10 questions you should ask your interviewer

The way some job candidates handle the portion of the interview where it’s their turn to ask questions has always surprised me. A lot of people don’t have many questions at all — which is ill-advised when you’re considering spending 40+ hours a week at the job and when it is likely to have a huge impact on your day-to-day quality of life. And other people use their questions not as a way to suss out information they actually want, but as a way to try to impress their interviewer with their insight and savvy. That’s no good either; not only is it often pretty transparent, but it also means forfeiting your opportunity to find out things you really need to know in order to decide if a job is right for you.

At New York Magazine today, I talk about 10 useful things to ask your interviewer when it’s your turn to ask the questions. (And if you’re feeling like this is deja vu, it’s because I did a five-question version for them earlier this year and they asked me to expand it.)  You can read it here.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. CatCat

    #6 is my favorite. Since I learned of it in Alison’s book, I used it every time I had an interview when I was looking. It always made the hiring managers pause to form a thoughtful response, and it never failed to get me interesting insights into what the hiring managers valued.

    Reply
  2. The Other Dawn

    RE: Job descriptions

    I’m starting to look around at job postings and it’s frustrating to sometimes see a list of 25+ items on the list. Sometimes they’re really basic things that would be expected of pretty much anyone that walked in the door so it seems unnecessary to put these things in there, but other times they seem to be these over-complicated sentences with no real substance that leave me wondering, “What are they actually saying??” At the other extreme, I’ve seen a couple postings that list two to three items, which leaves me wondering, “What the heck will I be doing all day?”

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    1. Ali G

      I had an interviewer straight up tell me that the job description was a bit of a unicorn (when they wanted to pay a My Little Pony rate). That was actually helpful because it led to a good conversation about what was most important, and what was “nice to have.”

      Reply
  3. irene adler

    These are good questions.
    A lot of the jobs I apply for turn out to be newly created positions. So a lot of these questions get the “can’t say” comment in response. Hard to tell if it’s a bad company to work for or what.

    Reply
    1. ThatGirl

      I have asked almost all of these, even for my current job which was a newly created position.

      I actually think it tells you something when they have no idea, for instance for the “what does success look like” or “what challenges do you expect” – it means they haven’t thought about it at all. And that may not mean the company is bad, but it tells you how thoughtful they were about creating the job.

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      1. Blue

        Yeah, I think this is a really good point. If they don’t have any ideas or goals for the position, I’d be a bit concerned. I recently went through the interview process for a new position and was able to ask variations of almost all these questions at one point or another. I did change the way I asked them to make them more applicable to a new position, but if the hiring manager hadn’t been able to articulate her expectations at all, I’d have considered that a red flag. I also don’t think it’s common for new positions to be created out of thin air. No one may’ve been doing this exact combo of responsibilities, but various people were probably doing related work. In those cases, there should already be some basis for setting expectations or gauging success related to those tasks.

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    2. PromotionalKittenBasket

      I like using the “what is the 30/60/90 day plan for this position” when they’re newly created or dramatically shifting. That tells me if they’ve really thought through what they need from the role and what kind of work to expect upon starting.

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    3. Mimmy

      My current job was also newly-created. They (immediate supervisor and center director) admitted during my interview that they were still working out the details of the position, but it ended up being a fraction of what they were envisioning. I’m pretty certain I would not have moved forward with the application had I known it’d be this way (turns out Supervisor and Director have differing visions on how things should operate day-to-day, which has made the environment unsettling for some of us).

      Anyway, I agree with Persephone Mulberry about a post on what sort of questions to ask / red flags to look out for.

      Reply
      1. By and by, I come

        Having a newly created position where you have to report to more than one person is a big red flag. in a lot of cases, both parties may have wildly different expectations of the role, or they’ll expect the other person to train you and come up with your assignments. It can be pretty demoralizing, especially if after a few weeks or months your job duties are reduced to nothing but grunt work.

