how many questions can you ask in a job interview?

A reader writes:

How many questions are OK to ask in a job interview while being respectful of time? I usually try to squeeze in as many as I can while monitoring how much time my interviewer seems to have available for questioning.

I have asked as many as 5-6 questions before, but I usually have more about aspects of the work and organizational culture that can take longer for the interviewer to answer. I find that even if I have other contacts at the organization who I can learn from, I still like to ask the interviewer some of the same information to get a second viewpoint, which makes the number of potential questions to ask very long. Is there a good rule of thumb?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Colorado CrazyCatLady

    My problem with questions in an interview is that I usually try to ask them as they come up – otherwise, there’s no way I’ll remember them all at the end. I usually have a few of the usual questions prepared for the end in case, but most of the time, due to the conversational nature, I have very few questions left by the time they ask if I have any questions.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      This is one of the reasons I think it should be more widely accepted for a candidate to take notes during an interview.

      Reply
      1. Anon Anon

        It’s not widely accepted? Perhaps that is where I’ve screwed up in the past. I’ve always jotted down a few notes about key things. Because I won’t remember them!

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        1. Mike C.

          I don’t think you screwed up by doing so (I certainly do!) but I’ve seen comments here from folks saying how “it’s really weird” and therefore think the candidate is weird and that leads to gut feelings and people jumping to conclusions.

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          1. DecorativeCacti

            Oh, jeez. I’ve recently been wrestling with whether taking notes and/or having prepared questions would be a no-no and this isn’t helping clarify!

            Reply
          2. fposte

            Oh, I missed that. We always tell everybody at the beginning of the interview that we’ll be taking notes and it’s fine if they’d like to as well.

            Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s very much accepted for candidates to take notes to an interview. You can always find a few outliers who have a problem with anything, but it’s very much an established norm that it’s fine to do that. I would guard against extrapolating anything from a couple of people expressing an outlier viewpoint!

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        1. Morrigan

          I was recently told that the only thing that was acceptable to bring to an interview was nothing (as in empty handed), and to just remember any questions I might have. I myself bring a small notebook and a pen/pencil, and usually a copy of my resume.

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          1. AnotherHRPro

            As someone who interviews, it is totally normal for people to come with a portfolio with information documented – questions, key points about their qualifications they want to be sure to reference, etc. I’ve never seen this held against a candidate. If anything, it shows that the individual has taken serious time to prepare.

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          2. Jerry Vandesic

            I always take an extra copy of my resume. It has come in handy multiple times. I often bring a notebook, mostly to hold the resume. I’ve found that I rarely have time to take notes.

            Reply
        2. Mike C.

          I could have sworn that even you thought it was a little strange, but if I’m misremembering I appreciate the clarification.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I wonder if you’re thinking of either the person who wanted to tape record their interview, or the person who wanted to read their answers directly from notes.

            Reply
    2. Language Lover

      As an interviewer and interviewee, I prefer that. It creates a more natural environment than everyone going around the table and asking one question, the interviewer answering and then all the questions at the end. The only exception would be if the question is unrelated to what we had previously been discussing.

      Reply
      1. Colorado CrazyCatLady

        Yeah, it definitely feels less awkward and contrived, and to me, it shows that I’m paying attention and that my questions are actually relevant, but I don’t know if all interviewers agree!

        Reply
    1. TCO

      As an applicant, I often don’t really even find the answer that interesting. It’s an interesting thing to know about my coworkers, but not so much about an interviewer I may never even see again.

      My preferred get-to-know-my-interviewer question is, “What do you like best about working at XYZ Corp. and what do you find challenging about working here?” I find the answers usually give me insight about my interviewer because they’ll talk about themselves a bit, but I also get a lot of insight into the company culture. It’s a really helpful question for me.

      Reply
    2. DDJ

      I really prefer being asked “What keeps you here?” because I feel like that’s much more indicative of the type of place it is to work. I mean, sometimes it can put you in a weird spot (especially if you’re just there for the paycheque, which I think is just as good a reason as most). But if you really like it there, it’s a chance to talk about company culture or growth opportunities.

      Reply
  2. Anon Anon

    I usually have 5-6 questions prepared, but based on the conversation and the time it’s taking I typically only ask 3-4 questions. So I usually star the questions I think are most important for me. So at least I know that the ones I feel are most critical there will be time for during the interview.

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    1. myswtghst

      I did something pretty similar when I was interviewing last year – I would come prepared with at least a few questions (based on advice shared here, as well as that specific job’s interview process and my research on that job so far), and just star the questions which seemed most pertinent or weren’t answered during the course of the interview.

      Reply
  3. Language Lover

    It’s great advice to keep the questions about things that could make you accept or turn down the job.

    I find candidates tend to feel they need to ask a question and sometimes ask questions that are more appropriate for training/orientation than a job interview. For instance, if they’re asking about our policy if a customer doesn’t have exactly the appropriate paperwork for what they want to do. Or which department resets passwords. Or how a candidate, if they’re hired, should let me know they’re sick and will miss a day. I can’t imagine my answers to these questions would really influence a candidate one way or another as to whether or not they accept the job.

