what are the best questions to ask in a job interview?

I’ve long been surprised by how many people don’t ask good questions when their interviewer gives them the opportunity. A surprising number of candidates don’t have many questions at all, or simply use the time to try to further pitch themselves for the job. To me, this is crazy – after all, this is a job that you’re considering spending 40 or more hours at a week, and which might have a huge impact on your career and your quality of life for years to come. You should have questions!

But people understandably worry about what to ask. They worry about looking demanding or nitpicky, or that they’ll otherwise be negatively judged for the things they want to know. They also worry that they don’t quite know how to suss out the information they really want about the job or the manager or the company.

And other people are unclear on the purpose of the opportunity to ask questions. Rather than using the time to suss out the information they truly want about the job, the manager, and the company, they instead try to use it as a chance to further impress their interviewer and pitch themselves for the job. That ends up leaving them without the info they need to decide if the job is right for them or not. (It also tends to be pretty transparent, and will annoy interviewers who don’t appreciate having their time wasted that way.)

So, what should you ask when it’s your turn to question your interviewer? Here are 10 really strong questions that will get you useful insights into whether the job is right for you.

Questions About the Position

1. “How will you measure the success of the person in this position?”

This gets right to the crux of what you need to know about the job: What does it mean to do well, and what will you need to achieve in order for the manager to be happy with your performance?

You might figure that the job description already laid this out, but it’s not uncommon for a job description to be the same one an employer has been using for the last ten years, even if the job changed significantly during that time. Companies often post job descriptions that primarily use boilerplate language from HR, while the actual manager has very different ideas about what’s most important in the role. Also, frankly, most employers just suck at writing job descriptions (which is why so many of them sound like they were written by robots rather than humans), so it’s useful to have a real conversation about what the role is really about. You might find out that while the job posting listed 12 different responsibilities, your success really just hinges on 2 of them, or that the posting dramatically understated the importance of 1 of them, or that the hiring manager is battling with her own boss about expectations for the role, or even that the manager has no idea what success would look like in the job (which would be a sign to proceed with extreme caution).

2. “What are some of the challenges you expect the person in this position to face?”

This can get at information you’d never get from the job description — like that you’ll have to deal with messy interdepartmental politics, or that the person you’ll be working with most closely is difficult to get along with, or that you’ll need to work within draconian budget restrictions on your program.

It can also create an opening for you to talk about how you’ve approached similar challenges in the past, which can be reassuring to your interviewer. I don’t recommend asking questions just so you can follow up with a sales pitch for yourself — that’s annoying and usually pretty transparent — but if asking about challenges leads to a real discussion of how you’d approach them, it can be genuinely useful for you both.

3. “Can you describe a typical day or week in the job?”

If the job description mentioned a combination of admin work and program work, it’s important to know whether 90 percent of your time will be spent on the admin work or if the split is more like 50/50. Or you might find out that the part of the job that you were most excited about actually only comes up every six months. But even barring major insights like that, the answer to this question can just help you better visualize what it will actually be like to be in the job day after day.

Tip: Some interviewers will respond to this question with, “Oh, every day is different.” If that happens, try asking, “Can you tell me what the last month looked like for the person in the job currently? What took up most of their time?”

If nothing you try gets you a clear picture of how your time will be spent, that might be a sign that you’ll be walking into chaos – or a job where expectations never get clearly defined.

4. “How long did the previous person in the role hold the position? What has turnover in the role generally been like?”

If no one has stayed in the job very long, that could be a red flag about a difficult manager, unrealistic expectations, lack of training, or some other land mine. If just one person left after a few months, that’s not necessarily a danger sign — after all, sometimes things just don’t work out. But if you hear there’s been a pattern of people leaving quickly, it’s worth asking, “Do you have a sense of what has led to the high turnover?”

Questions About Your Success in the Position

5. “What are you hoping this person will accomplish in their first six months and in their first year?”

This question can give you a sense of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and the pace of the team and organization. If you’re expected to have major achievements under your belt after only a few months, that tells you that they likely won’t give you a lot of ramp-up time. Which might be fine if you’re coming in with a lot of experience, but it might be worrisome otherwise. On the flip side, if you’re someone who likes to jump right in and start getting things done, you might not be thrilled to hear that most of your first six months will be spent in training.

This question can also draw out information about key projects that you wouldn’t otherwise have heard about.

6. “Thinking back to people you’ve seen do this work previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great at it?”

A job candidate asked me this question years ago, and it might be the strongest question I’ve ever been asked in an interview. The thing about this question is that it goes straight to the heart of what the hiring manager is looking for. Hiring managers aren’t interviewing candidates in the hopes of finding someone who will do an average job; they’re hoping to find someone who will excel at the job. And this question says that you care about the same thing. Sure, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll do extraordinary work, but it makes you sound like someone who’s at least aiming for that — someone who’s conscientious and driven, and those are huge things in a hiring manager’s eyes.

Plus, the answer to this question can give you much more nuanced insight into what it’ll take to truly excel in the job — and whatever the answer is, you can think about whether or not it’s something you’re likely able to do.

Questions About the Company

7. “How would you describe the culture here? What type of people tend to really thrive here, and what type don’t do as well?”

If the culture is very formal with lots of hierarchy and you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment, this might not be the right match for you. Similarly, if it’s a really competitive environment and you’re more low-key, or if they describe themselves as entrepreneurial and you prefer structure, it might not be an ideal workplace for you. If you don’t have a lot of other options, you still might decide to take the job anyway — but you’ll usually be happier if you know what you’re signing up for, and aren’t unpleasantly surprised after you start.

8. “What do you like about working here?”

You can learn a lot by the way people respond to this question. People who genuinely enjoy their jobs and the company will usually have several things they can tell you that they like about working there and will usually sound sincere. But if you get a blank stare or a long silence before your interviewer answers, or the answer is something like “the paycheck,” consider that a red flag.