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  4. The Ginger Ginger

    These are great! I usually also like to include questions about how to succeed within the specific team/department dynamic as well as the company at large, and how the manager usually distributes feedback (post positive and negative) to try to suss out the team dynamic and whether the manager has a managing style I can work with.

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  5. Dr. Steph

    My favourite: what do you like most about working at Company?
    It tells you about the culture, and if they don’t give a great answer, might send up some red flags. Most of the time people like their jobs and so leaving this question until the end means having everyone wrap up on a good note. I’ve even said: Wow, I would really like the opportunity to work in such a fabulous place.

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    1. Trillian

      I like to ask that, but also “and what would you most like to improve?” I think it’s a kinder way to get at what annoys them or potential problems.

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    2. Doesn't reveal much

      I feel like I get such BS answers when I ask this question though! Most people usually say something nice about their coworkers and they aren’t going to tell you anything they truly dislike about Company. One time, an interviewer told me that she disliked that they relocated some people to another floor because they aren’t as close in proximity anymore. Really?!

      Reply
  6. Unreal

    I think I stand a good chance of getting an interview for a job I’ve been doing for 6 months and which they’ve encouraged me – v strongly to apply. What do I ask in these circumstances when I’m pretty much familiar with how everything works?

    Reply
    1. KHB

      You’re familiar with the general culture and day-to-day operations, but is there anything you’re still wondering about the long-term dynamics of the position (e.g., how performance is evaluated, opportunities for growth, turnover trends in the department)? Or you could ask for feedback on your performance so far (e.g., if you continue in the position, are there any particular skills you should work on developing?)

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    2. Sleepytime Tea

      I think I would modify these questions to ask more about if they expect anything to change with it being a permanent position for you. Sometimes when you have someone who is a temp or intern or in some way just filling a slot they have different expectations. So ask about what aspects of the job they see changing, or take it as an opportunity to also get some feedback. Ask what things you do now that they’d like to see you grow in for the position when it’s permanent. Ask if they anticipate any new responsibilities for the position. Obviously questions about the culture and things like that won’t be as relevant, but you can still ask a lot about the position itself, because for whatever reason it wasn’t permanent for you before but it is becoming so.

      And good luck!

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    3. Gloucesterina

      Sleepytime’s and KHB’s suggestions make a lot of sense.

      Along those lines, you can use what you already know about the role or org as a whole to learn more: “From my time doing X, I’m familiar with challenge Y; are there any other challenges I should be aware of that might come in this position?”

      I also think it’s generally a good idea to talk about what “the person in this position” would be doing as opposed to “what I would be doing,” or at least start from there and take your cue from the interviewers, so that you don’t risk coding as presumptuous. But I have seen that some interviewers have a hard time not talking about what “you” would be doing even if they don’t ending up hiring “you.”

      Good luck!

      Reply
    4. Weyrwoman

      My fave question that really helped me in my current position was one of Alison’s from that previous article, I think. I asked “What does someone who is successful in this position do? What does success look like?”. I took notes, and being able to look back at the answer I got and compare myself to it helps me shut Imposter-Me up really nicely.

      Reply
  7. Cressl

    Oh, oops. I just got back from an interview, sat down at my computer, and this came up. Should’ve asked for a later slot, because this might’ve been helpful!

    (Though, it’s a new position they’re creating in anticipation of a lot of upheaval, so they don’t know what it’ll look like and there are no previous people.)

    Reply
  8. Yay commenting on AAM!

    These are great questions, if the employers answer them honestly. That’s one of the things I’ve struggled with, is getting an honest answer. “Oh in this job for Teapot Administrator, you’ll mostly be supervising the manufacturing and shipping of teapots!” during the interview vs. “Hey, so you’re going to be in the llama field, you should be wearing rubber boots, and bring your lasso in case one of the llamas gets away.” once the job starts.

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    1. Bleh

      Yeah, I’ve had that happen to me before. Even though I got transferred about a month after, it put such a bad taste in my mouth that I’m surprised I didn’t quit on the spot.

