Career Advice

Ten Questions You Should Ask in a Job Interview

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By: Steve Choquette (6 min read)

“Do you have any question for me?” Ah, the dreaded question of a hiring manager just before they end the interview. Whether you are a searching for your first job, or are an experienced professional looking for that next career step, it is good to learn more about role or company while at the same time showing your interest and regard for the position.

Remember that while the company is interviewing you, you are also interviewing them.  It is vital that you do your research in advance and ask questions to discern whether the job will delight or disgust you. You probably won’t get to ask a lot of questions, so I’ve grouped my top 10 into categories.  Even if you only ask one from each category, you’ll still walk away from the interview informed.

The first bit of research you need to do is introspective.  What do you want to get out of this job – money, advancement, new skills, contribute to the corporate bottom line, make life better for humans or dogs or the planet, or be excited to go to work even on Mondays (it does happen).  Why is this introspection important?  Because if you don’t know what you want, how will you know if this company is a fit.

About the Job:

Questions to ask:

  • What are the most immediate projects that need to be addressed?
  • Can you show me examples of projects I’d be working on?
  • What are the biggest challenges that someone in this position would face?

What to listen for:

  • Are the projects you’d be assigned the type where you could excel? Very few people aim to be at the bottom.
  • Do the projects excite you? If they sound boring, then imagine having to go into the office and do them daily.  Walk away.
  • Do you have the temperament to tackle the challenges? Some might call for an aggressive extrovert or an organized project manager; Is that you?

About Skills:

Questions to ask:

  • What are the skills and experiences you’re looking for in an ideal candidate?
  • What attributes does someone need to have in order to be really successful in this position?
  • What types of skills is the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?

What to listen for:

  • Are my skills and experiences a good fit for this position?
  • Could I demonstrate proficiency in these skills, based on my schooling and experience, or do I have cursory knowledge of the topic. If the latter, you will be starting the job in a hole.  Initially, only you will know how deep that hole is.  You don’t want it to be obvious to everyone in the first weeks.

About Opportunities:

Questions to ask:

  • Are there opportunities for advancement or professional development?

What to listen for:

  • Is there room with this position for me to grow my skills, to advance in the company, and progress towards my career goals?

About Culture:

Questions to ask:

  • How would you measure my success in this role?
  • What do you like most about working for this company?
  • What is the typical career path for someone in this role?

What to listen for:

  • The business world went through a period where they “ranked” individuals against each other on the assumption that there was only so much money to give for pay raises and promotions so give it to the top 10% of employees. This did not work as expected.  Students that received A’s in college found themselves at the bottom of the ranking.  Employees were afraid to take new jobs for fear of their low ranking while they were getting up to speed.  And in a strong economy, no pay raise motivates you to look elsewhere, not work harder for a company that does not value your contribution.
  • What does it tell you if the hiring manager is not excited about their job or the company you’re interviewing? Run, don’t walk away.
  • Asking about your predecessor’s next move should give you an idea of whether the role you’re interviewing for will give you the skills and experience to move up in the company.

And two bonus questions:

  • Is there anything else that I could provide to help you make your decision?
  • What is your timeline for deciding, and when can I expect to hear back from you?

Asking questions your interview will demonstrate your interest in the position, your drive to excel in the role, and that you did your research homework.

The same recommendations that work for the interviewer also work for the interviewee.  Make sure your questions are focused and open-ended.  You will learn very little with a simple Yes or No question. Your goal is not to stump the interviewer; it is to 1) convey that you’re the candidate they should hire and 2) help you decide whether this is the right position for you.

The old adage that “You won’t get a second chance to make a first impression” applies here.  Do your homework.  Be ready with several intelligent questions.  Good luck!

About the author:

After graduating from Virginia Tech with a MS in Computer Science, Steve Choquette started with IBM Federal Systems Division writing software for U.S. Navy sonar trainer systems. He helped IBM recruit the best college students well for over 21 years.  Steve is currently the offering manager responsible for building the Watson AI partner ecosystem.  He struggles balancing the traveling his job requires with the desire to spend time with his first grandchild.


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