9. Ask the question you really care about.

Sometimes people use their turn to ask questions in an interview solely as an additional chance to try to impress their interviewer — asking questions designed to reflect well on them (by making them look smart, thoughtful, or so forth) rather than questions designed to help them figure out if the job is even right for them in the first place. It’s understandable to want to impress your interviewer, but interviewing is a two-way street — you need to be assessing the job and the employer and the manager, and figuring out whether this is a job you want and would do well in. If you’re just focused on getting the job and not on whether it’s the right job for you, you’re in danger of ending up in a job where you’re struggling or miserable.

So before you interview, spend some time thinking about what you really want to know. When you imagine going to work at the job every day, what are the things that will most impact whether you’re happy with the work, with the culture, with the manager? Maybe it’s important to you to work in an informal culture with heavy collaboration. Maybe you care most about working somewhere with sane hours, where calls and texts on the weekend or in the evenings are rare. Maybe you’ve heard rumors about the stability of the funding for the position. Whatever’s important to you or that you’d want to have answered before you could know if you’d really want the job, think about asking it now.

Of course, you shouldn’t rely only on your interviewer’s answers about these things. You should also do due diligence by talking to people in your network who might have the inside scoop on the company’s culture or the manager you’d be working for, reading online reviews at places like Glassdoor, and talking to other people who work there.

Questions About Next Steps

10. “What’s your timeline for next steps?”

This is a basic logistics question, but it’s useful to ask because it gives you a benchmark for when you can expect to hear something back. Otherwise, if you’re like many people, in a few days you’re likely to start agonizing about whether you should have heard back about the job by now and what it means that you haven’t, and obsessively checking your phone to see if the employer has tried to make contact. It’s much better for your quality of life if you know that you’re not likely to hear anything for two weeks or four weeks or that the hiring manager is leaving the country for a month and nothing will happen until she’s back, or whatever the case might be.

Plus, asking this question makes it easy for you to check in with the employer if the timeline they give you comes and goes with no word. If they tell you that they plan to make a decision in two weeks and it’s been three weeks, you can reasonably email them and say something like, “I know you were hoping to make a decision around this time, so I wanted to check in and see if you have an updated timeline you can share. I’m really interested in the position and would love to talk more with you.”

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. MissGirl*

    The best question I asked during my last job hunt was “why would you tell me not to take this job.” Though it’s similar to what are the negatives, it brought out a more nuanced answer.

    The job I took had some really thoughtful answers about things that can be frustrating, all of which I could deal with. The one I rejected said there was no reason at all not to take the job. They also had a lot of negative Glassdoor ratings.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Interesting. I think I would possibly find that phrasing a little offputting as an interviewer. I like Alison’s phasing of #2 – What are the challenges. . .?

      People are different and they are looking for different things. A challenging aspect of a job just might be the thing one candidate wants, or it might be the thing that sends another candidate running away screaming.

      1. MissGirl*

        Possibly, but I asked it to about four different interviewers and they all seemed to really give it thoughtful answers other than the one. They seemed to appreciate the opening. It proved quite successful and I received offers from each. What brought it out was one interviewer asked me why a former manager would tell them not to hire me. I felt like it was a fair question back.

        After, when I started and those things came out I had more patience with it because I knew that was part of the job.

      2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        That’s interesting. For me as an interviewer, hearing that wording would make me think more about aspects of the job that I don’t consider challenging but that do need a right fit in a candidate. “This job has a lot of repetitive tasks. Don’t take this job if you prefer new challenges frequently.”
        But if you asked me about challenges I’m not sure that’s what I’d bring up, I’d talk more about the variable workflow or something.

        What might confuse me about “why would you tell me not to take this job” would be wondering whether I’m meant to answer for a generic you or to the specific strengths of the person I’m interviewing.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I think all the questions are really dependent on the type of job and candidate.

          I would agree with you on your take on the wording. One of the biggest challenges of a job could be boredom. We recently had a candidate talk about not liking his current job because they didn’t have good processes developed for his types of projects. Lack of processes is one of the challenges we have in our department right now, and something we mention to candidates who ask that type of question, so that contributed to him not being a good fit.

        2. MissGirl*

          So true. One of things they brought up wasn’t necessarily challenging but some employees found it annoying. The work goes through two reviews before submission. I actually saw it as a pro because I was changing careers and needed more learning.

    2. Snark*

      Having been on both sides of the table, I’d find that that question would really wrongfoot me as an interviewer.

      1. MissGirl*

        It wasn’t, of course, the first question I asked or the only one. It fit well into the conversations we were already having. I wouldn’t necessary ask it all the time. I think it’s important to remember that interviews are conversations and there are no fixed right or wrong beyond the obvious things. I asked Alison’s magic question and it fell flat and they didn’t offer much. Yet it another context it can work well.

        I can only speak to my experience. I received offers from each interview, and I felt like that was the question that gave me the most information about the varying nuances of the job. It opened the door to talk about the negatives in a way that was quite refreshing.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I think it can sound different on its own than it would in context, and I kind of like your using it as a response to the interviewer’s question. I think there may be ways of phrasing the same thing that might fly better in some places (I’ve seen, maybe from Alison “What kind of person doesn’t do well at this job?”, which is similar), but the question about the downsides of the job is a legitimate one.

        2. Snark*

          Yeah, I think I’m envisioning it sort of as “So, do you have any questions?” and an interviewee just dropping that on the table. And I think in that case I’d just sort of go……uh? So yeah, I believe it worked in context, but I think it’d need to be worked in judiciously.

      1. MissGirl*

        That’s okay. It may not be a question for every situation. Interviewing is a two-way street. Some of the questions I was asked were irritating but I assume it gave the hiring manager information they needed.

        Sorry, if my responding so much is annoying. I’m home sick today and stuck in bed.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Not saying it’s not a two way street, I just don’t think this is the ideal way to express this. I hope you feel better.

    3. ThatGirl*

      I feel like maybe a little better/different phrasing might be “what would make a candidate a bad fit for this job?”

      But I get what you’re going for.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Or the reverse, to be closer to MissGirl’s question: “What would make this job a poor fit for a candidate?”

        1. Anna*

          This I like. It’s more about the job than the person filling it. You’re going to get different responses based on phrasing, so if you’re trying to learn more about the job or how your interviewer sees the job, you shouldn’t have to ask about the candidate’s fit.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          Yes, I like this a lot better, and as someone who does interview candidates I think I would take this wording a lot better than the original.

