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5 Absolute Must-Ask Questions for Your Next Interview

By Susan P. Joyce

Must-Ask Questions for Your Next Interview

Without knowing the answers to these questions, you will be completely uninformed about the employer's process and how your candidacy is progressing (or not progressing). Often the wait between the job interview and the next step in the hiring process seems endless, and an understanding the answers to these questions will help you gauge what is going on and who to contact with questions.

The answers to these questsions are essential questions for your success in your job search. They won't help you determine your potential job satisfaction or even, directly, your fit for a job, but they are the most important to ask to keep your job search moving forward.

[For important questions to ask about the job and the environment, read 50 Good Questions to Ask Them in Interviews for more ideas.]

Don’t assume all employers use the same hiring process — they definitely don’t! And, while some employers will tell you about their process, many will forget or just not keep you informed. Sometimes the lack of information is to test your interest in the job, and sometimes the lack is inexperience, incompetence, disorganization, or too much work.


Ask These 5 Important "Housekeeping" Questions

The answers to these questions can give you an idea not only of how their process works, but also how urgently they want to fill the job. And, quite possibly, how interested they are in hiring you. Employers should share this information with you without being asked, but many don't.

If this information is not volunteered by the employer, usually near the end of the interview, be sure to ask these questions preferably during the job interview:

1. Learn how this employer's hiring process works.

The next step in this employer's process could include an email, a phone call, another interview (or two), a visit to their facility, some tests, a list of your references to contact, or something else, but you need to know to be prepared. So, before you leave their premises or end the phone call, ask them:

Your Question: What is the next step in your process?

If you can, ask more than one person this question, ask them individually or as a group.

Depending on where you are in their typical chronology for hiring, the next step could be interviewing other candidates, another interview for you, checking your references, having you take a test (or multiple tests), or waiting for them to meet and discuss what happens next.

Every employer is different, but each usually has a process they follow (formally or informally) when making a hire. To successfully navigate through their process and to understand how it works, you need to know the process, or at least know what the next step is.

Chances are very good that the people whom you speak with won’t think to tell you what happens next. They’ll assume that someone else has told you (or will tell you), or they don’t realize how important that information is to you.

2. Learn when they plan to be back in touch with you.

Again, ask this question of each person or group of people you talk with.

Assuming that you will be invited to continue in their hiring process, when you know what the next step is, ask them:

Your Question: When can I expect to hear from someone [or you] about this job?

As usual, depending on where you are in their hiring process, you could hear from them today (unlikely, but possible), tomorrow, end of the week, next week, next month, after the holidays, etc. All the people you ask may not agree on the timing, but you’ll end up with a general idea of their schedule.

Expect this answer to be wrong because, particularly in large organizations, the process doesn't always (or often) go as planned. Ask this question anyway, because it gives you an idea of their expected time frame for the hiring process, and it lays the groundwork for the next questions.

3. Identify your official contact.

At the end of each stage of the job interview process (phone screen, in-person round one, in-person round two, etc.), ask this question:

Your Question: Who should I stay in touch with?

Typically, one person will be designated as the “point person.” And, that’s the person you usually stay in touch with throughout the process. Ask for the person’s business card.

Additional people may be added during the process, like the hiring manager or an HR manager. Hopefully, you have an internal contact who referred you for the job opportunity (best way to get hired!), and that person may be your best source of information, informally.

4. What is the best way to reach your contact?

This is essential information:

Your Question: How should I contact [you, person’s name, or job title]?

Hopefully, they will say something like, “Call me at ###-###-####.” Less useful is an email address. Best is both, so you can follow up if you don’t receive a response to your email.

If you have the person’s business card, get it out, and circle the preferred communications method on the card, or add a note to the back of the card.

5. Discover when you can get back in touch with them.

This is a very important question! The answer gives you permission to contact them if they miss their own deadline — and they usually do miss it.

Their answer usually gives you both information and permission to stay in touch. So, ask this question:

Your Question: If I don’t hear from you by [their back-in-touch date, # 2, above], what would be a good day to follow up?

If they provide a date, add another day or two to their own back-in-touch date in your question. So, if they said, they’ll contact you next Tuesday, don’t call Tuesday morning! Call Thursday morning.

If they say it won't be necessary for you to contact them because they absolutely will be back in touch, accept that response (in this discussion). Then, consider adding a date when you will follow up in your interview thank you email (as in this sample thank you email) making sure the date is a day or two after their answer to question number one (above).

One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is following up too often and too aggressively. Aggressive follow up may be interpreted as being someone who would be difficult to work with or to manage.

Often the expected time table for responding is wrong, usually overly optimistic. They say they will get back to you by Friday, but on the Wednesday after the Friday deadline, you still haven’t heard from them. If they have missed their own deadline by several week/work days, you can reach out (politely, of course) to see what's going on.

No Answers to the Housekeeping Questions?

Without knowing the next steps in the employer's process, you may get discouraged and give up, or, worse, put your whole job search on hold waiting to hear back from an employer. Don’t make those mistakes!

If you don't know the answer to these questions, call the employer or send an email. If they don't answer, they are extremely disorganized, not very well-managed, or not particularly interested in hiring you. Any of those reasons should make you wonder if you really want to work in that organization.

Bottom Line

Understanding about the job, the organization, and the people you would be working with is critical to guide you in accepting or rejecting a job opportunity. The answers to these questions will keep you on track and informed about what is happening on the employer’s side of the situation. They will also help you understand when to cross a job off your list and move on to the next opportunity.

About the author...

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 Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


Guide to Successful Interviews

Essential Job Interviewing Requirements:

Succeeding in the Interview Process:


Succeeding at Different Kinds of Interviews:

Steps to Prepare for Your Interview:

More Information About Successful Interviews:

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