these are the best questions to ask your job interviewer

As someone who has interviewed probably thousands of job candidates, I’m always surprised by how some candidates handle the part of the interview where it’s their turn to ask questions. A ton of people don’t have many questions at all – which is hard to understand when they’re considering spending 40+ hours a week at this job.

To be fair, a lot of people worry about what questions are okay to ask. They’re concerned about seeming demanding or nitpicky or that their interviewer will draw unflattering conclusions from the questions they ask. It also can be hard to elicit the information you really want to learn (like “what are you really like as a manager?” and “am I going to go home crying every day?”) while still being reasonably tactful.

At New York Magazine today, I suggest 10 useful things to ask your interviewer when it’s your turn to ask the questions. (This is an updated version of a piece I did for them in 2018, so some of it may be familiar.) You can read it here.

{ 152 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    I legitimately appreciate these articles for helping me prepare, because my mind usually blanks on the questions part.

    That said, after the post the other day about walking out of interviews, I feel like there may be some value in a list of tactless questions you really shouldn’t ask. Just in case you get stuck in an interview where someone has confiscated your ID and you need to entertain yourself somehow.

    Because “am I going to go home crying every day?” with watery puppy dog eyes seems like it would be fun to actually ask once.

    1. Elenna*

      “Do you get sadistic enjoyment out of forcing hapless interviewees into talks on MLM schemes?”

  2. Ayko*

    I’m still trying to figure out how to ask “What is the workload like?” that will get me a genuine answer. I’ve tried that, I’ve tried following up with specific questions like “how many [items] would I be working on in a typical week?”, I’ve tried “describe a typical week” and I always, ALWAYS get either vague answers that remain vague even while I’m attempting to drill down, or I get an answer that turns out to be WAY off once I’m actually in the job. Occasionally I’ll have the opportunity to talk to someone who would be a colleague/in a similar role, and I always get the impression that they’re toeing the company line so I don’t get real answers there either. I’m not sure if managers just… don’t KNOW what they need? I’d love to be able to screen for this before I start a job, so what else can I do?

    1. The Ginger Ginger*

      I usually try to get at this by asking about typical hours worked during the week. Did the last person in this role typically complete their assigned work in a standard 40 hour work week? Or you can skew it toward culture, how often do people work overtime? That kind of thing. But I agree, it’s hard to pin down sometimes.

    2. Sparrow*

      My most recent interviews have all been for newly-created positions, so they really couldn’t answer this kind of question definitively. The last time around, I instead decided to focus on asking my prospective manager about her expectations re. work hours/scheduling, since that’s really what I cared most about (basically: if it turns out that the workload is heavier than you anticipate, would you expect the person in this role to up their hours, work in the evenings from home, etc. – but worded more diplomatically so as to not sound like a slacker).

      The resulting conversation was enough for me to feel fairly comfortable that if we got to the point where I was needing to work outside standard business hours to get everything done, she’d redistribute responsibilities because she doesn’t think the work is important enough to eat into her staff’s personal time/lives. And so far she’s been very true to her word, fortunately!

      1. Melmun*

        Whereas for me a “typically 40 hours a week” did not turn out to be a useful answer, because the workload was more like 5-10 hours and no prior employee is going to risk their paycheck by going home at 11 a.m. every day. And when the disparity between expectations and reality is so extreme, I can’t even really directly ask for more work, because I risk my job if they realize they don’t actually need me. So I can only softball by occasionally mentioning I have the bandwidth to take on another project if one comes along.

        I haven’t had a full-time job that was genuinely full-time since 2006, so I would love to know how to get them to be realistic and honest! The boredom is very detrimental to my mental health, and it keeps happening so I don’t know how to find someplace that’s better. Obviously I don’t want to jump from job to job if it’s just going to be more of the same. Maybe managers are just truly that disconnected… why else pay a full-time salary for a part-time need?

        1. Anon for this*

          Can you stretch out your tasks to make them last longer? Can you take on projects like updating spreadsheets or procedures/training manuals? Is there a “busy season” and you just happened to be in the slow season, for this job?

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’m at a loss for how you could ask that differently, TBH. I get those questions a lot, and they’re a great opportunity to describe what it’s like to work here and see if that fits with the candidate’s target workplace. I do find “typical day” hard because our days vary a lot, so I just give a few examples. Maybe pick an exampe of what your day is/was like in a similar position and do a compare/contrast or talk about an aspect of a workplace in which you’ve thrived?

      I never understand employers playing hide-the-ball on stuff like that. I get asked all of these questions a lot and try to give people the good/bad/ugly because workload, feast-or-famine, and last-minute is really a thing in legal, particularly some practice areas, and I want to be as honest about that as I can as soon as I can. It does no one – not me, not the attorneys, not the candidate – any good to learn a few months in that it’s a bad fit. Then, I’ve invested in training for nothing and have to start over, and the candidate has to figure out how to deal with a short-term resume gap and start their job search over.

      Also, re the toeing the company line – generally, we’re not going to let someone interview if they’re going to badmouth the organization, if we can’t trust them to not ask illegal/inappropriate questions, or if we’re not going to get valuable feedback from them on the candidate’s fit for the position (like the person who told me they recommended an offer because the candidate had been in her sorority at a different school. really.); however, I have no problem sending a peer in to accurately describe their day-to-day reality.

    4. hbc*

      If there are multiple people in that role, I think you should ask what today or this week looks like for them. You’ll probably get some hemming and hawing about how this is an unusual week (especially if the role being open is an actual staffing issue), but that should at least prompt them into specifics–or obvious dodging, which is just as informative.

    5. CL Cox*

      When we recently had a mini-audit, one of the questions they asked was how much time per day/week/month I felt I worked on financial matters (which is only part of my job) and what times of year were the heaviest. From what I understand, they asked my peers at other locations the same thing and are using the information partly to tweak the job description so candidates know how much of the job is secretarial/admin work and how much is bookkeeping.

    6. CM*

      I do not understand why people always say, “Oh, every day is so different!” when it’s NOT. Not at the level a candidate is asking, anyway. Like, maybe you’re doing 8 different tasks, but the kinds of tasks are going to be similar or at least belong to certain categories. When I inevitably get this answer that there’s no typical day, I often ask what types of work the person has done this week. That gets a better answer.

  3. Lynnerd*

    I consulted these questions CONSTANTLY while I was job searching through most of 2019, and I directly attribute them to landing a great position at one of the best companies I could imagine (like, there is almost ZERO drama among the 150+ people working here, I love my boss, leadership is proactive and down to earth– people are actually skeptical when I tell them about the work culture here because it sounds too good. Can’t say I blame them).

    Asking questions like these at every interview was an excellent way to find out which companies were uniquely rigorous in their hiring practices, which in turn leads to exceptional employees and work environment.

    My favorite by far is “What do you like about working here?” OH, that one is SO important and everyone I asked for this job really enjoyed answering it!

    1. Adrienne*

      I have also asked “What don’t you like about working here?” or “What’s something you would like to change?” or something along those lines. I know that it will not be well received by some people, but I figure if you’re not willing to be honest with me about what it’s really like to work there, then I’m okay if you don’t offer me the job.

      1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

        I asked in my last interview “What are the best and worst things/parts about working here, in your opinion?” That raised some eyebrows. Unfortunately I got very canned duplicative answers from the 4 people in the room. And I didn’t get the job.