      2. Anna*

        I don’t know. Phrasing it like that is still coming at it from a “this job is perfect; it’s the candidate that’s the problem” which doesn’t have the same feel. There’s no reflection on the actual job; just how the candidate would or would not fit into it.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Well, it was an on-the-fly edit, it may not be perfect — I think reasonable people can recognize that some jobs + people are bad fits, and it’s not a value judgment. But the job is the fixed point in this case; it’s the candidate that’s variable. So the point is to find the best fit for that position.

    4. FCJ*

      I’ve asked that question (really something like “what things don’t you like about your job”) to people who were on the hiring committee but not the final decision makers, and who would have been peers had I gotten the job. I got some really honest, thoughtful answers. I don’t think I would ask it of someone who would end up being above me in the food chain, but mainly because they might not be as equipped to answer it as someone on about the same level as the position being hired for.

    5. MissGirl*

      One thing I’m getting out of all the questions people have suggested is that you really need to know what you value and find a way to bring that up. I’m seeing questions about things I just don’t care about, but yet it obviously matters to someone.

      Also, have a lot of different questions in your back pocket prepared, depending on how the interview goes and what direction it takes. There are things that may or may not work at that time.

      1. Safetykats*

        I think I would never ask that question of the interviewer, assuming the interviewer is the hiring manager. I have had candidates ask to be set up to talk specifically to working-level people in similar positions, and I’ve had interviews where I was given time to talk with working level people. This type of question is good at that level, where you might actually get the info you’re looking for and a more honest conversation about what frustrates people actually in the job.

        As a hiring manager, I actually disagree with OP’s earlier statement about there being no right or wrong answers/questions. There are absolutely questions and answers that would make me write an otherwise qualified interviewee off in one. As an example – I once asked an interviewee (who had experience in our industry but not our specific area “why are you interested in a change from teapot design to teapot safety?” He answered “I’m really not, I just want to move back to teapot central.” And – gone in one.

    6. BarkusOrlyus*

      I think it’s funny that everyone’s telling you what a bad idea this was but that your interviews were all successful. Clearly, you know how to interview well. I do think that in context this could be a great question, it all depends on who you ask. I always ask something like “what personality type do you think is missing from the team that you think would be helpful”—I think interviewees are well within their rights to ask probing questions like this to find out what is wrong with the organization. It is, after all, a two-way street.

      That said, I don’t think these are questions for an entry-level applicant. But for a higher-level position, it’s absolutely fair game.

  2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    One of my favorite questions to ask is for the hiring manager to give me an outline of what a standard day at work would look like, as compared with a particularly intense day. I also make sure to ask what the career path looks like from the position in question — what does it lay the foundation for you to grow into? (This question may be more pertinent since most of my job interviews have been for lower-level positions where advancement is expected.)

    1. all aboard the anon train*

      I’ve never received a good answer to any variation of the “compare a standard day to an intense day” question. It almost always results in “well, every single day is different!” which is a bs answer imo.

      1. Berry*

        I got that “every day is different” response so often I started asking “Can you tell me what a typical week looks like?” instead of asking what a day looks like. That’s been able to give me a better picture of things (even when the interview starts their response with “Well, here are the tasks that you do every day”).

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          I tried that, too, and received similar answers, though slightly better. I can’t tell if the interviewers are just really bad at interviewing or if they’re just managers who don’t actually know what their direct reports do on a daily basis.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            In my case, it’s because my days really are very different depending on what I’m doing and there really is no such thing as a “typical” day. It completely depends on what I’m doing – if I’m running a research study I might be in the lab all day; if I just finished one maybe I’m writing a report; if I’m ramping into another one maybe I’m planning a study. I have lots of meetings and so some days I am in meetings the whole day. Others I might just be doing some long-range planning.

            Usually when people ask me this question I just pick a day from my previous week and describe that one, but I feel like that’s not really getting to the heart of what they want to know – I feel like usually they’re asking to get a feel for what the rhythm of work looks like in the role and whether every day they’ll be so bored they want to cry, or whether they’ll feel like they’re running around with barely enough time to think, or somewhere in between. Describing a week is somewhat better, but even that if they happen to get me during an anomalous week might not help them get what they want.

            So I’ll answer the question and describe one day – because one of my pet peeves is when people don’t actually answer the question I asked, and I try not to do that myself – but then I try to give additional context that helps them understand the rhythm of work in the role they’re interviewing for – what I think they were trying to get information about.

            1. Safetykats*

              If in interested enough in a candidate to invest the time, I usually try to set them up with a couple of working level people so they can get an answer from that level. Because while I can describe what my peoole do, it’s probably more meaningful from their pov.

            2. all aboard the anon train*

              I mean, if the days really are different, some explanation would be nice, even if it’s just describing one day, as you mention. Just a one sentence, “every day is different!” reply seems like a brush off and that’s what really bothers me.

      2. Librarygeek*

        Yeah, last time I tried that, none of the interviewers worked at the specific location they were hiring for and couldn’t give me much of an answer.

      3. hbc*

        That’s really odd. The days are pretty varied in my current company, but I could probably give you an answer to that question for every single person who works here. Have you ended up working at any of the companies where they blew this answer? Because my suspicion is a non-answer means “We run around like c our hair is on fire all the time, so there’s no such thing as a standard day.”

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Only the one I’m at now, and I took the job when I was too young to realize it was a sign that my manager was clueless about what her direct reports did (or anything in the department, for that matter).

          At companies I’ve interviewed at since then, I’ve either withdrawn from consideration or never moved on, but it’s happened often enough that I’m annoyed when I receive such a response. If you can’t even briefly outline a typical day for the job I’m interviewing for, it’s going to be a minor red flag.

      4. Optimistic Prime*

        I used to hate when I would get that answer when I asked the question, so when candidates (and students) ask me that question now I tell them every day really is different but then I pick a day in my last week that was relatively “normal” and describe that. I feel like what they’re really interested in, nine times out of ten, is what kind of tasks I do on a fairly regular basis so I try to answer that question too.