      The company still does this to new hires, and they never last more than 8 months. Talent shortage, my ass.

      Reply
  9. Sleepytime Tea

    I’ve used a combo of questions 1 and 5 that gave me incredible insight into jobs. “To consider someone successful after 6 months in the position, what would you like to have seen them accomplish?” I had one interviewer basically tell me he wanted their multiple, very complicated, reports that had no documentation completely redesigned. 6 months? Hahahahahaha! In the first 6 months I wouldn’t even have a full understanding of their system and data yet. I understood really quickly that this was a manager (well, he was a VP and I would have been their only analyst) who had zero understanding of how long things like this actually take. I’ve been there before, and I’m resourceful and I can make things happen, but I had no desire to be in a position again where I had an exec breathing down my neck to get something done in weeks that should take months, or thinking I’m failing to get my job done when in reality the expectations were just not realistic. It’s stressful and horrible.

    To that same question, the manager at the job I just recently accepted, told me quality and quantity. He wanted to see work getting done but he wanted it done at a quality level, not just banging things out. That is exactly how I like to work. Be productive but do things the right way. I have been here a month now and am extremely happy with how they do things here.

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  10. Kes

    Along the lines of #8, I like to ask what they like most about working there and what they like least (or what is one thing they would change). I’ve gotten some interesting answers and I really think it gives me some good information about what people see as pros and cons of working there (and if they balk at answering either question, that can also tell me something. You don’t have to bare your deepest struggles with the job, but you should be able to come up with something on both sides in general)

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    1. ThatGirl

      I like to ask not just about the position’s challenges, but the company’s/department’s – it tells me a lot about how people view their jobs and departments and if they’re thoughtful about weaknesses.

      Reply
  11. Tuesday

    For #9, my go-to question is “How would you describe your management style?” if my interviewer will be the one I’ll be reporting to.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      One big caveat about that — I would take anything you hear with a huge grain of salt. People are really bad at self-assessing their own management style, and especially if they’re bad managers.

      Reply
      1. JB

        LOL, yep. I’ve met incredibly toxic leaders who were absolutely convinced they were the nicest, smartest, most thoughtful people.

        Reply
        1. StellaBella

          Same here. Amazing how some folks are just not at all self-aware. The key to this question I think (for Tuesday’s point) is to ask if you can have a few minutes on the phone or in person with some of the managers other reports (current or past, and if they even have reports). If the manager balks at having you talk to others they have managed this is a problem, in my view. I know this is not always possible to do/ask but worth it if you can. It is something I learned after 2 bosses in a row at two orgs that were both very dysfunctional.

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      2. Brett

        I think it can be worthwhile to ask managers behavioral questions as well, rather than just asking their management style.
        e.g. knowing that I was heading into a situation where a very large new team was being spun up, I asked my manager-to-be about the largest team he had previously managed and how he approached that differently from managing smaller teams.

        Reply
  12. New position?

    What suggestions would you have if you’re interviewing for a new position? Obviously, most questions work for new or established position, but are there any you can recommend in particular if you know it’s a new position?

    Reply
    1. Combinatorialist

      If it is a new position, I would ask why the role is being created with perhaps a followup on how those responsibilities have been handled in the past. Is the department expanding? Are they cutting back and combining roles?

      Reply
  13. Random thought

    Allison, if you’re ever up for it, I would love to know how suggestions would change for internal positions where candidates likely already have a sense of culture, performance expectations, etc. This might fall into the “ask what you really want to know” advice but are there any questions that are particularly good for internal candidates to ask?

    Reply
    1. StellaBella

      I would think that internal could have a few dimensions: internal to a large, large firm – where you work in one division but are interested in another (or another state or country!); internal to a medium firm; internal to a small firm. Good question tho – as understanding culture in the wider company may be a benefit, but different divisions/sites may be completely different. I think about my cousin who works for a multi-national and often has in her US office people visiting from South America and the work cultures are different for sure (not bad, just different).