        1. Another Millenial*

          Yeah, if they’re trying to get a person into a role, they aren’t going to tell them the negatives. They’re selling themselves as much as you are selling your skillset.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Nope, not good interviewers/good employers. Good employers know that truth in advertising matters and they want to have an up-front conversation about the negatives of the role/culture so people can self-select out if it’s not for them. In fact, I’d say that if you get an interviewer who won’t do that, take that as important (and bad) info about why they don’t want to do that.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              I once got a response that was essentially “we recognize that this is a problem and we hope that you will fix it”

          2. S-Mart*

            I agree that it happens that way, but it’s so short-sighted. I WANT my prospective employees to know about the negatives going in, because I want them to make the decision they can (or can’t) deal with the whole package. I’d rather hire my #2 choice that’s ok with the pros and cons of my offered position over the #1 choice for whom one of the negatives is a deal-breaker and it forces me to go through the process all over again when they leave shortly after starting.

            I’m probably too far in the other direction. My boss has on a couple of occasions accused me of trying to scare off candidates. Not my intent, but I can see where he’s coming from. I happen to really like my job and company most days, but there are some serious negatives that I’ve made peace with that others need to as well in order to be happy here.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I flinched at the fact they accused you of scaring off candidates.

              It reminded me of the time when I was pegged as the problem when a position was hard to fill, we kept getting no-shows both for interviews and then for hires. “What are you doing?!” The response in reality was “Everything I can to sell this crappy, underpaying job in a bustling city full of better pay. WHAT ARE YOU doing?”. What I actually said was “They sounded excited the entire time, so it doesn’t seem to be me/us. The competition is stiff AF, they probably just got a better offer, dude.” *face desk* But nah, it was me, I was chasing them off with my secret messages under the desk *snort*

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Heh. I call myself the downer portion of the interview, internally. My recruiter often asks me in my interview follow-up call if I “scared the candidate away yet”, but it’s good-natured rather than accusatory. I share the want-to-share-negatives-up-front philosophy, particularly for our faster-paced departments, and they don’t want to reopen the role again in 3 months either. But she also does the initial round of ground-laying on the pace in the initial screen, and people often tell me, “Yes, Recruiter mentioned that, and [lots of hours, short-turn deadlines, crazy du jour] is not a problem for me.”

            3. Glitsy Gus*

              Agree with all of this. Nowhere is going to be perfect, it’s best to have everything out on the table.

              Also a negative for you may be a positive for me, depending on what it is. Say, you like being pretty independent, and so you might think there are too many meetings or something along those lines, meanwhile I am a much more collaborative person, so that may be more up my alley.

          3. Lavender Menace*

            Not necessarily. I have been asked that question multiple times by candidates and I always answer it honestly, if tactfully. No workplace is perfect, and I expect that a good candidate would understand that. I want them to assess whether my role, my team and my company is truly a good fit for them, not hide our problems so that they can come into the role and then leave after 6 months.

        2. Threeve*

          I think “biggest challenges” is better than “worst.” I’ve used “what are the best parts of the work, and what would you say are some of the challenges?” and gotten some relatively informative responses. And if it’s a challenge I’ve faced before, I’ll definitely share that.

          If I learn they have some difficult clients, for example, I can talk about working with stressed-out, ridiculously demanding helicopter parents at my last job, so at this point in my life there’s not much I can’t laugh off.

          I’ll keep it specific but very brief, so it doesn’t seem like I was just fishing for an opening to brag, and sympathetic, so it doesn’t seem I’m dismissing it as something that’s not actually challenging.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I definitely ask about challenges facing a department and/or company. It gives me useful info and often an opportunity to talk about how I’ve faced similar challenges.

        3. Formerly Ella Vader*

          This might get more interesting and useful answers if you asked it in one-on-one situations. If I’m part of a hiring panel, there is no way I’m going to say anything about the worst parts of working here in front of my boss or colleagues, and I’d be irritated with the candidate for asking.

          1. Indy Dem*

            It would be funny if, when asked the question, you just point at the other people of the hiring panel.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              Just start listing. Well, Bob here has crazy gas. Seriously, Bob, what do you eat at lunch? Marci can’t hold a meeting that lasts less than 2 hours. Fergus is a control freak and Sansa is going to make sure you end up doing all her work for her. Other than that, this place is pretty great. We have Bagel Thursdays!

          2. Thorisa*

            YES! I interviewed for an internal position not too long ago, and I had a difficult time finding examples for things like, “tell us about a conflict” – I didn’t want to throw the people in the room under the bus!

      2. Senor Montoya*

        I usually ask (and appreciate being asked): what is the most challenging part of working here [worded more elegantly].

    2. corporate engineering layoff woo*

      YES. I’m still working on developing my in-person interview questions on this search, but have been using these questions pretty effectively so far. Very helpful!

    3. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

      I often ask questions about the team or department work culture, which I think has served as a softer way to ask this without it seeming too negative.

      At one company, every person I interviewed with (I was a final candidate, it was four or five separate interviews) told me of the extreme hours. That was enough warning for me to stay away (fortunately, I didn’t get an offer – maybe because I looked stunned by the fact that they all went on and on about working well into the evening, but that it was “okay, because we have a little bar cart!”)

      1. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

        (Meant to put this comment under the “biggest challenge/worst part about working here” questions!)

  4. Alex*

    One interview question I’ve found both useful and seen my interviewers impressed by is “What do you expect this position to look like in five years?” The answer to this gives a lot of information–it shows how they think of the position of fitting in with their overall business goals, and it gives specifics on the kind of progress and growth they see for it. And if they haven’t thought about it, or think that it isn’t going to change much, that’s a big red flag for me (YMMV, as I’m in a field that changes rapidly).

    I think it impresses interviewers because it shows that I think about how my work supports the business goals, that I’m interested in growing and not afraid of (the right kind of) change, that I plan to commit fairly long term, and that I’m aware that my kind of work involves constant change and adaptation (and that I’m thinking about the kinds of change that could be useful).

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      This is a good one because it also weeds out the companies that have wildly out of proportion goals. If they currently have 3 llama groomers and think that within 5 years they’ll have 30 llama groomers, does it seem reasonable that they’ll experience a 1,000% growth in that short of time? Does the current or potential customer market really seem to support that much growth? What’s the competition like? Even if the industry as a whole is growing, is it growing at that rate?

  5. LunaLena*

    I’ve often been confounded in job interviews because I tend to ask questions during the interview when a related subject comes up, so I often don’t have much to ask at the end. I try to keep back a couple of questions so I’ll have something to ask at the end, but usually end up with something like “what does a normal day look like?” and then “you’ve actually already answered most of my questions, I was going to ask about X!” In hindsight, I sometimes think my career was more a product of luck than good interviewing skills, haha.

    Also, there was a recent Buzzfeed list about “things you’ve seen in job interviews” that made me cringe after everything I’ve read here at AAM. One interviewee asked “how was my interview?” and the interviewer’s comment was that “openly asking for feedback to improve sent a good message.” Another said the interviewee asked “When can I expect your answer?” and was given the job on the spot. So apparently there are some hiring managers out there who are perpetrating and perpetuating the idea that Gumption!(tm) pays off…

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I have tried to counteract the using-up-all-the-questions by asking the candidate after basic introductions and a softball if they have any questions they want to make sure we cover in our discussion. Looking through Alison’s list, I realize that I tend to answer most of those in describing what the position is, how we measure performance, and what skills/attributes distinguish the most successful people from their peers (and my situational questions relate to these, so it’s a good segue). I also tell candidates to feel free to ask questions at any time if they want more information or detail about a particular point; they don’t need to hold them until the end, if we’re already discussing it.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Engaging in conversation and asking questions as you go along is great, I *love* it when a candidate does that (as long as it’s not getting too far afield or taking giant chunks of time). I’d say, prepare way more questions than you can possibly ask so that you are ready. Make them open -ended. Make them questions that more than one person can ask. I myself will have several pages of questions ready, organized by topic or kind of question or job-function (depends on the job), so that I can quickly tick off the ones already addressed and go to another.