    2. Jesmlet*

      I’ve never used this question but when I had my final interview at my current company, my future boss outright told me that as a small company, there can be times where it’s super slow and you have to find things to do, and times where it’s super busy. If you asked me what my standard day looked like, I’d have a hard time telling you, but if you asked me to compare one extreme to the other, I’d have a much easier time.

    3. Gloucesterina*

      Yeah, I have a hard time seeing how an interviewer could flub this “typical day at work” question. Maybe asking, “Hey, I see that every day is a little different and that appeals to me in this role (if it does appeal, that is.) What is the spectrum of tasks a person in this role might tackle in a given week?”

  3. CatCat*

    I love question #3. I found it in Alison’s book. I used it when I was last looking for a job. It really provoked thoughtful answers from the interviewers.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I’ve asked that question at several job interviews leading up to my current job.

      At one job that I took and kept for two years, they named one of my weaknesses as a strength that the best candidates have. At the time, I was like, “Oh, I can just make myself overcome that weakness.” Like, I was aware that it was a weakness, but I was kidding myself about my ability to sustain the effort to turn it into a strength.

      Another job I interviewed for and didn’t get named a quality that is one of my best strengths: the ability to adapt to different people’s working styles. The boss described his then-current assistant as being “like a puzzle piece that fits with any other piece”, and I nearly swooned, it was so validating to hear that quality recognized and appreciated. I feel like that job was the one that got away (they re-hired their previous admin who was returning from a job in another state).

      I don’t even remember what the answer to that question was for my current job — perhaps I’d better get cracking at recalling that little bit of info.

    2. Boots*

      It is an excellent question, but it only works if the job already exists.

      I work in a field in which a company often tries to just “make do” until they reach a certain budget/level of expertise/amount of regulatory oversight, so I’ve sometimes interviewed for a job that is new to the company. At times, I’ve ended up having to explain more to the interviewer than they’ve explained to me. In those cases, they are in no position to answer this awesome question (grumble grumble).

      1. GriefBacon*

        Yeah, I’ve ended up in several interviews lately for new positions or with interviewers who were new to their position (ie, had only worked with the outgoing person), and it really doesn’t work well there.

        The one time I have had it work well, the outgoing person was part of the interview (it was a contract position, so he was leaving, on great terms, because his term was ending). That made it a little awkward, but I acknowledged the awkwardness in advance of the question and it worked out really well. Mostly because they named some of my top strengths. (And then I turned down the job when they offered it to me, because I’m a dummy).

    3. Ella*

      Same! I’ve used that one in interviews and been complimented on it (so, many thanks and compliments to Alison as well).

      1. T3k*

        Same, I asked it during the interview for my current job, really impressed them and really does give some insightful looks into the job itself.

    4. Picky*

      I once asked Question #3 at a job interview, because Alison had pitched it so strong, and it sank like a stone. Three senior managers and one HR person all looked at me warily, and then one person patiently explained to me that every person who did the job would do it differently and they weren’t looking for a copycat of the previous person but someone who would bring something fresh to the position. I did not get moved along to the next step.

      1. Someone else*

        Huh. Well that sounds like they didn’t really answer what the question is trying to get at then. Even if everyone does it a bit differently, there still must be some bar for what is exceptional and what would not be. The answer makes it sound a bit like they don’t know what they want from the position (even if the “not a copycat” is a reasonable point on its own). If I asked that question and got their response, I’d consider it a bullet dodged.

      2. Gloucesterina*

        I do feel like this question (#3) would also sink like a stone in my context because it can risk sounding like the employer has to have history of hiring just OK people who were not great and therefore that’s how they’ve acquired the data set necessary to answer this question. I think I might ask about this on the Friday open thread if I remember!

        1. Melissa*

          I’ve successfully deployed question 3 twice, once to get hired and once to get promoted (same workplace, but not the same interviewing panel). I think it’s important to emphasize that you’re asking about good versus great/exceptional. Even if they’re generally hiring good people, I think it’s a bit tougher/rarer to hire someone great.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        I think Question #3 can be very good, but it depends on how much individual creativity you’re expected to develop in your job, and how structured the environment is expected to be. High creativity and/or low structure environments will elicit a frown. Low structure can be bad (a frown for a project management or other naturally very structured job is a warning sign), but for some occupations it’s appropriate. Also, you’d adapt the exact formulation of the question to what is already understood between employer and candidate anyway.

  4. kristinyc*

    In my last few interviews (years ago), I started treating interviews more like a conversation about the job. Like, treating everything like it’s an informational interview. I still dress and answer professionally, but I ask questions about the actual job. For instance, What [software for my specific field] do you use? Oh, how have you been dealing with their update in November? We spent weeks trying to clean up our data…

    Basically, treat it like you’re there to talk shop.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Recently I’ve had one successful and one unsuccessful interview where the interviewers and I made it feel more like a conversation than a series of questions and answers. Regardless of how it turned out, I definitely felt comfortable during the interview and felt like I really got a good idea of what the work would be like.

      The Q&A style interview I had in the same time period just felt like I was being grilled, and it didn’t help that several of the interviewers (in consecutive meetings) asked nearly identical tough technical questions in kind of a dry manner, so I felt a little off-balance the whole time. The irony was that at the beginning of the day, the recruiter mentioned to me that the best interviews would feel a lot like a conversation with peers – since that didn’t really happen, I wasn’t 100% surprised that they passed on me.

    2. scruffy looking nerfherder*

      Most interview I had were like interrogations, and I supposed I’m partly to blame for that. The last one was completely different. It was more like a conversation than a question-answer thing. In the end, when they asked “Do you have any questions”, I really didn’t have any. We talked about everything related to the job.
      Great interview. I got the job

  5. Lala*

    The one question I always ask is “what do you like about working here?” because it becomes obvious really quickly if they do like working there or not, and tells me what they value (or what they think should be valued). If there’s little redeemable about the workplace, there’s usually a lot of hemming and hawing before I get an answer.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I asked that one in my most recent interview!

      Still waiting to hear if I am getting an offer so I’ll let you know if it worked LOL.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      My favorite answer was “payday”! And the interviewer had a deer in the headlights look and that was all she could come up with.

