By now, job seekers should know the two cardinal rules of interview questions:
1. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, have something to ask.
2. You should walk into the interview room prepared to answer the classic questions, such as, “What is your biggest weakness?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
But there’s an often-overlooked rule that you should remember for your own good:
3. You should ask important questions at every step of the hiring process, from the first time you speak to the hiring manager to the last conversation you have with him.
Have a list of questions ready before you start. You don’t need to ask these questions to look good to the employer; you need to ask them to learn about the employer. You are interviewing employers just as much as they’re interviewing you.
Here are 11 questions you should ask employers in the interview process:
When you receive the first call before the in-person interview:
No. 1: Whom will I be interviewing with?
The best way to adequately prepare for an interview is to know whom you’ll be speaking with. You’ll likely have different questions for the hiring manager than you would for the entire team or the department head. You’ll also want to do some research on the interviewers so you can ask them personalized, insightful questions.
Plus, if the employer can’t give you specific names, you have to wonder if they’re taking the situation seriously and are even a legitimate business. For all you know, you could end up in a room with 30 other applicants on the receiving end of a sales pitch. If a serious employer calls you for an interview, they’ll already have interviewers lined up and should have no problem sharing their names.
No. 2: Does the opportunity involve commission sales or purchase of a sales kit?
If you get a call out of the blue for a position you never expressed interest in, you have a right to be skeptical. If the position sounds confusing or the description is too vague, dig deeper. If you get the feeling the position requires you to purchase a sales kit or there is no base salary, and you’re not interested in that type of role, ask about it upfront. A reputable employer will answer directly and trust that you’ll know if the position is right for you.
No. 3: Can you tell me more about the opportunity and why you think my qualifications are a good fit?
You’ve spent a lot of time customizing your résumé so that employers know you’re serious about their specific role. You used keywords and quantified results to prove your worth. If employers can’t pinpoint what attracted them to you, then they’re probably not looking for a great worker to help grow with the role. They’re looking for anyone who will accept the offer and won’t hesitate to replace you if it doesn’t work out.
During the interview:
No. 4: What are your short- and long-term goals for the position?
Employers will probably ask about your career goals, but you should ask them what they want the person in this position to achieve. Are they concerned with increasing revenue, visibility, leads, improving morale or any number of other things? You want to know that they have a purpose for this position and aren’t just looking for a temporary solution.
No. 5: Can you tell me why the last person left this job?
They might not tell you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If the person got promoted or took a better job elsewhere, that’s a sign that the position is a good way to advance a career.
No. 6: Who are the primary people I’ll be working with on a daily basis?
Where does this role fit in the overall structure of the team and the business? Will you interact with people who can help your career? Will you spend most of your days in silence, typing on a computer? All that matters is that you receive an answer that appeals to you.
No. 7: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the person taking this role?
No position is perfect. In fact, some jobs are created to address a problem that needs to be solved. That could very well be what attracted you to the job. An honest employer will tell you what struggles lie ahead. That’s your opportunity to turn the answer around as a challenge you’re happy to accept and present some ideas of how you would tackle the obstacles. If the employer makes it sound too good to be true, it probably is.
No. 8: Do you have any doubts about my fit for the position? I’d be glad to clear anything up for you.
Not all interviewers ask direct questions or are even very good at interviewing, so you might have to prompt them to tell you what their concerns are. Now is the only chance you have to clarify anything, so make sure you leave no question unanswered.
No. 9: What is the timeline for filling the position?
You deserve to know when a decision might be made and what the next steps are. Hiring managers have a ballpark idea of how long the interviewing process will take, whether candidates will have to come back for another interview, and when a decision will be made. It might not be exact, but at least you have an idea of what to expect.
After the interview:
No. 10: Have you made a decision? (If the given deadline has passed)
If the hiring manager says it will be a week before you hear back, wait an extra day or two (or even three). Then follow up to see if a decision has been made. Don’t pester her and don’t show up at the office — that won’t win you any points. A quick email to ask how the process is going is enough.
No. 11: Do you have any recommendations for how I could improve my interviewing skills?
If you don’t get the position, you’ll be disappointed, but use it as an opportunity to improve your interviewing skills. Some employers won’t give you tips, but others might give you feedback that will help you on the next interview.