      If you have the kind of interview where you meet with a search committee then meet with some other group/s or person/s — remember that you can ask many of the same questions. You may get different and revealing answers by doing that.

    3. Joie*

      I am the same way with questions. I tend to have a list before I walk in about what I want to know when I walk out and a lot of times it comes up pretty organically or if there’s something I’m unclear on I’ll ask them to expand in the moment instead of waiting for the end. I find I get clearer and more in depth answers when I ask in the moment then bringing it up again later.

      Typically I’ve just made a bit of a show (enough that I’m clearly looking at a list but not enough its dramatic) about going through my list and notes at the end and either mention I got all my questions answered or at that point as for more information / ask questions that didn’t come up.

      1. Joie*

        oh and there are a few horrifying (and hilarious) lists of “How to get the hiring managers attention!” in the last few years from Buzzfeed and I would actually pay money to see a live feed of Alison reading them they are that bad advice. Like colour coordinate a treat in a box with a colour coordinated resume a la Elle Woods.

        1. Tina*

          Oh lord, yes, they’re horrible/gorgeous.
          PLEASE, Alison, PLEASE for the sake of every green young (and not-so-young) Buzzfeed reader.

    4. old curmudgeon*

      In some private-sector industries, a good question to keep in your back pocket (in case the interviewer has already answered Alison’s ten options) can be something along the lines of “What type of community involvement and/or charitable efforts does the company participate in? What opportunities do employees have to support those initiatives?” At least for myself, I genuinely do prefer to work for an employer that gives something back to the community of which they are a part, so that has been a good way for me to see how well a potential employer fits my personal ethos.

      Obviously that doesn’t work in all situations (public-sector jobs being the main example) and possibly it’s not relevant to you. But I have used that kind of question on occasion, and always to good effect.

    5. Kevin Sours*

      I honestly wouldn’t hold it against a candidate if they said “I already asked everything I wanted to ask” at the end. The best interviews are a conversation not an interrogation anyway.

  6. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I always want to ask about telecommuting or working remotely, but find there is still a lot of stigma unfortunately around that topic and get the impression (when I have asked) that they think if you’re asking that you just want to be lazy and hang out at home. Or that it’s an earned privilege only for the super elite who’ve been there decades, not the new peon.

    1. Well Then*

      Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine. I interviewed for a job that was 25-50% travel, often overnight. The office was an hour commute from my home, so I asked about the option of working remotely when not traveling. The hiring manager said he didn’t offer it, because he didn’t believe people could really be productive when working from home. I was very put off by that – this was a managerial job in a competitive field, and required an advanced degree. WFH is a pretty important perk for a job with significant travel, and (at the level this job was at) if you don’t trust your employee to be conscientious and do their job in the absence of your physical presence, then you have hired the wrong person.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        That’s kind of dopey, too — what did he think you were doing while you were traveling? That’s … remote work, right???

    2. Sarah*

      I’ve got an interview next week that I desperately want to ask about working remotely, but alas, I probably won’t until I hopefully get to the offer stage.

    3. KAG*

      And what if no WFH is a deal-breaker for you? It seems like a waste of everyone’s time to go through the entire interview process only to find out at the offer stage that it’s non-negotiable.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        That’s great if you have lots of options, but if you’re in a place with limited opportunities and you really need a role, it can be difficult to potentially take yourself out of the running.

    4. irene adler*

      Similar vein for inquiring about any options for flexible scheduling. That is looked down upon too.
      The traffic can be brutal; hence businesses should try to find ways for their employees to avoid it. But dang, some places just do not care that they have employees spending 3 hours per day sitting in traffic.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, a flexible schedule and WFH are really important to me and it’s tricky to figure out how to bring it up unless they start the conversation. I commute by public transit, and being able to go off-peak is such a huge life improvement I really have no desire at all to ever go back to rush hour bus lines. Also, my most productive day of the week is the day I work from home. Not only does it make me happier, I get more done. I’m a grown up, if you can’t trust me to do the job on my own without constant supervision, don’t hire me.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          Yeah, I’m more productive when I work from home because I don’t have people constantly coming into my office asking me questions, nor are there any impromptu meetings. I also tend to work longer hours, since I don’t have to commute and often look up and realize it’s later than I thought.

  7. 2 Cents*

    I’ve used your “what differentiates someone who’s good at this job for someone who’s great?” And it’s made me stand out as a candidate and related some interesting answers. Helped me see how thoroughly managers thought through the objects for the position.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I have not had much luck with that question. People hem and haw and don’t seem to know how to give any kind of answer. Or they just vaguely say “Detail oriented…”

      1. NW Mossy*

        That, in itself, is a really informative answer if you think about it. It tells you that you’ve got a hiring manager who’s underprepared for their part of the hiring process, and they’re not necessarily giving a really serious decision the focused, thoughtful attention it needs. That’s not a good sign, but when you’re job-searching, hearing dealbreakers is as (or more!) important than hearing things that make you fall in love with the job.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Agreed. A bad non-answer can give you just as much information as a well thought out one. There is also the chance to go from that answer. You may need to feel it out a bit based on the interviewer, but a vague answer can be tied back a bit. Say, “OK, great, so what does detail oriented look like in this position? What are the tasks and information that are relevant?” Something along that line. It isn’t exactly the same question, but it gets at the same concept.

      2. Becky Sharp*

        There was a useful discussion on this on an earlier open thread, including other ways of framing/wording that people found got them clearer responses. I can’t for the life of me find it – would anyone be able to link?

      3. 2 Cents*

        Yeah, if the hiring manager (the one who will be deciding if my work is up to snuff and deciding if I get raises) can’t tell me how they Will recognize greatness in the role, it’s a warning flag for me. Especially since what I do can be measured.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Yeah, I feel the same way for the opposite reason. What I do is actually tricky to measure in a finite metric. So, what is your gauge for success if you can’t use hard numbers?

      4. Former Young Lady*

        Or it comes back to bite you!

        Happened to me recently. Everyone seemed affable and impressed, and conversation flowed smoothly, right up until I asked this question. The lead interviewer’s eyes immediately narrowed and she snorted, “The ones who are ‘just OK’ don’t make it!” And then her entire team started laughing.

        I tried to laugh along, but the whole tone of the conversation changed dramatically after that. Suddenly I seemed to be kidding myself about my qualifications, and everyone seemed eager to get things over with.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          Actually, I’d say it didn’t come back to bite you, because you identified a potentially toxic situation. So the question still served you well – just potentially not in a way you’d have expected.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is one of my favorite questions, and, if candidates don’t ask it, I tell them anyway. :)

    3. Sarah-tonin*

      Oooh I was at an interview the other day and, having had most of my questions answered naturally throughout the interview, I asked this one! The person I was talking to seemed impressed, and I can’t really remember the details of the answer (I was a lil nervous….), I’m glad I asked it. Thanks, AAM!

    4. hbc*

      Even knowing that the candidate could have read it off a list somewhere, I still love getting the question. I feel very uncomfortable describing the Super Employee vision I have without prompting, because I have reasonable expectations and I don’t want anyone thinking that you need to be faster than a speeding bullet and command sea creatures. But once you give me an opening of good vs. great, I consider that a green light to bring up dolphin fluency.