      1. Karo*

        I had an interviewer who was only able to come up with “well, I have a new car I have to pay for.” That was pretty telling – especially when combined with the “offhand” comments about how it wasn’t a job for some who liked to do their hours and go home.

    3. TCO*

      I usually ask, “What do you like best about working here, and what’s challenging about working here?” The answers tend to be really helpful, and it’s also a nice way to engage with each person on an interview panel rather than asking questions that only the hiring manager or higher-ranking people can really answer (I ask those too, of course, when needed).

      1. Lalaith*

        I asked that at a recent interview, and both people said that the things they liked most were also the most challenging. I don’t know if they were purposely avoiding talking about the negatives (and I didn’t get an offer, so I don’t know if they were hiding anything), but be aware that this phrasing leaves room to wiggle out of that discussion if they’re so inclined!

    4. myswtghst*

      I got good responses to this question in my last job search, especially when I was in group interviews with potential teammates. Even with a relatively rote answer, you still get a feel for what people believe is important – whether it is their coworkers, or the culture, or whatever else. If you’re observant, it can also be a way to get a quick read of the room – I definitely noticed when people had to really think about it and still came up with something really basic, compared to the people who smiled upon hearing the question and came up with good answers quickly.

    5. Jesmlet*

      I asked this to a would-be peer who was in the room (open office) while the interviewer stepped away for a minute. She answered right away, and with something that was valuable to me as well, which was the biggest indicator for me.

    6. K.*

      My friend asked this and the two interviewers were totally gobsmacked and silent for several long moments, until one of them said “ … Sometimes there are bagels on Fridays?” My friend got an offer; he did not accept.

    7. Augusta Sugarbean*

      I asked that plus an add-on: “what do you like about working here and what’s one thing you would change?”. I think the answer to the first part was kind of a cheerleader-y party line type of answer but the second (IIRC something about corporate coming more often to see what the day-to-day was like) did give some useful information.

    8. Cedrus Libani*

      I once had a job interview where I asked that of all three peer-level people I spoke to (separately), and got the deer-in-headlights look followed by a subject change, all three times. Mercifully, I was the runner-up for that job, so I didn’t have to decide if I was truly desperate enough to take it (I probably would have).

    9. Dotty*

      I asked this to a panel who looked a bit dumbfounded by the question and after a pause I got (I) there’s no commute (ii) it’s a job in this field in Teapotsville (a small town where jobs in this field are rare). When I was first offered the job I did ask more about the responses and decided to take a risk and happily it paid off (I love my job and company and it just so happened I had a panel of people who are perhaps not great at thinking on their feet because they’re a lot more passionate when you work with them. But yes, I love this question and in many cases lacklustre responses should be a red flag

  6. Barney Barnaby*

    I always ask why the position is open. Usually it’s growth or the person in it was promoted; the few times that it’s been because the person before quit without another job lined up, or was fired, it has been a huge red flag.

    1. Bea*

      This is huge with my line of work where turnover isn’t too high as long as you’re not with a stinker of a company/boss.

      Thankfully everyone was open with me for my last transition. I got steamrollered from the job I was leaving and then replacement didn’t see any of the clear writing on the wall, doh.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I ask this too. Nearly everyone has been honest. But one thing I do consider a red flag–or at least a yellow one–is when they go on and on about the person I’d be replacing, either in a positive or negative way.

      If they act like Gollum rhapsodizing over the Precious, I wonder if anyone could live up to my predecessor who was so organized and fantastic and always knew everything. If they growl and scream, “He was a stupid fat hobbit!” I figure they’ll talk trash about me when I leave, or even behind my back while I’m still there.

  7. AllDogsArePuppies*

    What are questions you shouldn’t ask. Like I know it would reflect poorly if your only questions are about pay and benefits, but are there other things to stay away from.

    1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      One question that I’ve heard often is “how did YOU get your job here?” (in various forms). It always came off as kind of aggressive or accusatory. I think the intent was to find out what skills and experience current employees had, but I think there are better ways to do that.

      Avoid anything salesy or aggressive. I don’t think it’s necessarily the intent of the question, it’s the delivery that can be a problem. Like “are there any other questions or concerns about my qualifications I can address?” sounds way better than “Is there any reason you wouldn’t hire me?” The latter is just too pushy and puts the interviewer on the spot.

      Also I’ve always hated it when people ask for the job, like “Can I have this job?” right at the end. Again, it’s too salesy/aggressive.

      1. Hang zhang*

        I had a new hire ask me how long are my breaks and when am i entitled to them? He was perfect for the job too… :( i stood up and walkes out of the interview…

  8. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

    One thing I’ve noticed is the interviews where I’ve had the most questions to ask are also the jobs I was the most qualified for. Because I was qualified for the job, I had a pretty good picture of what the work would entail, so I had specific questions about the work I wanted to ask. When I was first starting out job hunting, or when I was applying for jobs where I really wasn’t that well qualified, I didn’t really have any questions. You don’t know what you don’t know — and I didn’t know enough to know what I needed to ask.

    The best interview I’ve ever had was for my current job. It was both a job I was super qualified for and an internal transfer, so I had lots of questions about the work but also about what things looked like in that specific unit (as opposed to my old unit).

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I found this to be true of some jobs when I’m overqualified. If you can explain the job to me in five minutes, I probably won’t have many questions beyond pay, benefits, and where is the supply closet. I actually had one person tell me “Going by your resume, you’d be so bored in this position.” She was super nice, but that turned out to be a job I’m glad I didn’t get because the company hosted a You-Know-Who rally!

      1. Asperger Hare*

        “hosted a You-Know-Who rally!”

        My first thought was Voldemort, so it is definitely time for a nap.

  9. Kat*

    I asked a lot of these questions When interviewing for my current job. He one about what differentiates a great from good employee was very helpful. The answer was that it was someone who excels at my least favorite part of the job. It’s a thing that I can do well and my references I am sure spoke highly of my skills in that area, but if I were given the option to drop those duties, I would in a heartbeat! I was offered and accepted the job but it was good to have the insight into where I’d need to focus to have my performance stand out as excellent.

