My first industry interview still stands out so clearly in my mind.
I was as prepared as any one person could possibly be.
Resume copies pristinely printed? Check.
A business casual outfit laid out and ready to go? Check.
Following the company on LinkedIn and relevant connections added? Check.
This job was in the bag – I was 200% sure.
The interview went without a hitch.
I could tell by the rapport I had with my interviewer that I was the perfect blend of charismatic and enthusiastic.
“And did you have any questions for me,” the interviewer asked as our meeting wound down.
“Nope, I think we covered everything,” I replied.
I was already daydreaming about what it would be like to stroll into this building in a week or two, so I wasn’t being timid or holding back.
The only question I really had was when do I start?
We shook hands and thanked one another for our time.
Since this was my first interview, I didn’t know how long it would take to hear back.
I did a search online, and the consensus was anywhere from one to two weeks.
I could wait – no problem.
On Friday of the second week, though, my confidence that the job was in the bag was definitely starting to waver.
I wish I had a way to contact the interviewer. The internet said I could follow up, but I had no way to do it.
A full month went by before I realized I wasn’t going to hear back. But I was so sure I had the job in the bag that I just had to know what I did wrong.
I found my interviewer on LinkedIn and sent him a message.
Can you tell me, I asked him in so many words, what I had done to disqualify myself?
I was absolutely floored by his answer:
“You didn’t ask me any follow-up questions at the end of our conversation.”
Why Asking Questions Is Important – And Expected – At Your Interview
I had no idea during that first interview, but employers expect candidates to ask them questions.
It turns out that I’m not alone.
Most applicants don’t have more than a one-word answer to this question – “no” – and they have no idea what a colossal mistake they’re making.
Asking questions of your interviewer is an important part of the interview process, and it’s something applicants should strategically prepare to ask.
Well, for one, questions show your level of interest is strong.
By asking the right questions you can show the employer just how much you want to become a part of the organization.
Employers are not interested in candidates that don’t seem interested in them, plain and simple. They see applicants with no questions as being not very interested or not very sharp.
Having no questions may also give the appearance you are indifferent toward the organization itself. Probably not exactly the attribute an employer is seeking.
Another reason to ask your interviewer questions is that it gives you the chance to clear up any reservations they may have about you as a candidate.
Studies show that an interviewer only needs 90 seconds to decide if they will advance you to the next round of interviews. This is true whether an interview lasts for 10 minutes or over an hour.
Asking questions is a second chance to clear up any answers you may have flubbed the first time.
And the final reason you want to direct questions to your interviewer is that this is your best line of defense against taking a job that will turn out to be a terrible fit.
The kind of company culture, management style and environment you thrive in is your job to understand. By asking the right questions, you can identify any red flags that will save you and your future employer wasted time and resources.
10 Great Questions To Ask An Interviewer
1. Have I answered all your questions, or is there anything you’d like me to elaborate on?
A slightly different take on Do you have any reservations about me? This gives your interviewer a chance to follow up or gain clarity.
This is an opportunity to tie up any loose threads from earlier parts of your conversation.
Maybe they’d like more context about behavioral questions you spoke about. It could be that they realized they’d like you to repeat or quantify some results that you shared. They could ask how you think your skills in XYZ are transferable to the work they do.
Or they may have no questions at all. Either way, start your Q&A session off by extending this invitation to follow up on what you’ve talked about so far.
It’s common courtesy and a great transition to the questions that follow.
2. What are the biggest challenges in this role?
What will a day in this role look like, both now and in the future?
Many PhDs avoid this question. They worry that asking about the day-to-day responsibilities is off-putting.
They think that asking about specific duties will make them sound picky or entitled. Or – worse – that it will come across as if they’re second-guessing their interest in the role.
That’s why it’s important for you to understand that employers aren’t looking for The Right Answer in an interview.
They’re looking to see if you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
That’s why this is one of the most important questions you can ask an interviewer.
Digging this question is going to help you avoid shift shock once you start a new role. It also demonstrates to employers that retention is not going to be an issue with you.
It will elicit information that you’d never find in a job description, providing a candid look at what the position is really going to be like.
Some of the duties your interviewer describes might run parallel to your own experience. If that’s the case, feel free to interject with an anecdote about how you’ve faced similar challenges. Your future supervisor may find this reassuring.
No matter what, asking about future duties suggests that you embrace change and are capable of being flexible.
3. How do you measure success in your team?
When you answer this question as a job candidate, you want to focus on the qualities that you believe employers associate with success in the role.
But by asking this question of your interviewer, you’re showing employers that you’re interested in meeting or exceeding their expectations on THEIR terms.
You’re indicating that you know there are different priorities and different ways to measure success. Are the metrics qualitative or quantitative?
Are performance reviews quarterly? Monthly? Annually?
How often and in what medium do you receive formal feedback?
Asking questions about what milestones you should expect to focus on also suggests that you’ve given forethought to your long-term career with the company.
This type of question reassures your new manager that you expect to hear feedback, and that you want to understand their managerial style as well as company or team priorities.
4. What do you enjoy most (or least) about working here?
The importance of this question is twofold: it provides value to the person interviewing you, and it implies that you have done your research about the company.
