employers or buildings, a specific type of ID may be required (driver's license or passport) for access to the building. Best to know that in advance.
⏩ Learn the participants in your interview(s), plus employer's typical interviewing and hiring process:
Most of these questions apply to every interview, even with the same employer. The same job may have different processes for different parts of the organization.
What is the typical INTERVIEWING process for this job?
Will there be one, two, or three MORE interviews for this job with different levels of management and/or different parts of the organization?
If this set of interviews goes well, when can you expect the next round of interviews, and the one after that?
Who will be interviewing me, and how long will these interviews take?
You want not only the names of the interviewers, but also the job title and location of each so you can prepare by learning more about them before the interview. You need to know the length of the process so you can be mentally prepared and plan your day.
What type of interview is it?
It could be a phone interview, a one-way video interview, a two-way video interview, a one-on-one interview with you and the HR rep, or a hundred other options. Learn which one this is so you will understand what is involved. Surprises can be disturbing.
Sometimes several job candidates are interviewed at the same time (called a panel or group interview) by one or more interviewers. Sometimes, many job candidates are interviewed individually in short, quick interviews (called a speed interview because of the similarity to speed dating).
Often, you will be interviewed one-on-one with the recruiter or HR, followed by a sequence of one-on-one interviews with other members of the staff and (or) the hiring manager.
Should I bring anything in addition to copies of my resume?
Do bring copies of your resume, customized for this opportunity.
If the job requires specific licenses or professional certifications, bring the documentation that proves you meet these requirements.
Also consider bringing examples of your work (if appropriate), other relevant items and documentation, and even a PDF of your LinkedIn profile.
When would they like to have the new employee start working?
Usually, but not always, employers can be flexible about when they expect a new employee to begin their job. Early in the hiring process, they may not have a good idea about the best starting date, other than "as soon as possible."
What is this employer's HIRING process for this job?
Hopefully, you will learn the length of time between this interview and the job offer, on average, the number of interviews, typically, for jobs at this level.
Also ask for the important details about when, where, and how do these interviews happen, including the kinds of interviews -- telephone interview, video interview, face-to-face interview, panel interview, etc.
If you are employed, the answers to the questions above may tell you enough for you to know that you don't want to risk your job for this opportunity. Employed or not, the answers should assist you in preparing for the interview if you proceed.
After the Call, Send a Confirming Email
When you have the details, send a confirmation email to the person who called (or whomever they designate), containing the important details, like date, time, location, and length of the interview process.
Ask for a confirming email in response.
Employed? Be VERY Careful!
If you currently employed, protect your job by not doing anything related to your job search while you are at work. Phone calls may be overheard and emails or other messages may be read.
If your employer discovers you are job hunting, you may lose your job or, at a minimum, have a very unpleasant discussion with your boss.
Use your personal cellphone and step away from your work if you make a call to ask the questions below to setup an interview (the rest room or the stairway may NOT be safe places to talk!). Or, use your non-work email account if you send these questions using email.
The Bottom Line:
This discussion can take five minutes or less, but you are demonstrating your "attention to detail" as well as ensuring that you can show up at the right place at the right time for the interview. Hopefully, the answers to these questions will enable you to be well prepared for the interview with a good idea of the questions you need to ask.
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 and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, 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 Facebook, LinkedIn.