    So it’s a smart idea to think about the purpose of the questions before asking them just to ask them.

    Reply
    1. Ellen N.

      I agree with you about all of the questions except the one about how employees are supposed to notify the firm about sick days. I’ve worked at two companies where I was required to call and talk to a manager so that they could verify that I was really sick enough to be unable to work. This included when I was in the hospital for a week. I had to set an alarm each morning so that I could call when a manager would be in. They weren’t willing to accept a call from my husband. I never again want to work for a company with that policy.

      Reply
    2. Anxa

      Oh!

      I’m actually always very interested to find how time off works. I’ve only every worked in one salary style job, and that was in in college on campus.

      If I have another offer or other options, I absolutely want to know if I’ll have to be stressed about finding coverage for a sick day (especially since I work as a temp or contract worker usually), if I have to submit a day off request for things like weddings or training sessions or other big events and not know if I have the day off until the last minute, etc. I don’t mind working so much as I mind managing my employment situation (a common thread for me) as I hate negotiating.

      I also would really like to know about how the company handles policies and the rules. I really like having either the autonomy to manage my own decisions and use judgement OR having clear cut policies and rules to follow. My least favorite part of waitressing was being responsible for a section, but not having the power to authorize my own typo overrides and having to find a manager in the middle of a busy Saturday night to authorize something.

      Reply
  4. AnotherHRPro

    I think it is great that the OP has so many questions. I am always worried about candidates that don’t seem to have questions as changing employers is a big decision.

    I always advise folks to prioritize the questions by what do you need to know to make you feel comfortable moving forward to the next step in the process. You most likely have questions you will eventually need to know before accepting an offer, but you don’t need those answered in a phone screen. But you probably have some questions you will want answered before committing to an in person interview.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      When I’ve found myself not having a great deal of questions to ask, it’s usually because my current situation is so terrible that I don’t care. I wonder if that’s the case with others.

      Reply
  5. TheBard

    I’ve had the problem where I’ve prepared a few questions, and then the interview starts with a spiel about the job, hours, duties, qualifications required of the candidate, timeline for the hiring process, etc. and they cover all the answers to my questions. So I either have to come up with something on the fly, or when they ask, I end up saying, “You actually answered all the questions I had.” I think it would be worse to ask a question when you were already given the answer, which makes it seem like you weren’t listening. Once I said something to the effect that “I was going to ask you about X, but I think you’ve covered that fully.” That worked OK, but, especially when there’s been a good back and forth, the “We covered all my questions,” has gone over pretty well.

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  6. EE

    I have a line I usually say after my questions: “I think that’s all from me for the moment.” It signals that I may have more things to explore prior to an actual job offer but that at present I’m happy enough with what I’ve learned.

    Reply
  7. SusanIvanova

    Too many questions? After the recent discussion with so many people talked about getting stuck at that part of the interview, I’m amazed. I’ve been interviewing at a place I used to work at, one that’s become so famous since then that articles get written about the work culture, and I still feel like I’m expected to ask the usual “what’s it like to work here?”

    Reply
  8. Rebeck

    I had an interview yesterday and even if I’d wanted to ask a second question I couldn’t have. As soon as they’d answered my first question the panel chair moved on. I’m sure this could be a bad sign, but the interviews I’ve experienced are so out of sync with what’s described here that I’m never sure how many pinches of salt to take with what’s said here. Eg at the end of yesterday’s interview (30 mins, four person panel, almost certainly the only interview stage for the job) I was taken on a tour of the workplace and allowed to meet potential colleagues. At my previous workplace we weren’t even allowed to know who had applied for a position and we certainly never met candidates.

    Reply
  9. Non-profiteer

    Several years ago I was on the hiring committee for a new pastor at my church. One of the candidates we interviewed was very obviously the wrong fit, and we realized as a group immediately. But, because of the setting (we’re a church, for god’s sake, so we have to be nice – and we were a group with no true leader doing the interview, so there wasn’t a natural person to shut it down), we had to carry out the interview. We tried to be as brief with our questions as possible, and then we asked if she had any questions, as is standard practice.

    She pulled out a legal pad which had multiple pages of writing on it, and started going down a list of questions that included things like “I was on the homepage of the website, and did you know that there is a typo on line 5?” After about 5 questions, when it was clear she fully intended to ask them all, someone finally spoke up and said the committee actually had some other business to discuss and we’d have to finish this later. I think God would forgive him his white lie. :)

    So, OP – don’t be that person.

    Reply
  10. Winger

    I applied for a job not long ago and have reason to believe I’ll at least be interviewed. I have SO MANY QUESTIONS about the job. It’s an organization I know very well, and they’ve been restructuring so lots of stuff is different, including the scope of the position I’m applying for. I almost want to have an hour long informational interview to orient myself before (if) I get offered an actual interview.

    Reply

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