  8. Senor Montoya*

    It should go without saying, but:

    When you ask these questions, actually listen to the answers, ask follow up questions or clarifying questions. If it’s a committee, let several of the folks on the committee answer the same question, as appropriate.

    Do NOT interrupt the person answering the questions. In particular, do NOT interrupt to tell the committee how “that’s exactly like my last job where I blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah ”

    Ask very few short-answer, just need a piece of info/detail questions, unless they are really important. “Does your llama grooming program follow the Peruvian protocols or the LA Zoo procedure?” — If there’s nothing more to say than “Peruvian”, then just one of that question type. If it leads to an interesting discussion on the employer’s mission or it’s tied to something like for Peruvian protocols you have to have a certain license, or you are morally opposed to the LA Zoo procedure, then that’s a good question. Otherwise: the rest of your questions need to be of the sort Allison lists.

  9. Threeve*

    What are good questions for phone interviews, especially with HR? My goal in a phone interview is usually to get an in-person interview, not to decide if I want the job, so I often feel like I should keep them briefer, more positive, and less probing. But I’m never certain.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      You can ask the very same kinds of questions. When we’re doing phone interviews, someone who’s brief and not probing is not as likely to move along to the next level. Brief and less deep = we can’t tell a whole lot more about you than what we got from your letter and resume.

      That may depend on the industry and type of job of course.

      1. irene adler*

        Yes and no.
        The phone interview might be with someone in HR- not the hiring manager. This person may not be too familiar with the job specifics. They may very well not even be located in the same facility as the hiring manager. I’ve done many phone interviews with an HR person who resides 2 or 3 time zones away from the actual facility where the job is located. In addition, the initial phone interview may be conducted by a hired contractor.

        Thus an HR person may not have a good response to questions like how they measure success, detail a typical work day, outline the challenges faced in the job, what expectations they have over the first 6-12 months on the job, and what differentiated the good from the great employee who held this position. For questions like these I get, “I don’t actually know; however, the hiring manager can tell you all about that”.

        I’ve had good responses with inquiring about the company culture. But even then, if the phone interviewer does not work local to the job site, this could be misleading. And, the “what do you like about working here?” might not have any relation to the position being filled.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          That;s a good point — I’ve never had HR do an initial phone screen, so this didn’t occur to me!

          1. irene adler*

            Which just begs the issue: hiring managers, you need to prep the HR screeners thoroughly. Please!

            1. Lavender Menace*

              Sometimes, we don’t have a choice. At my company, HR has their own screening questions they have to ask per company policy, and nothing I tell them will influence that.

              On the other hand, if you’re getting an HR screening call, it’s because I’ve requested a phone interview with you anyway.

              1. pally*

                Understandable.
                Might pepper the hiring manager with Alison’s questions and see what they tell you (assuming you are allowed to do this).

    2. hbc*

      You can’t go wrong with asking, “Is this the right time to cover questions about [company culture/specific duties/typical work weeks/etc]?” Show that you’re thinking about these things while demonstrating that you’re considering the needs of the interviewer.

    3. ThatGirl*

      If it’s an HR screener, I usually ask about typical working hours, company culture, any HR-related sorts of things (benefits/how soon they go into effect, dress code, etc).

  10. Elizabeth West*

    The question I really care about: “How much does this job pay?” It’s most important because it affects every aspect of my life. Will I have enough to eat? Will I be cold? Can I fix things if they break?

    And I can’t ask and don’t get that information until the offer stage, after I’ve (probably) wasted my time. Look, I’m not there because of passion. I want the job because I have to LIVE. Liking it is gravy. Hire me and I’ll work hard, no matter what, because I need to live.

    1. Another Millenial*

      I use Glassdoor to get a little insight on the average salary at the company for that or similar roles. I know it’s not always an option, but it really helped my decision on my last role.

    2. Threeve*

      It’s like asking if someone wants kids on the first date. It’s pretty fundamental to long-term compatibility, and both sides want to know the answer, but it still just isn’t done.

    3. ThatGirl*

      In my experience, this often comes up during a phone screen — not always, of course, but HR is often the one doing the phone screen and by extension handling the salary negotiations. I’ve even had a couple of screens end with “you’re probably over qualified for this job and the top of our salary band is 10k less than the bottom of yours so I’d understand if you don’t want to continue”.

    4. irene adler*

      I’ve experienced where the phone screener asks what salary range am I targeting.
      Sometimes they laugh their heads off at my response. Then they tell me I’m “waaaay too low”.
      Other times, ghosted. I assume that means “too high”.
      **shrug**

      1. Scandinavian Vacationer*

        I’ve also had success with HR phone screens in asking the salary range, or sometime they will also give the midpoint. They do not want to continue if you are wildly mis-matched, either.

  11. merp*

    I just saw a buzzfeed list about questions hiring managers have received, and the very first one was “How was my interview?” The hiring manager who submitted it was somehow really thrilled with it, thought it sent a great message about being open to feedback, and it just reminded me of all the conversations about that here.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      OMG.

      If anyone asked that, I’d say, “The committee needs to meet to discuss all of our candidates, so I cannot really answer that question accurately right now.”

      Honestly though? If you asked me that question, I’m thinking, “Not well, because you asked me that question.” It wouldn’t disqualify you, especially if it were an entry-level position and you were pretty new to the work world, we can train for that kind of thing if you are otherwise really good. If it’s past entry level and/or you’ve been working more than a couple of years? That speaks to a lack of understanding of basic professional expectations for this field. Not a good look.

      1. irene adler*

        How about the question:

        ” Do you have any reservations (or concerns) against hiring me for this position? I’d like the chance to address them please.”
        Does that illicit the same objection?

        (Once, I was rejected for a skill that wasn’t even in the job description nor was it brought up in the interview process-all 4 interviews. But I lacked it and I was rejected. No chance to ask about this.)

        I get that asking ‘how I did’ questions put the interviewer into a corner. Not good. There’s been no chance to mull over the interviews.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          I would be perhaps slightly less put off by this phrasing…but still put off.

          Most candidates, in my experience, ask this question because they want another opportunity to sell themselves. But I can’t really think of any reservations that I’d have that would be effectively solved by someone selling themselves that wouldn’thave been allayed by them simply performing well during the interview itself. If I had something I was concerned about, I’d ask about it, or I’d put a question in my interview that’s designed to get at that. If someone said something in an interview that was concerning, I’d ask a follow-up question(s) to see if my concerns are allayed or heightened.

          Besides, what if there’s nothing specific, simply that the candidate isn’t as good as other candidates? If I say “no,” I don’t want to imply that the candidate is a perfect fit – every candidate has flaws. I’d be more worried that they’d take it the wrong way and assume that they are a shoo-in or that my answer was a commentary on their performance. I’d probably just say something like “No, there’s nothing you can address at this time,” which is fudging a bit but truthful.

          And about your specific situation – I’m not sure that it would’ve solved your problem, because it sounds like those interviewers are just bad at hiring.

          1. pally*

            Very good point you make. Thank you for taking the time to write that all out.
            Now that you have, I see the folly in the “do you have any reservations” questions.
            If there are, then the interviewer will ask- no worries on my end.