      Reply
  14. PromotionalKittenBasket

    I like asking about feedback styles, since on-going, consistent feedback is really important in roles I’ve been in. So I’ll usually ask what feedback styles have worked well for the hiring manager, and if there’s anything they’ve integrated into their own management from a manager they loved. I usually find a way to turn that into a question about the official company-wide feedback and performance assessment structure and the unspoken feedback culture (or lack thereof). Often when people won’t or can’t tell you accurate what they think they’re doing, they will tell you in great detail what actually happens.

    Reply
  15. Safely Retired

    A question I always asked was “What do you see as the department’s biggest problem?” It was particularly interesting when the interviewer was just going through the motions, it sort of jarred them out of their rut. I used variations, such as biggest obstacle, greatest impediment, that sort of thing. Everyone always tries to paint a bright picture of the workplace. I wanted to know if they had a realistic view of it. Or had ever even thought about what needed improving. Since I was always a worker bee, one who never aspired to management, I was asking a question “way above my pay grade”, but then I had seen too many problems “way above my pay grade” that never got addressed.

    Reply
  16. Polymer Phil

    I once asked an interviewer what happened to the last person in the position, and he admitted to me that they hadn’t worked out and he had fired three people in a row! I decided I didn’t want the job on the spot.

    The point about job descriptions being inaccurate is a good one too. I saw an ad for my last position with a wildly outdated job description (that I remembered from several years ago, before major organizational changes) cut and pasted verbatim. I imagine it would have been an interesting interview if the candidate asked about specific items in the ad and the current management team would have had no idea what they were talking about!

    Reply
    1. DeColores

      I felt the same way when I interviewed for a job and found out the last person in the position had created the position and was the only one who’d ever held it. The way they talked about her made it obvious that they missed her a lot (it was like faaaaamily) and that no one would ever be able to measure up to her.

      Reply
    2. Anonymosity

      The answer I usually get around here is “They left for another position,” or “They moved away.” Sadly, that’s the only way to advance here or get better pay, etc. because the market is so stagnant.

      Reply
  17. Alix

    One of the questions I often ask is “Do you have any concerns about my ability to succeed in this role?” It is admittedly a “let me talk more about myself” question, but it accomplishes a couple things – 1) often the response I get is, “No, you’re a great fit for this position!” which lets me know where I stand as well as has them essentially saying for their own benefit that they should continue considering me, 2) if they do have a specific concern that I haven’t addressed yet, I have an opportunity to respond to it.

    Reply
    1. kc89

      I use the question for internal interviews where I already have a relationship with the person interviewing me, but for some reason I’m not comfortable asking that question of strangers I just met.

      I know it works out well for some people though!

      Reply
      1. Gloucesterina

        kc 89 – Yes, I’ve never tried any version of this question, since from my perspective (as the job applicant), it registers on the spectrum of sales-y or combative. I’m not sure how hiring committees would view it, though, and I can also see it work well for some people in certain contexts!

        Reply
    2. Rosa

      I was a bit flummoxed when as an interviewer, I received this question. Over 150 applicants, I chose you for one of three on-site interviews…if I had concerns, we wouldn’t be talking! (My field is notoriously competitive, so candidates should have a general idea of the stats.)

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      1. Gloucesterina

        Rosa – thanks for sharing this! Yes, I feel like if I were to ask this type of question, it would feel as though I were accusing the committee of having an imperfect interviewing or selection process!

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      2. Close Bracket

        Maybe you didn’t have concerns when you choose them to interview, but concerns came up over the course of the interview. That’s a chance to ask more questions about any answers that you thought were weak.

        Reply
  18. Audiophile

    Here’s the part I struggle with, it’s often unclear whether there will be additional interviews. I’m often stuck and feel unsure whether I should ask all my questions at that point or whether I leave some of the bigger question until later.