    1. ReanaZ*

      Yeah, I always ask the “okay employee from a great one” question and I usually get really good responses. OR I get a sense they have never though about evaulating performance,ha, which is also useful. I’ve also been told multiple times by interviewers that it’s a great question.

  10. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    A question that really helped me in my last interview (which was for my current job) was to ask about the department/team fits into the overall organization – practically and strategically. This was especially important to me because I was interviewing for a brand new team in my university’s IT division. I got some good answers from my bosses. Of course this could turn into some bullshit answer about “vision” and whatnot, but that would give you good information as well – if the hiring manager can’t tell you in practical terms what the purpose of the department/team is, then that could be a red flag.

    1. Person of Interest*

      Yes, I’m a fan of this question too, especially since I tend toward smaller orgs where there can be some complex coordination between departments. I also find it useful when the position is newly created – to learn more about how the new position or Department fits into their overall strategic vision.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      Yes, I like this question, too. I usually ask how the position I’m interviewing for fits in the overall department, as well. I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion where a position I thought was mid-level because of the way the job description was written was more lower level based on the needs or layout of the department.

      1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

        That has happened to me a few times! Job titles and descriptions can be all over the place. I once interviewed for a position that was called something like “graphic design specialist” and listed 2-3 years experience in graphic design. Great fit for me at the time (23 and had a few years of exp). I got into the interview and the position was actually for the main layout and design editor of a healthcare magazine – like the #2 position under the chief editor! It was waaay higher than the description led me to believe. The hiring manager actually wanted someone with many years of exp, and management exp, etc etc. I have no idea why it was posted the way it was. That turned into a very awkward interview very quickly.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I didnt’ think to ask that in my interview for Exjob, but my boss answered it anyway–she said their department did X, but that they were kind of off on their own in their little corner doing their own thing. Knowing how that turned out after she retired, I’d feel a bit hinky if I heard that in an interview now. I don’t think she was trying to mislead me in any way. But it didn’t occur to me at the time that the whole job could change so drastically. Now of course, it would, and if someone said that to me, I’d probe further.

  11. purple orchid pot*

    The question about distinguishing great from good can be interpreted as wanting to be competitive with other employees if you don’t word it carefully enough, though! Ask me how I know ;-)

    1. MissGirl*

      Oh no, how do you know?

      I asked this too, and it totally fell flat. I don’t know if I came off as competitive as much as they didn’t really have an answer. I think it’s important to remember with any of these questions is that context is everything. Some maybe good or bad depending on the conversation. I like this thread to give me a bunch of different questions to have in my pocket beyond, “So, when are you making a decision?”

  12. Marian the Librarian*

    As an interviewer, I tend to discount anyone without any questions. It’s a total pet peeve of mine. If you’re not interested enough in the company/department/position to ask about it/them when you’re interviewing, I’m going to assume that you’ll also not be interested in learning the ins and outs of the company/department/position if you were to get it.

    1. nnn*

      In the past when I haven’t been able to come up with any questions, it’s always been for the opposite reason: I’m so interested in the job that I can’t think of anything they might tell me that could change that!

      1. nep*

        I can see this. In this case I might ask what my prospective manager sees as the most important tasks to master first off to ease the transition — something like that.

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Eh, I don’t know if that’s a totally safe assumption though. Of course you know your audience but there are plenty of people who are perfectly fine employees but not great at interviewing. It took me a lot of years and a lot of interviews and reading to finally come up with useful questions to ask. And there is certainly plenty of bad job hunting advice out there. Lots of people still don’t understand that they can and should make an interview a two way street.

    3. plot device*

      I don’t generally have a lot of questions at the end of the interview because I’ve asked them during the course of the conversation.

      1. Naruto*

        Yeah, this is a thing. If the interview is conversational and they’re giving you a lot of information, then all of your questions could have already been answered.

        I always still try to come up with one or two, though.

      2. Xarcady*

        This has certainly happened to me. I usually write out a few questions beforehand, just to make sure I have something to ask, and most/all of the questions get answered as we talk. Sometimes I ask the questions early on, so when the end of the interview is approaching, and the interviewer asks if I have any questions, I’m left floundering to come up with more.

      3. tamarack and fireweed*

        … in which case I smile and say “Thanks for asking, but I think my most important question was [thing I asked earlier and we had a good exchange about]”.

    4. Bagpuss*

      I think it can depend a lot. If you mean they ask no questions at all, at any point, I would certainly be a bit concerned, but sometimes , particularly if the interview if fairly conversational, it may be that you cover the things they have questions about.
      I also think that not interested’ is one of a number of possible explanations for not asking questions, so I’d be wary of discounting anyone on that alone.

    5. Lynn Whitehat*

      I know that a lot of people judge candidates this way, so I make sure to always have some generic questions in my back pocket to ask. “What is a typical day like?” “What kind of person does well in this role?” “How do employees keep their skills and knowledge current?”

      However, yeah, by the time I’ve gone there, interviewed, talked to all the people, a lot of the questions I really have have been answered. Especially since in my field (tech), it is common to have half-day or all-day interviews, two people at a time for an hour each. By the time I get to interviewers 11 and 12, most of my real questions have been answered. But I know the odds are very high that they believe that “if they don’t ask questions, they don’t care and just want a paycheck”, so I find *something*. It seems kind of dumb that I should have to, though.

  13. KHB*

    I think there’s a class of reasons for not asking questions that the article doesn’t quite touch on: Because people don’t know enough about the diversity of work environments to know what they want to know. If someone has never worked for a micromanager, for example (or on the flip side, if they’ve ONLY worked for micromanagers), they might not fully appreciate that micromanagement is a trait that different managers have in different amounts, and that that’s something they can maybe try to suss out in the interview.

    A dozen or so years ago I had an interview for a job where the hiring manager hinted that he was looking for someone to be on call 24/7/365, and that any and all personal plans I might make were subject to cancellation at a moment’s notice. Because I’d only ever worked for people with at least a semi-reasonable idea of a work week – and because there was no AAM back then to educate me about the crazy situations other people have to deal with – my brain didn’t quite know how to process that information other than to push it aside into the “that can’t be right” compartment. In retrospect, I wish I’d pushed him more to specify just what kind of arrangement he was offering. Even knowing that, in the end, I didn’t get the job, I could at least have let him know that not everybody thinks that kind of thing is OK.

