Employers typically view job candidates who don't ask questions as uninterested.
So, be prepared with your questions. You will benefit, too.
The main reasons for asking questions in your next job interview are:
⏩ To gain a much more accurate idea of the job than the job description typically provides.
⏩ To learn more about the manager, your co-workers, and the whole organization to see if it seems like a place where you could work happily and successfully.
⏩ To impress the employer.
Read through the list below to get ideas about questions that are typically asked and choose the ones that seem to be most important to you.
Some questions are more appropriate for the hiring manager, but others are best asked of potential co-workers, the recruiter, and/or the human resources people. As indicated, some questions are better asked at the beginning of the interview while others are better for the middle or the end.
Read the list, and choose at least 10 questions that are the most important to you and relevant to the opportunity. You very likely will not ask even half of the questions listed below, but they are a good starting point for developing your own, depending on what is most important to you.
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 organization, your boss, your coworkers, and the environment before you accept the job offer.
Questions for the Interviewee to Ask
When the first round of interviews is being set up, be sure to ask for the names and job titles of the people (or person) who will be interviewing you. Knowing the names of the people who will be interviewing you will enable you to be better prepared (research them!), and knowing their job title will enable you to understand more about their hiring process.
During this initial "screening" 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.
Then, review the questions below to have your relevant 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.
⏩ Questions for the hiring manager:
If the person who is interviewing you is the hiring manager, ask these questions to learn more about this part of the organization and this person's management style:
How many people report directly to you? OR How large is your organization?
Do you want to work in an organization this size?
Who is your boss?
Hopefully, the answer will include both the name and the job title so you can determine where in the organization this job fits.
Reporting to someone who reports directly to the CEO or a vice president vs. reporting to someone who reports to a middle manager makes a big difference in the kind of visibility you will have in the job, which, depending on your goals and preferences, may be too much visibility or not enough.
When did you join this organization?
This gives you some idea of how much the person really knows and understands about the organization.
If you can ask this question of several managers, the answer can also give you an idea of management turnover. In general, high turnover at any level is not a good sign of a successful, well-managed organization.
How would you describe your management style?
This may not be accurate, but it will give you an idea of the kind of manager the person wants to be. You can decide if that style is one you would like to work with.
If possible, ask a variation of this question of people who work for this manager to see what they say the manager's management style is.
Why are you successful here?
Gain insight into how this person defines success, and how they know someone will be successful in the organization.
Test the manager's view by asking other employees why the manager is successful.
What do you enjoy most about working here?
Does that description sound like the kind of work environment you would fit into and, hopefully, enjoy?
This answer also gives you an indication of what this manager considers "enjoyable" which may fit with what you like -- or not.
What makes your most successful employees succeed?
Is the manager describing the job you are interviewing for or a different job?
If the manager describes this job, are the actions of the most successful employees something you could -- and would want to -- do?
Again, ask other employees this question to see if you can find a theme here (do-able job? bad manager? or ??). Then, you can decide if this job could work for you.
What skills and experience would make someone successful in this job?
The answer to this question helps you understand what the employer is looking for and also helps you understand if you would like this job.
Does this sound like a job you could -- and would want to -- do?
Why is this job open now?
If this is a brand new job, that can be an indication that the whole organization -- or this part of it -- is growing. Being part of a rapidly growing organization can be great because of the many opportunities provided. OR it can be terrible if management isn't able to effectively cope with the growth.
If this is not a new job, ask about where the person who last had the job is now. Were they promoted or did they move to a different part of the organization (and different manager)?
Again, ask other employees this question to see if you can find a theme here. Then, you can decide if this job will work for you.
Do keep in mind that some new jobs work out very well, others need to be modified, and other new positions end up being management mistakes.
What is the biggest challenge someone will face in this job in the first 6 months?
Understanding the employer's "pain" will will help you provide better answers to their questions of you.
If their biggest pain is staying on schedule, include your skills and experience enabling you to keep your projects or work tasks done on time in your answers and success stories.
Understanding their biggest challenge will also give you an idea of whether or not the job sounds interesting to you.
⏩ Questions for co-workers:
If the person would be a co-worker, learn more about how things look from this person's level by asking questions like these:
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. Their answer will enable you to ask them the most relevant questions.
How long have you worked for this employer?
This gives you insight into how much this person really knows about the job, the manager, and the organization as a whole.
How long have you been in this job?
Usually, it is a good sign that someone has working in the organization for a while and moved to this job. It could be a sign that this part of the employer's organization has a good internal reputation.
Depending on what the job is, moving to this job from a different part of the organization or being promoted may also indicate good opportunities for employees to learn, grow, and, hopefully, increase their income.
Are you glad you took this job? Are you happy to be working here? Why?
If the person is honest with you, this can be very valuable information, particularly if you have similar goals.
In a group interview, the answers given may be focused more on protecting their own jobs than in giving you a realistic answer. Keep that in mind when you ask this question. It may be best avoided if the hiring manager is present or able to listen.
What makes someone successful in this job?
Compare the co-worker's answer to this question with the manager's answer to get a different (possibly more realistic) perspective on this job. Ask follow-on questions if necessary so you get a good understanding of what succeeding in this job requires.
Again, does this sound like something you could -- and would want to -- do?
Have you received any training here or taken any classes this employer paid for?
