what are the best questions to ask in a job interview, as either the interviewer or the candidate?

Over at the DailyWorth, where I’m the resident management coach, a reader asked this question:

I’ve hired for junior-level positions before, but for the first time, I need to interview candidates for a manager role. What questions should I be asking candidates at this level?

You can read my answer to this question here.

If you’re on the candidate’s side of things, there’s a question for you there too:

I was recently interviewed for a job, and when the interviewer asked me what questions I had for her, I didn’t know what to ask. Most of what I was wondering about had been covered earlier in the conversation. Is it OK to not ask questions at all in that situation? And if not, what are the best questions to ask?

My answer to that is on page 2 of the same article.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Kevin

    If you are interviewing and can ask a technical question that involves what the position deals with, it has the potential to really impress your interviews (at least for me and an entry-level position it did). For example, if you are interviewing for chocolate tea pot maker and ask what type of chocolate they make their tea pots from. Not the best example but I can’t top that using chocolate tea pots at the moment.

    1. Kerry

      So just to clarify, you mean that as someone being interviewed for a job, that question could impress your interviewer. Correct?

      1. Kevin

        Yes.

        I was being interviewed and I asked a question related to the position. It was something someone in the position would deal with and not a general “what does success look like?” They responded with “wow good question.”

  2. Jared

    I think questions about a company’s culture is definitely a must no matter what side of the table you’re on. That can mean the difference between a short term and long term employee.

  3. Brett

    I had a candidate recently ask question #4 in an interview. It was actually a very good question to ask because our culture is unique; not being scared off by the answer is a good sign in a candidate for us.

  4. Felicia

    I always ask #5 in every single interview, because i think how they answer that is revealing. I will definitely start asking #4 because my last job had a horrible culture of stress and fear. I don’t think they would have admitted that, but there could be many red flags.

  5. MR

    I asked the last question in an interview about three weeks ago. It was an eye-opener for the interviewer and it definitely caught him off-guard. I think he was impressed and I recommend others ask that question in future interviews.

  6. voluptuousfire

    Definitely used #5 in interviews. Most people rather liked the question. It did throw some interviewers though. If it threw them, I knew I didn’t want to work for them.

    One thing I ended up doing was creating a form for myself for job interviews with about a dozen general-ish questions (which included #4 and #5) and left a few blank spots for other questions as they came up. It really helped me organize my interviews and having my questions prepared so thoroughly shows I meant business.

  7. Anon

    One more tip for applicants: if you’re asked a question that asks you to talk about specific past experiences, don’t answer with hypotheticals! When I hire, I ask a lot of questions that begin “Tell me about a time…” and I’ve found that many candidates who are strong on paper really struggle to provide concrete real-life examples, even after additional prompting.

    1. Shelbt Theis

      Yes, yes, emphatically yes! An interviewer who chooses behavioral interviewing does so because they distinctly value hearing real world experiences over hypotheticals. Most candidates know how they should react in a given situation and can respond with a good hypothetical; however, often, what one should do in a given situation is not what they end up doing when it’s real life. I have had several memorable instances where prompting a specific example after being given a hypothetical has proven this-people do not always behave in real life as they like to think they would.

  8. Pararetail

    In my last interview about two weeks ago (got the job!), I asked a combo of #1 and #2 and then a general, “What are the qualities you look for in a candidate for this position?” I’d worked for the company before and made it clear in my answers that I remembered the corporate beliefs/goals/etc, so I felt comfortable asking more general questions. I had two interviewers, and they both lit up and sat up straighter when I asked my first question. The interview lasted another 20 minutes, with *them* answering *my* questions and giving some incredible advice and pointers on how to succeed.

    Point: *always* ask at least one question, and if your interviewer(s) seem engaged, have a second ready to ask, even if you think they’ve already answered it. (That’s what I did. I said, “I think you’ve already answered this–it was going to be blah blah blah,” and off they went.) It’s a great way to cement your interest in the company and a good way to gauge how well you interviewed. And if you have a panel interview, it’s a great way to see how the co-workers interact; mine were of equal level but from different locations and clearly had a healthy, friendly rapport–and were on the same page on how to do things. I didn’t see any part of that while they were taking turns asking me canned, corporate questions. That would have been an unfortunate opportunity to miss.

  9. Vicki

    Three of my favorite questions as a candidate are:
    * Please describe this position in your own words.
    * If I got the job and we would work together, what might that interaction be like?
    and
    * What question should I ask that I haven’t asked?

    The third above is my favorite question when I’m interviewing someone.

  10. McGuest

    I always ask about company culture (#4) when I’m interviewing.

    I’ve learned the hard way that “We work hard, but we play hard” is code for “We will overwork you so much that you will be driven to drink.”

    If it’s not readily apparent, I ask about the management style of the person immediately over me. If they are an extreme workaholic, a micromanager, or are described as “fiery” then I am probably not going to be a good fit.

  11. Crystal

    What skills or experiences are you looking for that may not be on my resume?

    This is a great way to learn what you may need to improve on or help prove to the hiring manager that you are the best person for the job.

  12. cwes1492

    I completely agree with AAM’s advice on whether a job applicant should ask questions of an interviewer if those questions had already been covered. I recently interviewed a guy for an open position that received a lot of applications. He had no questions for me. Zero. He said it was because they’d been answered during the course of our conversation, but to me it seemed like he hadn’t put any thought or prep into the interview, and we ended up going with another candidate who seemed to have taken a more thoughtful approach.

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