        2. TheOtherLiz*

          I ask this, and it works well for me. I add, “or skills that haven’t come up in this conversation” – it’s a little less aggressive. But it works well for me – people will often come right out and say what their assumptions are, and I can address them truthfully. Recently in an interview, someone asked about an aspect of the job that hadn’t been listed on the job description, so it hadn’t come up – but I do have the experience. So I got to address that. It works best in the group interview, I think, where not everyone gets to ask all the questions that were on their minds.

  12. CatCat*

    Love this list. And I love #6 especially. I deployed it my last job search and it always provokes thoughtful and interesting responses.

  13. TCO*

    In addition to, “What do you like about working here?” I also always ask, “What’s most challenging about working here?” I find the answers to that question give me a lot of insight into the culture. People tend to talk about things like workloads, ambiguity or shifting priorities, growth, funding, etc. Sometimes those challenges aren’t things that would bother me, sometimes they are, but it’s always really telling.

      1. CM*

        Oh, I like that way better than “what’s the worst thing about working here” or “what do you not like.” It gets at similar issues but is more positive.

  14. knitter*

    #3 saved me from a REALLY bad fit (well, at least I assume so)

    I interviewed first with who would have been the grand-boss for the position and asked that question. In a separate interview, I asked the same question to the person who was the hiring manager. They had WILDLY different answers. It was a position that required a master’s but the hiring manager described a situation that sounded more intern level (ie take this llama brush to from one llama groomer to another). The grand boss described a job more in line with my expectations.

    I took it as a red flag both that they weren’t on the same page (a bigger red flag than the discrepancy of skill they asked for and described) and withdrew myself.

  15. NW Mossy*

    This article is timely, because it’s giving me some food for thought on how I can bend these questions for interviewing internally. My organization is currently hiring for leaders two levels up from me, and there’s a good likelihood that my current boss’s role (or one very similar) will come open once the musical chairs has stopped. I care about these questions just as much as an external candidate would, but it’ll take a bit more finesse to pitch them well.

  16. Mr. Tyzik*

    “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?”

    When I was laid off and interviewing I asked this question. It became an important barometer in that if the interviewer couldn’t come up with any differences, it was likely that success wasn’t clearly measured.

    In one interview, I asked the question and the interviewer paused, told me no one had asked her that before, and she began listing some of the performance measures and needed skills. It allowed us to have an open conversation about the type of person she needed beyond what was printed on paper and allowed me to build a rapport with her during our interview. We ran long from the conversation and I had an offer 3 days later.

    I know I got the job because I’m awesome at what I do (:D) yet credit this question with helping me find the right job with the right people that furthered my career. It’s been almost 2 years and I have a very close rapport with the interviewer (who is my grand-boss) which helps bolster my confidence about my work.

  17. Carlottamousse*

    I used some of these questions when I interviewed for my current job several years ago (from a different Ask a Manager post), and I could tell my interviewers were pleased with my questions and took them to indicate my genuine interest in the position and in succeeding in the position. These are great questions, obviously best tailored to the job you’re applying for.

  18. Just Another Manic Millie*

    I’m retired. If I had come across these questions while I was working, I would have found only a couple of them helpful.

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

    Completely unhelpful, as six of my ten jobs were bait-and-switch (some worse than others), so any answer I would have been given would not have been at all helpful.

    At one job (which was not one of the bait-and-switch jobs), where I was secretary of the president of the company, I found out after I was there for eight months that I was about to be fired. I was told that was what the president wanted, and it happened all the time, not just to me, so that the president’s secretary could never take a vacation and could never get a raise. During my eight months there, I was never told to do a letter or report over because of a typo, and I was never criticized in any way. I thought that meant that the president was happy with my work. I don’t know how success in my position could have been measured, since it seemed that it was pre-planned that I get fired. (When I told the vice president that I was leaving, he said that he had hoped that the company would keep me.)

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

    Definitely unhelpful if a challenge is that the job is bait-and-switch. And I wouldn’t expect the interviewer to say, “All of your predecessors were fired before they were here for one year, as per the president’s orders, so your challenge is to be so great that he would never dream of firing you.”

    At another job (which was not one of the bait-and-switch jobs), an executive complimented me in front of another admin and said that I was better than she was at shorthand and typing. The next day, she complained and threatened to quit if I wasn’t fired. So I was fired. If I had asked about challenges during my interview, I’m sure the interviewer would not have said, “Don’t be too good at your job, because if you get complimented in front of the other admin, she’ll want me to fire you, and I’ll have no choice but to fire you.”

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

    Completely unhelpful regarding a bait-and-switch job.

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

    I had heard about this question, but I never asked it, figuring that it would be easy for the interviewer to lie to me, and I wouldn’t learn the truth until after I started the job, if ever. Only once did an interviewer volunteer this information to me. She said that my predecessor had left the company, which consisted of only five people, because she wanted to work for a big company. After I was working there for a while, the interviewer, who was the owner of the company, told me that she had fired my predecessor because she was lazy. Some time after that, a co-worker told me that my predecessor had not been fired because she lazy. She found a new job and wanted to give the owner two weeks notice, but the owner wasn’t in that day. The co-worker told me that he told my predecessor to email the owner and give two weeks notice, but my predecessor didn’t want to. Instead, she waited for the owner to return to the company a few days later and then gave notice, which was obviously for less than two weeks. The owner got angry and insisted that she leave right away. My co-worker said that the owner considers herself to have fired my predecessor, since she told my predecessor to get out right away.

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

    Completely unhelpful regarding a bait-and switch job.

    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?”

    Completely unhelpful regarding a bait-and-switch job. Not at all helpful when it’s been decided before you start working there that you’re going to be fired before a year has gone by, no matter how well you do your job, and not at all helpful if a co-worker insists that you get fired because someone else thought you did good work, or else she will quit.

    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?”

    Completely unhelpful if it’s been decided before you start working there that you’re going to be fired before a year has gone by, no matter how well you did your job, and not at all helpful if a co-worker insists that you get fired through no fault of your own, because the interviewer certainly is not going to tell you to watch out for her.

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

    I never asked this question, because if the interviewer’s answer was a lie, I wouldn’t have any way of knowing that.

    9. Ask the question you really care about.

    I always wanted to know about health insurance, because I was single and obviously could not go on a spouse’s insurance plan. But it really annoyed some interviewers when I asked if their company had health insurance. One interviewer snapped at me that their health insurance plan was thoroughly discussed in their help wanted ad. I asked him which ad was his company’s. Did it provide a telephone number? A fax number? A post office box? He didn’t know. FWIW I always saved all of the help wanted ads that I responded to, and none of them ever thoroughly discussed their health insurance. Another interviewer told me that IF they decided to hire me, THEN they would tell me about their health insurance.

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

    I never cared, because I figured that if they wanted me, they would call me, and if they didn’t want me, they wouldn’t call. I never called a company to ask if they had made a decision yet.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Well, of course the “measures of success” questions aren’t going to be helpful if the company is trying to pull a fast one on you. It sounds like you’ve had some bad interviews and worked for some bad companies, but I can assure you that there are companies out there where these are useful questions that will be answered in a fairly honest fasion. And for all of these, if they refuse to answer or give you a vague or noncommittal answer, that tells you something too.

    2. Turtlewings*

      I appreciate that you’ve been burned more than once by awful employers, but if you’re going into an interview with the attitude that them lying to you about everything is a foregone conclusion, there’s not much point in even attending the interview. Besides, more than one of the ones you mark as “completely unhelpful” could at least raise a red flag when they get flustered trying to answer it. Even if somebody’s planning to screw you over, they seldom have an airtight cover story already in place during the interview.

