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The Second Interview: 5 Key Questions to Ask

By Don Goodman

So you have passed the first or second interview and have been asked back for another interview. This is the most important one as you not only have to persuade them that you are the best candidate, but you must also gauge for yourself whether this is the best job for you. In short, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

Impress Them and Avoid a Job You Will Hate

You don't want to be in a new job search too soon, so use this interview to determine if this opportunity is a good fit for you. Here are some key questions to ask to gain a competitive edge over candidates and also help you decide if you really want this job.

1. What is the biggest challenge someone will face in this job in the first 6 months?

Hopefully you asked this question before as it is the most important question to ask in an interview.

It helps you find out their immediate "pain."

This also allows you to describe how you have successfully faced and managed similar challenges before.

2. What are the biggest obstacles I would face in meeting this challenge?

Although you have dealt with this obstacle before, the people and conditions are probably different so ask the interviewer’s opinion as to what obstacles you would face.

There are generally three types of obstacles: people, systems and processes. Finding out which of these is the biggest obstacle lets you open a dialog (remember people hire people they like so turning the interview into a conversation is important) about your ability to influence changes in these areas.

This question can also be a good way to start a discussion, brainstorming with the interviewer about the best tactics to use in their organization.


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3. Who had this job before?

It is important to know whether this is a newly created position or if someone had this role before. If it is not a new role, then you want to know what happened to the previous person in this job.

If the Previous Person Was Promoted

If they got a promotion, that’s good news as it shows you could have growth here. Ask what results they produced that earned them the promotion, and how long they were in the position before they were promoted.

If the Previous Person Was Terminated

If they were let go, then you should ask what caused their termination:

  • If it was for performance issues then try to determine what went wrong. Perhaps the goals were too lofty or they were ineffective in advocating change.
  • You also want to know how long they were in the position before being let go as that tells you a lot about the corporate culture.

This is an important area. It lets you gauge the kind of manager you would have. Assuming you are speaking to the manager at this point, ask what went wrong and what they would have done differently.

There are generally two kinds of managers: (1) those who hold you accountable but do not particularly assist you, and (2) those who partner with you to help you navigate the waters to success.

Remember that the number one reason someone likes or hates their job is their manager so you want to determine what kind of manager they are. Also, and if you can, try to find the person on LinkedIn and connect with them to hear their side of the story.

For example, Bill was newly hired into a branch manager role and immediately faced a serious customer issue where the work performed missed the deadline and was of a poor quality. The customer was demanding a refund. Since this was before Bill’s time, he called his boss who essentially told Bill that they were not giving a refund and they were not redoing the work so “figure it out Bill” was what he was told. They were essentially holding him accountable for a problem he did not cause and were offering zero guidance or assistance as to a remedy. This is when Bill realized he chose the wrong job.

4. How is job performance in this role measured?

It is important to know if they have tangible, measurable goals for this position:

  • If they do not, then your growth could be at the mercy of a subjective opinion.
  • If they have goals, ask them what they are and try to determine if they are achievable.

Ask about the past performance of others in the job and their success in meeting the targets. Determine how the goals are set, by whom, and whether, in the manager’s opinion, they are attainable.

Don’t forget to find out the timeframe to achieve these goals.

5. How would you describe your management style?

This is where you start to determine the kind of manager you would have in this job.

Here is where you try to understand if you would be working for a micro-manager or an abusive boss. Ask whether there are regular meetings or reports required and their frequency. Try to determine how much interaction you would have.

For example, if they tell you that you would have a meeting every day, then this might be a micro-manager who will make you crazy.

Other questions include “How would your staff describe you?” and “How would you describe your dream employee?”

For example, Sue asked this question of her future boss and was told: “I have a lot of things on my plate so I will not be micro-managing you. I have one golden rule: I expect you to deliver a high level of quality on time and if you think you are not going to be able to do that, then let me know in advance so we can jointly create a solution.” Sue heard this and took the job.

Bottom Line

Asking these questions should help you build stronger rapport with the decision makers and let you determine if this is the kind of position you want.

More About Succeeding at Job Interviews


About the author...

Don Goodman is a triple-certified nationally recognized career professional (Expert Resume Writer, Certified Career Coach, and Job Search Strategist) with over 20 years of experience helping thousands of people quickly land their next job. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and Stanford University’s Executive Program, Don's firm was rated as the #1 Resume Writing Service in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Check out his Resume Writing Service. You can find Don on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter @JobExpert and Google+.


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Guide to Successful Interviews

Essential Job Interviewing Requirements:

Job Interview Tips:


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Succeeding at Different Kinds of Job Interviews:

Preparation for Successful Interviews:

Job Interview Follow Up:

More Information About Interviews:


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