Be prepared with your questions to ask them. Employers typically view job candidates who don't ask questions as uninterested in them and the job. Not good!
You very likely will not ask all of the questions below, but choose the ones that are the most important to you and relevant to the opportunity.
As described below, some questions are better asked at the beginning of the interview while others are better for the end.
Also, different questions are appropriate for different people -- the hiring manager, the co-workers, and the recruiter and human resources.
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.
Different Questions for Different Stages of the Interview Process
During the initial phone screen interview, employers ask questions to determine if you are a qualified candidate who should be invited to a face-to-face interview. You may not have an opportunity to ask many questions, but do have questions ready to demonstrate your interest in the organization and the job.
Definitely have your questions ready for the face-to-face interviews.
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.
Ask These Questions to Learn About the Interviewer(s)
These questions are most relevant when you are meeting an interviewer for the first time. 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 exchange business cards with each of the interviewers so you have all relevant information, including their job title and contact information.
If the person who is interviewing you is the hiring manager, ask these questions:
What is your job title? (If you don't already know.)
How many people report directly to you?
How large is your organization? (If this person is a senior manager with direct reports who also manage people.)
Who is your boss? (Hopefully, you will get both the name and the job title so you can determine where in the organization this job fits.)
How would you describe your management style?
Why are you successful here?
What do you enjoy most about working here?
If the person is not a recruiter or the hiring manager, ask:
Will we work together? How?
Particularly if the person will be a co-worker, 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 for this employer?
How long have you been in this job?
Understanding more about the person will help you choose the next questions to ask, and also help you keep their responses in perspective.
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.
Questions to See if This Is the RIGHT Job for YOU
Once you know the players in the interview, ask the questions that will help you understand more about the job and whether or not it is a job you would like.
Their answers to these questions also enable you to focus your answers to best position yourself as the "cure" for their "pain":
What is a typical (day, week, month, and/or year) in this job? (Choose one or two of the most relevant time periods for the job.)
What is the toughest time of (day, week, month, or year) for a person in the job? Why? (Again, choose one or two of the most relevant time periods for the job.)
How long did the last employee stay in this job? What are they doing now? (Assuming that you are replacing someone who has, hopefully, been promoted.)
What is the top priority for someone in this job?
What is the biggest challenge for someone doing this job?
What is the key to success in this job?
What are the most important skills of the person who does this job?
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 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?
The answers to these questions will increase your understanding of their problems (to fine tune your responses to their questions) and whether or not you want to work there.
Learn What Pain This Job Should Resolve
The most important question to ask in an interview is
“What is the biggest challenge someone will face in this job in the first 6 months?”
Ask These Questions to Learn About the Job
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?
New position is usually good (sign that the organization is probably growing).
If the job is a replacement, ask if the employee transferred to another part of the company, was promoted, or left the employer.
NOTE: Be wary of an employer with many employees leaving constantly. People leave for a reason, and the reason may be because this is not a good place to work.
How long does someone typically stay in this job?
You don't want a job that is filled every few months, particularly if the people who have had it in the past left the organization.
How many hours a week does someone in this job typically work? Is overtime (technically more than 40 hours/week) accepted or expected?
This question helps you understand if you will be expected to put in long hours. Unless you are paid on an hourly basis, the more hours you work, the lower your actual hourly pay. So, getting an increase in pay may be offset by working more hours.
Do most employees check email over the weekends and stay in touch while on vacation? Is that required for this job?
If answered honestly, this should give you an idea of the work environment allowing you to decide if you would be comfortable.
Do employees sometimes work from home or telecommute in this job? How many people telecommute?
Ask this question if you would like to work from home a day or two (or more) a week.
Don't be surprised if the answer is "No" because many employers want employees to be visibly "at work."
While some employers may allow employees to work from home, they may want new employees to work at the office for several months before telecommuting is approved. This allows them to observe how you work and be sure you understand what is required before before allowing you to work from home.
Who does the person in this job report to? What is the boss's job title, and where are they located?
Of course, skip this question if you are being interviewed by the hiring manager.
What is the salary grade for this job? Where does this job salary grade rank in your salary grades?
Do NOT ask the salary yet! Ask about the "salary grade" which is where the job ranks in the organization. Is it at the bottom, the middle, or the top? These answers give you an idea of how much you can grow in this job.
What can you tell me about this job that isn't in the description?
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?
Who does the person in this job report to?
(If this job reports to more than one person, ask for the names and job titles plus the name of the person who writes the performance report.)
Is there travel to meeting with clients or suppliers or to represent this organization required for this job? Where, how long, and how often?
Where is this job located?
Ask this question if it isn't clear where the job is located. You might be able to work from home, or the job might be at a different location than where the interview is taking place.
The questions above will also give you an idea about the kind of working environment you would be joining -- the "corporate culture." That culture may expect people to work 50 hours a week (or more) or not.
Questions for Management Jobs
Jobs in management need additional information.
How many employees directly report to this manager?
Do these employees also report to other managers? Who? Why? How?
How are performance reviews done for employees who have more than one manager?
How often are performance reviews done?
Do you expect the number of direct reports to increase or decrease in the next six months or a year?
What next jobs do these typically employees have inside this organization?
Did any of the direct reports apply for this job?
Are they still under consideration?
How often are people promoted?
Were any of the direct reports considered for this job?
Are they still under consideration?
Ask These Questions to Learn About the Organization
Visit the employer's website and do some quick Google research before the interview. Search for reviews of the employer's products or services, the executives, and other news. Also search for reviews of the products or services.
What can you tell me about this organization that isn't widely known?
What wrong assumptions do outsiders make about this organization?
What surprised you the most when you started here?
What is the key to success in this organization?
How doyou measure 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?
An organization that is a tough place to work, many people will have left.
Where do people usually go when they leave this group (another company or another part of this company)?
Is training provided internally? Are employees encouraged, and supported, in getting training outside of the organization?
How long do people usually stay in this organization?
How do you define (or measure) "success" here?
How would an employee know if they were considered a success or not?
How does someone get promoted in this organization?
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.
Ask Questions to "Close the Sale" or Uncover Objections
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.
“If you had to choose your finalists for this position today, would I be included?”
“Based on our conversation today, do you believe I can excel in this position or do you have areas of concern?”
These can be tough questions to ask, but hearing their responses allows you to respond and overcome any objections they might have. If you do not do this, and they do have objections, then you will be one of those who gets the rejection letter.
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.
Ask the "Housekeeping" Questions So You Know What Happens Next
Then, be sure to ask the 5 essential MUST-ASK "housekeeping" questions so that you will understand how the employer's hiring process works -- what comes next and who will be your contact. 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 (and discouraging) for you.
Or, you will be in contact with the wrong person at the wrong time, and look either desperate or annoying.
Gather as much information as you can in the job interview. Decide if you really want this job in this organization working with these people. Then, be prepared for the whole process to take too much time. NEVER stop your job search and wait for a job offer to come. You are probably one of at least three other candidates for any job, and they may well choose someone else -- or not fill this job.
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.