      1. NW Mossy*

        More questions = more data into your own evaluation process, so yes! No one of these questions is a silver bullet to help you nail the perfect gig, but if you touch on all of them, you’ll get a pretty rounded picture of what things are like at that organization.

        Also, it’s often hard to tell from the outside which question will elicit that one useful nugget of info. I’ve told this story here before, but I once asked about the prior employee and learned that she’d passed away at a tragically young age. Knowing that put a lot of the rest of their behavior into context, and ultimately led me to realize that they were looking for an emotional replacement for her as much as a functional one. That was too deep for me to want to wade into in my mid-20s, so I ended up declining.

      2. Just Another Manic Millie*

        I never had the attitude that they were lying to me about everything. I merely thought that it would be easy for them to lie about the person who previously held the job, so I never asked about him/her.

        At my first job, although I had been told that my hours would be Monday – Friday 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM, I found out on my first day that hours would be Monday – Friday 9:00 AM – midnight, Saturday 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, plus Sunday mornings. Since they had been so determined to keep the truth from me, I don’t know how I could have found out about the hours before I accepted the job. I gave notice on my second day and said that I would work there Monday – Friday 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM until they found a replacement for me. Two days later, I was told not to return.

        My second job was the president’s secretary job where I eventually found out that it was predetermined that I would stay there for under one year. I was so happy there! I did great work and never got any criticism. I was always punctual and didn’t take too much time for lunch. I liked everyone, and they all seemed to like me. So it was a shock when, on Thursday, February 14, when picking up the president’s incoming mail to deliver to him, a small piece of his newspaper tore off, and when I picked it up, I saw that it was an ad for my job. I didn’t think that I was still carrying the ad that I had answered all this time, so I held it up to that day’s newspaper and saw that it fit.

        I asked the president, “Do you want to fire me?” His response was, “Why do you ask?” I told him about finding the ad, and he said yes, he wanted to fire me, because that’s he did with all of his secretaries – fire them before they had been there for one year, so that they could never get a raise or take a vacation. But he hadn’t hired my replacement yet. I immediately typed up a letter of resignation and dated it February 1 and wrote in it that I was willing to work through Friday, February 15 and managed to get him to sign it and acknowledge it.

        Then I found out from a bunch of co-workers that they all knew that I was going to be fired, and there was even an office pool regarding what day would be my last day. They told me that I ruined everything by finding out ahead of time that I was going to be fired, so that I was never actually fired. It shook me up to find out that co-workers that I had thought I was on very good terms with were actually laughing at me behind my back, knowing that no matter how hard I worked and how well I did, it didn’t matter – I was going to be fired anyway. I was also told that the president enjoyed firing his secretaries and seeing them get upset. So, whenever you read an article about how supervisors just hate firing or laying people off, well, not all of them hate it.

        On February 15, I was asked to stay another week, because the president hadn’t found a replacement for me. I refused. I was told that I just had to work a few hours a day, and I could spend the rest of the time making phone calls and going on interviews, and I would get a full week’s salary. I said okay. I managed to find a new job during that week and arranged to start on Monday, February 25. On Friday, February 22, I was told that the president still hadn’t found a replacement for me, and could I stay another week. No, I could not.

        So, if that newspaper hadn’t torn, I don’t know what the day would have been if I had been fired. It obviously would have been February 25 or later. So someone got screwed out of a sizable amount of money. Too bad.

        So, at the tender age of 23, I had found out that I could be told on my first day that my working hours would be more than twice what I had been told during the interview, and I also found out that no matter how hard I tried to do a good job (and I succeeded in doing a great job), I could still get fired, and I could find out that while my co-workers were nice to my face, they were laughing at me behind my back for thinking that how well I did my job could make a difference in how long I would stay employed there. Meaning that I couldn’t trust anyone.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          It sounds like you had a string of negative but also highly unusual experience. That’s terrible, but I also don’t think it’s super applicable to the vast majority of job hunters.

      3. Lavender Menace*

        This. And I’d go further and say that most interviewers are not looking to just put a warm body in a role – they really do want to hire the right person. Hiring is expensive and time-consuming. At many companies if you have constant turnover in a role, not only are you signing yourself up for chaos, but you’re also in danger of losing the role altogether. I have no interest in lying to or misleading candidates, because I want the person I hire to stick around for a while and, you know, actually do work for me.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I agree. I once asked: “Who was previously in this position, and for how long?”
      The answer I got was: This is a new position. We had some people helping out with the duties in addition to their own, but ultimately decided we needed a person full-time dedicated to this role.
      The actual answer was: We had someone in this role, but he quit after being bullied, harassed, stonewalled, and micromanaged by his boss. And in the interim between my interview and my start date, everyone else in the department had also quit due to bullying and harassment by his (now my) boss. Who started bullying, harassing, stonewalling, and micromanaging me on my third day in the job.

      It was a dumpster fire, and I left.

      1. StellaBella*

        Yep. – I was also lied to. I discovered 3 months into a role that there were 3 people before me in the role, all of whom left after 6 months, and then when I switched roles, the new person in that role I had only lasted 12 weeks. Live and learn!

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      Even for a bait-and-switch, these questions could be useful, because they are not expected. And therefore, the person will have to think to come up with an answer, some of which will be less than plausible. It’s harder to make up lies on the fly when they aren’t to expected questions. That doesn’t mean that you’ll always be able to suss out the bait-and-switch jobs, but if they are flailing on the answers, that too is information.

      1. Just Another Manic Millie*

        “Even for a bait-and-switch, these questions could be useful, because they are not expected. And therefore, the person will have to think to come up with an answer, some of which will be less than plausible.”

        I totally disagree, because all the interviewer has to do is pretend that the advertised job exists and answer the questions accordingly. At one of my bait-and-switch jobs, I answered the ad for an admin and was hired. Another woman answered the same ad and was hired. On my first day (the other woman started a week later), I was told that the receptionist was on vacation, and I would have to fill in for her until she returned. I didn’t think that I had any choice but to do it. A few days later, I was told that I was doing such a great job that I would be the permanent receptionist, and that when the receptionist returned, she would be given another job. I was furious and decided to quit in a few weeks. (I wanted to earn some money, because I had been unemployed for a while.) So the other admin started a week after I did, and at the end of the week, she said that she wasn’t coming back. I asked if I could have her job and was told no. At the end of three weeks, I gave two weeks notice and spent a total of five weeks there. During my final three weeks, the other admin was not replaced.

        I don’t see how the interviewer would have hard time lying to me “on the fly.” All he had to do was tell me the same things that he told the other woman who accepted the admin job.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          So what’s the point in job hunting in the first place anyway? What should a person do instead – give up?

          1. Just Another Manic Millie*

            Oh, no, you can’t give up. You need a job in order to pay your bills. In order to get a job, you have to job hunt. It’s just that it’s so frustrating when, like me, you’ve read a ton of books on how to get employed and how to do a great job and how to get a raise blahblahblah, and then you come across horrible things that are never mentioned in any of the books, such as being lied to about how many hours you have to work, being set up so that you’re fired after you’re there for less than one year no matter how well you did your job, being fired because a co-worker heard you get complimented and she just can’t stand it and insists that if you don’t get fired, she will quit, and bait-and-switch, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it.

            And what about another job, in which I was told by the employment agency guy that experience in the field was not required, and I was also told during my three interviews by the branch manager, office manager, future supervisor, and a future co-worker that experience in the field was not required, only to find out on my first day that experience WAS required. No training was provided, and I was constantly in trouble for not knowing how to do what I had never done before.

