There’s a moment in every job interview when the tables turn. A moment, usually toward the end, when all of a sudden the interviewer becomes the interviewee. It’s time to come up with questions to ask in a job interview.
“So, do you have any questions for me?” the interviewer usually asks.
Yes, yes, you do have questions, but usually, everything you want to know goes flying out of your head and all you can say is, “Um, yeah, um, so, do you like working here?”
Yeah, that’s not going to cut it.
The questions you ask might be presented as an opportunity for you to learn more—and that’s true—but they’re also an opportunity for the interviewer to learn more about you.
“If they don’t ask any questions in the first interview, I usually toss the resume immediately,” says Britt Knutson, a hiring manager for commercial real estate company in Santa Monica, CA. “It just shows a lack of interest.”
But, what questions will give you (and them) the most information?
Great question! And you’re in luck, because we’ve got answers. Here are the smartest questions to ask in a job interview.
“What are some common attributes of people who succeed in your organization?”
“That question paints a picture and helps you identify if you have those attributes,” says Nina de Keczer, senior talent advisor at Mozilla.
“What brought you to the company?”
“This lets us talk about different parts of the company that aren’t always specific to the job,” says Knutson.
“What do you love about working at [company]?”
“I love when people ask me what I love about working at my company,” adds de Keczer. “Usually, there will be a few things and you can get a sense of the company.”
Both de Keczer and Knutson say that doing some research on the company before your interview and tailoring a question around that can go a long way in showing your excitement and interest.
“I read about the recent and wanted to know more about ”
“The candidates that can pull something that they genuinely find interesting out of a recent news article or something going on at the company are always impressive,” says de Keczer.
“Once you apply, do your research,” she continues. “But the most important thing is being genuine, so it doesn’t come across as ‘I did my research because I’m supposed to and here’s a question.’ Instead it’s, ‘Hey, I read this and it really intrigued me and I have a question.’”’
Day to day
“What is an average day like?”
“’What’s an average day?’ shows me they’re really trying to understand what the position is instead of sending out their resumes to 500 different companies and seeing who gives them a call back,” says Knutson. “We want someone that shows interest.”
While important, de Keczer points out that asking about the day-to-day might not be a question for the first interview.
“This question depends on who you’re talking to,” she explains. “The recruiter is typically a culture fit screen. So, I don’t know that day-to-day. My goal is to find out if someone’s going to be a general fit and then I want to move them on to the next step which would be to talk to the manager, where they’d ask a different set of questions that would be more targeted.”
If you like your co-workers, and you like the company you work for, odds are you’re going to be happier and do better work. So, a big part of a recruiter’s job is finding someone who will fit in well at the company. But a big part of your job as a interviewee is making sure the company fits in with you.
“How would you describe the culture at [your company]?”
“Just flat out ask the question,” says de Keczer. “Genuine goes much farther than clever.”
But if you want a more in-depth look at the culture, Knutson suggests asking about life after work hours.
“What kind of off-hours stuff do you do to hang out after work?”
“I had someone that asked that and I liked it, because it gave me the opportunity to share that the company has a life outside of work instead of everyone goes home after work, they never talk, they’re not friends, it’s like ‘Okay, clock in, clock out, adios,’”says Knutson.
Money: easy to spend, hard to talk about. But to avoid wasting everyone’s time, it’s important to talk about salary as early as possible.
“What is the usual salary range for this position?”
“Bring it up in the first interview,” Knutson advises. “I’d rather them ask it as soon as possible because if they’re looking for a certain range and our position clearly can’t pay for it, I’d rather clear it up in the beginning rather than go through three rounds of interviews only to get to brass tacks and be disappointed. At the end of the first interview, I usually ask, ‘Do you have any questions?’ I like to get the money questions there.”
“Does your company use common salary surveys to set their benchmarks for compensation?”
“Big companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Mozilla typically use salary survey data from companies like Radford or Towers Watson because we want to pay fairly against the market,” de Keczer explains. “We don’t want someone to join us only to find out they’re underpaid and leave for another company. But it’s hard because if you’re with smaller companies, they may not do that market research. So asking if they use salary surveys can not only impress a recruiter by showing them that you know about how comp is set up, but it tells you a lot too. If they say yes, then chances are that company is paying competitively.”
The questions that make you stand out as a candidate are the questions that make the interviewer think.
“At the end of the day, I’m standing across the street from your company’s office and people are walking out the door at five. What facial expressions will I see?”
“This one came from a recruiter—I also recruit recruiters—but it totally caught me off guard because you can picture it,” says de Keczer. “I thought about how hard people work here, so, of course, they’re tired. But people enjoy what they’re doing. [That question] got me to describe more about the culture here.”
“Do you love to win or do you hate to lose?”
“An interviewee once asked me, ‘Do you love to win or do you hate to lose?’ It still sticks in my mind, and I think it’s been four years,” says Knutson. “She said, ‘There’s no right or wrong answer. I just want to know.’ It stood out so much, I went home and Googled it later. People get different answers to that question and it’s a way to gauge how tenacious a company is. It’s almost like a weird artsy movie, like Darren Aronofsky’s Mother, where everyone gets something different out of it.”
And for the record, she got the job.