    Reply
    1. irene adler

      Let one of your initial questions be ” Can you tell me what the hiring process is for this position please? ” Then you’ll have a better idea of getting all the questions out during the interview or saving them for the next interview.

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      1. Audiophile

        That’s a good idea! Sometimes during the wrap-up the interviews will talk about the process, but usually at that point I’ve already asked a question or two.

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    2. Close Bracket

      If there are no more interviews and you get an offer, you can ask for a phone call to ask your other questions at that point.

      Reply
    3. Sleepytime Tea

      I have found that I usually don’t end up interviewing with the same person multiple times. The questions will be new to the person you are talking to next and you could get some very different answers. Even if your interviewers chatted and found out you asked the same questions, so what? Especially when it comes to things about culture and things like that. Two people at the same company very reasonably may have different answers, and you would want to know that. Or it turns out that the person who is senior to you but not your boss has a totally different perspective on what the day to day of the job looks like compared to the department manager who doesn’t interact with that role every day but has certain expectations about it. Use your judgment for some questions. I probably wouldn’t ask the recruiter from HR doing your phone screen about the day to day of the job, for example. All they know is the job description in most cases. But you get the idea.

      My bigger concern is that they’ve set aside a specific amount of time for interviewing me and if I’ve saved questions for later but for whatever reason didn’t have the chance to ask them (interviewing process is shorter than I thought, etc.) then I am asking them to take even more time out of their day to talk with me (I worry I will be an inconvenience) and have them think I wasn’t prepared for the interview because I didn’t ask my questions then. One or two that you think of later is fine, but if it’s your “bigger,” more important, or most insightful questions and you’ve held back on them until that late in the process, I just worry I look like I didn’t think things through earlier on.

      Reply
  19. Someone Else

    Something I’ve come to realize is extremely important to me about jobs is the culture. I’ve been wondering a lot recently how to go about asking about that without just saying “what’s the culture like?” because I suspect it’s quite common for people to be bad at self-assessing that. So I figured there must be more specific but still acceptable without seeming high maintenance questions one could ask to try to get to the heart of that…but I’m not exactly sure what they are (or how not to cross the line into “too much”). Or like, what more general questions about the office would give insight into the culture naturally.
    For example, I found myself wanting to ask “how frequently do meetings start and end on time?” because I’d genuinely like to know and because I think it gives a certain sense of the culture. Of course, even at a place that tends to be more fluid with type of thing there may be some people who keep very tight schedules, or vice versa, but if the intention overall is that it be the type of place who does things one way or the other, that seems useful. That’s not my biggest concern of anything, just an example.

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    1. YesYesYes

      I think you’re right to ask about the specifics that you care about, to learn about culture.

      I care a lot about flexibility, so I ask about things like “What are the core hours for this team? Can you give me a sense of the typical cadence in work hours – do you tend to have busy periods and slow periods? Do you find the team is able to truly disconnect and recharge during their time off, or do they tend to continue to check in?”

      Reply
  20. Sled dog mama

    My go to for the ask what you want is “Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you would like me to know about the position or about working here?” I always hesitated over asking it but I’ve been offered every position when I asked this question.
    In my field interviews are typically a phone screen plus a full day on site so I make sure I am asking the same questions of multiple people. I think that helps when you’re asking the hiring manager to describe her leadership style plus asking two of her reports to describe her leadership style, you get a much broader perspective.

    Reply
  21. Anonymosity

    Good timing; I have an interview tomorrow. I am not down with employers trying to fancy up job titles. First they changed receptionist to administrative assistant; now they’re trying to call admins “coordinators.”

    I’m really wondering what it even is; the title is X and Y Group Coordinator; and it was listed as Project Coordinator on Indeed. Plus there’s something in the skimpy admin part of the job description like “Acts as initial contact for clients” that makes me think it’s the bloody front desk.