    1. MissGirl*

      It’s so hard to know in the moment what to say. I went to a job interview where they spent half the interview talking about how work doesn’t always end at five and sometimes there are deadlines that must be met. They emphasized it so much I started to question whether I even wanted the job. I pushed back on it a bit, and I think I came off as a clock watcher, who hits the door at five. Didn’t get an offer.

      I don’t know if it was a demanding job or if they were just tired of people not meeting deadlines. FYI, I totally understand staying late occasionally to get something out.

  14. Ramona Flowers*

    I like to ask about onboarding and how they help new staff settle in, and how the team communicates (are there daily stand up meetings or is everyone glued to Slack or what). And then observe how they talk about those things, not just what they say.

  15. January Jane*

    I always like to ask my interviewers what they like best about working at the organisation. This can be very interesting and revealing – especially when the answers are vague or mumbled. If they are trying to sell the job to me then they should be able to answer quite easily. But sometimes I find useful and encouraging stuff that I would not have found out otherwise.

    Also, if it hasn’t been covered by this point then I like to ask how the vacancy has arisen.

  16. Ersong*

    I asked the “What’s the difference between someone who’s good at this job and someone’s who’s great at it” at my current job and I 100% know it’s the reason I got hired.

    I asked it at another place when I was looking for new opportunities and the response I got was “What do you mean?” I clarified, “What are the skills or characteristics of someone who’s good versus someone who’s great?” and got a stumbly answer. I’m really glad I didn’t get that job.

  17. Blue Anne*

    I always ask whether they have any concerns that I can address, for example an important area they’re not sure I have any experience in. If they do have concerns it gives me a chance to speak to them, and if they don’t, I like for them to hear themselves say “No, I don’t have any concerns about hiring you.”

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I asked this and as a result cleared up a misunderstanding that might have stopped me getting my current job!

    2. Lynca*

      I did this in the job interview for my current position. I asked if there was anything in the job tasks we had not covered in the interview that they had concerns about. We ended up talking another 10 minutes about aspects of the job not in the description.

    3. Ten*

      I always have that one on my list of questions to ask, but I chicken out every time. I think I’m afraid I won’t have good answers to whatever concerns are raised.

    4. Lil Fidget*

      This is a good question as long as you can keep from seeming at all adversarial. I’ve interviewed someone who asked a similar question but it came across as a little aggressive (which was proven true by their follow up of arguing why the concern shouldn’t influence the decision).

  18. mythopoeia*

    My go-to questions for uncovering issues at a place I’m interviewing are “What has surprised you about working here?”, “What do you find frustrating about this job?”, and “What is currently taking up a lot of your time?” Those questions usually let me suss out workflow issues and challenges the org is facing, and determine if they seem like a manageable part of an otherwise good job or if they rise to red-flag level. And “what has surprised you about working here” has really impressed at least one interviewer in the past. I won’t necessarily ask all of them, depending on what stage we’re at, time available, and the flow of the conversation, but I try to get at least one in.

    1. Gloucesterina*

      Another version of the first question mythopoeia (awesome name!) suggests that I’ve used is “What is something that you’ve seen people being really surprised or struck by in this role?” In other words, the question doesn’t have to be about the interviewers but asking them to pull on what they know about others employed in the role (if there are indeed others, which is not always the case, of course!)

  19. Lil Fidget*

    I have made mistakes here. As a younger person I asked a question or two about the social aspects of the workplace, which was on my mind since I was moving to town but I think made me seem like I wasn’t serious about the work. I’ve also asked too much about travel and flexibility (for a different job) in a way that I think turned them off – although in that case at least it was true that the issue was important to me. It’s hard to know what’s better to finesse during the offer stage versus ask up front and risk them rejecting you.

  20. all aboard the anon train*

    My biggest issue in interviews is that when I ask anything to try and see the downsides of working at a company, I get a lot of non-answers.

    So, asking “what’s your favorite/least favorite thing about working a Company X” or “what’s the most challenging part of the role?” gives a lot of “there’s nothing bad/challenging/things I would change!” which is frustrating. I know no one wants to badmouth their company in an interview with a prospective new hire, but tbh telling me there’s absolutely nothing wrong or challenging about the role or company is still a bit of a red flag.

    1. MissGirl*

      Yeah, I asked a similar question and the company that said there’s nothing bad/challenging about working here was the company with lowest Glassdoor rating. It was another red flag. Every company has something. The one that answered the most thoughtfully was the job I took. The challenging things were things I could work with and had prior.

  21. Zombie Bunny*

    How timely! I actually have an interview tomorrow afternoon, and due to the nature of the position, “What questions should I ask to get a good feel for fit?” is the one thing that my brain has been gnawing on. I’m a casual admin (so the secretarial equivalent of a supply teacher) for elementary schools, and the permanent position I’m interviewing for is one where the principal will be new to the school too, and new to being a solo principal instead of a vp for someone else, and it takes a while to get your finger on the pulse of a school community’s needs and environment.

    Anyway, I’m definitely going to add some of the questions from the article to my list, and if anyone has time tomorrow at 1:45pm EST to cross their fingers and say “Go, Zombie Bunny!”, I’ll take any good vibes I can get.

  22. Emmie*

    I ask questions I really want to know the answer to. Like “what are your top 3 performers doing right” or “how does this person become one of your top 3 performers?@

  23. Hannah*

    My go-to interview question (as the interviewee) is to ask the person how long they’ve been at the job, and then ask, “So, what do you think the company has gotten better at in the last x [the number of years they’ve been there] years? What do you hope you get better at in the next x years?” It has always been helpfully revealing about problems and priorities.

  24. Ella*

    I’ve asked, “What do you want to be accomplishing [in the department] that you aren’t currently?” It can be a really good way of telling what sorts of projects languish on the back burner, and it gives me some ideas of what my projects might look like, or it can be a way of seeing the goals and future that the manager sees coming down the line.