Learning if this employer invests in their employees is very important. Some do, and some don't. This can be very important for your growth in your career.
Have long do people typically stay in this job? How many coworkers have left? Where did they go?
Staff turnover is an important indicator of job satisfaction, especially if they leave the employer's organization to go somewhere else inside the organization or if they leave this employer.
If most of them have been promoted, consider that a good sign. If most left to work for a different employer, be cautious. This might be an indicator that this is not a good place to work.
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.
Regardless of who you are asking these questions, the answers to these questions will 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 to get an idea if this job is what you expect and want.
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. Does it work for you?
How long did the last employee stay in this job? What are they doing now?
Hopefully, you are replacing someone who has been promoted or moved to another part of the organization.
This is very important information. More about this below.
What is the top priority for someone in this job?
Regardless of what the job description might indicate, the answer to this question will give you a good idea of whether or not you will like -- and succeed -- at this job.
What is the biggest challenge for someone doing this job?
The answer to this question gives you an indication of whether or not you can succeed in this job, again, regardless of what the job description seemed to indicate.
The biggest challenge may be overcoming an obstacle that may be hard for you to achieve, or, on the other hand, very easy for you to achieve.
What is the key to success in this job? Why?
How does this answer align with the hiring manager's answer to this question? Don't be afraid to ask follow-on questions to clarify the answer if you are given something generic like "work hard."
Does that "key" sound like something you would be comfortable with?
Test this answer by asking several employees.
What are the most important skills of the person who does this job?
Do these skills sound appropriate to you? Do the skills mentioned fit your understanding of this job and the requirements?
Do you have these skills?
What is the key thing someone does to be successful in this job?
Discover if internal "political" skills are the most important or if people are considered successful because of specific kinds of accomplishments (sales made, reports created, or whatever is appropriate for this job).
How is success in this job measured by you? By the organization?
This helps you understand the goals you will have and the skills or accomplishments that are valued by the employer, your co-workers, and your boss.
This answer may also give you some insight into how raises and/or bonuses are earned.
What is the biggest challenge someone in this job faces on a daily (or weekly or monthly) basis?
Hopefully, this will help you understand the problems you will face in this job so you can decide if this job will be a good fit for you. If the biggest challenge is working with someone (or for someone), take notice, and ask for more information.
If anyone has failed at this job, why did they fail? What mistakes did they make?
The failures described, if any, will help you understand what is really required for this job. Would you have made the same mistakes? How can you avoid making those same mistakes?
Are you comfortable -- or NOT -- with what is considered failure in this job / organization?
What do you expect the person in this job to accomplish in the first 30, 60, or 90 days?
Choose the time frame(s) most relevant to you and this job.
The first few months in a job are usually the toughest as you learn your job and how to work successfully in this organization. Do the accomplishments described fit with the description of the job? Ask for clarifications as appropriate.
Consider if those expectations seem reasonable to you? Do you think you can meet them?
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.
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 is it a replacement for someone?
A 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.
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?
Careful! You don't want to take a job that needs to be filled every few months unless it's an entry-level/training job and people leave it because they are promoted.
If the people who had this job in the past left the organization after a short stay, view this as a potentially bad sign, indicating that the job and/or management may not be good.
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.
"Exempt" employees are not usually paid for over-time (thus the term "exempt"), even if they work MANY extra hours a week.
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? How many hours a week?
Ask these questions 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."
Some employers may allow employees to work from home, but 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 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?
Job descriptions are often incomplete and/or inaccurate. This is an opportunity to learn more about the job to see if it will be a good fit for you.
What are your future plans for this job?
Hopefully, the answer to this question will give you an idea if this job is going to disappear in the near future or be a more long-term part of the organization.
What are the prospects for growth for the person in this job?
See if you can uncover a "career path" inside this employer's organization, so you will become more expert without needing to find another job with a different employer.
Ask if they provide OJT (on the job training), pay for training, or expect you to be responsible for your own training?
How long do people stay in this job?
Be wary of a job with high turnover. It could be the job, the manager, or something else that makes the job unsatisfying.
How often is this job open?
If this is not a brand new job, ask where the last employee went when they left this job.
A job which is open often may be a bad sign or simply an indicator that this is a "starter" job for many employees.
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 of all the managers plus the name of the person who writes the performance report for the person in this job.
Is travel to meet with clients or suppliers or to represent this organization required for this job? If so, where, how long, how far, and how often?
Does the amount of travel work for you? If not, you may be able to see if the amount of travel changes for different times of the year.
Travel may drop (or increase, if you prefer) as you become more senior. See if there is some other variable you may be able to control that will impact the amount of travel.
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.
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 This Question to Learn What You Might Have Missed (and How the Interviewer Thinks)
When you feel you have asked all of your questions about the job, the people, and the organization, ask this question:
What question should I have asked that I didn't ask?
The answer to this question could give you very useful insight into the person answering and the organization. If the interviewer brushes it off, they are probably not interested in sharing or not interested in your candidacy for the job.
If they do answer, you will probably learn some very interesting things about the organization that can help you decide if it would be a good place for you to work.
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 may 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.
Questions to Ask So You Know What Happens Next
Now, ask the 5 essential MUST-ASK "housekeeping" questions so that you will understand what happens 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.
If you don't ask those questions, you risk being 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.