            And then I got jerked around. After I was there for one month, the branch manager told me that even though there was a rule that you had to be working there for two years before you could ask for a transfer, he was going to allow me to transfer to another job effective immediately. An interview was set up for me at another branch office. Unfortunately, the branch manager gave me the wrong address, so by the time I showed up at the other branch office, I was very late and quite upset. I did not get the job.

            Then it seemed that there weren’t any other available jobs for me. I continued to muddle in my original job. The branch manager told me that when someone is given the right to ask for a transfer, if he hasn’t gotten a new job in a certain amount of time, there is an understanding that he will quit. I ignored him, and the subject was never brought up again.

            Then the branch manager suggested creating a new job for me. I would be his secretary, the assistant to another employee, and the office floater. I was thrilled. Everything went well for a while, until the branch manager told me that headquarters did not give approval for this new job. Again, I ignored him.

            I managed to find a new job and triumphantly gave the branch manager two weeks notice. He said too bad, because just this minute, he had gotten approval from headquarters for my new job. I didn’t believe him. I found out from some co-workers that he was upset that I had quit, because I had been there for a little more than four months, and since it was more than three months, he owed the employment agency the full fee for me.

            I have never read a book or article that says what to do if five people reassure you that experience in the field isn’t necessary, but when you start the job, you find out that experience is necessary, because no one wants to show you anything. I was told that the co-worker who had told me during my interviews that experience wasn’t necessary was the one who was supposed to train me, but he didn’t, because he was afraid that if he did, the company would decide that he, with his big salary, wasn’t needed, and he would be fired.

  19. introverted af*

    One question I asked during a phone interview that eventually led to the job I currently have (I started 3 months ago) – “What is the long-term potential or career track for this position?” The job was for an admin position at a fundraising non-profit. I really wanted the admin job, wanted to move that direction, but I also wanted to know there was at least something in the future here, not just one title and a pay cap.

    The HR hiring manager let me know that people don’t typically move from these positions to fundraising positions, and I clarified I wasn’t really interested in that, just wondering about my long-term prospects at the organization. She brightened up audibly at that, and talked about how I would likely be hired at one of the lowest 2 positions due to my age and work experiences, but that there was a ladder of positions available above this. Overall it went well, and the in person interview that followed went well and I obviously got the job. The hiring manager and the supervisors I interviewed with talked about how the company really values longevity of service and how most people stay for a long time, and the reason they were having lots of jobs open up was because of retirements and people being promoted internally. So those are obviously reasons this question worked for me, and I just wanted to put it out there for other young professionals to consider.

  20. Turtlewings*

    After spending way too long at a public library in a Very Bad Part of Town, one of my most urgent interview questions became “how many times in an average week do you have to call the police?” Did this get me raised eyebrows? Heck yes it did. It also got very educational answers.

    1. Sarah-tonin*

      I had an interview at a library in a Very Bad Town for a reference/adult services position, and the interviewer said, multiple times, that this wasn’t the Name of Town I Work In, which was a little off-putting, like I hadn’t realized that.

      but he was also very honest in what the job entailed, and he wasn’t shy about letting me know all the things I’d have to deal with, like od’s, calling the police, etc.

      I withdrew my application later that day, because I didn’t (and don’t) want to work in that kind of environment, but I really appreciated his honesty.

  21. JanetM*

    I used some of these questions when I was offered my current job. I didn’t ask about culture, previous person, or turnover, because this job was created for me in my current organization. I did ask about measures of success, challenges, and expectations, as well as, “This is a considerable difference in responsibilities. Does it come with a promotion in title and money?”

    I believe the person hiring me was favorably impressed. And I believe I have continued to impress him, since he converted the temp position into a permanent one. :-)

  22. ssssssssSnake*

    I used a fair number of these questions when interviewing for my current position. I found them really helpful, and my interviewers even commented on how good they were and how they really made them think. Particularly, the questions about measuring success, a good vs. great person in the role helped me not only understand more about what was expected of me, but also about my potential employers and any possible “red flags.”

    Thanks again, Alison!

  23. AccountantWendy*

    Does anyone have advice for questions which might be specific to start ups? For example “Do you have an HR department, and if not, who handles HR?” Most non-start ups you wouldn’t need to bother asking that. In particular, I really value flexible working hours – the ability to start at noon on one day but 7am the next day, for example. Start ups tend to taut this as perk but I’m not sure how to ask about it.

    1. irene adler*

      You can ask what the work hours are. If they give you the “8 to 5” reply, then ask if everyone arrives and leaves at these times. Segue into asking about the degree of flexibility they offer. Or, ask them what they like about their schedule.
      Might ask about what perks they offer-with out being specific. See if they list what you want.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      The HR question seems a bit off – it sounds like you anticipate problems. I would recommend finding a new way to phrase it. Maybe: “Can you tell me about how leadership is set up here?” or “What other departments are here? How are tasks divided?” That sounds more like you’re interested in the functionality of the business.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        I don’t work at a start-up, but if someone asked me about leadership, I’d start talking about my leadership chain in my org. If someone asked me about other departments, I’d talk about other orgs in my business unit. This question would not lead me to talk about HR.

        I work in tech, and the term “people operations” is a buzzy word that has come to describe HR at a lot of start-ups. So at the hipster kind of start-ups, something like “How does your company handle people operations?” may work.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          Still sounds like, “So who do I go to when I have complaints?” Which the answer at my small, non start-up company is: your manager. Someone in leadership overseas an HR person somewhere, so it can be a segue at least.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      I’d ask about funding. Because at most start ups there is a shelf life on your salary. They may be cagey because that’s probably not totally public info, but if they are offended you probably don’t want to be working there.

  24. Baska*

    For #3 (“Can you describe a typical day or week in the job?”), the insight that if they can’t come up with an answer, it might be a sign of deeper chaos is SO true. My predecessor at my current job was absolutely one of those “this isn’t a typical job” / “there’s no such thing as a typical day” sort of people. It was like her mantra while she was training me. And, indeed, her office was utterly chaotic and she’d let a ton of balls drop.

    The kicker? Once I’d settled in, I realized that this is one of the most routine jobs I’ve ever held. About 85% of my workload is stuff that’s done either weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly. Some people’s minds just don’t work like that, I guess…

  25. Allison*

    Since I work in Boston, which can get very cold and snowy and occasionally gets hit by bad tropical storms, and since my first job expected us to brave all sorts of weather to come in as long as public transit was officially running even though most of us were fully capable of doing our jobs remotely when needed, I always ask what the norms are when the city is expecting seriously bad weather.

    I also ask about growth. Too many jobs I’ve had recently would hire me at My Title and then entertain the idea of making me Senior My Title someday, but never really figured out what I’d need to do to earn that title bump and what job might look like at the senior level, so during my recent job search, I have been asking what the possible career paths are, to see if there’s a determined path from one level to the next or whether it’s something they’re still figuring out.

    1. Sleepless*

      That’s a good idea. I live in Atlanta, which is notorious for getting completely paralyzed by winter weather, and I did have one boss who really thought everybody should try to get there. Depending on where you live, sometimes that is not possible.

  26. Sally*

    When I was job searching 1.5 years ago, I always asked about culture and diversity because it’s important to me. I’m queer, but I also want to work with people who are not just like me. I really value diversity and inclusion. Every time I asked about diversity, the person I was speaking with was clearly surprised to be asked about it – maybe because I’m white and “look straight”??? I can’t work someplace where they’re surprised by that kind of question, and I ended up in a great company. Of course they’re not perfect, but when they get it wrong, they look straight at the issue and open up conversation about it. I really appreciate the transparency.