Asking an interviewer about their individual opinion demonstrates that you’re already investing energy in getting to know them, their team and the organization.
This rapport-building question shows that you’re the kind of coworker who is present and in touch with their coworkers or leadership.
It can make your interviewer feel valued too. You’re asking about them, deferring to their expertise and experience.
This question also shows that you’re giving serious consideration to what it’s really like to work at XYZ Company.
You want to know about the pain points and highlights of working there. That demonstrates that you’re thinking outside of the job description.
It paints you, the job seeker, as a critical thinker, capable of looking beyond the surface of a situation or problem.
5. Where is the company placing most of its resources and focus for the coming year or two? What initiatives will take precedence? Which products or services are creating the most growth?
This is a strategic question. At face value, it’s a sincere inquiry about what role you’ll have in the forward momentum of your company and its missions.
But below the surface, this question is designed to put your business acumen on display.
Asking this sends a message that you understand there’s a bottom line – an ultimate, company-wide goal that supersedes the minutiae of day-to-day operations or the initiatives of any one department.
That may not sound all that important, but employers like to know that their employees can be counted on to shift priorities for the benefit of the bigger picture.
It’s a mark of a good leader to understand what not to prioritize, not just what should take precedence. If the person interviewing you is going to be a person you report to, they’ll appreciate that this question implies you understand this concept.
6. What have employees that did this job exceptionally well in the past done differently than others?
Hiring managers aren’t interviewing candidates in the hopes of finding someone who will do an average job; they’re hoping to find someone who will shine. And this question says you care about the same thing.
Merely asking the question makes you stand apart as a high achiever who is destined to succeed and drive results.
And employers like that.
If the interviewer lists a quality that you haven’t touched on much, make a mental note. You can mention it in your follow-up email once the interview has concluded.
Their answer will give you insights into the roles that are not listed in the job description. It will also give you an idea of how your background and values align with the companies.
7. What have others in this position gone on to do? What is the career trajectory for this role?
When you’re applying for jobs, it helps to think of each new opportunity not just as a job, but as the next step on your career path.
How will this position get you there? What kind of growth can you expect to see in yourself if you are offered this position?
By asking a prospective employer this question, you’re showing you’re driven by progress and ambition.
It demonstrates that you’re looking for an employer that’s willing to invest in your growth – one where you can stick around for the long haul.
It should prompt answers that speak to how this company can help you reach your goals.
8. Which new products or services are creating the most growth?
Are you curious about what’s next for XYZ company? Employers value creativity and innovation, and they need employees who are passionate about driving progress.
This question addresses what’s next for the organization, not just what’s happening under the hood now.
Asking it shows that you are a candidate who is looking forward. Driving progress happens on the associate level as well as the executive, and questions like these signal that you’re future-facing.
Beyond that, there’s the potential here to get some really fascinating responses.
Even if you don’t wind up working with this company, the answers you receive to this question can provide you with insight into the industry’s future that you can use to impress another employer.
Note: That does not mean that you should push the employer to share anything proprietary. In fact, you want to steer clear of this by adding the caveat “I’m not looking for anything proprietary of course, just insights into what’s been shared publicly, or your general point of view.” Never share what you’ve learned with another company either.
However, you may be able to indicate your industry acumen by asking questions like, “I understand some of your competitors are looking into ABC. Is this also going to be a focus for you in the near future?”
9. Do you have any reservations about me as a candidate?
Do you ever leave an interview wondering what the hiring manager really thinks about you as a candidate? There’s an easy way to find out – ask.
Believe it or don’t, hiring managers will more than likely give you an honest answer if you do.
Why? Because they want to find the best candidate, obviously, and they know it takes courage to ask.
If the answer is yes, don’t squander this second chance to make a better impression. Address their concerns.
Start by acknowledging their concerns. You can say, “I can see why that would be a concern, but I have experience in XYZ…” or similar.
Addressing their concerns head-on portrays you as a person who isn’t afraid to ask tough questions and doesn’t mind constructive criticism.
10. What is the next step in the process? When can I expect to hear back? Can I get your contact details to follow up after our interview?
Now that the interview is over, the recruiter is looking for a pulse check. Is this candidate still interested? How enthusiastic are they?
These are some great closing questions that can help answer this for them.
Asking this reiterates your interest.
The answer can prepare you for any additional interviews or hiring assessments.
And if this interview was the final step in the hiring process, the answer will make sure that you’re clear on the hiring timeline.
Before you leave, make sure the interviewer has all the information they need from you, both about your qualifications and also about the best way to contact you.
Don’t waste an opportunity to address questions to your interviewer while you have them in front of you. It’s a chance to erase any doubts they have about you and make a strong final impression. Take the time before your interview to read employee reviews, explore the company’s About pages and become acquainted with them on social media. Do you have a strong sense of the kind of team dynamic you’d be working in? Do you know what your major job responsibilities would be on a day-to-day basis? After speaking with this person, are you still truly still interested in working here? There’s a hefty price tag that comes with making a bad hire – some estimates put it as high as $15,000 per person to account for hiring, training, productivity lost during ramp-up periods and so on. Companies are literally investing in you when they extend a job offer, and the smart money is on a candidate who looks and sounds like they’re willing to invest in the company too.