    I said right in my cover letter that my weakness is numbers–I know y’all told me not to do that, but I HAVE to say something. So I have a question that actually delineates what I can and cannot do. It goes like this:

    Blah blah severe dyscalculia, it’s like dyslexia with math, etc.
    I can make accommodations depending on what the task is. I can do data verification (matching); I can do data entry; I can pull reports and maintain a spreadsheet with the assistance of procedural documents, which I can also write during training. I cannot write formulas in Excel or see mistakes in a balance sheet, for example.
    Are there aspects of the job that would be impacted by this, and hearing it now, do you have any ideas about how we could work around it?

    TBH, I think I’m fudged and they only emailed me because my last job was at a tech company for the banking industry. I don’t know jack about banking, can’t do any math, and can’t make a chart in a spreadsheet, but by golly, I emphasized the shit out of my editing and writing skills.

    Reply
    1. Mainly Lurking

      Good Luck!

      It’s great timing for me, too, as I have an interview on Friday morning. Like you I’m not sure of my chances, as the practical exercises before the interview starts make me think they want someone with much better Excel skills and more in depth data analysis experience than I actually have.

      Reply
  22. Duchess Consuela Banana Hammock

    I’m a third year law student currently going through the job application process. My problem is that I’ve already interned for/done a clinic at almost everywhere I’m applying, so I’ve both worked there and have lots of contacts to get advice from. I’ve been wracking my brain about what to ask that I don’t already know.

    I should be clear for the non-lawyers that law school internships are not like undergrad internships–the ABA requires that interns are substantially doing *legal* work. I’ve written motions, met with clients, gone on the record in court, etc. So I have a fairly solid idea of both what the work entails and what the office culture is like etc.

    (I can re-post in the open thread if it’s more appropriate for there.)

    Reply
    1. Gloucesterina

      I wonder if you could approach this less as information-seeking about the orgs, since it sounds like you don’t need information, and more about exploring how potential colleagues think. (This approach makes a lot of sense in my context but I have zero idea if it applies to law!)

      Reply
      1. Gloucesterina

        Or what questions to ask to explore how someone thinks–it would have to keyed into how they think about, say, particular trends, tensions, or shifts in the field, but again, this may not make any sense in the context of the law.

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  23. Wendy Darling

    If the answer to #1 is “We don’t know,” proceed with extreme caution. If the answers to 1, 2, AND 5 are “we don’t know”, RUN.

    I could have saved myself from 8 months of a complete disaster soul-crushing job if I had been more worried about their inability to answer these questions.

    Reply
  24. StellaBella

    Brilliant timing, thank you ALison, as I have an interview on 14 November! I also have pulled up my copy of your interview guide, too, and am outlining things for my research…and have an appt with the career coach at the university on Friday morning too. :) Fingers crossed! Thank you again!

    Reply
  25. 90% Stubbornness By Weight

    I have a list of stuff I look for, both positive and negative. Some are questions that can be asked in the interview like “Do I get admin rights on my laptop?” (I’m in tech and that’s a big red flag if the answer is no), some are stuff I look for as I walk through the office to whatever interview room they’re putting me in. No personal stuff on the desks? I don’t want to work somewhere that controlling, thanks.

    I tell my interns that if they leave a job/internship without at least one thing they want to see in future jobs _or_ one thing they never want to see, they’ve probably wasted their time at that job. And it counts to add specific people to their “I want to work with again/never work with again” lists.

    Reply
  26. master of all sciences

    Where on earth can you ask 10 questions?
    Where I seek for jobs (yes, mostly in Europe but been interviewed in US, too), the final opportunity “Do you have any questions?” means “Do you have a question?”. That is, one, uno, un, ein, en, 1. Well, maximally two, but three is already excessive and shows that you do not respect their time, have not listened their monologue, have not done your homework, or whatever. (OK, my favourite question may be quite tricky and take time to answer, and I do not share it as it has not been successful.)

    Maybe the third interview may be more conversational when they consider offering the job, but I have not advanced that far.

    Reply

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