    1. Lavender Menace*

      I love it when people ask me that question, and I get asked it quite frequently. But I’m very visibly non-white, a woman, and I have rainbow flags all over my office, so…I think people feel like they can ask it :D

  27. CL Cox*

    For me, asking about the previous person, how long they’d been there and why they left, has been helpful. If they’ve moved up in the company, that shows me there are paths to do that. It also often leads to a conversation about what skills/additional education would be needed to do that. If they moved to a different location, there’s usually additional information, like that they moved to be closer to home or because they wanted a change (probably a red flag about the work environment/school culture). If they left the field entirely, it could be a red flag that they got burnt out.

    1. pally*

      Oh yeah!
      I asked what the previous person did that they especially liked, and the response was that she wasn’t around long enough to determine this. She only worked there a couple of months. Then she “moved on” (no clarification given).

    2. Filosofickle*

      I always asked about the prior person as my version of the good v great question. Who held the position before and what I can learn from them — in what ways were they amazing / could they have been better. This usually helps them reveal what intangibles make a good fit or what skills matter most.

    3. Just Another Manic Millie*

      As I said upthread, I never asked about the previous person, figuring that I wouldn’t know if what the interviewer said was the truth or a lie. Even when one time, when the interviewer volunteered the reason that the previous person left, I eventually found out that she lied to me. At another job, after I was there for a while, I was told that the previous person had retired because she got tired of never getting a seat on the subway. I also found out that she worked overtime practically every day. This surprised me, because I never worked overtime (I always got everything done before 5:00 PM), and people were always talking about what a great worker she was. This didn’t make sense to me, until I found out that while she was at the company, she had a lot more duties, and that’s why she always worked overtime, and after she left, TPTB reassigned some of those duties to other people. So that was why I never had to work overtime. So maybe she didn’t retire because she could never get a seat on the subway, meaning that TPTB lied.

  28. Sleepless*

    At my interview for the job I’m leaving, I really wanted to ask, “Do I have the authority to dismiss a client?” I had a feeling the boss would be appalled that I even thought this situation would come up (it does). I was right. The culture at this company has not been a good fit for me.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Honestly, that’s part of why you ask. Obviously “how bad do I need this job” plays into it, but in some cases if you get cut because of the questions you ask *they are doing you a favor*

    2. Filosofickle*

      I may have alienated some interviewers over time, but I’ve often waded into questions like this. As a consultant I’d definitely ask about firing or turning down clients, or if they believe the client is always right. I’ve asked if they’ve ever fired someone and why, or how they handle an under-performing employee. Of course I try to phrase and time it well, knowing these are challenging questions. I’ve always gotten useful answers. They are always surprised by the directness but no one has ever seemed horrified.

      On the “have you ever fired someone” question, one interviewer that told me they’ve never ever had to let anyone go, in 20+ years of managing. Just going by the odds, either they are amazing at hiring, or they’ve kept someone they shouldn’t have.

  29. Bookworm*

    Anecdotal, but I’ve found asking about what they expect to see out of an ideal incumbent 3-6 months 1 year, long term, etc., has often got a “that’s a great question” reaction.

    1. Sleepless*

      That is a good one. My job has an enormous learning curve for new graduates, and inexperienced people need to ask their employers how quickly they are supposed to get up to speed.

  30. Kevin Sours*

    This may be covered under #9, but I find it useful to ask about processes. That’s a bit hard to generalize because they are going to be industry specific, but “How do you handle X?”, “How do you handle Y?” can give you a very good read on how mature and structured (or alternately stifling) the culture is in a way that “What is it like to work here?” doesn’t.

    Also in terms of the interviewer drawing unflattering conclusions, I find that asking hard-nosed questions about the position conveys the message “I have options and if this position is a bad fit I’ll move on to my next one”. This is, perhaps paradoxically, a good message to send. At least at places you really want to get hired at.

  31. buffty*

    I would love to see a version of this specific to promotional interviews. I’m likely to be interviewing for a competitive promotion very soon, and I already work very closely with my outgoing boss as well as our shared boss, who would be the main decider and is already fairly familiar with my work and I with theirs.

  32. QueenoftheCats*

    I usually ask variations of #1&2, albeit less eloquently. Lol.

    I’ve told this story before, but since it’s relevant…

    I once was interviewing for a PA position that would have required me to work with other PAs from different departments. I asked my would-be supervisor what were some of the challenges she’d faced while working at this place. Her response: “I guess we’re just too good at our jobs”– I laughed, because I thought she was joking– “For example, when we’re hosting events, the PAs will double check with catering and not tell the others that they’ve checked.” She was dead serious.

    1. QueenoftheCats*

      Although, I would add another question to the list: Where do you see this company in 5-10 years/What does the company hope to accomplish? (Or some variation)

      I’ve interviewed with places that literally had no idea what they wanted or where they’re going. I’ve had interviewers show that they had no real understanding of what the company’s mission and audience are.

      And if you get a good answer, you can ask “How do you envision this role playing in this growth/project/whatever?” And/or talk about how your experiences and skills can aid in whatever it is the company wants to do.

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Good one. I’ve often followed up the ol’ “Where do you see yourself in five years?” with “Where can I reasonably expect to be at your company after five years?”

  33. Bizhiki*

    I’ve used the great v. good question in my last two rounds of job searching, and always gotten a favourable (or at least very telling) response. One of the interviewers in my current job liked the question so much that they will occasionally use that as a reference point when we discuss logistics/work plans/goal setting. I only wish I could remember more of how they answered that during the interview (I was nervous!)

  34. Bryce with a Y*

    Someone probably already mentioned it, but one question that can tell you a lot is, “why is this position open?”

    You can find out some things that are potentially positive:

    “The person who held it was promoted” (opportunity for advancement)
    “This is a newly created position in which we realized the need for function X” (company is growing)
    “The person who held it retired” (opportunity for longevity and people tend to stick around a while)

    Or neutral:

    “The person left to take care of his dad who is sick”
    “The person moved to California because his wife found her dream job”

    Or potentially negative:

    “The person left to take a job closer to home (could be neutral if you’re closer, but hints at a tough commute/lack of remote work opportunities)
    “The person left to take a job at another company” (could mean less than desirable pay/benefits, culture, management, work environment, etc.)
    “The person was let go” (could hint at a tough manager/unreasonable expectations for the position, financial difficulties, etc.

  35. Lives in a Shoe*

    One question that I like to ask is, “what would you like to see done differently going forward?” or a slight variation of that. It sounds odd, but in my line of work it can immediately highlight any problems they’ve been having and help me determine if the job is a good fit.

  36. JM in England*

    I have asked #6 on a few occasions and the interviewers seemed both surprised and impressed. In my mind, it gives them the impression that you want to be more than an average performer in the role…

  37. TheOtherLiz*

    I always ask, “Do you have any concerns about me as a candidate, or is there an important skill set that hasn’t come up in the conversation?” That way, I can address their concerns right then and there. It is always telling. IT works best in a group interview because not everyone will have something to say. But I remember one interview where the manager admitted that she was alarmed at how often I’d job hopped. So I was able to point out the explanations – for instance, Congressional campaigns only last a few months. Whenever I’m on a hiring committee, we debrief afterwards about the nagging doubts we have about a candidate that they could’ve addressed, maybe, if we’d asked directly about them. So I try and make sure I get to address any nagging doubts about me.

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