  25. Parse*

    My go-to question is “What do you like best about your job?” I had one hiring manager who said “the people here”. After I accepted the offer, I learned that it’s because the work itself was slow and unfulfilling, but hey, at least everyone in the department was nice.

  26. Sara*

    I’m wondering if the advice on which questions to ask changes if it’s a newly created position or team and the first time the company has ever filled it.

    1. Emmie*

      I’ve taken on newly created positions 3 times in my career. I’d ask these questions, but please put more thought into making them more diplomatic!
      * Have you had anyone in this role before? Even if it is a newly created position, you still want to know. I took on a position where someone resigned after two months. Had I asked this question, I would have known that and probed to find out the reasons why she left. After a few months in the job, I understood why. It still ended up being a good fit for me.
      * What’s your vision for the team? Or, why is it being created? Or, what gap are you trying to fill?
      * What kinds of people will make up this team? How do they deal with changes? (They should know that if the person is internal.) What strengths are you leveraging for this team? Have you staffed using current company employees? What kinds of skills did they bring? What kind of skill gaps are you looking to fill?
      * If moving from contracting the service to in house: what sparked the change? What are you hoping to achieve?
      * If a completely new position: Find out what kinds of work they are looking for you to do.
      * How will you measure success? Are you open to evolving that once the team gains experience? (Many of my newly created positions evolved over the first six months – 2 years. It takes a special person to take the role. One who adapts well to changes -work, roles, outcomes, measurements/ standards, and even your own expecations.

    2. designbot*

      One thing I’d ask in that situation is, is creating this role the end of a process, or the beginning of one for you? That is, are you planning to grow this even further in the future into more of a team, or do you envision it staying the work of one person for the foreseeable future?

  27. Nicki Name*

    For a long time, I thought not having questions left at the end meant it showed I was a really good listener and conversationalist (for getting the questions in in the course of earlier conversation).

    One standard one I’ve used since realizing my mistake, because people in my job category rarely work in the same industry two jobs in a row, is “Could you tell me a bit about your industry?” This tends to bring up what times of year are busy (maybe you should get used to working overtime during the holidays, or maybe things are dead then), what the competitive landscape is like (is it overcrowded with everyone fighting to eke out any profit at all?), and so forth.

  28. she was a fast machine*

    At my current job, my interviewers were absolutely blown away by my asking the first three questions. In fact, after I was hired, I discovered that there had been three openings, two of which had already been filled by some of the people on my interview panel, and after my interview there was some serious discussion of who would actually get me and if they could shuffle existing hires around so the impressed interviewers could have me on their team instead.

  29. Stephanie*

    I like to ask about training/ramp-up time. Usually I ask something like “What does success look like in this job after 30 days? After six months? After a year?” For me, it gives me a sense of how steep the learning curve is and the pace of the organization.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I asked this one during an early interview with the hiring manager. I think he appreciated it because it tied in nicely with him being able to describe the internal performance review process.

  30. A.N.O.N.*

    After working at a highly dysfunctional company with a terrible culture, I always like to ask about company culture.

    Things like: How would you describe the company culture? Can you provide a recent example that encapsulates that?*

    *I ask for examples when possible only because former employer had a vision of what they *wanted* their company culture to be like (fun! relaxed! warm! collaborative!) and would often describe the company to interviewees as such, when in reality it was absolutely nothing like that.

  31. Thany*

    I made the mistake of not asking enough questions when I was young in my 20’s trying to start off my career. Mostly my reason for not asking questions was because I was such a bambi in the headlights, I couldn’t think straight about what I could even ask them. The only question I could think of was “Can you hire me, please??” As an undergrad in the 2008 recession with an English degree, it was a tough time.

  32. Aparna*

    When I’m being interviewed by someone who is a peer and in a different team/role, I like to ask, what can someone in this role do to make your job easier? I like asking this question because it often gives me more information about expectations and also tells the interviewer that I see this relationship as a partnership and that I’d be someone that they want to work with.

  33. designbot*

    One thing I think I would ask in future interviews is: tell me about the structure of the organization–how do reporting and advancement work here? How does this position fit into the bigger picture of the office?

  34. Drama Llama*

    I interviewed someone today who is a friend of an existing employee. Applicant said he asked his friend not to tell him anything about the company because he wanted to form his own impressions without bias. I asked if he had any questions and he said he was not going to ask anything, as he wanted to get his own information without any input from us. I was really confused where he would get info about the company if he wasn’t going to listen to those who actually work here. But oh well.

  35. fiverx313*

    i actually had an interview today, so this was great timing!
    unfortunately, it turned out (surprise!) to be a chaotic and minimally directed group interview, with 8 candidates and a 4-person interview panel. questions were sometimes asked of a specific person, but usually just thrown out for someone to jump on… and after 2 or 3 people had answered, on to the next question.
    four people ended up barely talking, and the rest of us were stepping on each other trying to talk… and a couple of the talkers just babbled on about irrelevant stuff half the time, with no direction or control of the situation from the panel.
    so…. yeah… i’ve definitely got this bookmarked for my next interview, at least :)

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Oh that sounds painful! I’ve done panel interviews but never an interview with multiple candidates in the room. Is that typical for your line of work?

      1. fiverx313*

        it’s the first time it’s happened to me. it’s just a receptionist/administrative position.

        i’m really not sure what kind of useful information they gathered doing this, tbh. it was puzzling.

  36. Stained Glass Cannon*

    One question I plan to start asking is “How passionate am I expected to be about the work?” This is because the idea of passion for one’s work has become something of a red flag in my industry (not a creative industry, but one that is conflated with the creative industries with hair-pulling frequency.) Some time back there was an AAM discussion about managers using passion for the job as an excuse to make employees put up with all kinds of horse apples, and it really struck a chord.

    1. CM*

      I wouldn’t ask that, at least not phrased in that way. It sounds like you’re saying upfront that you don’t care about the work, and don’t plan to care.

      Could you find a way to get the information you want without coming across this way? For example, can you ask about the horse apples rather than the passion — questions about the typical working hours, workload, etc.?

    2. BarkusOrlyus*

      Yeah I cannot imagine this going over well. Find another way to phrase it. Very few people want to hire someone who essentially indicates that they aren’t passionate.

Comments are closed.